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2011 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Denver-Virginia Semifinal

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Sometimes you just want to eat a shitload of ice cream all day.  You'll have a bowl of mint chocolate chip for breakfast, some neopolitan for lunch, and a big honking bowl of double-chocolate fudge delight for supper.  If you're not in a lactose coma by then, maybe you close out the day with some Cherry Garcia before you hit the hay.

Saturday's first semifinal game -- Denver against Virginia -- is kind of like those day-long ice cream binges: Chock full of sugary goodness that you know is going to be a superficial delight. 

While the Cavaliers and Pioneers have defensive ability, this game is all about beautiful, rich, and creamy offenses.  With Virginia, you have an offensive unit that is captained by Steele Stanwick, a man on mission since the Cavaliers' loss to Duke in the ACC "Tournament." 

With Denver, Mark Matthews -- a man that holds an absolute disdain for putting two hands on his crosse -- is the focal point for all of the Pioneers' success.

Here's a quick comparison chart for the two semifinalists:

Fun Factor 6.6998 (4th) 7.2092 (2nd)
Pace 66.13 (35th) 74.07 (6th)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 37.96 (1st) 34.01 (7th)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 26.22 (20th) 24.60 (9th)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin 11.74 (2nd) 9.41 (6th)

If this game were ice cream, it'd be an explosive kind made with gunpowder and rocket fuel.

It's just not that this game is featuring two of the better offensive teams teams in the country, though; it's also that this sucker is showcasing some of the better individual offensive players in the college game this year:

S. Stanwick Virginia 4.68 5.65 10.32 (12th)
C. Bocklett Virginia 6.61 0.81 7.42 (78th)
C. Briggs Virginia 3.87 1.94 5.81 (133rd)
M. Matthews Denver 7.56 4.03 11.60 (5th)
A. Demopoulos Denver 4.87 4.71 9.58 (18th)
T. Baxter Denver 5.21 3.03 8.24 (52nd)
C. Flint Denver 4.54 1.68 6.22 (122nd)
J. Noble Denver 2.52 2.52 5.04 (176th)
E. Law Denver 2.52 2.02 4.54 (195th)

O/R = Offensive rating (goals per 100 offensive possessions).
A/R = Assist Rate (assists per 100 offensive possessions).
T.O.V. = Total Offensive Value (points per 100 offensive possessions).

Everyone will tell you that defense wins championships, but I don't really care.  When you're going to line up two ridiculously powerful offenses against each other, I'm going to root for goalkeeper embarrassment from the opening whistle to the final gun.  Saturday is primed for such circumstances.

So, what should we all be watching out for?

  1. Will Virginia have an opportunity to dictate the pace?  The Cavaliers are one of the faster teams in the country with only five teams playing more possessions per game than them.  Denver, as a bit of a contrast, doesn't go all that quick; they pick their spots in transition but don't really accelerate tempo like Virginia does.  The focus here should be on two things: How Chase Carraro performs at the dot and whether the Cavaliers choose to slap on their ride. 

    These two pace factors -- draws and performance on the ride-- will ultimately determine: A) Who will dominate the possession margin (a very important factor on Saturday given how efficient both offenses are; the team with the higher number of offensive possessions has a strong chance to generate a scoring cushion); and B) What styles of possessions will be played. Virginia is going to want accelerated offensive possessions, often in transition and unsettled situations; Denver is going to want to run a lot of its two-man game and allow its midfield to take control in six-on-six scenarios where they can use their dodging speed.
  2. Which keeper -- Ghitelman or Faus-- will have the bigger day?  Both Virginia and Denver rely on their goalies to make saves (the Pioneers more than the Cavaliers, though).  Each club is willing to yield a sizable number of shots on each defensive possession and allow their keeper to make a stop; it's more important to each team that the defense keep solid position rather than generate a takeaway. 

    Where this becomes an issue for Virginia and Denver is that both teams' offenses are great at sharing the ball and providing assists.  So, while each team is rolling with a defensive strategy that requires their goalies to make stops to end defensive possessions, this may be a problem on Saturday given the fact that a lot of shots are going to be coming from preferred shooting positions. Whichever stopper -- Faus or Ghitelman -- can erase more "should've canned it" shots will ultimately put their team in a better position for success.
  3. Who will share the ball best?  Denver and Virginia each sport a roster of guys that can go out and get themselves and unassisted goal.  When the Cavaliers and Pioneers are really flying, though, is when they are moving the ball well and generating assists on their tallies.  Each of these teams are in the top-10 in offensive assist rate (assists per 100 offensive possessions) and really like to move the point of attack whenever possible.

    There are two guys to really pay attention to: Stanwick and Demopoulos.  If these two guys are moving the ball well, there's a really good chance that their offenses are going to be chugging along.  I'd especially try and spotlight the Stanwick-Bocklet relationship as well as how Demopoulos is working with Matthews.  Those are your barometer combinations.