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2015 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Championship Preview: (6) Maryland v. (4) Denver

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This is it: There's only one more "Go time!" left in 2015.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Everything that's worth knowing about Maryland-Denver in the championship of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Monday, May 25, 2015 at 1:00 ET
Location: Philadelphia, PA (Lincoln Financial Field)
Television/Internet: ESPN2 and WatchESPN have a traditional broadcast; ESPNU has a Spider Cam feed
Game "Fun Factor": 4.59 ("Solid")
Bradley-Terry Victory Probabilities on Massey Ratings Power Ratings (Through 5/17/2015 Games):

MASSEY RATINGS PREDICTION
HIGHER SEED LOWER SEED FAVORITE UNDERDOG
(4) Denver (6) Maryland Denver // 52% Maryland // 48%

The Massey Ratings' matchup probability -- one that illustrates the Pioneers as expecting a 10-9 victory over the Terrapins -- is aggressive, providing the Pioneers with a 58 percent chance of victory. Utilizing the site's power ratings material in a Bradley-Terry model, though, Denver is closer to a 52 percent favorite against Maryland, a probability that aligns much more consistently with other approaches to creating a success probability (including a tempo-free analysis). Terps-Pioneers is decidedly a toss-up game with Denver residing as a tenuous one-goal favorite, a situation that carries forward an insane Championship Weekend in which no team held a probability advantage that advanced past toss-up status. Regardless of whether these are the two best teams in the nation, Memorial Day will feature two concerns that are competitively equivalent, the perfect capstone to an excellent Division I season.

What's Your Deal?

Denver
NCAA Tournament First RoundBeat Brown, 15-9
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Ohio State, 15-13
NCAA Tournament SemifinalsBeat Notre Dame, 11-10 (OT)
Spirit Animal: A Chevrolet LSX 454R crate engine

Maryland
NCAA Tournament First RoundBeat Yale, 8-7
NCAA Tournament QuarterfinalsBeat North Carolina, 14-7
NCAA Tournament SemifinalsBeat Johns Hopkins, 12-11
Spirit Animal: Dr. Christian Szell from Marathon Man

Truncated Scouting Reports

MARYLAND-DENVER: TRUNCATED SCOUTING REPORT
METRIC MARYLAND DENVER
Estimated Pace 57.84 (61) 57.41 (63)
Estimated Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin +2.81 (14) +9.42 (1)
Estimated Lost Functional Opportunities Margin Ratio +11.42% (1) +6.93% (8)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 34.11 (21) 42.64 (2)
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.29 (3) 1.16 (28)
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 53.60% (63) 64.13% (6)
Offensive Shooting Rate 26.66% (49) 36.01% (3)
Offensive Assist Rate 15.82 (48) 25.21 (4)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 22.80 (2) 33.70 (50)
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.07 (19) 1.37 (68)
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 56.02% (9) 56.16% (11)
Defensive Shooting Rate 23.31% (2) 26.31% (16)
Defensive Assist Rate 12.83 (7) 22.40 (63)
Faceoff Percentage 52.55% (22) 67.10% (1)
Clearing Percentage 86.67% (28) 84.67% (39)
Turnover Margin +10.66 (2) +6.94 (13)
"Run of Play" Groundballs Margin +6.77 (4) +0.48 (26)
Penalties Margin -0.19 (39) +0.97 (16)
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 34.87 (27) 40.88 (6)
Team Save Percentage 58.39% (4) 53.15% (24)

Both Maryland and Denver are comfortable and prefer a deflated pace, and that should generate circumstances in which the Terrapins and Pioneers offer a tempo that hovers around 56 or 57 total possessions. That's slow -- about six opportunities off of the estimated national average -- and it isn't likely to deviate significantly from the expected volume of possessions: Against opponents ranking among the nation’s most efficient at the offensive end of the field, Maryland has averaged about 57 total opportunities per 60 minutes; against opponents ranking among the nation's most efficient at the defensive end of the field, Denver has averaged around 54 total possessions per 60 minutes. The profiles of these two teams -- especially in the context of the offense-defense struggle that will heavily influence the result of the game -- indicate an hour of pragmatism and patience, the residual issue inuring from this situation being whether Maryland-Denver will have sufficient heat around the deflated tempo each team is expected to support: Will this be a tedious sub-60 possession game or a compelling sub-60 possession feud?

