2014 Big East Lacrosse Tournament Preview

Drew Hallowell

Denver enters its first Big East Tournament as the favorite.

Everything that's worth knowing about the Big East Tournament.

Participants

2014 BIG EAST TOURNAMENT
SEED TEAM LEAGUE RECORD LEAGUE WINS LEAGUE LOSSES
1. Denver 6-0 Marquette, Rutgers, Villanova, Georgetown, Providence None
2. Marquette 4-2 Rutgers, St. John's, Providence, Georgetown Villanova, Denver
3. Villanova 3-3 Marquette, Georgetown, Rutgers Denver, St. John's, Providence
4. Rutgers 3-3 Providence, St. John's, Georgetown Denver, Marquette, Villanova

Times, Dates of Matchups

Thursday, May 1, 2014 (Semifinals -- at Villanova (Villanova Stadium)):

  • (4) Rutgers v. (1) Denver: 4:30 PM (ET)
  • (3) Villanova v. (2) Marquette: 7:00 PM (ET)

Saturday, May 3, 2014 (Championship -- at Villanova (Villanova Stadium)):

  • Semifinal I Winner v. Semifinal II Winner: 4:30 PM (ET)

Television/Internet

The Big East is unloading what I have been told is "broadcast-level quality" streams for its semifinal rounds. The streams can be found on BigEast.com and will feature a four-camera HD broadcast with a full graphics package (hopefully featuring various iterations of Bill Tierney scowls). Pat O'Keefe and Terry Mangan will anchor the broadcasts. Fox Sports 1 will carry live coverage of the championship game on Saturday.

League Tournament Spirit Animal

A Jack Russell Terrier -- it's yippy, fearless, and willing to attack big mean things.

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

2014 BIG EAST TOURNAMENT TRUNCATED TEMPO-FREE PROFILES (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
METRIC DENVER MARQUETTE VILLANOVA RUTGERS
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 46.14 (1) 34.36 (18) 30.72 (35) 34.06 (22)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.37 (25) 36.33 (60) 26.85 (12) 34.74 (54)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +0.28 -2.52 (51) -4.47 (56) +4.06 (8)
Pythagorean Win Expectation 80.22% (3) 45.69% (36) 60.29% (22) 48.45% (31)

Denver is the class of the tournament but the overall strength of the league -- one that has been drenched in shade -- is pretty solid: Villanova is a handful (outside of the fourth quarter); Rutgers creates matchup problems due to the team's kung-fu grip on possession-generation; and Marquette has an offense that many teams would murder puppies for. The Big East isn't as bad as some people think -- the conference ranks fourth nationally, ahead of conferences like THUNDERDOME! and the Patriot League -- and the tournament should have some pop despite the fact that the Pioneers are head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

Predictions

log5 PROBABILITIES: PROBABILITY OF WINNING THE BIG EAST TOURNAMENT (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
RANK TEAM PROBABILITY
1. Denver 61.99%
2. Villanova 21.70%
3. Rutgers 8.17%
4. Marquette 8.14%

Only one team in the Big East lost to Denver by fewer than five goals -- Villanova (the 'Cats fell to the Pios 8-9 in overtime on Villanova's home field in miserable conditions). Denver is plus-15 in scoring margin against the Big East Tournament field, winning its games against Villanova, Rutgers, and Marquette by an average of five goals. If the Pioneers fail to take gold back home to Colorado, it would be a pretty substantial upset. Denver is just that good.

Three Things

  • Denver's offense is a bone-crushing hydraulic machine. Matt Brown deserves all kinds of credit for what he has accomplished with the Pioneers, and the team's efforts this season -- a year after losing a host of key offensive assets -- at canning the bean is incredible:

    DENVER'S OFFENSIVE PROFILE (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 46.14 1
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.20 13
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 38.40% 2
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 63.45% 5
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 30.05 11
    Opponent Save Percentage 39.48% 1
    Offensive Assist Rate 25.86 2
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 39.66 10
    Denver gets whatever it wants on offense and they don't aim a nuclear weapon at their foot and pull the trigger. It's that simple. This is an almost unbelievably dominate offense that has put double-digits on the scoreboard in all but two games this season -- against Ohio State and Villanova -- despite playing at the eighth slowest pace in the nation. There is inherent beauty in Denver's ability to create destruction, and much of it is driven through the Pioneers' diversity: Denver features five players -- Jack Bobzien, Wes Berg, Erik Adamson, Zach Miller, and Jeremy Noble -- with at least 38 points this season. Let's be clear about that: Denver's top five point-generators have created more points than 35 -- !!!!! -- teams this season. And the Pios play slow.
  • Dan Willis was named second team All-Big East, but I'm not sold that the Wildcats' goalkeeping situation is a rock-solid tent pole anchored 50-feet into the ground. In fact, Villanova’s goaltending profile looks like a bleeding artery that demands attention:
    VILLANOVA'S GOALKEEPING PROFILE (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.29 62
    Team Save Percentage 49.30% 49
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 29.51% 46
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 58.20% 31
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.95 61
    Defensive Assist Rate 15.40 15
    That's not a great look: Teams don't need many attempts to find twine (and they're not putting an irrational amount of shots on cage) and the netminding in Villanova's crease has not turned away all that many shots. Part of this is attributable to the Wildcats' aggressive defensive style -- only five teams cause more turnovers per defensive opportunity than Villanova -- but the Wildcats haven't been exquisite between the pipes. (It is important to note, though, that Villanova has played a schedule ranked 16th in opposing offenses faced.) Willis is a freshman and is growing into his role, but the Wildcats' defensive strength arguably lies with its field defense -- featuring John LoCascio, Chris Conroy, and Chris Piccirilli -- rather than its netminding.
  • Joseph Nardella -- Rutgers' horse of a faceoff specialist -- had a great season in 2014, but it wasn't quite as strong as that of Georgetown's Tyler Knarr, the selection for first team All-Big East:
    NARDELLA AND KNARR (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
    METRIC NARDELLA KNARR
    Individual Faceoff Percentage 65.03% 65.81%
    Team Faceoff Percentage 59.20% (11) 65.19% (2)
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Faceoff Wins 43.99% (4) 40.71% (17)
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Faceoff Losses 34.17% (46) 25.23% (65)
    Estimated Percentage of Faceoff Wins Won to Self 66.33% 73.79%
    Average of Opponents' Faceoff Win Percentage 46.43% 49.17%
    That detail, however, doesn't mitigate what Nardella means to Rutgers' overall efforts. In fact, a solid argument can be made that Nardella's performance at the dot means more to the Scarlet Knights than what Knarr contributes to the Hoyas. A significant volume of Rutgers' offensive opportunities are derived from Nardella faceoff wins; this volume is important to Rutgers in two ways: (1) It provides an opportunity for the Scarlet Knights' offense -- the strength of the team -- to generate tallies and potentially create runs; and (2) It mitigates exposure to Rutgers' suspect defense. In other words, if Nardella wasn't winning draws at the rate to which he is, Rutgers would struggle to create offensive opportunities as the team is only average on the ride and doesn't get a notable volume of defensive stops that creates offensive opportunities. Nardella is an offensive weapon in that the Scarlet Knights lean on him to create offensive chances, those chances keeping Rutgers in games as its defense is leaky.
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