2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Final Four Preview: (5) Denver v. (1) Duke

USA TODAY Sports

Do you like offense? Prepare to have your face melted.

Everything that's worth knowing about Denver-Duke in the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 1:00 ET
Location: Baltimore, M.D. (M&T Bank Stadium)
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Maryland-Notre Dame
Television/Internet: ESPN2 and WatchESPN have the broadcast
Game "Fun Factor": 6.57 (1/2 Semifinals)
log5 Victory Probabilities:

log5 PROBABILITIES (AS OF MAY 19, 2014)
HIGHER SEED LOWER SEED FAVORITE UNDERDOG
(1) Duke (5) Denver (5) Denver // 53.25% (1) Duke // 46.75%

Ignore the captions on the table: This is a toss-up game. Everybody knows what the Devils are -- a machine sent from the future to teach us a lesson about lacrosse that is unclear at the moment (the future is weird) -- but the Pioneers remain an undervalued team to many folks. Denver is 16-2 against a schedule ranked 13th in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, an impressive effort that stands without the conference to which the Pioneers found residence in 2014. Denver hasn't quite traveled the same road that Duke has -- the Devils' schedule ranks fourth nationally in the same metric -- but it's not like the Pioneers have played nobody this season. This game is going to be a showcase of contrasting ways to make the money machine spit out cash, and given each team's ability to bathe themselves in a shower of $20 bills, the result may turn on which team punches in their PIN at the last moment.

What's Your Deal?

Denver
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat North Carolina, 9-5
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Drexel, 15-6
Chances to Win the Whole Shebang: 30.76%
Stylistic Profile: A cyanide-tipped dart -- effective, efficient, deadly, and unassuming

Duke
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Air Force, 20-9
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Johns Hopkins, 19-11
Chances to Win the Whole Shebang: 25.51%
Stylistic Profile: The full magnitude of Operation Overlord -- a complete operation capable of total domination

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

DENVER v. DUKE (AS OF MAY 19, 2014)
METRIC DENVER DUKE
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 44.99 (1) 39.90 (3)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 27.61 (12) 27.98 (17)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +1.88 (19) +6.44 (2)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 83.62% (1) 81.76% (4)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Denver Duke

Denver ranks first in this particular style of adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, but there may not be a hotter and more battle-tested team in the nation than Duke. The Blue Devils have played 11 opponents this season -- Denver, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Loyola, North Carolina, Syracuse, Harvard, Notre Dame, Virginia, Air Force, and Johns Hopkins -- with adjusted Pythagorean win expectation values at or above 60.00 percent and are 9-3 in games against those opponents with an average margin of victory of 3.75 goals. Duke has assaulted the nation's best teams this season to the tune of victories averaging a 14-10 scoreline. More impressively, in the team's last eight games the average margin of victory against opponents with a Pythagorean win expectation value at or above 60.00 percent is just over six goals with an average scoreline of 17-11 (the team is 7-1 against those opponents, falling only to Syracuse in the ACC Tournament). Who does this? More importantly: Is this a modern interpretation of medieval bludgeoning?

Two Things

  • The rate at which teams give and take fouls doesn't always determine the outcome of a game, but it can factor into the ultimate result. Denver-Duke could serve as an interesting case study in that thought: No team draws more fouls than the Pioneers on a per-possession basis and the Devils are one of the most foul-prone teams in the country. Denver doesn't need help finding preferable opportunities to score, and if this game turns on a team's ability to create defensive stops (which is a legitimate possibility), Duke could get into a little bit of trouble if the Blue Devils drop the ax a little too much:
    FOULING PROFILES (AS OF MAY 19, 2014)
    METRIC DENVER DUKE
    Penalties Drawn/Given per 100 Opportunities 8.61 (1) 6.74 (59)
    Penalties Margin +2.51 (2) -0.89 (53)
    Extra-Man/Man-Down Postures per 100 Offensive/Defensive Opportunities 14.98 (2) 13.62 (61)
    Extra-Man/Man-Down Postures Margin +3.18 (9) -4.42 (65)
    Extra-Man/Man-Down Conversion Rate 40.00% (22) 32.89% (21)
    Extra-Man/Man-Down Reliance 13.39% (27) 14.53% (50)
    Again: Penalties may not be the combustion that drives the outcome, but there is strong indicia here that Duke's proclivity for committing infractions -- creating man-down situations that opponents have capitalized on in terms of the ratio of man-down goals allowed to total goals allowed -- and Denver's ability to draw flags -- circumstances that have allowed the Pios to play in man-up a lot despite only converting on their opportunities at a stronger-than-average rate -- could help shape the volition of the game. This is a volume issue more than an efficiency one, a factor that could merit an advantage for Denver if the Devils play loose.
  • The last place that you'd probably want to be on Saturday is in one of the goal creases on M&T Bank Stadium's turf. Jamie Faus, Ryan LaPlante, Luke Aaron, and Kyle Turri should have their skulls checked for gooey stuff inside for purposefully preparing themselves to face opposing offenses built to burn things to the ground in a hysterical rage. There's nothing fun about trying to make stops against opponents that are among the nation's finest in embarrassing keepers, but one side will come out of this with fewer emotional scars. The question is, therefore, which side looks more capable of getting the job done?
    GOALKEEPING PROFILES (AS OF MAY 19, 2014)
    METRIC DENVER DUKE
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 38.80 (8) 31.54 (47)
    Team Save Percentage 57.06% (7) 50.57% (41)
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.68 (44) 0.62 (25)
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 57.82% (26) 54.46% (5)
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 24.83% (7) 26.92% (22)
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 42.94% (7) 49.43% (41)
    Denver has relied more on their keepers to make stops and have gotten stronger ball-stopping from Faus and LaPlante, but Duke is yielding a lower ratio of shots on goal than the Pioneers (and getting a weaker degree of ball-stopping). This frames an interesting construct for the goalkeeping comparison on Saturday: Duke's play between the pipes appears heavily dictated by the kind of shots that the Devils ask Aaron (and, if necessary, Turri) to turn away (and that could be nightmarish given how the Pios share the ball on offense and the rate at which Duke yields assists on a per-possession basis) while Denver will ask Faus and LaPlante to anchor the team's defensive possessions. It's field play influencing goalkeeping performance versus goalkeeping performances influencing field play (from a very high level). That's conceptually different question than "Which team has better goalkeeping?" (The answer to that question is pretty straightforward -- Denver.) The key for Duke may be the volume of savable shots that gets thrown toward the crease while the Pios key may be whether Faus and LaPlante are on their game.
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