The Independence Classic invades not-quite-Philadelphia this weekend to provide lacrosse tripleheader excitement to the masses. The games face-off at noon on Saturday and ESPN3/WatchESPN is the only outlet on Earth -- extraterrestrial rights are held by a company pronounced "UMM [clicking sound]," but the name of that company is written in characters that regular humans cannot understand -- that will broadcast the slate. It's the marquee event of the weekend, and as such, some College Crosse-style profiles are necessary to get your face set for melting.
LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS
Spirit Animal: Grasshopper
.pdf of Tempo-Free Profile: Here
Four Names to Know: Dante Fantoni (A); David DiMaria (A); Ty Souders (D); Mike Noone (D)
Two Things From My Genius Brain to Your Face:
- Lehigh's defense, one of the stingiest in the country last season and to which returned a host of contributors for 2013, has regressed since a year ago, ranked only 28th in adjusted defensive efficiency and yielding around six more goals per 100 possessions than it did in 2012. That's not good for a team that is still controlling its overall pace, playing only about 63 possessions per 60 minutes of play. While Matt Poillon's absence from the cage is a significant factor in Lehigh's inflated defensive numbers, the sidelining of the sophomore due to injury isn't the lone reason that the Mountain Hawks aren't quite kicking teeth in as they did less than 12 months ago: This is a defensive unit that has played against a slate of opposing offenses that ranks only 43rd in strength of schedule (and yet opponents are shooting 29.31 percent against the Mountain Hawks and generating around 16 assists per 100 possessions (last year, teams shot only 23.43 percent against Lehigh and generated only around 14 assists per 100 possessions)). Lehigh needs to be better than this if they want to repeat their successes from a season ago. There are some nice signs that the defensive magic hasn't left Bethlehem -- the team's effort on the ride is right around the top 15 in the nation and only eight teams are causing more turnovers on a possession-basis than the Mountain Hawks -- but the fact remains that Lehigh's defense isn't, in totem, on the same level it was a year ago. Poillon cannot return fast enough, but there are other issues that Lehigh is dealing with.
- Saturday is going to be all about possessions, especially possession margin. Lehigh is playing with around three possessions in their favor this season; Penn State has bettered that mark, playing around five more than their opponents. The focus for the Mountain Hawks will be how they draw and how effectively they ride as it has been their major drivers for possession-generation in 2013. The reason for this? To insulate Lehigh's suspect defense through the mitigation of defensive possession exposure and ensuring that the offense -- the Mountain Hawks' strength this season (Lehigh is currently ranked 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency) -- has plenty of opportunities to hammer the Penn State brick and assault The Blonde Satan (Austin Kaut) with shots. Lehigh hasn't required a lot of volume to score this season despite holding a weak raw shooting percentage (27.13 percent, 33rd in the nation), and this is mostly attributable to the fact that the Mountain Hawks are putting tons of attempts on cage per offensive opportunity (only 10 teams have taken more shots per offensive opportunity than Lehigh). The system is working -- albeit not quite as well as 2012 with a two-goal deflation from a year ago on a 100 possession basis -- and it's vital that the Mountain Hawks have this work in their favor if they hope to right the ship against what is, at the moment, a superior opponent.
For more on Lehigh's opponent this weekend -- Penn State -- check out the Nittany Lions' profile here.