Albany, Transition, and Defensive Stops

It's an undersold story that Paul Carcaterra recognizes.

Paul Carcaterra made an interesting point during ESPNU's college lacrosse preview show:

Albany is one of a handful of teams in the nation that backs up its policy that it wants to play fast. The Great Danes have adopted a blur mentality in the last four seasons, a team that plays with tempo at a consistent level:

ALBANY'S PACE PROFILE
TEAM 4-YR. AVG. PACE (NT'L RANK) 4-YR. AVG. PACE RANKING (NT'L RANK) 4-YR. AVG. PACE RANKING STDV (NT'L RANK)
Albany 74.27(2) 7.00 (2) 5.89 (8)

Tempo, though, doesn't exist in a vacuum; pace needs to be created, both at the offensive and defensive ends of the field. Superficial pace is attainable through unmitigated scoring -- shot-score creates tons of possessions -- but the Great Danes probably want to avoid that situation in 2014 due to a simple fact: It creates shootouts, which limits a team's ability to build scoring cushions due to a lack of defense. As a consequence, the resolution item for the Great Danes is straightforward: Pace created through a hectic offensive approach buoyed by transition earned from defensive stops. This was a blind spot for Albany last season.

Digging into the Great Danes' possession profile from 2013, Albany earned a notably low percentage of its offensive opportunities from clearing postures (the flashpoint of transition opportunities and the strongest indication of defensive stops leading to offensive possessions):

ALBANY'S NON-RELIANCE ON DEFENSIVE STOPS TO CREATE OFFENSIVE OPPORTUNITIES
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK NATIONAL AVERAGE
Percentage of offensive opportunities earned from clearing postures 54.08% 48 56.81%
Percentage of offensive opportunities earned from face-off wins 38.59% 15 35.40%
Percentage of offensive opportunities earned from opponent failed clears 7.34% 38 7.79%
The Great Danes just weren't getting defensive stops last season and it arguably limited the team's ability to promote transition the way Albany would like. The team's pace last season was heavily influenced by the prevalence of shot-score gameplay, and the below table -- which is the mirror of the table above -- indicates that fact:

ALBANY'S OPPONENT'S NON-RELIANCE ON DEFENSIVE STOPS TO CREATE OFFENSIVE OPPORTUNITIES
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK NATIONAL AVERAGE
Percentage of offensive opportunities earned from clearing postures 51.97% 52 56.63%
Percentage of offensive opportunities earned from face-off wins 41.90% 6 35.52%
Percentage of offensive opportunities earned from opponent failed clears 6.13% 54 7.85%

So, how does Albany avoid these scoreboard races that result in buckets of offensive opportunities but limit pure transition opportunities due to a lack of defensive stops? The Great Danes' date against Johns Hopkins last season is a nice illustration of Albany's capability when Blaze Riorden and the team's field defense stands strong. The video attached to this piece -- thanks to Lacrosse Film Room for the clip -- makes blatantly clear of the pure beauty Albany has to move the ball from end to end. The details of the game, however, detail a pace-positive game driven through the Danes' competence at creating defensive stops:

ALBANY-HOPKINS: ALBANY'S PREFERRED STYLE OF PACE-GENERATION
METRIC VALUE
Pace 79
Albany's percentage of offensive opportunities earned from clearing postures 71.79%
Albany's percentage of offensive opportunities earned from face-off wins 23.08%
Albany's percentage of offensive opportunities earned from Hopkins failed clears 5.13%
Albany's saves per 100 defensive opportunities 52.50

Defensive stops -- through saves or otherwise killed defensive opportunities -- are absolutely key for the Great Danes. Going through the play-by-play of this game, the importance of defensive stops in Albany's style emerges:

  • Six of Albany's 10 goals came from possessions earned from defensive stops (clears). Of those six possessions earned from clears, four were attributable to a Riorden save. The average length of those six Albany offensive possessions earned through clearing postures was 40 seconds; the average length of those Albany offensive possessions earned through Riorden saves was 30.50 seconds. That's the kind of offense that the Great Danes want to run, and it's especially notable when those offensive possessions start with a Riorden stop.
  • Just three Albany goals came directly off of face-off wins. Everything else started with a defensive stop.
  • In offensive opportunities inuring from an Albany save, the average Great Danes possession length was 35 seconds. Interestingly, the team's possession length -- coming off of saves -- shortened as the game progressed: In the first quarter, the average possession length was 47 seconds; the team's average possession length from opportunities off of saves was 38 seconds in the second quarter; the length dropped to 14 seconds in the third period; and the average possession length was 16 seconds in the final quarter. Make stops, try and score as fast as possible.
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