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2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Quarterfinals Preview: Albany v. (6) Notre Dame

Can the Thompson Trio walk the Danes to Championship Weekend?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Everything that's worth knowing about Albany-Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Saturday, May 17, 2014 at 2:30 ET
Location: Hempstead, N.Y. (Hofstra University)
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Bryant-Maryland.
Television/Internet: ESPN2 has the broadcast. Also available on WatchESPN.
Game "Fun Factor": 6.72 (First out of four)
log5 Victory Probabilities:

(6) Notre Dame Albany Albany // 50.74% Notre Dame // 49.26%

This isn't an underdog-favorite situation -- this is a pure toss-up game. ACC and Notre Dame fans may clutch their pearls when reading that table and statement, but -- on paper -- the Great Danes and Irish are in a scenario where both have equal opportunity to move on to Championship Weekend. This is great for Division I lacrosse -- a power conference team that was once an outpost facing a team from an inferior league that has limited NCAA Tournament history -- as it helps illustrate the depth of the college game and how Division I lacrosse has developed over the years. Both of these teams are elite and are on a collision course to potentially provide not only the best game of the weekend but also the best game of the tournament so far.

What's Your Deal?

NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat (3) Loyola, 13-6
NCAA Tournament Championships: None
NCAA Tournament Record: 2-5 (28.6%)
Best 2014 Wins: Harvard (14-8); Penn State (17-10); Loyola (13-6)

Notre Dame
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Harvard, 13-5
NCAA Tournament Championships: None
NCAA Tournament Record: 13-18 (41.9%)
Best 2014 Wins: North Carolina (11-10); Virginia (18-9); Ohio State (13-7); Maryland (6-5); Syracuse (15-14); Army (18-17); Harvard (13-5)

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 40.77 (2) 37.80 (8)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 27.34 (12) 26.35 (10)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play -0.65 (42) +0.80 (28)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 76.83% (7) 76.30% (8)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Albany Notre Dame

The discussion around this game is likely to hinge on Albany's offense -- getting combustion from the Thompson Trio -- facing Notre Dame's defense -- a suffocating unit with a hot goalkeeper (Conor Kelly) and field players (Stephen O'Hara, Matt Landis, etc.) that create a web of terror -- and how that unit battle unfolds. That is part of Albany-Notre Dame, but it isn't the lone aspect of the matchup: The Irish's offense is heroically undervalued, one that has made gigantic strides and is an important piston in Notre Dame's power plant; the Great Danes' defense is better than its per-game output, partly due to the fact that Albany plays a ton of possessions per 60 minutes of play. These are balanced teams and the volition of the game isn't limited to what happens on only one side of the field.

Two Things

  • Notre Dame's offense has had shade thrown at it in recent seasons and for good reason: The Irish's offense was a ceiling limiter, one that created an imbalance that Notre Dame needed to overcome. That has changed in 2014: Under Matt Kavanagh's growing presence, Notre Dame has found its offensive pursuit, building around Kavanagh and getting important contributions from Conor Doyle, John Scioscia, Jim Marlatt, and freshman Sergio Perkovic. In fact, Notre Dame has become one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the nation:
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 37.80 8
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.12 33
    Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity 0.68 23
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 60.65% 19
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 32.31% 8
    Raw Offensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 53.27% 9
    Offensive Assist Rate 18.59 24
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 31.72 18
    Opponent Save Percentage 46.73% 9
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Defenses Faced 30.11 12
    Notre Dame isn't afraid to challenge opposing goalkeepers -- a big chunk of their shots are on goal -- and the Irish have done a great job at finding twine in an efficient manner despite not relying heavily on assists to generate looks and goals. Part of this is attributable to the way that Notre Dame likes to get looks -- often in transition opportunities -- but a lot of it turns on an offense that has developed a dead-eye approach to attacking the cage (something that was missing in 2013 when the Irish shot just 27.1 percent). This is an offense that can pillage -- and none of the above even addresses the fact that Notre Dame has converted on almost 54 percent of their extra-man opportunities this year, trailing only Detroit nationally -- and the Irish aren't afraid to vary the attack: Five players -- Kavanagh, Doyle, Scioscia, Perkovic, and Marlatt -- account for 61.55 percent of the team's total shots this season and four additional players -- Nick Ossello, Trevor Brosco, Liam O'Connor, and Jack Near -- have taken at least 20 attempts (the nine players account for 79.60 percent of all of Notre Dame's shots). Of the Irish's primary five, that group is shooting 34.90 percent as a whole, above the team's rate in totem. Looking past this Notre Dame offense is a major mistake.
  • The last unseeded team from a one-bid league to make a trip to Championship Weekend was Towson in 1991. In every year following 1991 in which an unseeded team has made a Memorial Day Weekend adventure (Massachusetts, 2006; Delaware, 2007; Notre Dame, 2010; Maryland, 2011; Maryland, 2012; Cornell, 2013), at least one other member of its conference made the NCAA Tournament. This isn't just about Lyle, Miles, and Ty doing something important for Albany or the style of play that they promote; this is important for the little guy (or big guys that play with little guys), showing that great lacrosse can come from without Division I's usual suspect pool of the ACC, Ivy League, and Johns Hopkins. (Bryant and Drexel have this opportunity as well.) This is a chance for the Great Danes to prove that the "THEY DON'T PLAY ANYBODY!" notion of whether a team is good is flawed. It's a chance to give the America East a great launch pad into 2015 when Massachusetts-Lowell joins the league. It's a great opportunity for Binghamton, Hartford, and the rest of the conference to take pride in Albany's achievements and use the Danes' advancement as a tool to grow their own programs. Albany is on the cusp of accomplishing something that hasn't been done in 23 years, and the residual impact is non-negligible.