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The Weekend in Stick: The Ides of March (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

I didn't know if I would live or die.
I bombed Korea every night.
-CAKE, "I Bombed Korea"

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

Boardroom Politics
Cornell 11, Yale 9
Princeton 15, Pennsylvania 12
Harvard 16, Brown 10

Ivy League play opened up this weekend and one thing is clear: Even the Illuminati has no clue what the conference is going to look like at the end of April. The Ivy League is as balanced as any conference this season, six teams deep with five looking like they could have the goods -- to varying degrees -- to hoist conference tournament hardware at the end of the season. This is what the Ivy League should be, and it is returning to its purpose in 2014.

  • Yale at Cornell: There has been a lot of chatter this season about scoring at the end of periods. The ability to limit a response and build momentum is the essence of a late-period strike. The Red got a big one of those from Joe Paoletta with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter against the Elis, the goal breaking a 4-4 tie on the scoreboard and starting the flood that would eventually give Cornell its win over Yale. Cornell followed that strike with four unanswered tallies over the first 9:09 of the second period, building a 9-4 advantage that the Bulldogs could not erode completely. It was a thunderous strike from the Big Red punctuated by three Matt Donovan goals that ultimately dictated the outcome of the game. The Elis had four empty possessions in that five-goal Cornell run while the Red was firing on all cylinders. It was the definitive stretch in what could be a defining game for the Ivy League this year.
  • Pennsylvania at Princeton: It's the subplot to the primary story arc that's most interesting: Brian Feeney, who had been an animal for the Quakers throughout 2014, had his weakest outing of the year against Princeton's explosive offense, yielding to the Tigers despite making charges. Pennsylvania's defense -- its calling card -- had managed to withstand the onslaught of a handful of strong opposing offenses this year, but those efforts were notably attributable to Feeney playing with purpose in the net. Against Princeton, Feeney cracked at the worst moment possible:

    Defensive Shooting Percentage 36.59% 26.67%
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.00 1.22
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 17.07 35.14
    Team Save Percentage 31.82% 52.00%
    Feeney was especially uneven in the fourth quarter, making no saves while allowing two goals on somewhere around nine defensive opportunities. Feeney doesn't have to be exceptional for the Quakers to win, but he needs to be better than what he was against Princeton and its layered presence of offensive destruction.
  • Brown at Harvard: The Crimson have a different feel in 2014 compared to 2013, and a big reason for that is this:

    METRIC 2013 2014
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 52.75 45.05
    Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 25.71 25.74
    Forced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 27.03 19.31
    The Crimson -- one of the worst teams in the nation last season in terms of turnover rate -- has only twice in 2014 pitched the ball away on at least half of their offensive opportunities -- against Massachusetts to open their season (a 4-8 loss) and against Quinnipiac (a 10-8 victory). Otherwise, the Crimson have been fairly average -- that's a good thing! -- in terms of valuing the ball. In fact, Harvard has been slightly better -- about half a turnover over 100 opportunities -- than their opponents at limiting turnovers this season, pushing Harvard into a plus-position in terms of turnover margin. That's improvement, people.

Syracuse 12, Johns Hopkins 10
Duke 9, North Carolina 8 (OT)

Two rivalries among a bunch of top 10 teams. These are the good times, people.

  • Syracuse at Johns Hopkins: The game was marked by a series of runs -- the Orange had three three-goal runs at Homewood; Johns Hopkins had two three-goal runs -- but it's how the Orange played over the first 30 minutes that created circumstances conducive to Syracuse earning a big road victory. The Orange were strong when the Jays were merely average, and that effort allowed Syracuse to ride out a charge from Johns Hopkins in the second half, wrapping up the biggest win that the Orange have had so far in 2014. The detail between the two halves is telling:

    Offensive Opportunities 13 14 13 19 26 33
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 53.85 21.43 38.46 36.84 46.15 30.13
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 41.18% 21.43% 38.46% 35.00% 40.00% 29.41%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.31 1.00 1.00 1.05 1.15 1.03
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 38.46 35.71 15.38 36.84 26.92 36.36
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 25.93 7.41 21.88 6.25 23.73 6.78
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 35.71 23.08 31.58 30.77 33.33 26.92
    Team Save Percentage 62.50% 30.00% 46.15% 44.44% 52.38% 36.84%
    A four-goal lead isn't a drubbing, but Syracuse's four-goal advantage at the half was the result of playing significantly stronger than Hopkins over the game's first 30 minutes. The Orange had a heck of a day when they needed it the most, but it's how the team started its effort -- with fire -- that drove the team's success factors.
  • North Carolina at Duke: This made me laugh: Entering the overtime period, Duke was a 72-23 favorite against Carolina based on how the two teams played in the game's first 60 minutes. It was just a matter of getting the Devils the possession necessary to drop the Tar Heels and that's exactly what influenced the outcome: Duke won the opening face-off in overtime -- just the Devils' seventh face-off win of the day -- and used the possession to generate a Jordan Wolf goal 1:26 seconds into the extra period. Duke won a game that it could have lost despite playing better than North Carolina, if that makes any sense at all. Lacrosse!

Massachusetts 8, Penn State 6
Notre Dame 18, Virginia 9

  • Massachusetts at Penn State: The Nittany Lions are on the brink. At 3-3 and currently ranked 12th in the RPI, Penn State doesn't look like it’s in the worst position in the world. When you starting digging into the Lions' situation, though, and ugly picture starts to emerge: Penn State needs to mash the accelerator and start defining its existence. Without the possibility of earning THUNDERDOME!'s automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions are totally at the mercy of the selection committee, hoping that its resume is sufficient to earn an at-large berth to The Big Barbecue. Penn State's resume -- at this point -- isn't totally unassailable: The team is ranked 12th in the RPI and has an RPI-weighted strength of schedule currently ranked 19th; the average RPI ranking of Penn State's wins is 25 while its losses hold an average RPI ranking of seven; the Lions' remaining schedule isn't filled with tons of opportunity -- the average RPI ranking of Penn State's remaining seven opponents is 29, none currently (or likely to become) ranked in the RPI top 10. A win over Massachusetts could have changed the Nittany Lions' reality, but Penn State is now in a situation where it needs to not only crush some skulls but hope that those opponents -- and those opponents' opponents -- start to turn the corner in order to solidify a position in May for the Lions.
  • Virginia at Notre Dame: It was over in the second period when the Irish decided that they were done taking lip from the Cavaliers:

    Offensive Opportunities 8 10
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 25.00 70.00
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 33.33% 58.33%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.75 1.20
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 37.50 40.00
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 11.11 16.67
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 10.00 12.50
    Team Save Percentage 12.50% 33.33%
    Notre Dame made the 'Hoos look like a pile of mud in that second period, 15 minutes of nonstop pain for the Cavaliers.