So, this year in D1 men’s lacrosse, the championship will go to a new coach who doesn’t have one…or Bill Tierney. Talk about extremes.
— Ryan Conwell (@RyConw) May 22, 2017
The man, the myth, the legend. Am I talking about Tierney or Baptiste? Does it matter?
In a weekend of dominating wins, Denver had the most dominating by all accounts. Mostly thanks to their domination at the face-off X.
It felt like a lot of these games came down to one team having more success after face-off wins than the other. This game was another case in point as Baptiste rolled off a 21 FO streak to end the game, effectively giving Notre Dame no chance to build any momentum.
From an emotional perspective this was one of those games where, if you are an Irish fan, the highlight was the opening Tom Rinaldi monologue. It went downhill from there pretty quickly.
What we thought going in
Denver was the largest favorite of any of the quarterfinal teams. Our Lax-ELO model thought that Denver had a 63% chance of winning this one. I admit, our model was a little more down on Notre Dame this year than most. But it’s hard to separate out the injuries from the losses that drive that downward expectation.
What actually happened
Notre Dame injuries weren’t quite healed. The face-off advantage was insurmountable. Notre Dame had a lot of quick shots and their defense had to pick up the slack. The Denver offense was surgical in finding the right guy in the right spot for an easy goal.
Pick a reason, they are all valid.
The stat that jumps out is the 69.3% possession rate that Denver enjoyed. The Pioneers held the ball for 9 min in the first quarter, 11 min in Q2, 11 min in the 3rd, and 9 in the 4th. Notre Dame just never got the ball. And when they did, their offense didn’t generate anything.
In-game win odds
This animated chart shows the in-game win odds. The line shows the chance of Denver winning the game, measured after each individual recorded play.
Non-obvious Keys to the Victory
We harped on possession a few different ways in our preview of this one. One of the key areas was in the Notre Dame offensive approach. Would they be comfortable slowing the pace on offense to give their defense a rest and mitigate some of the time of possession advantage that Denver has enjoyed this year. Given that Notre Dame had one of the thinnest rosters in D1, you have an extra motivator for such a strategy.
The resounding answer: no thanks. This year, Notre Dame averaged 36.1 second before taking their first shot of a possession. In the game against Denver, they waited 35.2 seconds on average.
The one thing that Notre Dame could really control in this game was how quickly they attacked Denver’s defense. They chose a high-risk/high-reward strategy. Attack quickly to try and generate quick offense against a defense that ranks 50th nationally.
It didn’t work because they “offense” that they generated did not turn into goals. It just turned into another Denver rush coming the other way. Given the way this one played out, it’s not as if a slower offensive strategy would have reversed the outcome; Baptiste was just too dominant.