NCAA Quarterfinal Recap: Towson vs Syracuse
On Sunday on Long Island, the Towson Tigers punched their ticket to Boston, beating the Syracuse Orange by a score of 10-7. It is the Tigers first trip to championship weekend since the 90’s and was the final nail in the ACC’s final four hopes. Congrats to the Tigers and coach Shawn Nadelen.
What we thought going in
Going into this one, Syracuse, the tournament’s second overall seed, was slightly favored to win. Our Lax-ELO model thought that Towson had a 47% chance of winning this one.
What actually happened
In fact, Towson hit their season averages almost exactly. They have scored on 27% of their offensive possessions this year and allowed goals on 23% of their defensive possessions.
Guess what happened against Syracuse? They scored on 27% of their offensive possessions and allowed goals on 22% of their defensive possessions.
The advanced stats show a team that did not rush, but was opportunistic, especially in unsettled situations. Especially impressive was their performance on possessions that began with an Alex Woodall face-off win. In these 10 possessions, they scored 7 goals.
Towson had 5 more offensive possessions than did Syracuse, but they had a much larger 16 minute advantage in time of possession because they were much more deliberate in initiating the attack. The took an average of 49 seconds before launching a first shot; Syracuse waited only 35 seconds.
The teams were even at the face-off X, both coming away with 10 possessions from face-off wins.
In-game win odds
This animated chart shows the in-game win odds. The line shows the chance of Towson winning the game, measured after each individual recorded play.
Non-obvious Keys to the Victory
We remarked in our preview of this game, that Towson had to win time of possession. They’d only won a single game this year when they failed to crack 50% in that category. They passed that test with flying colors. In fact, Sunday’s game was their highest possession rate of any game this season.
Another statistical trend that we suggested keeping an eye on had to do with Syracuse’s unsettled defense. Coming into this game, the Cuse defense was allowing goals on 31.8% of their defensive possessions that started with a face off loss or an opponent groundball. On possessions that started with the opponent making a defensive stop (and having to go the length of the field), that number drops to 25%. Towson was able to take advantage of that disparity, scoring 7 goals on possessions that started with a face-off win.
The last piece of the puzzle was when the Syracuse offense would choose to attack the Towson defense. The numbers suggested that the Tigers defense ages well; more than most teams, when the possessions get longer, their defense clamps down. Syracuse was not an especially fast team this season (36th nationally), but the numbers suggest that they did speed up a bit in this one. This season, they’ve taken a shot after 41 seconds of possession. Against Towson, it was 35 seconds. Despite the faster pace, they weren’t able to find any meaningful holes in the Towson defense.