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2021 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament First Round Preview: (8) Lehigh vs Rutgers

It’s a Kirst brothers head to head showdown in one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round

Free Rutgers!
Free Rutgers!
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The 10,000 Foot View

Date and Time: Saturday, 2:30 PM ET

Location: Klockner Field, Charlottesville, Virginia

Network: ESPNU

Your Guys Anticipation Level: High

The Nitty Gritty Numbers

Numbers Extravaganza

THE STATS Lehigh Rutgers
THE STATS Lehigh Rutgers
Adjusted Offensive Eff. 33.0% (14th) 37.2% (4th)
Adjusted Defensive Eff. 30.9% (45th) 25.9% (9th)
Adjusted FO% 73.0% (1st) 42.1% (51st)
Clearing Percentage 81.2% (51st) 88.8% (8th)
Ground Balls Per Game 42.91 (1st) 40th (29.64)

The Key Match-Ups

  • 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.
  • Lehigh’s Shooters vs Colin Kirst
  • If the first big match-up in this one is between a comparative weakness for one team to a strength for the other; this one is more intriguing. On paper it appears power on power. Lehigh shoots the ball at 32.5%, which is good for 10th in the entire country. Rutgers goalie Colin Kirst is 16th in the country in save percentage at 55%. And when he isn’t facing Maryland, a near historically good shooting team, it’s 59%. He’s one of the best in the country. However a peak under the hood reveals Lehigh’s shooting isn’t so much about their shooters as it is the quality of shots that they take. In Lacrosse Reference’s excess shot percentage metric, which takes a team’s actual shooting percentage and subtracts the expected shooting percentage of those shots based on excess goal (what you’d be expected to shoot based on the quality of shots and chances you are generating.) they are at 0.0%. Dead even. Essentially, Lehigh shoots exactly what you would expect them too based on the quality of looks they generate. The reason they’re still an extremely good shooting team? Lehigh is first in the country in Expected Shooting Percentage. No one in the country is creating better looks than Lehigh. When you have great passers from all directions on the field - Tommy Schelling at Attack and John Sidorski at the midfield - and are a methodical, patient offense, you can create great looks and the Mountain Hawks do it at a super high level. But Rutgers is one of the best defenses they’ve faced all year and Colin Kirst one of the best goalies. In two games against comparable defenses - Army a little better; Loyola about par - they’ve shot 32.5% (their exact season average) and 22%. If Rutgers minimizes those good looks and makes it harder for Lehigh to get the great inside looks and slam dunks they so effectively create; can Lehigh hit outside shots on Kirst? Kirst is also a great inside goalie and is prone to steal one or two goals on the crease a game. How Lehigh creates the quality of looks they’re accustomed too, how Rutgers tries to stop them, and then how Lehigh adjusts on an All-American goalie is one of the big questions of this game.

Numbers and Statistics Courtesy of Lacrosse Reference, Subscribe to Lacrosse Reference PRO