Syracuse Lacrosse: 'Cuse Heads To Philly To Nap With 'Nova

This is Villanova's Kevin Cunningham. You're going to want to bash his brains in by 9:00 Saturday night. via farm2.static.flickr.com

So, word on the street is that everyone hated Johns Hopkins' style when the Blue Jays came to the Dome last weekend. I don't disagree with you all; Dave Pietramala went into straight bitch mode right from the opening face-off.  Here's the thing, though: Tomorrow has the potential to be even more snooze-worthy.

Remember when you got piss drunk on Memorial Day last year and watched Notre Dame meander through around 60 minutes and five seconds of lacrosse?  Yeah?  Well, Villanova has basically become Notre Dame-light.

I'll take a moment for you to look up Villanova's address so that you may deliver your punch-o-gram.  All set?  Good, let's keep going.

The Wildcats are currently playing around 57 possessions per 60 minutes of action.  That's fourth-slowest in the country.  (As an aside, Syracuse will also play the slowest (Princeton) and third-slowest (Notre Dame) teams nationally in the not-too-distant future.  Yippee.)  Villanova only plays about 30 offensive possessions a game (49th-fewest) and around 27 offensive possessions per contest (the fewest in the country).  What does that tell me?

Villanova is just kind of running its stuff due to its cockamamie basketball-oriented, off-ball picking offensive strategy.  Wonderful. Anyone have a gun with at least one bullet that I could borrow?

What is truly unfortunate about this whole situation is that it's working for the Wildcats.  They're 7-1 (they lost to Bucknell; I know, lacrosse is weird), and are pretty dangerous offensively in a we'll-eventually-get-around-to-scoring-on-you kind of way.  Here are some of the details.

OFFENSIVE PROFILE

Here are the four biggest pieces to Villanova's offensive game:

THE 'NOVA OFFENSE
NAME GOALS ASSISTS SHOOTING %'AGE
Cunningham 20 13 40.8
Casertano 9 9 33.3
Rice 18 2 42.9
Small 10 1 52.6

That's a lot of sharing, and some damn fine shooting. How has it impacted Villanova's offensive profile?

Don't be fooled by Villanova's lack of offensive possessions.  Just because the Wildcats don't have the ball that much in the offensive end doesn't mean that Villanova isn't dangerous.  The Wildcats are currently second in adjusted offensive efficiency at 37.20.  That's about 10 goals per 100 possessions better than the national average. From an offensive efficiency standpoint, this is the best team that Syracuse has faced so far this season. (For what it's worth, Syracuse has played the second-toughest schedule nationally with respect to offenses faced. Ay-yi-yi.)

There are two things really driving Villanova's offense:

  1. The Wildcats can shoot it pretty well. Villanova is 11th in the land in offensive effective shooting percentage at 33.71%.  The table above really drives home which players are pushing that value.
  2. The second piece focuses on assist rate.  Villanova is currently third in offensive assist rate (20.90 per 100 possessions). When you combine impressive shooting with a willingness to get guys the bean in favorable positions, you start to see the foundation of a wickedly efficient offense.  This is exactly how the Wildcats suffocate the life out of their opponents.

There's also something weird happening with Villanova in terms of the types of offensive possessions they're generating. I don't want to go too far in depth on it, but check this out:

THE 'NOVA EMO
METRIC VALUE RANKING
Conversion  Rate 25.58% 40
EMO Per Possession (Offensive) .1762 5
EMO Reliance .1264 28
Penalties Per Possession (Drawn) .1004 1

Weird, right?  Wait, you don't see it?  OK, real quick:

  • Villanova is playing with a personnel imbalance a lot and not getting a lot of offense out of it (just below the national average in EMO-reliance with a high number of extra-man possessions).  This may be attributable to defenses packing it in during the man-down and the Wildcats' screen-oriented approach may not be suitable to pick such scenarios apart.
  • Villanova is canning the bean at a pretty good rate overall, but is in the bottom-third nationally in converting with the extra attacker. 

So, I'm more worried about Villanova in six-on-six scenarios than with a personnel imbalance.  That made my head explode a little bit.

DEFENSIVE PROFILE

Everyone is talking about Brian Karalunas these days, but the fact of the matter is this: Villanova isn't a great defensive team.  In fact, I think this is where they're really vulnerable.  Let me explain:

THE 'NOVA DEFENSE
METRIC VALUE RANKING
Defensive Possessions Per  Game 26.64 1
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.78 44
Shots Per Defensive Possession 1.06 46
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 29.74% 40
Defensive Assist Rate 17.76 46
Billy Hurley (Goalie) Save %'age .500

You've probably stopped paying attention, so I'll quickly run through this:

  • Why is Villanova yielding so few goals per game? Well, a huge piece of that is because they're never playing defense. Don't get fooled with the red herring of tempo-included stats.
  • This is truly scary: Hurley is only stopping about half the shots he faces, but sees a lot of shots per defensive possession.  Moreover, teams are shooting really well against Villanova, in no small part to the fact that a shitload of Villanova's surrendered goals are coming via the assist.  I think you see it now: If a team can make Villanova play more defensive possessions than they want, the Wildcats are probably going to yield a bunch more goals because there's a lot of pressure on Hurley to stop shots he's not capable of stopping.

Alright, enough dicking around.  Here's some key points for Saturday:

  • Villanova is driving it's pace and possession profile (at least in part) by holding things down at the dot (the Wildcats are 12th in face-off percentage).  Syracuse needs to be better there on Saturday than they were against Hopkins last week. It's the easiest way to make Villanova play a bunch of defensive possessions.
  • Villanova isn't a riding machine (they're 55th in defensive clearing percentage); Syracuse is aces at going from defense to offense (6th overall). Again: This is an easy way to put pressure on the Wildcats' defense through simple volume.
  • In the six-on-six, Syracuse must be mindful of ball watching on defense. The Orange's defensive assist rate is great (fifth overall), but this is really where Villanova has made its bones.  The Wilcats are going to wait to develop these opportunities, so Syracuse must keep it's focus throughout a defensive possession.
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