So, what's the outlook for Saturday's game at Schoellkopf Field? Let's take a look at each school's profile and set the focus.
What Cornell Does Well
- Catch and release. Cornell's offensive effective shooting percentage is only around the top-third of the country (25th nationally), but that isn't too much of a concern for the Big Red. Cornell's offensive picture is one dotted with the bean being hurled at the cage. Clocking in at 10th in the nation in shots per possession, Cornell is getting off about 1.1 shots per offensive opportunity. It's a volume approach to offense not dissimilar to Syracuse's offensive profile and it has served the Big Red fairly well this year: Cornell is 15th in the country in offensive efficiency (31.4 goals per 100 possessions). That should keep Jake Hagelin on his toes the entire game for Loyola.
- Create frustration. The two biggest reasons for Cornell's defensive efficiency (currently rated 12th overall) are that the Big Red make its opponents work on the clear and muck up the defensive end. Opponents are only clearing 78.9% of their attempts, greatly limiting the number of times Cornell actually has to effectively defend a defensive possession. Even when the Big Red is in a settled defensive possession, though, Cornell has performed well. Cornell is 11th in defensive effective shooting percentage and is limiting opponents to less than a shot per possession (25th nationally). Of course, having A.J. Fiore as a backstop is a good situation, but when you realize that opponents are registering assists on only 13% of their goals against the Big Red, the Cornell defensive unit becomes even more formidable from a statistics perspective.
What Cornell Does Poorly
- Convert on extra-man opportunities. In May when every possession counts, possessions in which an advantage overtly exists become even more valuable. Cornell has been atrocious on the man-up, converting on only 31.03% of their opportunities (40th in the country). This is exacerbated when you view it in the context of the Big Red's offensive effective shooting percentage, which is about 25th-best nationally (.26). Volume shooting doesn't necessarily translate to effective extra-man opportunities, and Cornell is epitomizing that in 2010. Moreover, Cornell has had 20 more extra-man opportunities than its opponents this year. That is the recipe behind the Big Red going 10-5 and grabbing a 7-seed rather than sitting a little higher up in the bracket and holding an unshared Ivy League championship.
- Hold strong in man-down situations. Cornell's man-down performance this year is perplexing considering its overall defensive profile. The Big Red is 42nd in the country in defensive extra-man conversation rate (38.46%). Maybe the best way to beat Fiore is to make him play with one less defender in front of him? Once again, every possession counts and when you can't turn the tide even when you're not supposed to, trouble looms in the distance.
What Loyola Does Well
- Give you a slow, boring death. For Loyola, it's all about defense. The 'Hounds are sixth nationally in defensive efficiency (23.9), winning the possession margin game by 5.2 offensive possessions a game (4th in the country), clearing the ball at a great rate (85.9%), and dominating faceoffs at a clip of 59.5% (4th-best in Division I). When you couple all of this with Loyola's pace -- 68.5 possession per game (35th slowest in the country) -- the Greyhounds are essentially suffocating teams to death. Once Loyola grabs a lead, they make it as hard as anybody for the scoreboard to flip as they don't implode on themselves with errors in metrics they can directly control.
- Defense, defense, defense. What was that about Loyola's defense? It's good? Yeah, it's really good. Loyola is yielding over a shot per possession to its opponents (44th nationally), but it doesn't matter. Teams have an effective shooting percentage of only .22 against the 'Hounds, good for ninth best in the country. Loyola is also creating one-dimensional looks from its opponents, holding the seventh-best assist rate in the land. Furthermore, Loyola has been respectable in man-down situations, holding opposing units to only a 30.23% conversion. When you can force opponents into taking bad shots and limit good looks, a defense (and team) can flourish.
What Loyola Does Poorly
- Anything associated with offense. Loyola is ranked 30th or worse in the following categories: offensive efficiency (34th), offensive effective shooting percentage (35th), offensive assist rate (33rd), extra-man opportunity conversion rate (37th). You can win championships with defense, but you need to score at least a little. This issue (lack of offense) has plagued the Greyhounds down the stretch and is the 800-pound elephant in the room when you talk about Loyola's 16th-ranked overall efficiency margin. This dovetails a previous point: Loyola can make it difficult for an opponent to mount a comeback due to its defensive acumen and pace indicators, but if the 'Hounds can't get on the board, it's a moot consideration.
It is without question that this will be among the slower games played this year (both teams are around 68 possessions per game). The following items may dictate the outcome:
- If Loyola gets anything out of its extra-man unit, it has a shot. Cornell is atrocious on its man-down and man-up units. If Loyola can squeeze out some goals from its extra-man chances, it's won a battle that would otherwise wash-out even.
- Cornell's ride against Loyola's clear is huge. These are both strengths for either team. With the game expected to be played at a slow pace, maximizing offensive possession opportunities are huge. This fact is heightened when you consider neither team is a particularly efficient shooting squad.
- The game will be decided on Cornell's defensive end. As noted, Loyola is a weak offensive club, and hasn't been anywhere near an efficient offensive unit as the regular season concluded. Cornell's defense, if Loyola continues to struggle at burying the bean, is the deciding factor for this game.