The effectiveness of the Hampden-Sydney defense extended across all phases of a possession. Even in their worst segment, possessions that lasted between 20 and 40 seconds, they were still 3.3 percentage points better than the average, allowing goals on 21.9% of possessions. However, once they got past the first half of a possession, the defense truly locked in. In their best segment, possessions that lasted greater than 60 seconds, they allowed goals on just 14.9% of possessions, which is 7.7 percentage points better than the average. This ability to maintain a high level of performance throughout a possession was a testament to their defensive discipline and ability to read and react to the offense. And it’s noteworthy too because it means the turnovers that they forced were not just the result of creating a chaos early in opponent possessions and then fading as possessions got long. That’s a common pattern you see with teams that use pressure to mask weakness in other facets of defense. It’s definitely not the case here.
But as with any team, the Hampden-Sydney defense had their share of highs and lows throughout the season. Their best 4-game stretch, between Mar 31 and Apr 12, saw them go 4-0 with an adjusted defensive efficiency of 5%, placing them in the top percentile. In contrast, their worst 4-game stretch, between Apr 19 and May 4, saw their adjusted defensive efficiency drop to 22%, placing them in the 77th percentile. They dropped contests against Lynchburg and Washington and Lee during this period. The variation were primarily due to the shot-on-goal rate and on-goal shooting percentage allowed during these periods. In their best stretch, they allowed a shot-on-goal rate of 50% and an on-goal shooting percentage of 20%, compared to 70% and 52% respectively during their worst stretch. To me, shot-on-goal rate is a measure of how comfortable an offense is and it’s probably that the ability to create turnovers abandoned them during those games.
Here’s another way to look at this. When looking at the team’s performance against conference peers and teams with similar LaxElo rankings, one key statistical threshold stands out. Games where the opposing offense had an assist-to-turnover ratio greater than 0.45 spelled trouble for Hampden-Sydney, with a 1-2 record and an opponent efficiency of 31%. Conversely, when the opposing offense had an assist-to-turnover ratio less than 0.45, Hampden-Sydney was a perfect 9-0 with an opponent efficiency of 15%. Again, this highlights the importance of forcing turnovers and disrupting the opposing offense’s rhythm in Hampden-Sydney’s defensive strategy.
In summary, the Hampden-Sydney defense in 2023 was an excellent unit, securing a top 10 national ranking. Their disciplined approach, highlighted by an exceptional turnover rate, and ability to adjust and maintain defensive intensity throughout a possession were key factors in their success.
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P.S. What did I miss? Data-centric analyses like this can miss things that don’t show up in the stats (i.e. injuries/coaching changes). If you can help explain any of the above, put it in the comments.