When schedules started to trickle in during the fall, Denver-North Carolina was the pre-March game that earned presence in the spotlight. The two teams have been among the nation's strongest programs in recent years and the meetings that the teams had in the last three NCAA Tournaments set the stage for a huge February throwdown in front of a national audience. Yet, it wasn't just the status of these teams that earned the game top-billing in lacrosse's first month. Rather, it was the combination of the overall power of these teams and their ability to demolish opposing defenses.
There's no shame in unabashedly loving hyper-elite offenses. Watching highly efficient offenses with a multitude of great offensive weapons is part of the allure of college lacrosse. There is a visceral and physical reaction to witnessing an offense turn an opposing defensive coordinator's gameplan into dust, leaving only a constantly blinking scoreboard in its wake. And that's the true force behind Denver-North Carolina: These two teams have been among the nation's best -- if not arguably the nation's best -- at generating metric tons of goals. The analytics support this statement:
|METRIC||'14 DENVER||'14 CAROLINA||'13 DENVER||'13 CAROLINA|
|Adjusted Offensive Efficiency||45.29 (1)||38.98 (5)||41.49 (1)||40.28 (2)|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.21 (9)||1.18 (19)||1.17 (15)||1.17 (12)|
|Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity||0.77 (1)||0.73 (4)||0.72 (4)||0.75 (1)|
|Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots||63.17% (5)||61.72% (11)||61.85% (17)||63.69% (5)|
|Raw Offensive Shooting Rate||37.13% (3)||32.88% (7)||34.10% (3)||32.71% (8)|
|Raw Offensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate||58.78% (2)||53.28% (8)||55.14% (5)||51.36% (13)|
|Assist Rate||25.09 (2)||18.45 (24)||22.26 (6)||21.59 (8)|
|Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||37.99 (8)||36.31 (6)||41.15 (12)||35.41 (3)|
|Opponent Save Percentage||41.22% (2)||46.72% (8)||44.86% (5)||48.645 (13)|
There are some consistencies in each team's offensive profile over the last two seasons, even if the Tar Heels and Pioneers make their money in different ways on the offensive end of the field: Both teams have been stupidly efficient at canning the bean on a per possession basis, putting up bonkers adjusted offensive efficiency rates since 2013; both teams have not been afraid to challenge opposing goalkeepers, putting a high volume and ratio of shots on cage on a per possession basis (and generally blowing the ball past defenseless keepers); and both teams have done an amazing job at valuing the bean, limiting turnovers and permitting circumstances conducive to wrecking the souls of opposing defenses. The Pios have been a little more consistent in their desire to share the bean -- and part of that is the function of Matt Brown's offense -- but it's not like the Heels are disinclined to move the ball.
This is the kind of matchup that helps sustain the viability of college lacrosse as a going concern. There is a built-in affection for this series, putting the game's best features on a national stage while allowing each team to let loose. Defensive wars are interesting and thought-provoking, but an offensive explosion puppeteered by two first-rate offensive minds -- Brown and Dave Metzbower -- and detonated by a half-dozen players that were either taken in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft or included on the initial Tewaaraton Award Watch List -- Jimmy Bitter, Connor Cannizzaro, Wes Berg, Joey Sankey, Chad Tutton, and Erik Adamson -- stands as the apex of the human experience. There is the potential that something truly special could happen in Chapel Hill today, and even if the game doesn't quite meet its hype, it should at least provide a sufficient form of sustenance until the meat of the college lacrosse season is presented.