Whether you want to believe it or not, Virginia still has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament this season. At 5-7 on the year and with, potentially, three games remaining -- Bellarmine and the ACC Tournament (which will, at a minimum, include a game against Maryland) -- Virginia still has the ability to finish the year above .500 (the baseline standard for NCAA Tournament consideration). Assuming that the Cavaliers beat the Knights and run through the ACC Tournament, Virginia will have an awkward postseason resume that may or may not earn it an invitation to college lacrosse's greatest adventure.
The question, then, is whether the Wahoos can snap its six-game losing streak and start winning a few games. I'm not sure that Virginia suddenly turns into Godzilla and makes its opponents flee in terror, and the reason for that is fairly straightforward: In the team's seven losses this season (Syracuse, Cornell, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina, and Duke), the Cavaliers have been worked despite an aggregated goal margin of just minus-18 (six of the losses were by three goals or less).
The best way to illustrate how Virginia has played in its defeats this season is to look at various metrics and compare them to how the opposition performed against the Cavaliers; the margins that result from this comparison detail how far away Virginia was from its opponents relative to various performance metrics that oftentimes dictate the outcome of a game. On an isolated game-by-game basis these margins are sometimes muted or vary in importance, but on an aggregated basis you can see certain trends that indicate why Virginia is losing games or keeping itself competitive in losing contests. The table below details the margins between the Cavaliers' performance in its losses and how its opposition performed in those games. Some brief notes follow the table.
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity
|Non-Faceoff Groundballs per Total Possession
|Saves per Defensive Opportunity
|Turnovers per Offensive Opportunity
Note: I'm not including the overtime period against Syracuse.
- On the season Virginia has been about three goals better than its opposition on an adjusted efficiency margin basis. In its losses, however, the Cavaliers are getting smoked on an unadjusted basis: Those offensive efficiency margins (which is basically unadjusted efficiency margin, measuring the team's ability to efficiently put in the ball in the back of the net less its ability to keep the opposition from doing so) are horrendous, sitting around an eight-goal deficit on a 100-possession basis. Outside of the fourth quarter -- when Virginia has been playing with a sense of urgency or the opposition has taken their foot off the gas a little bit -- the Cavaliers are consistently seeing the opposition score at a rate far surpassing what Virginia is able to do. Those offensive efficiency margin values are almost tragic, and slow starts are part of the reason that the Cavaliers have gotten themselves into trouble this season.
- It's not like Virginia hasn't had opportunities to generate scoring compared to their opponents, either. Look at those first half possession margin values: The Cavaliers are getting virtually the same number of opportunities as their opposition to make the scoreboard blink. The Cavaliers simply haven't been able to generate tallies at the same rate as their future conquerors. Virginia is taking about the same number of shots per offensive opportunity, but they are converting on those shots at a rate that is about 10 percent less than what the opposition is putting together. So, the Cavaliers have had almost the same number of opportunities to score goals, have taken a similar volume of shots compared to the opposition, but the opposition is shooting better than Virginia. A raw offensive shooting rate of 25.50 percent on the season (46th nationally) and a raw defensive shooting rate of 31.85 percent on the year (59th nationally) bears that out, but the background underlying these values strongly illustrates what has held the Cavaliers back in these games.
- Those turnover values are weird, especially for a team that has, in the overall, valued the ball this season. I can't explain exactly why Virginia has turned the ball over more than its opposition in the first half compared the second half of these games, but that's what the Cavaliers have done. Virginia has been much sturdier with the ball over the final 30 minutes of play against these seven teams, but playing just as sloppy or sloppier than the opposition in the first half of this subset of games has hampered the Cavaliers a bit, especially considering how inefficient the team has been compared to its opposition in the first half. Each possession matters, and Virginia has kicked away too many possessions -- compared to their opponents -- and it ahas rguably held the Cavaliers back in each of these games.
- Goalie play continues to be an issue. Outside of the fact that Virginia has gotten fewer saves per defensive opportunity than its opposition in these losses or even that the Cavaliers have a significantly lower goalie save percentage in these tilts, two things stand out: (1)Virginia's goalie play has been more erratic in the second half against this opposition subset compared to the first half; and (2) Virginia is getting more stops from its keeper in the first half compared to the opposition's crease activity, but is stopping shots at a lower rate. None of that is good.