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The Weekend in Stick: February Blood Storm (Part I)

"The Weekend in Stick": It's exactly what it sounds like -- a recapitulation of this weekend's most notable. No doink.

Jim McIsaac

My intentions are good,
and earnest, and true,
But under my hood,
is internal combustion power.
Satan is my motor,
Hear my motor power.
-CAKE, "Satan Is My Motor"

Let's get to the big stories from the weekend.

Penn Threatens, Duke Prevails at Koskinen
Duke 9, Pennsylvania 6

It wasn't the prettiest of games, but the Quakers and Devils muscled their way through 60 minutes of action that set the stage for a big weekend of lacrosse. Penn almost got the game that they wanted, but two factors ultimately sunk Pennsylvania in their first effort of 2014: (1) Duke was plus-10 in possession margin (thanks, primarily, to a nine-opportunity advantage at the face-off dot); and (2) The Quakers couldn't seem to find twine when it possessed the bean.

Pennsylvania's defense was a horse on the night, holding Duke to a scoring rate that generated tallies on under 20 percent of their offensive opportunities. That defensive effort -- the Quakers' calling card -- was due to Brian Feeney making some huge stops, limiting the looks the Devils were getting (Duke shot 27.27 percent on the night while generating helpers on just eight of every 100 offensive opportunities), and allowing the Devils to commit unforced turnover after unforced turnover -- Duke committed 17 unforced giveaways against the Quakers, accounting for about 35 percent of Duke's offensive opportunities -- to erase defensive postures. Had the Quakers been able to generate any kind of offense -- the team scored on about 16 percent of its offensive opportunities and were eaten up by Luke Aaron in the cage -- the result could have been different.

Alas, the Quakers' small difference in production wasn't enough to overcome the 10-possession deficit that Penn played in (if the Quakers would have been even in possession margin with the Devils, a quick statistical analysis shows a three-and-a-half goal change on the scoreboard (two goals off the board for Duke and one-and-a-half goals put on the score sheet for Penn)). It's a tough pill for the Quakers to swallow and a valuable victory for the Devils on a night when Duke didn't quite play to its potential.

Maryland Pummels Syracuse
Maryland 16, Syracuse 8

Skepticism around the Terps' true reality after Maryland's first two games was reasonable: The team's defensive situation was a solid known, but Maryland's offensive strength was still unclear given the competition the team faced over the first 120 minutes of its season. That skepticism was jettisoned to the far reaches of space after the Terrapins went into the Carrier Dome and absolutely spanked the Orange on its home field.

The game moved decidedly and unquestionably in Maryland's favor in the second quarter, a period in which the Terps put 10 -- !!!!! -- goals on the board and erased Syracuse from existence. The Orange held a tenuous 3-2 lead after the first 15 minutes of play, but the Terps then took over, generating possession after possession and putting bullet wound after bullet wound into the Orange's defense (a unit expected to serve as a strength for Syracuse this season). Digging into the play-by-play of that second quarter, Maryland's effort against the Orange -- an efficient and dominating performance -- comes into full focus:

  • Maryland scored on 10 of 13 second period possessions. That's a tally on over 75 percent of their offensive opportunities in the second quarter. And if you eliminated the last opportunity of the period -- it was earned with a face-off win with nine seconds remaining in the second quarter -- the efficiency stands even stronger. Contrastingly, Syracuse scored on two of six second quarter offensive opportunities, a solid rate of canning the bean but limited in impact due to Syracuse's inability to generate a defensive stop or otherwise tilt the balance of possession.
  • Maryland scored goals on six offensive opportunities earned directly from a face-off win. Two of those goals were attributable to Charlie Raffa winning at the dot, charging down the field, and smoking the defense with a tally. From the 10:27 mark of the second quarter to the 8:01 mark of the period, Maryland earned consecutive face-offs wins that immediately led to tallies. That streak turned a one-goal Maryland deficit into a four-goal lead for the Terps. It was almost as if Syracuse was reliving its nightmare from the national title game in 2013.
  • Syracuse generated a defensive stop on a defensive possession inuring directly from a lost face-off just twice in the second quarter. Contrastingly, Maryland yielded just one goal in the second period from a defensive possession that started right from a Syracuse face-off win. Winning and losing face-offs isn't everything; getting stops off of those face-off losses ultimately dictates the momentum in a game. Maryland took advantage of that against the Orange in the second period.

