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2015 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview: Towson at (1) Notre Dame

Notre Dame is heavily favored against the Tigers.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

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

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Saturday, May 9, 2015 at 5:00 PM (ET)
Location: South Bend, IN
Winner Advances To Play?: The winner of Albany-Cornell
Television/Internet: ESPNU/WatchESPN; Jason Benetti and Ryan Boyle have the call
Game "Fun Factor": 4.52 ("Good")
Massey Ratings Victory Probabilities:

VICTORY PROBABILITIES
HOME AWAY FAVORITE UNDERDOG MEAN SCORE
Notre Dame Towson Notre Dame // 92% Towson // 9% Notre Dame (11.65) - Towson (5.71)

The win probability from the Massey Ratings is way too aggressive. The Irish are decidedly stronger than Towson, but Notre Dame is closer to a 75 percent favorite than one that gives the Tigers less than a one-in-ten opportunity for victory. A tempo-free analysis confirms this theory and the probability aligns with the difficulties that Towson presents to its opponents on a per possession basis. The Tigers are a known quantity, but Towson's position in the national hierarchy -- hanging around the back of the top third of the country -- is a notable distance from Notre Dame's position as one of the three best teams in Division I.

What's Your Deal?

Notre Dame
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 20 (Last: 2014)
NCAA Tournament Championships: None
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: At-Large
Record: 10-2 (4-0, ACC)
Combustibles: Matt Kavanagh (A) (26G, 24A); Matt Landis (D) (24GB, 8CTO); Shane Doss (G) (56.40 Sv%); Sergio Perkovic (M) (24G, 6A)

Towson
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 12 (Last: 2013)
NCAA Tournament Championships: None
NCAA Tournament Bid Type: Automatic Qualifier (THUNDERDOME!)
Record: 12-5 (3-2, THUNDERDOME!)
Combustibles: Joe Seider (A) (33G, 7A); Tyler White (G) (57.24 Sv%); Alec Burckley (FOGO) (55.22%); JoJo Ostrander (D) (33GB, 10CTO)

Truncated Scouting Reports

TOWSON-NOTRE DAME: TRUNCATED SCOUTING REPORT
METRIC TOWSON NOTRE DAME
Estimated Pace 53.09 (69) 69.78 (9)
Estimated Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin +1.45 (23) -0.50 (35)
Estimated Lost Functional Opportunities Margin Ratio +4.36% (20) +5.79% (13)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.70 (39) 38.13 (9)
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.28 (3) 1.10 (42)
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 53.68% (63) 62.55% (11)
Offensive Shooting Rate 24.08% (59) 35.28% (5)
Offensive Assist Rate 15.35 (49) 20.05 (16)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.28 (16) 22.45 (1)
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.20 (56) 1.01 (9)
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 54.95% (7) 56.64% (14)
Defensive Shooting Rate 23.74% (4) 25.41% (13)
Defensive Assist Rate 13.74 (9) 12.24 (2)
Faceoff Percentage 52.87% (23) 47.76% (38)
Clearing Percentage 87.30% (19) 85.00% (38)
Turnover Margin +5.72 (17) +7.69 (13)
"Run of Play" Groundballs Margin 0.00 (32) -2.01 (47)
Penalties Margin +0.66 (19) -0.24 (39)
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 37.61 (16) 31.53 (50)
Team Save Percentage 56.80% (10) 55.14% (17)

Notre Dame has transformed itself into a team that desires to play with pace over the last few seasons, but the Irish will need to deal with the Tigers' dedication to creating a tempo-deflated environment. Getting dragged into a bar fight isn't exactly a preferred operation plan for Notre Dame, and given the Tigers' comfort in a slog, the Irish will need to maintain their focus in a different kind of performance theater. The key for Notre Dame to potentially combat Towson's desires to slow down the game to a crawl turns on whether the Irish can pop the Tigers in the mouth early in the game. If Towson is forced to chase -- the Tigers aren't built to play from deficits against exceptional teams -- Notre Dame could merit a significant benefit from Towson playing without its identity in an effort to stay in closing distance of a superior team. If the Irish can't shake the Tigers early, Towson will have little incentive to alter its modus operandi, thereby gestating a frustrating set of circumstances for Notre Dame to contend with.

Two Things

  • Towson has developed an incredible defense this season, one that the Tigers have leaned on throughout the spring to elevate Towson's overall competitiveness. Yet, the Tigers' defensive unit isn't in the neighborhood that the team's scoring defense ranking indicates: Towson is giving up only 7.47 goals per game, a mark that ranks fourth among Division I teams; in a tempo-free environment, though, the Tigers rank 16th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, the team yielding goals on about 28 percent of their estimated defensive opportunities. That's not a dramatic ranking difference, but it does illustrate an important point regarding Towson's defense: If the Tigers play more defensive opportunities per 60 minutes than normal, Towson's defense may not perform in a manner consistent with the team's scoring defense output. Scoring defense values and rankings do not turn on how many defensive possessions are played in a 60-minute scenario; all the measure considers is how many goals are surrendered in a game. If the Tigers are forced or choose to play at an increased tempo, the team's rate of capitulated defensive opportunities becomes violently more valuable in understanding the scope of Towson's defense. For example, if Towson plays 26 defensive opportunities the team is expected to succumb to seven opponent goals; if Towson plays 35 defensive opportunities (the Irish have averaged about 35 estimated offensive opportunities per 60 minutes in 2015), the Tigers are expected to bow to 10 opponent tallies. Again: This isn't to imply that Towson's defense is bad (in fact, the Tigers have an excellent defense); rather, it's a bit of a reputation correction that could come into focus in South Bend this weekend.
  • The inverse of the bullet point regarding Towson's defense applies to Notre Dame: The Irish rank only 19th in scoring defense but are tops in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, yielding opponent goals on only about 22 percent of the team's estimated defensive opportunities. Notre Dame's pace this season has drastically impacted the team's ranking in tempo-included metrics: Only eight teams in the nation play more estimated defensive opportunities per 60 minutes than the Irish, yet there isn't an enterprise that get stops -- on an adjusted basis (Notre Dame has faced the second most difficult schedule in the nation based on opposing offenses faced) -- on a per possession basis better than Notre Dame. Gerry Byrne does this every damn year in South Bend, but for some reason the team has not earned the kind of praise it deserves for its defensive efforts in 2015. The Irish's offense has gained all kinds of appropriate ink this season for the output it has generated, but Notre Dame doesn't storm the castle without the Irish's undervalued defense, especially considering that Notre Dame hasn't played with a dominant possession margin this spring. There aren't five defenses better than the Irish's this year and Notre Dame's defensive unit shouldn't be punished because the Irish are playing with jetpacks this season.