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The Most Important Matchups of the NCAA Tournament 1st Round

What are the biggest matchups of this weekend that will have the largest impact on the games? Find out more inside

Michael J. Okoniewski/Syracuse Athletics

We’ve taken a look at the biggest stories of this NCAA Tournament so far this week, along with the players who will have the biggest impact on their teams outlook this month. Today, we take a look at what the biggest matchups of the 1st Round will be, the ones that’s outcome will decide who’s going home, and who’s keeping their hopes alive of a berth on Memorial Day after this weekend’s games.

Georgetown Defense vs Syracuse Offense

  • No two ways about it, this is the power vs power matchup of the first round and aside from potentially a Carolina vs Georgetown or Carolina vs Maryland matchup; I’m not sure we’ll get a better one all NCAA Tournament long. The Georgetown defense is the preeminent unit in America on that side of the ball, ranking 1st in the country in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and 1.1% better than the 2nd best team, Army. That’s the difference between Army and 6th ranked Duke. They cause more turnovers per game than any team in the NCAA Tournament. They have the 2nd best Man-Down defense in America, which is almost 9% better than the 2nd best Man-Down defense in the tournament. They go 5 deep with effective cover guys at long pole (Gibson Smith, James Donaldson, Will Tominovich, Joe LiCalzi, Alex Mazzone.) Owen McElroy leads the country in save percentage. It is a remarkable unit. And it’s matched up against the 3rd best offense in the entire country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency in Syracuse. The Orange cook up more danger on offense than anyone except for North Carolina and Maryland, at 37.3%. The Hoyas haven’t seen an offense that poses this much danger, armed with dodgers and shooters alike from both the attack and the midfield along with willing and effective passers. Rehfuss and Hiltz can beat you both ways and Tucker Dordevic can beat you dodging with either hand. The key matchup will likely be Jamie Trimboli vs either Zach Geddes or whatever Hoya SSDM is bumped up to that assignment if Geddes can’t go. While Georgetown’s defense is remarkable; they aren’t as deep with the short sticks as they go with poles, particularly without Geddes. Trimboli will have to rediscover his 2020 form, but if he can go on a shortie in this matchup, that could be what propels the Orange to another big offensive day even against the #1 defense in the country, and a first round upset.

Denver offensive midfield vs Loyola defensive midfield

  • This matchup is sort of a game within the game. Both Denver and Loyola boast offenses that have had ups and downs but are capable of going on hot stretches; and both have strong defenses as well, with Loyola 8th in the country in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and Denver 16th. It figures to be a race to 10 game, or perhaps 11 or 12 and maybe the game with the lowest scoring winner of any first round tilt. The matchup within the larger Denver vs Loyola matchup will come down to the Pioneers midfielders and the Loyola short stick defensive midfield. As we wrote about yesterday with the most impactful players of the tournament, Denver’s midfield outside Jack Hannah has gone quiet for the Pioneers and considering they will consistently be drawing short sticks throughout the playoffs as teams likely triple pole the attack with Alex Simmons emergence, they need to step up and be able to exploit those shortie matchups. Against Georgetown they were unable, scoring only five goals from their 2nd-6th offensive midfielders (Lucas Cotler, Ted Sullivan, Riley Curtis, Schuyler Blair, Ellis Geis.) That was a key factor in their defeats. Loyola’s defense is built similarly to Georgetown’s. While the Hounds always have great rope units under Charley Toomy, the strength of this years squad is in their two main poles, Cam Wyers and Ryan McNulty. Loyola ranks 15th in the country in caused turnovers per game with 8.8, and Wyers and McNulty have about 25% of those. However, Peyton Rezanka as turned into a CT fiend for the Hounds as well, up to 14 on the season, as has Matt Higgins with 14 as well. Those two combined for 8 in Loyola’s last 3 wins over Georgetown, Navy, and Army; their best games of the season. If Rezanka and Higgins are performing similar thefts of Denver midfielders, it could be a long day for the Pios at home.

Lehigh Clear vs Rutgers Ride

  • The Mountain Hawks are almost assuredly going to win the faceoff battle in this game as they have all season behind Mike Sisselberger. The question is to what degree. A 55-60% effort is likely enough for Rutgers to get exactly the number of possessions it needs to exploit a Lehigh defense that is there to be exploited. If it’s closer to 70-80% like Sisselberger can be capable of, then this one could get away from Rutgers as Lehigh’s offense can grind you down on tired legs from the possession accumulation and is a very efficient and strong unit itself. However the secret element to this is Lehigh’s clear, which in it’s last two games has struggled immensely. Mike Sisselberger won 81% of his faceoffs against Villanova and yet the possessions wound up,...dead even. How does that happen? Try 7 blown clears for Lehigh. Against Colgate Sisselberger was a more manageable for Rutgers 69%, but yet it was only a +1 possession advantage for the Mountain Hawks. How again you may ask? Same reply I’d say. 6 failed clears. No one in the tournament clears worse than Lehigh, at just 81%. If they are going to continue to clear it the way they have been, then Rutgers is going to get extra possessions they wouldn’t have had otherwise and make things manageable for that offense to drop a big number that they can. But it will also allow for the Scarlet Knights to get their transition game going off of unsettled situations from failed clears and when Rutgers is running in transition, they are deadly. It helps their offense play at the Top 5 Adjusted Efficiency level they do; but is energy for the whole team. Lehigh has to clear at a stronger clip against Rutgers’ ride, and if they are unable to do so, it could lead to a maelstrom of red and black in Charlottesville.