Albany-Syracuse and the Thompson Trio

USA TODAY Sports

Sunday evening was a show on the Carrier Dome carpet.

I'm still processing what Syracuse and Albany did Sunday evening in the Carrier Dome. I'm not exactly sure what that . . . thing was, but it was something. It didn't feel like an analogue to anything else this past weekend, and finding comparisons -- other than the hyper-direct one (Albany-Syracuse 2013) -- ends with a lot of "Yeah, but. . . ." Great Danes-Orange was a thing of beauty, a window into what lacrosse can be when the training wheels are taken off teams and freedom is allowed to flourish. It was an elite 60-plus minutes not simply because two strong teams hammered each other in the face, but because the game itself was its own special kind of wonderful.

Digging into the box score, you can start to see how the game was played -- delightfully! -- and what factors ultimately dictated the outcome:

ALBANY-SYRACUSE: 2014
METRIC ALBANY SYRACUSE
Offensive Opportunities 41 52
Possession Margin -11 +11
Raw Offensive Efficiency 39.02 32.69
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 33.33% 38.64%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.17 0.85
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 29.27 32.69
Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 9.76 17.31
Forced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 19.51 15.38
Run-of-Play Groundball Rate per 100 Opportunities 24.73 19.35
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 21.15 39.02
Team Save Percentage 39.29% 50.00%

Some brief notes on this:

  • 93 possessions for just over 60 minutes of play is straight-up bonkers. To give context to this, teams played at an average of 67 possessions per 60 minutes of play last season (a year in which new rules were put in place to increase tempo). This is an incredible example of what happens when two teams score like crazy and push the ball up and down the field.
  • What's especially awesome about the high tempo to which the game was played is that each offense was clicking at an efficient rate: Albany's raw offensive efficiency value is stupid good (anything near 40 is insane) and Syracuse's rate was strong (the national average in adjusted offensive efficiency last season was right around 30.00). Usually a hectic pace carries with it sloppiness, and neither team was all that negligent with the ball. That creates the inherent artistry of the game: It was fast, but controlled and featuring deadly offenses.
  • Possession margin played a factor in the game, mostly because these defenses were fairly helpless in stopping the opposition. The Orange were plus-12 in face-off wins (interestingly, Chris Daddio's three turnovers cost Syracuse about a goal on the night), had two fewer clears than Albany, and had one more offensive opportunity via an Albany failed clear than the Danes earned from busted Orange clears. The extra opportunities allowed Syracuse to close the gap that opened in each team's offensive efficiency, not necessarily relying on volume to score -- again, the Orange's offensive efficiency was strong -- but to keep pace with the Great Danes' scoring rate when Albany had the ball. (Plus, it kept the bean out of the Thompson Trio's hands.)
  • Blaze Riorden didn't have the night that Dominic Lamolinara and Bobby Wardwell had for Syracuse. A couple of more stops from Riorden combined with the Orange's turnover rate (Syracuse's giveaway rate wasn't high compared to the rest of the country, but it was compared to the rate at which Albany committed turnovers) could have changed the face of the game. Under the circumstances Riorden played fairly well, but Lamolinara and Wardwell had a better night under the Dome's teflon roof.
  • Give credit to Albany: The Danes aren't a soft team. Albany was better than Syracuse on run-of-play -- non-face-off -- groundballs and converted Orange turnovers into Great Danes possessions. Combined with the team's riding rate (17.39 percent) and relative care of the ball, Albany acted like a team devoid of pretentiousness and did the little things that often generate wins.

As for the Thompson Trio, the attack unit was as-advertised: Invaluable and deadly. Here's a breakdown of what the three accounted for against a strong Syracuse defense and what they meant to the Great Danes' offense in the Dome:

THE THOMPSON TRIO IMPACT
METRIC VALUE
Percentage of Total Goals 43.75%
Percentage of Total Assists 63.64%
Percentage of Total Points 51.85%
Percentage of Total Shots 45.83%
Percentage of Total Saved Shots 43.75%
Percentage of Total Turnovers 25.00%
Combined Goals per 100 Albany Possession 17.07
Combined Assists per 100 Albany Possessions 17.07
Combined Points per 100 Albany Possessions 34.15
Combined Shots per Albany Possession 0.54
Combined Shooting Rate 31.82%
Combined Saved Shots per 100 Albany Possessions 17.07
Combined Turnovers per 100 Albany Possessions 7.32
Percentage of Possessions Ended with a Thompson 48.78%
Percentage of Possessions Ended with a Positive Thompson Action 24.39%
Percentage of Possessions Ended with a Negative Thompson Action 24.39%

These guys are just incredible. The Thompson Trio has a greater impact than what's chartable in a box score, but even determining their value from the box score makes your eyes do that crazy bulging thing like in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Virtually half of Albany's offensive opportunities ended due to a Thompson doing something, and half of those possessions ended positively. There are very few players -- never mind a group of players -- that have a net-neutral or net-positive impact when carrying this much volume and responsibility. For comparison purposes, let's look at Cornell in 2013 (which actually concentrated more offense around three guys -- Rob Pannell, Steve Mock, and Connor Buczek -- than Albany did against Syracuse with the Thompsons). About 50 percent of Cornell's offensive opportunities last season ended -- in some way -- thanks to three cats. About 26 percent of those possessions were positive outcomes; about 24 percent were negative outcomes. And Cornell had an offense that finished the year ranked fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency.

What Albany -- specifically, the Thompson Trio -- is going to do to opposing defenses this season is going to be disgustingly ridiculous.

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