There are currently four undefeated schools in Division I: Hofstra (5-0), Notre Dame (4-0), Syracuse (5-0), and Yale (4-0). Let's pick apart each one because, well, it's more fun than talking about why Wagner is absolutely miserable year-in and year-out.
Remember 2010? It was a great year. Stuff happened. Among the stuff that happened was Hofstra ripping net all over the country, convincing me not only that the Pride could make a sneaky run to the Final Four, but also that Seth Tierney would have a not-so-sneaky good club in 2011.
Well, a weird thing happened in 2010: Maryland took a hammer and beat it about Hofstra's head down in College Park in the playoffs. I legitimately wondered whether Tierney would have a true national contender in 2011 or whether we'd simply see Hofstra run through a pretty good C.A.A. and again flounder when it mattered.
As it turned out, my worries were unfounded. Hofstra is legitimate. The Pride is so legitimate, in fact, that Hofstra is rocking a big old "4" next to its name in the national polls. That's pretty sweet, right?
Right, it's pretty sweet.
Let's break Hofstra down: How they've stayed unbeaten, where their weaknesses are, and where's the first potential loss.
UNDEFEATED: HOFSTRA'S BLUEPRINT
This is no surprise, but it all starts for the Pride with Lincoln, Bentz, Card and the rest of Hofstra's merry band of offensive assassins. It's not like the Pride's defense is bad (it's currently ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency), but it has been the offense -- once again -- that is buttering Hofstra's bread.
Currently ranked ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency (34.3 goals per 100 possessions), Hofstra has relied on its marksman-like accuracy: the Pride is third nationally in effective shooting percentage (36.34%). When you realize a) that Hofstra doesn't take many shots (46th nationally in offensive shots per possession (.89)) and b) that the team has played a schedule that is currently ranked 16th in "opposing defenses faced," you quickly understand that the Pride's custom of "shot-score" is driving the nil value in the right-hand column of its record.
Another major piece of the puzzle regarding Hofstra's success is that it has played very few defensive possessions. In total, the Pride have played the fewest defensive possessions per game in the country (25.8). The old maxim of "If you don't shoot, you can't score" gets exacerbated even greater when thinking about Hofstra: "If you can't have the ball, you can't shoot, and you can't score."
So, how are the Pride limiting the number of defensive possessions they must play? There are two primary reasons: 1) Hofstra is seventh nationally in face-off percentage (make-it, take-it); and 2) Hofstra is one of the slowest teams in the land (52nd in pace at 59.4 total possessions per game). When you mash this together, you see that Hofstra is completely controlling the action, thereby tipping the field of play in their favor.
That's a formula for disaster for the Pride's opponents.
WEAK SPOTS: THE DEFENSE ISN'T CONCRETE
While the season is still young, some trends are starting to emerge that show that Hofstra isn't necessarily "complete." While there is a potential issue with the Pride's ride (it's only nationally average in terms of an opponent's clearing percentage), the focus should be on what's happening when Hofstra is in a defensive possession.
Right off the bat: Hofstra is yielding a ton of shots per defensive possession (the Pride is 56th nationally in this metric at 1.18 per defensive possession). That is troublesome. When you consider that Hofstra hasn't exactly played a bunch of excellent offensive teams (Hofstra played a schedule currently ranked 28th in terms of opposing offenses faced), better shooting teams could have the ability to knock of the Pride in short order.
Connected to the "OH MY GOD SO MANY SHOTS!" issue is that while good, Andrew Gvozden isn't impermeable. His save percentage is right around 58%; the team's saves per possession metric is .33 (24th nationally). As I mentioned: Good, not spectacular. A hotter shooting team could find more success against Hofstra than the Pride's previous five opponents.
The final area of concern that stands out is that Hofstra is in man-down situations a lot on defense. Almost 18% of Hofstra's defensive possessions were actually man-down scenarios (that's "good" for 59th nationally). That's a precariously high value. Again, a better/hot shooting team could take advantage of Hofstra given the Pride's performance in this particular metric.
FIRST POTENTIAL LOSS
Delaware on March 19th. Although I'm not sold that it will actually happen, here's why the Blue Hens have a pretty good opportunity to take down Hofstra:
- Delaware plays with tons of offensive possessions (fourth nationally at 40.7 per game). While not a particularly efficient offensive team (Delaware is only 34th nationally) and while lacking true marksmanship (the team is 36th in effective shooting percentage), the volume of offense that the Blue Hens want to throw at Hofstra could upset the Pride's "secret sauce" of success.
- Dovetailing the last point: To get to its number of offensive possessions, Delaware loves to run. The Blue Hens are fourth nationally in pace (80.43 total possessions per game). Hofstra wants to control the action; Delaware wants some recklessness. If the Blue Hens can take the Pride out of their comfort zone, can the Blue Hens succeed? We'll see.
- Delaware isn't going to lay down at the dot. The Blue Hens are winning 58% of their draws, good for 16th nationally. Again: This could rob Hofstra of their precious offensive-defensive possession imbalance.