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Just Thinkin' About Lacrosse

There's been a lot of conversation lately regarding two subjects:
  1. The segregation of Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia from the rest of the lacrosse field; and
  2. Whether Johns Hopkins, if it attains a .500 overall record, is worthy of an NCAA tournament bid.

The first consideration is fairly settled; the only debate surrounding the segregation of the above-referenced five teams from the rest of the field is whether there is a second segregation at the top of the class consisting of only Syracuse and Virginia.

The second consideration -- whether Johns Hopkins is worth more than a damn -- seems to be a debate that generally takes the following form:

Johns Hopkins Fan: If the Blue Jays get to .500, they deserve to be in the field. Their record may not show it, but they can play with anyone in the country.

A Reasonable Person: Shut up.

As I have neither the time or inclination to watch over 60 already-played lacrosse games to draw some conclusions as to all of the above-illustrated clubs, I've decided to let the numbers tell the story. As you may or may not remember, I've adapted some of Dean Oliver's tempo-free principles to lacrosse. It wouldn't be a terrible idea to take a look at that essay before continuing with this rambling mess.

As we approach the tournament, there remain three constants that provide strong indicia of a future champion and one that may or may not impact the game itself, but certainly impacts the watchability of game:

  • Tempo/Pace (Possessions per game: Hey, if you're going to watch the game, it better be interesting, right?);
  • Offensive Efficiency: (Goals per offensive possession: When you get the bean, are you canning it?)
  • Defensive Efficiency: (Goals against per defensive possession: When the opponent gets the bean, are you denying opportunities?);
  • Efficiency Margin: (Offensive efficiency less defensive efficiency: Overall efficiency; you need to be the best on both ends of the field).

Those are the touchstones. Following these annotated items are some miscellaneous considerations that are important, but not as important as the touchstones. I'll list only the leader, the loser, and Syracuse for these miscellaneous items.

Ready? Go.


3North Carolina69.15
5Johns Hopkins65.83

This shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Year-in and year-out, Syracuse is among the fastest teams in the country. What is a little surprising, however, is that Virginia registers seven fewer possessions than Syracuse a game. Dom Starsia has, supposedly, been preaching transition again this year and those covering the game have echoed this sentiment. The fact of the matter is, however, that Virginia just isn't playing all that quick this year.

This fact, though, doesn't appear to carry to much weight in the first instance. Virginia is 13-1 and has been tested all of twice this year (against Syracuse and the loss to Duke). The question remains, however, that if a fully-manned Syracuse team meets Virginia again, will the Orange's tempo wear out the Cavaliers? Remember: When Syracuse traveled to Virginia at the beginning of the season the Orange wasn't at full strength. Does a complete lineup (and a high octane pace) erase Virginia's one-goal advantage?

Honestly, I don't know. I can't see into the future, mostly because that is impossible.

Oh, and on Johns Hopkins: Ugly uniforms, boring lacrosse. Well done, Baltimore.

Offensive Efficiency

4Johns Hopkins.3213
5North Carolina.3171

This is where I don't think that Syracuse's pace ultimately impacts Virginia. The Cavaliers' offensive force is significant. The Brattons, Stanwick, Bocklet, Carroll . . . this is an incredibly dangerous and diverse offensive look. And the numbers prove out the fear: Virginia, when it has opportunities, is converting.

That isn't good for anyone (except Virginia; it's, like, really, really, really good for Virginia).

On the opposite end of the curve is Syracuse. I'm a little surprised that the Orange registered such a relatively low efficiency value. What's killing Syracuse is that only two of the examined schools have more offensive possessions than the Orange -- Duke and Virginia -- but Syracuse is knocking in fewer goals on these possessions. Some of that is attributable to turnovers after establishing possession (a constant area of concern over the last few weeks), and sloppiness is efficiency's kryptonite. Then again, when you play as fast as Syracuse does, some sloppiness is to be expected.

It's a give and take: Play fast and lose some offensive efficiency. John Desko appears to have accepted this fate and is willing to ride with it. If things go south, though, it's fairly easy to identify the Orange's potential Achilles' Heel.

Oh, and Johns Hopkins: Wha-what?!? It just goes to show you: Numbers sometimes lie (unless they don't).

Defensive Efficiency

2North Carolina.2165
6Johns Hopkins.2843

If you're looking for a supportive argument for Joel White's Tewaaraton candidacy, you need not look any farther. It's no coincidence that Syracuse is ranked first in defensive efficiency and tempo. Joel White is the cog that keeps the Orange machine running.

Plus, you know, John Galloway is really fucking good.

There are three additional takeaways from this data:

  1. As good as Virginia is on offense compared to Syracuse, Syracuse is significantly better than Virginia on defense. Once again, if Syracuse is full-strength with, say, John Lade, does the Orange even have a number in the right-hand column?
  2. Youth on defense is suicide. Johns Hopkins is, unsurprisingly, the worst defensive club on the board. Some will blame this on Gvozden, but a goalie a defense does not make.
  3. Outside of the Blue Jays, is there a more vanilla team from the cohort than Maryland? Impossibly slow pace, relatively weak defense, and the offense converts (when it eventually shoots). It's just a slow death when you play the Terrapins. My advice? Nap until the last four minutes and watch the final possession.

Efficiency Margin

1North Carolina.1006
6Johns Hopkins.0370

Let's be serious: North Carolina isn't the best team in the country. This is kind of where the numbers don't match reality. What is important to note, though, is that North Carolina and Duke should be considered in the conversation with Virginia and Syracuse. The Tar Heels and the Blue Devils are legitimate title contenders. All four clubs are working well on both ends of the field, albeit in different fashions. This should yield an interesting May from a fan perspective.

Oh, and Johns Hopkins: Yeah, no where near the top contenders. Egad.

Penalties per possession

1. Maryland
3. Syracuse
6. Johns Hopkins

Not only do you have to watch Maryland slog through a lacrosse game, you also get to see the Terps slow down the game with penalties given.

And Johns Hopkins has the officials in their pockets.

Shots per possession

1. Virginia
4. Syracuse
6. Johns Hopkins

Virginia Lacrosse 2010: "Keep firing, assholes!"

Also, there may be some truth to the whole "Pietramala micromanages the Johns Hopkins offense" meme.

Shots per possession margin

1. North Carolina
2. Syracuse
6. Johns Hopkins

Fun fact: Johns Hopkins is getting outshot by its opponents on a possession basis. Another fun fact: Even Air Force (Air Force!) is outshooting its opponents on a possession basis. That is truly pathetic.

Assist Rate

1. Duke
5. Syracuse
6. Johns Hopkins

Have you noticed the trend yet? No? Let me point it out to you: Johns Hopkins is terrible and nowhere near the types of clubs that will be competing for a national championship this year.

I'm not too worried about Syracuse's position here. Daniello is coming on strong providing helpers from the "x," so this situation should resolve itself.

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