Faceoff play is an odd flashpoint for college lacrosse: In the offseason, faceoff specialists got their pitchforks and torches together and stormed the NCAA Rules Committee to backtrack on some proposed changes that would impact play at the dot (pertinently, keeping the motorcycle grip legal on the whistle); for fans watching games, it's the most direct way in which they recognize that their team -- or spiteful opponent -- is winning the possession battle on the day or season (which is an arguable fallacy, as Loyola proved last season). This intersection -- between possession margin and potential play on the whistle -- may carry some significant ramifications for five teams in 2013, albeit for different reasons for each club.
Here are some words about those teams, listed in no particular order, with description around why the intersection between possession margin and their faceoff performances could create an issue this spring.
2012 Possession Margin per Game: +2.52 (12)
2012 Faceoff Percentage: 55.43% (13)
2012 Clearing Percentage: 79.17% (54)
2012 Ride Rate: 84.13% (31)
The Blue Hens' possession margin a season ago was heavily dictated by the team's play at the faceoff "X" -- Delaware did a sorry job at actually moving the ball efficiently from their own end last year and didn't exactly operate with a crushing destroyer of a ride in 2012. With such a strong reliance on faceoff play last season to push its possession margin into the positive -- a necessary considering that Delaware was not particularly an efficient offensive team in 2012 (the team ranked only 38th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency), relying on volumized offensive possessions to make the scoreboard blink -- residual questions remain as to whether the Blue Hens will be able to support themselves with the departure of Dan Cooney, the team's leading faceoff man last season (and a guy that finished 12th in the country in individual faceoff percentage at 59.4 percent). There are options for Delaware at the dot -- Tyler Barbarich looks to take the majority of draws for the Blue Hens in 2013 -- but there are still concerns about whether Delaware will need volume to generate offensive tallies (Eric Smith returns to the attack from injury, but the midfield situation is unsettled after graduation losses) and lost offensive opportunities due to decrease faceoff play could impact that.
2012 Possession Margin per Game: +3.58 (7)
2012 Faceoff Percentage: 59.15% (5)
2012 Clearing Percentage: 81.99% (45)
2012 Ride Rate: 84.50% (32)
There's a twofold issue for the Pioneers: (1) Will Chase Carraro, one of the strongest players at the dot in the country (60.4 percent in 2012) and an immediate threat to go to goal on a win, sufficiently adapt to the new faceoff regime?; and (2) If Carraro can't dominate draws as he did a season ago, potentially dropping Denver's overall possession margin (which was driven in large part by play on the whistle), will an offense that is breaking in some fresh faces -- especially at attack -- operate efficiently enough to overcome a drop in overall possession margin? (I don't worry too much about added defensive exposure for Denver due to a drop in possession margin, mostly because the Pioneers have an opportunity to be a quietly strong defensive squad in 2013.) In short, if Denver needs to rely on volume to score this spring and they aren't getting extra possessions due decreased production from the dot, where does that leave the Pioneers? This wouldn't have been a huge problem in 2012; with a new-ish looking offense in 2013, it could have broader consequences.
2012 Possession Margin per Game: +1.92 (13)
2012 Faceoff Percentage: 56.23% (10)
2012 Clearing Percentage: 81.35% (48)
2012 Ride Rate: 83.27% (26)
In the overall, how Stephen Kontos (57.0 percent) performs under the new faceoff regime pales in comparison to what the Pioneers do with the ball and how they defend the ball. This is similar to what VMI is going through with the departure of Stephen Robarge: at the end of the day, these are bad teams not because of what happens at the dot to generate possession margin, but rather the team's offensive and defensive efficiencies are the primary concerns and the reasons why these teams struggle to generate victories. Regardless, if Kontos struggles with the new faceoff rules, the Pioneers may drop a little deeper into the depths of the bottom third of the country: While some nice pieces return to the offense in 2013 -- the attack will be among the better units in the NEC with three returning starters that fit their roles nicely -- this is still an offense that struggled to score on an efficient basis a season ago (52nd in the country) and may not have the totality of parts to substantially increase production. It's always a question of volume in these kinds of circumstances, and if the Pioneers hope to try and insulate its defensive exposure -- the heart of the team, and a unit that could improve from its effort last year (which wasn't horrendous but still not nationally average) -- Kontos is going to need to drive the bus (should Sacred Heart not clear the ball better.)
2012 Possession Margin per Game: +3.19 (11)
2012 Faceoff Percentage: 58.22% (6)
2012 Clearing Percentage: 83.39% (35)
2012 Ride Rate: 85.00% (36)
Among this group the Stags are rely relatively less on their faceoff play to generate possession margin (note the clearing and ride rates, which are right in the middle of the country), but it's still a driver for Fairfield. The issue for the Stags -- because they're special snowflakes -- compared to others in this group isn't how faceoff play and possession margin may impact its offense, but rather how it may impact the defense: Fairfield is entering 2013 without its defensive coordinator from a season ago (Kevin Conry, who is off to Maryland) and its goaltending situation is unsettled with the graduation of Charlie Cipriano. With potentially increased defensive exposure occurring this spring (depending on how Michael Roe acquits himself under the new faceoff regime), the Stags could be messing with a situation where an average but not stellar defensive situation is poked and prodded more than it had been in the past, facing fatigue and giving opponents more opportunities to bury the bean.
2012 Possession Margin per Game: +3.77 (6)
2012 Faceoff Percentage: 60.36% (3)
2012 Clearing Percentage: 83.12% (39)
2012 Ride Rate: 87.22% (50)
In totem, the Bulldogs aren't likely to fall off the map in 2013 if their faceoff situation implodes because a lack of adjustment to the new faceoff regulations. There are two things, though, that do concern me: (1) With Cole Yeager choosing not to participate for the Elis this spring, Yale is left with one faceoff specialist -- Dylan Levings (who ranked fourth in the NCAA last year at 63.2 percent); if he struggles, it's not clear where the Bulldogs turn for help; and (2) The offense may take a bit of a step back in terms of efficient production with the loss of Matt Gibson (graduation) and Deron Dempster (sitting out 2013). Add in an unsettled midfield rotation that is going to need to find its way and Yale's offense -- which ranked 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency a year ago -- may need to rely a little bit on volume (at least early in the spring) to generate scores; if possession margin isn't in their favor -- due to a non-existent ride and lack of draws from the dot -- the Elis could be in a tough spot