2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview: Bryant at (2) Syracuse

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The weekend -- as is custom -- closes in the Carrier Dome.

Everything that's worth knowing about Bryant-Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 7:30 ET
Location: Syracuse, N.Y.
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Cornell-Maryland.
Television/Internet: ESPNU has the broadcast. Also available on WatchESPN.
Game "Fun Factor": 4.58 ("Good")
log5 Victory Probabilities:

Syracuse Bryant Syracuse // 54.58% Bryant // 45.42%

This is where Syracuse fans probably burn down the Internet in a red-fueled rage. Depending on the adjustment and weighting of possession margin this probability changes, but the method utilized for this round of the tournament sees Bryant-Syracuse as a toss-up. The reason for this is more than the mere existence of Kevin Massa's witchcraft at the dot: The Orange are a very average defensive team, one that will see exposure to a below-average Bulldogs offense that could utilize volume to keep the game close. This is closer to a 60-40 game if the Bulldogs fail to go plus-seven in possession margin, but Bryant isn't a complete and total pushover in this matchup-driven game. (Brian Coughlin of Inside Lacrosse has Syracuse winning with a 60.1 percent probability.)

What's Your Deal?

NCAA Tournament Appearances: Two (Last: 2013)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: Automatic Qualifier (Northeast)
Record: 15-4 (5-1, Northeast)
Combustibles: Shane Morrell (A) (41G, 17A); Kevin Massa (FOGO) (71.39 FO%); Gunnar Waldt (G) (61.1 SV%); Colin Dunster (M) (33G, 11A)

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 34 (Last: 2013)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: At-Large (ACC)
Record: 11-4 (2-3, ACC)
Combustibles: Kevin Rice (A) (33G, 43A); Randy Staats (A) (32G, 22A); Brandon Mullins (D) (31GB, 14CT); Dylan Donahue (A) (55.4 SHT%)

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.58 (37) 39.45 (5)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 27.95 (17) 30.46 (32)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +6.58 (2) +1.13 (23)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 66.54% (18) 70.50% (13)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Bryant Syracuse

The Bulldogs have made their money this season with their defense, an angry unit that has -- against a schedule ranked 56th in opposing offenses faced -- been dangerously deadly, holding all but two opponents -- Albany and Brown -- to fewer than double-digit goals. A major factor in Bryant's defensive efforts has been Gunnar Waldt, one of the more undervalued keepers in the nation, a goaltender that the Bulldogs lean on to make stops in the rare instances in which Bryant yields shots on goal. Waldt suffered an injury against Siena in the team's play-in round but was able to play through a notable limp after taking a 30-second breather. His full status for Sunday is unknown, but it would likely take a melting face from opening the Ark of the Covenant to keep him out of the game.

Two Things

  • Syracuse's potential ceiling-limiter in 2014 isn't the team's possession margin situation. Rather, it's an average defense that has held only six of its 15 opponents this season to under 10 goals. The unit -- one that was among the nation's best a season ago -- has patched together efforts sufficient for the Orange to pull together 11 wins but remains a concern as Syracuse enters the apex of its campaign, a pursuit that features an offense capable of generating tallies with any team in the nation. This is more than nit-picking: Due to the Orange's pace of play (currently ranked 10th nationally), Syracuse plays around 34 defensive opportunities per 60 minutes, yielding goals on about 31 percent of their defensive possessions. Those two factors result in the Orange giving up around 11 goals per 60 minutes of play, a mark that (1) puts pressure on Syracuse's offense to generate tallies in an efficient manner, (2) puts pressure on the Orange's ride to create additional offensive opportunities to erase offensive efficiency concerns (and Syracuse has not been a strong riding team in 2014), and (3) puts pressure on Chris Daddio to win draws as the Orange aren't getting defensive stops to create offensive opportunities. What's especially scary about Syracuse's defense is that it doesn't yield a ton of shots on goal but has had all kinds of issues limiting looks and keeping the ball out of the back of the net:
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 30.70 34
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.68 43
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 29.95% 52
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 50.43% 51
    Defensive Assist Rate 19.30 48
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 33.92 30
    Team Save Percentage 49.57% 51
    The focus for Syracuse isn't "Can they win faceoffs?" It's "Can they make stops?"
  • Bryant has played two teams this season with adjusted Pythagorean win expectation values in the top 20 nationally: Yale, a March 1st one-goal loss for the Bulldogs in New Haven, and Albany, a mid-March show that ended with Bryant leaving upstate New York with a 12-11 victory. The Bulldogs aren't just a start-up from the nothingness that is Rhode Island: Bryant has seen strong competition this season -- although it came almost two months ago on the Bulldogs' schedule -- and has competed well in those spots. Of important note is Bryant's expected chances for victory against Albany, a team with a similar profile to Syracuse (in terms of unit strength driving victories): Against the Danes (if Bryant and Albany would play today), the Bulldogs would be a 60-40 underdog (in the same vicinity to the team's chances against Syracuse). There is evidence in Bryant's 2014 season that Syracuse isn't assured of a first round victory in the Carrier Dome against a team it beat by five goals last year in the same spot. These teams are different than their construct in 2013, and an associated difference could appear on the scoreboard late Sunday night. Bryant can play even though the Bulldogs find a home in a conference that ranks poorly in the overall. Overlooking Bryant simply because Syracuse has fared well against an impossible schedule this season is a major mistake.

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