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The Duke-Pennsylvania Series: An Overlooked Beauty

Going deep into the Devils-Quakers series.


Duke and Pennsylvania will clash for the fifth time in as many seasons tomorrow, the meeting marking the eighth time the two programs have battled in each school's history. The programs have alternated wins against each other since 2010 -- the Quakers took the 2013 and 2011 games while Duke earned victory in 2012 and 2010 -- but the outcomes, in a vacuum, aren't necessarily indicative of how close this series has been over the last four seasons. In fact, there are very few non-conference yearly meetings that have, over the course of a few seasons, matched two opponents in a virtual deadlock:

Total Goals 40 40
Total Shots 135 132
Total Turnovers 66 68
Total Saves 40 45
Total Groundballs 130 103
Total Face-offs Won 55 39
Total Clearing Opportunities 61 81
Total Opponent Failed Clears 17 10
Total Offensive Opportunities 133 130
Aggregated Raw Offensive Efficiency 30.08 30.77
Aggregated Raw Offensive Shooting Percentage 29.63% 30.30%
Aggregated Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.02 1.02
Aggregated Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 49.62 52.31
Aggregated Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Opportunities 28.52 24.33
Aggregated Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 30.77 33.83
Aggregated Team Save Percentage 50.00% 52.94%

That's . . . that's about as close as a series can get when viewed over 240 minutes of play. What's especially interesting about this is that the two programs have, for the most part, adopted disparate styles: Duke has been a team with a nuclear-powered offense that has a desire for speed and chaos; Pennsylvania has been pragmatic and lead by its defense. And yet, in the four games in which the teams have played since 2010, neither holds -- in the aggregate -- a decided advantage over the other. This is high-quality and high-impact lacrosse occurring early in the calendar that has essentially netted a virtual deadlock in overall competitiveness:

  • In a Pythagorean win expectation environment (based on aggregated raw efficiency values from the team's four meetings since 2010), Pennsylvania holds a 51.77 percent to 48.23 percent advantage over Duke. That is essentially a 50-50 situation, evidenced by the team's alternating of wins.
  • In a log5 environment (based on Pythagorean win expectation values derived from the team's aggregated production in their four meetings), Pennsylvania holds a 53.53 percent to 46.47 percent advantage over Duke. That is essentially a 50-50 situation as well.

Outside of the nature of the series since 2010, only once -- in 2011 -- did the team that actually won finish the year in a position where it wasn't expected to win the game (or, at a minimum, have a functional 50-50 shot at winning the game). In other words, based on year-end production, the outcome of the Duke-Pennsylvania game didn't comport with year-end log5 expectations:

2013 Pennsylvania: 57.24% // Duke: 42.76% Pennsylvania 14, Duke 9
2012 Duke: 72.77% // Pennsylvania 27.23% Duke 12, Pennsylvania 8
2011 Duke: 63.78% // Pennsylvania 36.22% Pennsylvania 7, Duke 3
2010 Duke: 85.65% // Pennsylvania 14.35% Duke 16, Pennsylvania 11

That 2011 "upset" ended up having perfect circumstances for the Quakers: The game was played at only 62 possessions, the Quakers won the possession margin battle (Penn was plus-four), Duke's offense was totally shut down, the Devils turned the ball over like crazy (Duke's turnover rate was 75.86 per 100 offensive opportunities), and Brian Feeney was a monster in the net for Pennsylvania, holding a 75.00 save percentage.

Tomorrow should be a show at Koskinen Stadium. If you're not locked into ESPN3 at 7:00 you're wasting your life.