2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview: Harvard at (6) Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Harvard travels west to face Johnny (?) Notre Dame.

Everything that's worth knowing about Harvard-Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 2:30 ET
Location: South Bend, I.N.
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Albany-Loyola.
Television/Internet: ESPNU has the broadcasts. Also available on WatchESPN.
Game "Fun Factor": 4.28 ("Good")
log5 Victory Probabilities:

log5 PROBABILITIES (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
HOME AWAY FAVORITE UNDERDOG
Notre Dame Harvard Notre Dame // 63.36% Harvard // 36.64%

Notre Dame has had some uneven performances this season -- the team's shellacking at the hands of Duke was pretty grotesque and the Irish's collapse in the fourth quarter against Maryland was troubling -- but Notre Dame has -- on the whole -- acted like a top 10 team throughout the year. The Irish's five losses this season are to teams with an average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation of over 75 percent, including two one-goal losses to Penn State (which occurred in Notre Dame's second effort of 2014) and Syracuse. The team's 9-5 record is misleading: The Irish have chops, stronger ones than a solid-yet-flawed Harvard team, and Notre Dame is well positioned in their first round game to continue their momentum generated through the ACC Tournament.

What's Your Deal?

Harvard
NCAA Tournament Appearances: Six (Last: 2006)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: At-Large (Ivy)
Record: 10-6 (5-1, Ivy)
Combustibles: Peter Schwartz (M) (25G, 21A); Devin Dwyer (A) (11G, 35A); Jake Gambitsky (G) (51.9 SV%); Stephen Jahelka (D) (32GB, 12CT)

Notre Dame
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 19 (Last: 2013)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: Automatic Qualifier (ACC)
Record: 9-5 (2-3, ACC)
Combustibles: Matt Kavanagh (A) (30G, 27A); Stephen O'Hara (D) (28GB, 18CT); Conor Doyle (A) (26G, 12A); Jim Marlatt (M) (13G, 7A)

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

HARVARD at NOTRE DAME (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
METRIC HARVARD NOTRE DAME
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 33.92 (20) 37.98 (8)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.83 (24) 26.94 (11)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +0.56 (32) +0.36 (37)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 63.17% (22) 74.78% (8)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Harvard Notre Dame

Much may be made of the Gabriel Mendola-Liam O'Connor battle at the dot, but the Irish are strong enough -- relative to Harvard's profile -- to survive a bloodbath on the whistle and still leave Arlotta with a solid victory. The Irish have sufficient defensive fortitude to create stops against Harvard's offense -- a good unit, but not an exceptional one -- to limit any faceoff margin that accrues in the Crimson's favor. If Notre Dame's defense yields, however, the Irish are efficient enough offensively to keep pace with Harvard even if the Irish are forced to play in a possession deficit. Notre Dame relies on faceoff wins to generate a higher percentage of offensive opportunities than Harvard, but the Irish are built to survive against the Crimson even if Mendola gets hot.

Two Things

  • Notre Dame is in a plus position with respect to possession margin, but the team's possession margin isn't driven exclusive through the team's strong faceoff play (currently ranked 16th nationally at 56.09 percent). The Irish have uncorked a hyper-vigilant ride in 2014, one that has harassed opponents to the tune of an 18.11 failure rate (10th nationally). That ride has provided 10.50 percent of the Irish's offensive opportunities this season (ninth nationally), killing defensive postures before they're permitted to gestate in the box and oftentimes creating favorable unsettled situation conducive to scoring (like Notre Dame's game-winning goal against Army this past weekend). While the raw number of failed clears that the Irish have forced isn't dramatic -- just 48 -- it is emblematic of the Irish's dedication to a full-field effort, giving nothing away to opponents. More importantly, Notre Dame's riding rate has helped mitigate the issues the Irish have had in clearing the bean: The Irish are ranked 45th in the country in clearing percentage at 84.43 percent. The 32 blown clears that Notre Dame has is offset by the team's 48 offensive opportunities earned through opponent failed clears, good for a plus-16 margin in the mirrored postures. Riding matters, and Notre Dame has (1) recognized this, and (2) benefitted in a non-negligible manner from playing 110 yards of defense. Let's put this a different way: Notre Dame's ride -- based on the team's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency values -- has generated 18 goals for the Irish while keeping 13 scores off the board; the margin in mirrored postures -- Notre Dame's failed clears against opponent failed clears -- has netted the Irish six goals and kept four goals away from their opponents.
  • Personnel imbalance postures could be a big problem for Harvard against Notre Dame. Only three teams nationally -- Jacksonville, Marist, and Massachusetts -- commit penalties at a higher per-possession rate than the Crimson (the color of blood!), but it's not the mere existence of Harvard's penalty-taking issues that's concerning against the Irish. This table illustrates why the Crimson could be neck-deep in self-inflicted wounds if Harvard can't limit its penalty-taking proclivities:
    KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF! (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
    METRIC HARVARD NOTRE DAME
    Penalties Committed/Drawn per 100 Opportunities 7.89 (64) 6.49 (20)
    Penalties Margin -0.96 (53) +0.66 (21)
    Man-Down/Man-Up Postures per 100 Defensive Opportunities 14.56 (64) 12.04 (24)
    Man-Down/Man-Up Posture Reliance 19.61% (66) 18.67% (4)
    Man-Down/Man-Up Conversion Rate 40.00% (49) 56.36% (2)
    This is not pretty for the Crimson: (1) Harvard commits a ton of penalties and Notre Dame draws a lot of infractions; (2) the Crimson generally end up in a penalty deficit and the Irish generally end up in a positive penalty margin; (3) Harvard is in man-down postures all the time (Notre Dame isn't especially in man-up a bunch, but it's still a high-ish value); (4) teams have relied on the personnel imbalance to score against the Crimson and the Irish count almost 20 percent of their total goals as man-up goals; and (5) Harvard can't stop anyone in man-down and Notre Dame eviscerates teams when playing with the man-advantage. Basically, Harvard gets themselves in difficult positions and hasn't survived well in those postures; Notre Dame has taken full advantage of opponents in bad positions and hasn't felt one ounce of remorse about it.
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