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2015 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Final Four Preview: (4) Denver v. (1) Notre Dame

Semifinal Saturday starts with a potential explosive confrontation between the Pioneers and Irish.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 1:00 ET
Location: Philadelphia, PA (Lincoln Financial Field)
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Johns Hopkins-Maryland
Television/Internet: ESPN2 and WatchESPN have the broadcast
Game "Fun Factor": 6.43 ("Great")
Massey Ratings Prediction:

(1) Notre Dame (4) Denver (1) Notre Dame // 51% (4) Denver // 49%

The Irish and Pioneers will tangle in a virtual toss-up situation, although the strength of that toss-up expectation varies a bit based on the particular model utilized to determine success probabilities. There isn't so much a favorite in Denver-Notre Dame as there's a potential for a massive struggle for dominance, the victor of this game earning a triumph against a competitive peer. The opener for Semifinal Saturday is Memorial Monday-quality, and that fact elevates Pioneers-Irish into the unique position of carrying consequence and overall value relative to the season's 500-plus games.

What's Your Deal?

Notre Dame
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Towson, 12-10
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Albany, 14-10
Massey Ratings Probability to Win the Whole Shebang: 27.78%
Stylistic Profile: Evel Knievel in a red, white, and blue jumpsuit -- almost perfection

NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Brown, 15-9
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Ohio State, 15-13
Massey Probability to Win the Whole Shebang: 27.67%
Stylistic Profile: Auric Goldfinger's industrial laser tracking toward a bound James Bond

Truncated Scouting Reports

Estimated Pace 70.66 (6) 57.37 (63)
Estimated Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin -0.28 (35) +9.52 (1)
Estimated Lost Functional Opportunities Margin Ratio +5.10% (14) +6.90% (8)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 37.96 (9) 42.79 (2)
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.12 (36) 1.15 (29)
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 61.22% (15) 64.89% (4)
Offensive Shooting Rate 33.93% (7) 36.64% (2)
Offensive Assist Rate 18.55 (27) 25.83 (3)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 22.51 (2) 33.83 (51)
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.99 (7) 1.36 (68)
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 56.65% (14) 56.16% (10)
Defensive Shooting Rate 26.01% (14) 26.45% (16)
Defensive Assist Rate 12.60 (3) 22.36 (63)
Faceoff Percentage 50.82% (32) 67.35% (1)
Clearing Percentage 85.20% (38) 85.25% (36)
Turnover Margin +7.49 (12) +7.11 (13)
"Run of Play" Groundballs Margin -0.40 (34) +1.43 (23)
Penalties Margin -0.20 (39) +1.13 (15)
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 30.40 (59) 40.29 (6)
Team Save Percentage 54.09% (20) 52.90% (25)

There are two notable stylistic differences between Notre Dame and Denver: (1) The Irish are pace-positive, playing around 14 more estimated possessions per 60 minutes than the Pioneers, a team built on pragmatism and extended patience; and (2) Denver is organized to generate gigantic estimated possession margins and cash in on its excessive offensive opportunities with a highly-efficient and potent offense while Notre Dame has squashed its opponents without a possession advantage, leveraging and elite defense with an extremely competent offense. The dissonance in these performance aspects may heavily impact the scope of the game: (1) If the Irish are able to erode the Pioneers' estimated possession edge, Notre Dame could expose a suspect Denver defense; and (2) If Denver is able to deflate pace and eliminate transition/early offense opportunities from the Irish, the Pioneers may be able to dictate the volition of momentum, especially if Denver's offense can crack Gerry Byrne's defense.

Two Things

  • Possession margin is a concern for Notre Dame, but the impact of Denver running out with an advantage in opportunities turns massively on how much the Irish can limit the Pioneers' offense and what Notre Dame accomplishes against Denver's defense. If the Irish can the bean at the same rate as it permit goals, Notre Dame will start to see a shortfall on the scoreboard with as little as a two-possession difference in the game. If the Irish, however, put in a performance that witnesses the team scoring on 41 percent of its offensive opportunities while limiting Denver to scoring on only 24 percent of the Irish's defensive opportunities, Notre Dame can assume an eight-possession deficit and still stay square with the Pioneers. Now, holding the Pios to tallies on only a quarter of the team's offensive trips is an aggressive presumption (Denver has generated buckets, on an adjusted basis, on almost 43 percent of its estimated offensive possessions in 2015), but the Irish still have a bit of wiggle room if Denver's scoring rate rises and the Pioneers control the balance of opportunities in the game. The following table illustrates scoring margin based on Notre Dame generating goals on 41 percent of its offensive possessions in a 66-possession game, the variable being the rate at which the Irish concede markers:
    POSS. MARG. DEF. EFF. (24.00) DEF. EFF. (30.00) DEF. EFF. (35.00) DEF. EFF. (40.00)
    -1 +5 +3 +1 0
    -2 +4 +2 0 -1
    -3 +4 +2 0 -2
    -4 +3 +1 -1 -3
    -5 +2 0 -2 -4
    -6 +2 -1 -3 -5
    -7 +1 -1 -3 -5
    -8 0 -2 -4 -6
    -9 0 -3 -5 -7
    -10 -1 -3 -6 -8
  • The other side of the coin is Denver's reliance on possession margin to erase opponents from reality. The Pioneers' average scoring margin this season is around six goals per game, a fat cushion that ranks second in Division I. If Denver was running with a five-possession advantage this spring (and assuming that its offense and defense performed at the same adjusted efficiency rates), the Pioneers' average scoring margin would shrink to four goals per game; with a one-possession advantage, Denver's average scoring margin would hover around two goals per game. That's a massive difference in expected output reflected on the scoreboard, the team's current rate of extinguishing foes among the nation's top five thanks to possession gluttony while an average possession advantage would rank the Pioneers around 17th nationally in toteboard advantage. Possession margin does not mean the same thing to every team, and for Denver it allows the Pioneers to insulate a defense that has yielded goals at almost a 39 percent clip (on an adjusted basis) in its last five games while incentivizing an offense that has finished almost 50 percent of its offensive trips (on an adjusted basis) in its last quintet of contests. Against a capable Notre Dame defense and an Irish offense that can foster fire, Denver needs to control possession advantage in order to protect its means for generating cushion on the scoreboard. Any mitigation of the Pioneers' efficiency at both ends of the field is going to exacerbate the necessity to possess the bean.