Penn State is Team Nightmare
Penn State 8, Notre Dame 7

Penn State has no margin for error this season. With THUNDERDOME! stripping the Nittany Lions of an opportunity to earn the league's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, Penn State needs to get as many quality wins against non-conference opponents as possible. The Lions' trip to Arlotta Stadium to face Notre Dame wasn't a must-win for Penn State, but it was pretty close to it. Penn State emerged from South Bend with the win, but the outcome was eerily similar to the edge that the Lions' are staring at this season relative to its postseason hopes:

Possession Margin +1 -1
Raw Offensive Efficiency 26.67 24.14
Raw Offensive Shooting Percentage 23.53% 24.14%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.13 1.00
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 50.00 41.38
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Opportunities 28.81 25.42
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 44.83 23.33
Team Save Percentage 65.00% 46.67%
Game Pythagorean Win Expectation 57.66% 42.34%
Game log5 64.87% 35.03%

A bounce here and a bounce and Penn State is possibly staring at a situation where it needs to find wins for lost chances against Loyola and the Irish. Instead, the Nittany Lions are 2-1 with a victory over a presumed NCAA Tournament participant that should finish the year with a gaudy RPI ranking. Team Nightmare -- both because of the circumstances it faces and the problems it creates for the opposition -- is in a better position today than it was before the weekend, and its status was earned because it was able to hold on to a one-goal lead for the last 7:25 of play against Notre Dame (a stretch that featured Penn State killing four Irish offensive opportunities, three ending with an Austin Kaut -- The Blonde Satan -- save).

Goalkeepers: "STOP HURTING ME!"
Drexel 14, Albany 13

This is about Drexel winning another game in the fourth quarter. This is also about the Great Danes' defense failing to make stops when it needed to.

Offensive Opportunities 37 33
Raw Offensive Efficiency 37.84 39.39
Raw Offensive Shooting Percentage 29.17% 26.53%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.30 1.48
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 24.32 33.33
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Opportunities 25.71 25.71
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 48.48 45.98
Team Save Percentage 55.17% 54.84%
Game Pythagorean Win Expectation 46.88% 53.12%
Game log5 43.79% 56.21%

I don't believe in luck; I believe in overachievement and underachievement. Teams make their own circumstances, and the Dragons have been one of the best teams in the nation over the last few seasons at bending reality in their favor when something terrible for Drexel should have been the result. Facing a one-goal deficit at the sunrise of the final period, Drexel scored six goals on 10 offensive opportunities over the final 15 minutes of play while the Great Danes put only four on the board with the same number of possessions as the Dragons. Drexel's hyper efficiency in the fourth quarter combined with Albany's inability to keep pace -- due, in part, to the fact that the Great Danes committed almost as many turnovers in the final period as it scored goals -- gave the Dragons an important victory and left Albany with some questions about the team's ceiling if the Danes' defense can't close games.

The Hell?
Lafayette 8, Colgate 7

Ryan Walsh putting five goals on the board and helping on two others sounds like a runaway victory for the Raiders, right? Sorry, college boy: You're wrong. Fresh off of an eight-goal loss to Stony Brook four days earlier, the Leopards slipped past a Colgate team that had taken care of business against Bryant in their season-opener and had drilled Vermont. This is an impressive win for Jim Rogalski in just his second season in Easton -- the team celebrated with Gatorade baths only three times in 2013 -- and thrusts Lafayette into a four-way tie atop the Patriot League standings with Lehigh, Loyola, and Bucknell.

How did Lafayette get this done? Jake Hyatt went bonkers in the cage for the Leopards, making 15 stops and erasing the team's possession deficit:

Possession Margin +4 -4
Raw Offensive Efficiency 19.44 25.00
Raw Offensive Shooting Percentage 20.59% 28.57%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.94 0.88
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 38.89 43.75
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Opportunities 17.65 20.59
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 31.25 41.67
Team Save Percentage 55.56% 68.18%
Game Pythagorean Win Expectation 31.45% 68.55%
Game log5 17.39% 82.61%

That's a lot of one shot possessions that Hyatt limited Colgate to, and the result was Lafayette getting just enough out of its offense to secure the win.

Part II is here.