2014 ECAC Lacrosse Tournament Preview

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's the last ECAC Tournament ever.

Everything that's worth knowing about the ECAC Tournament.

Participants

2014 ECAC TOURNAMENT
SEED TEAM LEAGUE RECORD LEAGUE WINS LEAGUE LOSSES
1. Fairfield 3-1 Bellarmine, Michigan, Ohio State Air Force
2. Ohio State 3-1 Bellarmine, Michigan, Air Force Fairfield
3. Air Force 3-1 Bellarmine, Michigan, Fairfield Ohio State
4. Michigan 1-3 Bellarmine Air Force, Fairfield, Ohio State

Times, Dates of Matchups

Thursday, May 1, 2014 (Semifinals -- at Ohio State (Jesse Owens Stadium)):

  • (4) Michigan v. (1) Fairfield: 5:00 PM (ET)
  • (3) Air Force v. (2) Ohio State: 8:00 PM (ET)

Saturday, May 3, 2014 (Championship -- at Ohio State (Jesse Owens Stadium)):

  • Semifinal I Winner v. Semifinal II Winner: 5:00 PM (ET)

Television/Internet

Fox Sports 2 will broadcast the ECAC Tournament championship game while, according to the ECAC's website, Fox College Sports -- whatever that this -- will carry the tournament's semifinal rounds.

League Tournament Spirit Animal

An ageless sea turtle getting run over by a bus headed for points unknown.

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

2014 ECAC TOURNAMENT TRUNCATED TEMPO-FREE PROFILES (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
METRIC FAIRFIELD OHIO STATE AIR FORCE MICHIGAN
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 36.17 (12) 30.31 (38) 35.43 (16) 29.91 (41)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.35 (24) 23.96 (5) 29.62 (28) 35.18 (56)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +1.00 (25) -0.15 (41) 0.00 (36) +0.86 (27)
Pythagorean Win Expectation 65.65% (16) 67.46% (14) 63.54% (17) 37.67% (54)

Ohio State, Fairfield, and Air Force are all similar in the number of games each team is expected to win -- making the three teams' identical 3-1 league records all the more interesting (especially considering there was a Mexican standoff in the three games involving those teams this season) -- but they make their money in different ways (although none want a game in the high 60's -- in terms of possessions -- range): Ohio State plods its way through games, leaning on its defense to hold the line while the team's offense comes into focus; Fairfield uses its electric offense -- an offense ranked first nationally in raw shooting rate -- and a pragmatic pace to build cushions and drown the opposition; and Air Force uses a furious offense that peppers the cage with attempts -- no team attempts more shots per offensive opportunity than the Falcons -- to mute the effects of an average defense. There are notable differences in style among the tournament's top three seeds that illustrates contrasting routes to similar positions.

Predictions

log5 PROBABILITIES: PROBABILITY OF WINNING THE ECAC TOURNAMENT (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
RANK TEAM PROBABILITY
1. Fairfield 37.95%
2. Ohio State 31.59%
3. Air Force 24.70%
4. Michigan 5.77%

The advantage of playing Michigan in the first round is clear. Avoiding the two-three game in the ECAC Tournament was important for Fairfield, Ohio State, and Air Force, and it was the Stags -- based on the league's tiebreaker policies -- that won the lottery. Air Force-Ohio State is a toss-up game (the Buckeyes are slim favorites), and that deflates each team's odds to win the league's championship. In a round robin tournament between the Stags, Buckeyes, and Falcons the odds are likely close to 33 percent for each team, but the existence of a seeded tournament where the top seed draws the Wolverines gives Fairfield a distinct advantage at earning the conference's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

Three Things

  • Fairfield's offense has been a flamethrower this season. The unit ranks 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency (having faced a schedule ranked 50th in opposing defenses faced), but it's the underlying metrics to that value that is especially impressive about the Stags: No team holds a stronger raw shooting mark than Fairfield (38.52 percent) and the Stags are finding twine on few attempts (only four teams take fewer shots per offensive opportunity than the Stags); Fairfield puts a huge ratio of shots on goal with 64.59 percent of their shot attempts (second nationally) finding the net or challenging an opposing keeper; the team has an ability to share the ball -- the Stags rank 22nd in offensive assist rate (assists per 100 offensive opportunities) -- but isn't oriented heavily toward sharing the ball or getting unassisted goals; the team has done a decent job at valuing the bean -- Fairfield ranks 20th in turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities -- but is especially strong at not committing unforced giveaways (only nine teams hold a better mark than the Stags); and Fairfield is abusing opposing keepers, ranking second in opponent saves per 100 offensive opportunities and third in opponent save percentage. The Stags can stomp when given the opportunity on offense; this is a prism of offensive capability.
  • There's something unique about possession-generating and possession-maintaining activity between Air Force and Ohio State. This table may be a useful illustration of the situation potentially existing in this game:
    AIR FORCE-OHIO STATE: TURNOVER AND GROUNDBALL MARGIN
    METRIC OHIO STATE (NT'L RANK) AIR FORCE (NT'L RANK)
    Turnover Margin per 100 Opportunities +1.99 (30) +9.34 (6)
    Run-of-Play Groundball Margin per 100 Opportunities +4.20 (9) +1.23 (23)
    That's . . . something. The Falcons have been better than Ohio State at turnover differential, but the Buckeyes have been better than Air Force at corralling loose balls in the run of play. So, what is going to be more important in the ECAC Tournament semifinal between these two teams: Limiting the opportunity to corral groundballs by valuing possession and winning turnover margin, or corralling groundballs when the ball is on the ground (thereby creating turnovers)? In other words, Ohio State gives the ball up more than Air Force (the Buckeyes rank 39th in turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities; the Falcons rank eighth), but Ohio State does a better job at beating their opponents to loose balls -- on a margin basis -- in non-faceoff postures. What will matter more? (Answer: No clue.)
  • Michigan is more than a shadow in this tournament, even though the advantage of playing the Wolverines in the semifinals is significant. Michigan is coming off of an absolute thumping of Robert Morris, a game where the Wolverines played angry against an opponent that could have given Michigan all kinds of issues. And the Wolverines have held their own against ECAC competition this season: Michigan beat Bellarmine in mid-March in overtime, scoring at a fairly decent clip (almost 28 percent of their possessions) against a defense currently ranked ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency; Michigan was on the cusp of dropping Fairfield at the Big House in early-April, using a three-goal run that spanned the entirety of the third period and the first 38 seconds of the final quarter to pull within one of the Stags (the Wolverines eventually fell 8-9); Michigan played a solid first half against Ohio State in the 'Shoe, going into the intermission knotted at six with their archrivals (the Buckeyes exploded in the second half); and Michigan had a fairly respectable showing against Air Force in Colorado Springs, hanging around with the Falcons (the Wolverines just didn't have enough defense to stop Air Force). Michigan isn't going to be confused with a top 20 team, but the Wolverines aren't a tire fire, either. This is an improved Michigan team that -- with the right circumstances -- can step up and play.
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