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2011 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Duke-Maryland Semifinal

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Have you ever read Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut?  No?  What the hell is wrong with you, knucklehead?  It's one of the finest pieces of American literature ever penned!

Anyway, there's this huge part in the book where all the big-wig engineers go off to this island in upstate New York for a retreat.  All the attendees at the retreat are required to network with people they don't know: bunk up with someone your don't know; eat lunch with someone you don't know; talk to someone at the cocktail hour that you don't know.  The idea is that the attendees are supposed to spread their contact base.

Well, Maryland and Duke think that idea is patently stupid.  The 'Terps and the Blue Devils are just fine keeping to themselves, thank you very much.  All the riff-raff out there is just potential for ruining their utopia of playing a 16-game, home-and-home schedule where each club will earn a birth to the NCAA Tournament simply by playing each other.

It's almost sickening.  And yet, here we are: Duke and Maryland are set to square off for the third time in 2011.

Fun Factor 7.6356 (1st) 5.4286 (10th)
Pace 70.32 (20th) 59.83 (56th)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 36.46 (2nd) 32.20 (11th)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 25.88 (16th) 24.90 (10th)
Adjusted Efficiency Margin 10.58 (5th) 7.29 (8th)

Don't let each team's style and roster composition fool you.  These teams are very evenly matched and the fact that they have split the prior two games between each other this year is enough proof that Saturday's nightcap should be one of the most competitive games in the 2011 post-season.

Here's a quick chart summarizing the big offensive guns that each team will roll out on the field this weekend.  While there aren't a host of players at the top of the "Total Offensive Value" rankings, there is a lot of depth on each squad:

Z. Howell Duke 6.19 2.36 8.55 (37th)
J. Wolf Duke 4.57 2.95 7.52 (73rd)
C. Walsh Duke 2.95 1.92 4.87 (182nd)
D. Lawson Duke 3.24 1.33 4.57 (191st)
R. Young Maryland 3.58 5.08 8.66 (33rd)
G. Catalino Maryland 4.90 1.88 6.78 (99th)
O. Blye Maryland 3.20 2.26 5.46 (153rd)
J. Cummings Maryland 4.71 0.56 5.27 (162nd)
J. Haus Maryland 2.45 2.26 4.71 (187th)

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).

So, what should we all be watching out for?

  1. How well will Duke's defensive unit handle the Maryland offense?  I've written about this before: The Terrapins' offense is a diverse monster.  They beat their opponents a million different ways.  While Duke has seen this attack twice before this season, it's still a load to handle. 

    This Blue Devils defense is not without flaws.  They don't do an especially elite job at marking off-ball movement (Duke is only 29th in defensive assist rate).  This could play directly into Maryland's hands, a team that thrives with the helper.  The Blue Devils do an alright job at limiting the number of shots put on cage per defensive possession, but they have had a somewhat difficult time keeping the ball out of the back of the net: On the year, Duke is 24th in defensive effective shooting percentage.  Maryland, in a foreboding confluence of circumstances, is one of the best shooting teams in the land with an offensive effective shooting percentage in the top-10 nationally.

    What I'm getting at is this: It would behoove Duke to insulate Dan Wigrizer in the cage.  To do so, the Blue Devils are probably going to have to play above their defensive heads on Saturday.
  2. Will Maryland dictate the pace?  This isn't a backhanded jab at the Terrapins' incredibly slow play last weekend against Syracuse.  It actually goes to a different point: Dominance in possession margin. 

    I've written about this before so I'm not going to rehash a lot of stuff.  What's important here is that Maryland dominates its opponents in the number of offensive possessions it has per game against the number of defensive possessions it has to play.  The Terrapins are doing this three ways: 1) Controlling draws; 2) Never blowing a clearing opportunity; and 3) Extending their offensive possessions.  If Maryland is able to dominate two major pace factors -- face-offs and clears -- it has a chance to choke the life out of a Duke team that desperately wants its offense to have the ball and to play in transitional flow.  This is a major piece to the puzzle of who will control success circumstances.  If Maryland really extends that possession margin and puts an embargo on Duke offensive possessions, this thing could get out of hand. 
  3. How will Niko Amato handle the big stage?  Only five teams in the country end defensive possessions more with a save from their goalie than Maryland.  That is significant reliance on a redshirt freshman stopper to promote defensive efficiency.  While Amato has done a great job with his defense at stopping shots (he holds an individual save percentage of 57.8 and the team's defensive effective shooting percentage is 24th nationally), the Terrapins defense still yields a sizable number of shots per defensive possession (Maryland is about average in the metric).

    Where this becomes a problem is when you play a team like Duke.  Only four teams in the country have a higher offensive effective shooting percentage than the Blue Devils.  Not only can they shoot at an efficient clip, they can beat you tons of ways: the offense is 17th-nationally in assist rate and have about a half-dozen guys that can get you an unassisted goal if you need it.  Duke doesn't put a ton of shots on goal -- they're close to the national average in the metric -- but they make the most of their attempts. 

    With such a heavy reliance on Amato to stop shots, Maryland is going to have to do a good job out in front of him to limit his exposure to preferred shot locations.  If the Terrapins defense fails to do this and Amato goes cold, you may as well cue up "Goodnight, Irene."