2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview: Richmond at Air Force

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The Spiders made The Big Barbeque in their first go as a Division I team. Can they knock off the Falcons at altitude?

Everything that's worth knowing about Richmond-Air Force in the play-in round of the NCAA Tournament.

Update: May 6, 2014 at 9:00 pm. Changed a method on the probabilities. Updated probabilities table, associated tables, and downloadable profile .pdf's.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Wednesday, May 6, 2014 at 9:00 ET
Location: Colorado Springs, C.O.
Winner Advances To Play?: Duke on May 11, 2014 at 5:15 ET
Television/Internet: Air Force will provide a stream for the game. No television.
Game "Fun Factor": 2.70 (first of two play-in games)
log5 Victory Probabilities:

log5 PROBABILITIES (AS OF MAY 5, 2014)
HOME AWAY FAVORITE UNDERDOG
Air Force Richmond Air Force // 77.64% Richmond // 22.36%

Richmond-Air Force is the more lopsided of the two play-in games. It may or may not be important to note the following facts, though: The Spiders -- way back at the beginning of the season -- put a scare into Virginia, walking away with a 12-13 loss (the Cavaliers were the best team that Richmond faced this season); the Falcons, back in early March, dropped a 4-6 decision against a significantly inferior VMI team. Air Force is about a six-goal favorite against Richmond, but anything can happen (whether it does is a different issue).

What's Your Deal?

Richmond
NCAA Tournament Appearances: One (First)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: Automatic Qualifier (Atlantic Sun)
Record: 6-10 (2-3, Atlantic Sun)
Combustibles: Mitchell Goldberg (A) (31G, 9A); Brad Burnam (A) (14G, 23A); Benny Pugh (G) (53.8 SV%); Jackson Cabot (LSM) (51G, 25CT)

Air Force
NCAA Tournament Appearances: Three (Last: 1988)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: Automatic Qualifier (ECAC)
Record: 10-5 (3-1, ECAC)
Combustibles: Mike Crampton (A) (41G, 16A); Keith Dreyer (A) (17G, 28A); Erik Smith (M) (22G, 14A); Kyle O'Brien (LSM) (49GB, 14 CT)

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

RICHMOND AT AIR FORCE (AS OF MAY 5, 2014)
METRIC RICHMOND AIR FORCE
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 27.72 (53) 36.45 (12)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.97 (29) 29.60 (28)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play -5.10 (61) +0.67 (31)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 36.41% (51) 66.53% (16)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Richmond Air Force

Here's the good news for Richmond: If the Spiders get pounded in possession margin, it'll be Richmond's defense -- the team's relative strength -- that will dictate the team's fortunes against a solid Air Force team. Here's the bad news for Richmond: If the Spiders get pounded in possession margin, Richmond's defense will need to deal with Air Force's offense -- the team's relative strength -- while trying to hold the line.

Two Things

  • This is a different class of competition for the Spiders. Richmond has played three teams this season -- Virginia, St. Joseph's, and Bryant -- holding a Pythagorean win expectation value of at least 55 percent. The Spiders have fought well in those games -- Richmond fell by one at home against the Cavaliers; Richmond hung around with the Bulldogs until Bryant pushed late in regulation; and the Spiders jumped on the Hawks early but faded in the second half -- but were ultimately unable to bag a big kill. This isn't the Atlantic Sun, a conference that ranked dead last nationally in overall conference strength. This is the NCAA Tournament, where the competition is strong and focus remains even. That means doing the little things better than Air Force in a pressurized spot:
    THE LITTLE THINGS (AS OF MAY 5, 2014)
    METRIC RICHMOND AIR FORCE
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 55.69 (62) 38.38 (7)
    Turnover Margin -5.69 (55) +8.75 (6)
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Possessions 32.08 (7) 27.07 (33)
    Run-of-Play Groundballs Margin +2.44 (17) -0.33 (34)
    Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio 51.98% (64) 33.26% (8)
    Take care of the little things and the big things will have greater clarity. Valuation of the ball and crushing run-of-play groundballs -- those itty bitty aspects of play that feed into the bigger picture -- are concerns for the Spiders against a superior Air Force team. How Richmond performs in those aspects of play could shape the volition of the game.
  • Air Force's offensive shooting profile -- the grease that keeps the 12th-ranked offense in the nation moving -- is interesting:
    AIR FORCE'S SHOOTING PROFILE (AS OF MAY 5, 2014)
    METRIC AIR FORCE RANK
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.34 1
    Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity 0.72 8
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 53.60% 62
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 28.32% 33
    Raw Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 52.84% 12
    Assists per 100 Offensive Opportunities 21.94 8
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 28.79 60
    Opponent Save Percentage 47.16% 12
    Air Force obviously likes to cock and fire, but the Falcons' shooting profile is more complex than the volume of shots that the team takes. A relatively low percentage of the Falcons shots are on cage, attempts seemingly designed to find rhythm and create motion while existing on the fringe of opponent save vicinities (or Air Force is just a wild machine gun with a loose piston). When the Falcons do attack the cage, though, Air Force generally (1) blows the ball past opposing keepers, and (2) gets looks from preferable locations (indicated by the team's high share rate on a per possession basis). This is a unique look, one that contrasts in interesting ways from another team that isn't afraid to unload attempts -- Maryland:
    MARYLAND'S SHOOTING PROFILE (AS OF MAY 5, 2014)
    METRIC MARYLAND RANK
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.23 4
    Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity 0.73 6
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 58.61% 35
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 28.95% 22
    Raw Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 49.39% 28
    Assists per 100 Offensive Opportunities 17.36 34
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 36.70 55
    Opponent Save Percentage 50.61% 28
    The Terps have played a more difficult schedule with respect to opposing defenses faced than the Falcons (Maryland schedule ranks 47th in the metric; Air Force ranks 61st), but that's not the important aspect to the comparison. What's important is this: Both teams are willing to unleash the fury, but the Terps have challenged opposing keepers more with shots on goal and are sharing the ball less than the Falcons, getting more buckets from unassisted efforts than tandem efforts. Maryland is also getting eaten up more with opponent saves than the Falcons. The takeaway is this: Shot volume isn't shot volume isn't shot volume across the board; what those shots do (and the purpose behind those shots) is often more important than the fact that a shot was released.
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