2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview: Air Force at (1) Duke

USA TODAY Sports

Here's what the top seed in the tournament is looking at.

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

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 5:15 ET
Location: Durham, N.C.
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Johns Hopkins-Virginia.
Television/Internet: ESPNU has the broadcast. Also available on WatchESPN.
Game "Fun Factor": 4.87 ("Good")
log5 Victory Probabilities:

log5 PROBABILITIES (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
HOME AWAY FAVORITE UNDERDOG
Duke Air Force Duke // 64.58% Air Force // 35.42%

Air Force has seen one team this season -- Denver -- that approached the level of competency that Duke holds. The Falcons' season-opening loss to the Pioneers -- a six-goal setback that could have been worse if Air Force didn't pump in three goals in the last six minutes of the game after trailing by nine -- was potentially a prelude to what could happen to the Falcons at Koskinen Stadium on Sunday evening. Air Force is a strong team, but this isn't a matchup or a situation where Air Force has succeeded this season.

What's Your Deal?

Air Force
NCAA Tournament Appearances: Three (Last: 1988)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: Automatic Qualifier (ECAC)
Record: 11-5 (3-1, ECAC)
Combustibles: Mike Crampton (A) (45G, 17A); Keith Dreyer (A) (17G, 31A); Kyle O'Brien (LSM) (53GB, 17CT); Erik Smith (M) (24G, 13A)

Duke
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 18 (Last: 2013)
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: At-Large (ACC)
Record: 13-3 (4-1, ACC)
Combustibles: Jordan Wolf (A) (51G, 29A); Brendan Fowler (FOGO) (60.1 FO%); Deemer Class (M) (31G, 25A); Casey Carroll (D) (41GB, 19CT)

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

AIR FORCE at DUKE (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
METRIC AIR FORCE DUKE
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 36.77 (11) 38.05 (7)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.95 (26) 27.17 (12)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +0.88 (27) +5.68 (3)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 68.91% (14) 80.17% (4)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Air Force Duke

If Duke takes care of its business, Air Force's potential recedes significantly into the background. A game with pace and a possession margin accruing toward the Devils restricts Air Force from attempting to control the game with their stronger unit -- the team's offense, a unit that is capable, powerful, and multi-faceted. The Falcons are likely a stronger team than what Duke will show Air Force to be, and that says more about the Blue Devils' overall strength than it does about Air Force as a team in 2014.

Two Things

  • Teams don't need a first team All-America keeper to win the national championship. The history book is littered with champions that featured solid goaltenders that weren't world class-caliber. This is partly due to the fact that goalkeeping is often a slippery aspect of the game to grasp: Teams rely on their keepers in different ways, often putting crease-minders in different kinds of situations. Goalkeeping is both a function of the field defense in front of the crease and a keeper’s individual ball-stopping ability. There are, however, a number of metrics that imply the value that a goalkeeper provides to a defense and how strong of a goalkeeping situation a team maintains. Duke is potentially in a situation where it is receiving decidedly average play from between the pipes but that play (1) hasn't significantly impacted the team's overall defensive efficiency, and (2) isn't an anchor dragging the Devils' fortunes into the ground:
    DUKE'S GOALKEEPING PROFILE (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE RANK
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 32.09 46
    Team Save Percentage 51.75% 34
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.62 24
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 55.36% 8
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 26.71% 19
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 48.25% 34
    Luke Aaron has been stronger than Kyle Turri this season (and has seen the bulk of time in the net for the Devils), but Aaron's -- and Duke's overall goalkeeping situation -- isn't that of the spectacular: Duke doesn't yield a high proportion of shots on goal and a decent number of those shots are turned away. There's nothing drastically wrong with this profile, but it is a solid illustration of how a really strong team can have some unevenness in the cage and still hammer fools.
  • The material regarding Air Force's shooting profile still holds true after the Falcons pounded Richmond, but repeating things is lazy and boring and [I've already lost interest in this sentence]. How about this -- Have you thought about how the Falcons value the ball and maximize offensive opportunities by not killing functional offensive possessions that gestate in the box? No? Today is a special day for you, college boy. Air Force is one of the best in the nation at not pressing a red button and nuking themselves out of existence, and that has helped drive the team's high offensive efficiency value:
    AIR FORCE'S CARE (AS OF MAY 8, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE RANK
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 38.76 7
    Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 20.28 13
    Opponent Caused Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 18.47 13
    Estimated Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities per 60 Minutes 9.69 5
    Estimated Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio 33.70% 8
    Against a superior opponent that is capable of turning mistakes into tombstones, Air Force's ability to avoid mistakes and not kill functional offensive possessions with turnovers could prove valuable. Getting chewed up by an opposing goalkeeper is one thing; making it easier for an opposing defense to kill possessions through giveaways is another. For the Falcons, they've been excellent at making opposing defenses beat them.
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