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2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Final Four Preview: (7) Maryland v. (6) Notre Dame

The Terps and Irish will meet for the third time this season.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 3:30 ET
Location: Baltimore, M.D. (M&T Bank Stadium)
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Denver-Duke
Television/Internet: ESPN2 and WatchESPN have the broadcast
Game "Fun Factor": 4.26 (2/2 Semifinals)
log5 Victory Probabilities:

(6) Notre Dame (7) Maryland (7) Maryland // 56.23% (6) Notre Dame // 43.77%

This is just on the edge of a toss-up game, but the Terps are the favorite going into their virtual home date against the Irish in the national semifinals. The teams split their meetings this season -- Maryland won the first after surging late against Notre Dame while the Irish capitalized on a flat tire from Mike Chanenchuk to win the meeting in the ACC Tournament -- and there is evidence kicking around that the script for Saturday may not follow what occurred at Arlotta Stadium or at PPL Park. In an all-things-are-neutral environment (equal possessions, etc.), the Irish may serve as the favorite, but the Terps' approach to 60 minutes of lacrosse may ultimately dictate the outcome of the game.

What's Your Deal?

NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Cornell 8-7
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Bryant, 16-8
Chances to Win the Whole Shebang: 26.10%
Stylistic Profile: Increasing doses of arsenic -- slow death

Notre Dame
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Harvard, 13-5
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Albany, 14-13 (OT)
Chances to Win the Whole Shebang: 17.64%
Stylistic Profile: A pony car -- lots of things to like, but not considered a supercar

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 35.38 (16) 38.24 (8)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 26.32 (9) 26.83 (11)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +8.19 (1) +1.25 (22)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 80.62% (5) 76.41% (6)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Maryland Notre Dame

It's hard to avoid: Maryland's hyper-elite possession margin value is a crushing force of emotionless hydraulic power. While the Terps get a huge chunk of their offensive possessions from faceoff wins -- the team draws at 64.20 percent (third nationally) and gets almost 43 percent of their offensive opportunities from faceoff wins (ninth nationally) -- Charlie Raffa's work at the dot isn't the sole reason for Maryland's possession dominance: The team clears at over 91 percent (fifth nationally) and are ninth nationally in riding rate at over 18 percent. The Terrapins excel at not only creating opportunities but also at maximizing them; Maryland is a possession-generating machine that dominates how their games unfold. To simply characterize Raffa as Maryland's primary possession factor misses the totality of the Terrapins' possession-generating activity: The team has generated 32 more clearing opportunities than faceoff wins and has 46 offensive opportunities attributable to opponent failed clears in 2014. Raffa obviously matters, but he's not the only piston in the engine. Maryland, in short, does everything that it needs to do to create an eight-possession advantage per 60 minutes of play.

Two Things

  • Both Maryland and Notre Dame have done an exceptional job at forcing their opponents to commit turnovers (but in different ways). Turnover rate influenced both team's efforts against each other earlier this season and the rate of giveaways -- either forced or unforced -- could impact the outcome of Saturday's meeting between the two programs. The profile of each team's defensive turnover profile is interesting, but the major takeaway is twofold: (1) Opponents commit a high rate of giveaways against Maryland and Notre Dame; and (2) Both Maryland and Notre Dame have dominated turnover margin. ENGAGE ILLUSTRATIVE TABLE:
    Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 50.63 (9) 50.49 (10)
    Opponent Unforced Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 20.80 (57) 29.47 (2)
    Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 29.82 (2) 19.47 (20)
    Turnover Margin +10.25 (2) +7.96 (5)
    The Terps are more aggressive than the Irish at causing turnovers but that doesn't mean that the Irish are merely relying on their opponents to make mistakes: Notre Dame's riding -- a spider web of terror -- ranks 10th nationally and has helped the Irish change the volition of games. The bottom line is that both the Terps and Irish have seen a high volume of their defensive opportunities erased through opponent giveaways, and in a game expected to maintain a deflated pace due to Maryland's focus on pragmatic development, turnovers could serve as the difference driving the margin on the scoreboard. Efficiency matters most when opportunities are limited, and approaching Notre Dame and Maryland's defensive units with a focus toward ball valuation carries significant consequence.
  • The quality of shots a defense yields is often more important that the mere volume of shots that a defense permits. This fact shouldn't cause brains to leak from ears, but it's often forgotten in the context of how defenses perform. Maryland-Notre Dame may provide an interesting case study in that concept: Notre Dame has been a strong shooting team and are willing to share the ball but the Irish are facing one of the nation's better goaltenders; the Terrapins are a weaker shooting team compared to the Irish and don't share the ball a ton to create assisted goals, but Maryland is facing a keeper on an upward trend that has been uneven in spots this year. Accordingly, whether a team shoots well turns heavily on a prerequisite issue: What kind of shots is that team getting and taking?
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.17 (50) 1.02 (13)
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.67 (39) 0.59 (14)
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 56.84% (20) 57.83% (27)
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 23.93% (5) 29.98% (51)
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 42.11% (5) 51.84% (57)
    Defensive Assist Rate 15.79 (20) 16.31 (26)
    Maryland is willing to let its opponents bomb the net and the parking lot, but doesn't yield a high ratio of shots on goal compared to total shots. With Niko Amato anchoring the net, shots within Amato's save radius are often stopped, a fact that helps the Terps survive tracer fire from opponents. Contrastingly, the Irish's defensive system -- one of the most complete and consistent from year to year -- limits the total number of looks that opponents get, but teams are -- in the overall -- getting the ball through despite low shot volume and a deflated ratio of shots on goal to total shots. The keys here look like this: (1) How will Conor Kelly read shots from one-on-one situations that Maryland initiates (especially when Mike Chanenchuk launches the attack); (2) How will Notre Dame's field defense limit the looks that Maryland's one-on-one situations create (especially in responding to Chanenchuk's ability to feed and unleash lasers); (3) How will Notre Dame's offense challenge Niko Amato in the cage and approach his wide save radius; and (4) How will Maryland's field defense mark and challenge the Irish's big five shooters -- Matt Kavanagh, Conor Doyle, John Scioscia, Jim Marlatt, and Sergio Perkovic -- and force them into situations that limit the quality of their looks on cage (that group is shooting 37.50 percent and holds a 63.30 shots on goal percentage). The answers to those questions are difficult, which is why Gerry Byrne and Kevin Conry are defensive geniuses.