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Matt Barrett's Stabilizing Presence for Virginia

Goalkeeping was an area of concern for Virginia going into the season. Barrett's strong play in the crease has erased some ugly memories for Cavaliers fans.

Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia entered its 2015 campaign with a paralyzing issue: What would the 'Hoos get out of the cage in the spring? The Cavaliers had endured consecutive seasons of subpar performances from the crease, witnessing Matt Barrett, Dan Marino, and Rhody Heller struggle to backstop Virginia through the team's yearly battles with some of the most frightening offenses put on Earth, units designed solely to embarrass goalkeepers. The team's anticipated issue between the pipes for this season, however, never materialized: Matt Barrett -- just a sophomore that transitioned from a 2014 effort in which the keeper held a 46.71 save percentage -- has not only emerged as a legitimate force in the net, but has elevated himself into a position of serving as a reliable and important cog in the Cavaliers' defensive efforts.

The contrast between Virginia's goalkeeping profile in 2015 compared to 2013 and 2014 is dramatic, the kind of difference that implies that the 'Hoos may have genetically re-engineered a goalie instead of merely developing a presence in the cage:

Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.50 57 27.15 66 39.89 10
Team Save Percentage 48.03% 51 47.02% 61 56.39% 14
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.95 6 0.95 4 1.20 52
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.57 9 0.58 8 0.71 50
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 60.08% 40 60.87% 57 58.85% 34
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 31.23% 53 32.25% 62 25.66% 14
Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 51.97% 51 52.98% 61 43.61% 14

This is Virginia's reality: Barrett has played about 94 percent of the Cavs' total minutes this season and holds a 56.47 save percentage, a mark that ranks 13th nationally. This performance, in a vacuum, is impressive but is even more remarkable in that his workload in 2015 has increased over 2014: Virginia is yielding more shots on a per possession basis year-over-year, including shots on goal (even if the ratio of shots on goal to total shots is notably lower), and Barrett has responded with more stops per defensive opportunity, a higher save percentage, and the defense -- in part due to Barrett's improved ball-stopping ability in an oppressive environment of shot volume -- has acutely reduced its raw defensive shooting rates.

It's also important to note that Barrett is accomplishing his task behind a defense that has been totally retooled. Virginia is in the midst of a campaign without the services of Scott McWilliams, Greg Danseglio, Tanner Scales, Joe Lisicky, Chris LaPierre, and Bobby Hill, major contributors to the Cavaliers' defense in preceding seasons, leaving a hodgepodge of defensive assets available to the 'Hoos to try and make combustion. Yet, even in that climate of unrest, Barrett has stabilized the team's defense through Virginia's first 10 games of the spring, allowing the team to structure itself outwardly from the crease, permitting the field defense to progress in its maturation. Barrett hasn't been the most impressive goalkeeper in Division I this year, but he is one of the most important keepers in the country based on his team's needs and his growth stands among the most mind-blowing in the nation.