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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Virginia's "Main Issues"

All about the Cavs' defense.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Lacrosse Magazine interviewed a host of opposing coaches to get their feel on the nation's best teams. Using a quote from those coaches, we're building out context to a specific thought.

The quote:

"Defense and goalie play are the main issues facing this team and if not fixed —especially with the type of offenses they face in the ACC — may end up putting this team in danger of missing the NCAA tourney again or a quick first round exit."

First, here's Virginia's defensive profile from last season (the bad news is italicized):

VIRGINIA'S DEFENSIVE PROFILE: 2014
METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.55 21
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.95 4
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.58 8
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 60.87% 57
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 32.25% 62
Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 52.98% 61
Defensive Assist Rate 18.21 40
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.15 66
Team Save Percentage 47.02% 61
Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 33.24 12

Second, the news gets worse for Virginia: Unavailable from last year's defense are Scott McWilliams, Greg Danseglio, Tanner Scales, Joe Lisicky, Chris LaPierre, and Bobby Hill, basically the entirety of the team's primary options at field defense (save for Tanner Ottenbreit). That's massive, potentially crippling turnover for the 'Hoos, and those cats only put together an aggregate performance that ranked on the back end of the nation's top third last season. This is probably where two fingers of whiskey and the audacity of hope are necessary for Virginia fans to avoid quietly sobbing in the corner.

A high end offense sustained the Cavs last season and will likely push Virginia again in 2015 given the sizeable holes that Dom Starsia is addressing on the defensive end of the field (including a goalkeeping situation best described as "Icky!" based on returns from recent seasons), but without balance the Cavaliers will have trouble elevating the team's ceiling. Assuming that Virginia's defense was as efficient as its offense in 2014 (based on adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings) and keeping all other metrics static, Virginia goes from a team that was expected to win 11 games last season to one expected to win 12. That doesn't seem like a drastic change in volition, but it turns the Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins games into a toss-up games from ones in which the Irish and Jays were favorites (regardless of how strong). Those are tangible adjustments that put Virginia in a different kind of situation, especially for a team that was one of the nation's most notable underachievers relative to the team's gap between actual and expected winning percentage. And Virginia is transitioning into a reality where all kinds of important assets from its 2014 defense aren't available to its 2015 defensive portfolio.

The residue of all of this comes in a myriad of forms: (1) Virginia's offense will carry extra pressure to efficiently can the bean to offset a potentially troublesome situation at the defensive end of the field; (2) Extra importance is put on creating possession margin -- presumably through faceoff victories given the overall momentum that the Cavaliers may carry at the defensive end in creating stops and ensuing offensive opportunities -- and that could be an issue for Virginia with Mick Park's leave of absence; and (3) An accelerated tempo from Virginia exacerbates defensive exposure, and a deflated pace puts more pressure on the defense to make stops due to a dearth of opportunities. There are no easy answers here, but Virginia's staff is as capable as any in the nation and Starsia has been stockpiling talent in Charlottesville for year. This isn't assured doom for the Cavaliers, but it's also not the most pleasurable set of circumstances at the moment.