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2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Quarterfinals Preview: Drexel v. (5) Denver

Can Drexel get to Championship Weekend in their first NCAA Tournament appearance ever?

Rob Carr

Everything that's worth knowing about Bryant-Maryland in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 2:30 ET
Location: Newark, D.E. (University of Delaware)
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Johns Hopkins-Duke.
Television/Internet: ESPNU has the broadcast. Also available on WatchESPN.
Game "Fun Factor": 4.71 (Third out of four)
log5 Victory Probabilities:

Denver Drexel Denver // 74.24% Drexel // 25.76%

"BUT DREXEL JUST BEAT PENN LAST WEEK?! DID THE COMPUTING MACHINE NOT SEE THAT?! WHAT A CROCK! THE DRAGONS HAVE WON NINE IN A ROW! WHAT HAS DENVER DONE?! I'M GOING TO BURN THE COMPUTING MACHINE AND DANCE AROUND THE FLAMES!" Look: The probability calculation here isn't implying that the Dragons are a bad team. Rather, it's showing that Drexel is a pretty good team going against an elite team that is in the conversation for the national championship this season. It's going to take a surge from Brian Voelker and Associates, Ltd. to drop Bill Tierney's Denver team.

What's Your Deal?

NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat (4) Pennsylvania, 16-11
NCAA Tournament Championships: None
NCAA Tournament Record: 1-0 (100.0%)
Best 2014 Wins: Albany (14-13); St. Joseph's (14-10); Penn State (13-12); Hofstra (11-10); Pennsylvania (16-11)

NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat North Carolina, 9-5
NCAA Tournament Championships: None
NCAA Tournament Record: 5-6 (45.5%)
Best 2014 Wins: Air Force (14-8); Notre Dame (10-7); Penn State (15-11); Ohio State (9-5); North Carolina (9-5)

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 34.40 (18) 45.11 (1)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 31.77 (36) 27.82 (16)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +4.52 (5) +1.41 (20)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 62.89% (22) 83.01% (3)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Drexel Denver

It stands out unquestionably: While Nick Saputo's fingerprints are likely to appear all over the game, Drexel needs to find a way to manage Denver's prolific offense if the Dragons hope to avoid a disaster in the quarterfinals. The Dragons have seen four teams this season ranked in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency -- Albany, St. John's, St. Joseph's, and Massachusetts -- and won all four games, but outside of the Great Danes, none of those teams are -- in all facets of the game -- remotely as dynamic and strong as the Pioneers are.

Two Things

  • Caution is necessary when discussing Saputo's contributions to Drexel's success -- as always, what occurs in the run of play is ultimately more impactful to winning and losing than simple faceoff wins -- but the Dragons do rely on Saputo to create offensive opportunities and limit exposure of its defense. Drexel likely has a different look without Saputo, and the specialist's ability has helped the Dragons get the job done:
    Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +4.52 5
    Faceoff Percentage 62.21% 4
    Clearing Percentage 88.55% 15
    Ride Percentage 12.39% 45
    Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Faceoff Wins 44.41% 4
    Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Clearing Postures 48.85% 63
    Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Opponent Failed Clears 6.74% 44
    Percent of Defensive Opportunities from Faceoff Losses 31.00% 59
    Percent of Defensive Opportunities from Opponent Clearing Postures 62.57% 5
    Percent of Defensive Opportunities from Failed Clears 6.43% 53
    Saputo helps create possession margin, but it's the nature of Drexel's possession profile that brings Saputo's work into focus: (1) Only three teams generate a higher percentage of offensive opportunities from faceoff wins than the Dragons, and this allows an offense ranked in the top 20 to hammer the brick; (2) Drexel plays very few -- on a percentage basis -- defensive opportunities out of faceoff losses, avoiding dangerous situations that the Dragons' defense may struggle to stop; and (3) Drexel actually has more faceoff wins than successful clears this season (270 against 263), providing additional offensive opportunities that are lost due a struggle to get defensive stops that flips the attack. Saputo means a lot for Drexel, but that value is more than the mere existence of winning the draw.
  • Denver has played four teams -- Air Force, Penn State, Ohio State, and Rutgers (twice) -- within five ranking positions of Drexel's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value. In those five games, Denver's average margin of victory is 5.40 goals with an average score of 13.80-8.40. The Pioneers have eviscerated solid teams like Drexel this season, winning by no fewer than four goals (a 15-11 victory against Penn State and a 9-5 win against Ohio State). Denver was popped in the announcement of the brackets because the Pios "didn't play anybody" -- the team's schedule (right now) ranks 13th in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation -- but Denver straight up crushed good teams expected to win between 55 and 65 percent of their games (a not insignificant expected winning percentage spectrum). This isn't an indictment of the Pios; rather, it's indicia that Denver is very capable and positioned well to put some pain on the Dragons. This is a motivated Pioneers team that has seen the quality that Drexel holds and has succeeded in similar spots this season. The only question for Denver is whether the Pios have the focus to continue their dominance of teams in this realm.