Two Things

  • Against opponents ranked in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency (Yale, Princeton, North Carolina, Loyola, and Johns Hopkins), Maryland's defense has excelled in important ways, averaging a raw defensive efficiency rate that ranks below the national adjusted average while yielding only an average of nine goals per game:
    MARYLAND'S DEFENSE AGAINST ITS BEST OFFENSIVE OPPONENTS
    METRIC VALUE BEST WORST
    Raw Defensive Efficiency 31.23 17.39 (Princeton) 53.37 (Hopkins (Reg. Season))
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 25.93% 13.33% (Princeton) 40.54% (Hopkins (Reg. Season))
    Raw Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 46.37% 25.00% (Princeton) 65.22% (Hopkins (Reg. Season))
    Team Save Percentage 53.63% 75.00% (Princeton) 34.78% (Hopkins (Reg. Season))
    When Maryland's defensive efficiency value is adjusted for the five opponents it faced in eight games, the rate at which the Terps surrendered goals drops to around 27 percent, a ridiculously low rate relative to the rest of the nation (albeit somewhat higher than the team's overall adjusted defensive efficiency value). Maryland is built to withstand Denver's face-eating offense, an efficient machine that prods, pokes, and attacks from varied approaches. It's not likely that the Pioneers click on 40 percent or more of its offensive opportunities, and that's a major key for the Terps: If Maryland finds itself in a possession disadvantage and is forced deal with defensive exposure, the Terrapins aren't expected to permit an elevated rate of tallies, permitting Maryland to keep the scoreboard manageable in a pace-deflated game. Keeping the Pioneers within nine to 10 goals is a reasonable expectation for the Terps in a 57-possession tilt with Denver holding a three-opportunity advantage, and the volume of allowed markers decreases through both an eroded possession deficit and an even slower overall tempo, assuming Maryland's defense creates defensive stops on more than two-thirds of the team's defensive opportunities.
  • Utilizing Patrick McEwen's Elo-based faceoff ratings going into Championship Weekend, Trevor Baptiste is going to have his hands full against Charlie Raffa. Baptiste, the nation's leader in faceoff percentage, is projected to win 50.7 percent of his draws against Raffa, a significantly lower rate than the Pioneers overall faceoff percentage of 60.56 percent. This is problematic for Denver as faceoff victories have been the primary function underlying the Pioneers' nation-leading possession margin, but more importantly, Denver has relied on faceoff wins to create offensive possessions:
    DENVER'S ESTIMATED OFFENSIVE POSSESSION PROFILE
    METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
    Estimated Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Faceoff Wins 51.41% 1
    Estimated Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Clearing Postures 43.28% 69
    Estimated Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Opponent Failed Clears 5.31% 65
    Denver is the only team in Division I to earn more than 50 percent of its estimated offensive possessions from faceoff victories and the Pioneers are one of four teams to have more faceoff victories in 2015 than clearing opportunities. Faceoff execution means different things to different teams (this is a fact that eludes many observers as faceoff play tends to attract attention like a lightning rod, even if it isn't warranted), but for Denver it is profoundly important as (1) the Pioneers develop an insane rate of its offensive opportunities from success at the dot, and (2) Denver's defense hasn't exhibited a persistent ability to construct defensive stops on a per-possession basis, the lack of stops robbing the Pioneers' offense of responsive offensive opportunities. Denver can survive with a 50 percent effort on draws, but it makes the Pioneers' ability to design a lead much more difficult (and also subjects Denver's defense to jeopardizing circumstances).