Michigan dipped below .500 with the nail-biter against Cornell over the weekend, but the Wolverines have a chance to get back above the mark with a two-game road trip against relatively new programs in the next few days. First up is High Point this afternoon.
No Panther in the logo :-/
March 5, 2014. 7 p.m. EST
High Point, N.C.
Live stats. Live video (free).
@UMichLacrosse. @HPUMensLax. @GreatLaxState.
Michigan weekend game notes. .pdf notes.
High Point game notes.
The TempoFreeLax.com numbers displayed here are finally those from this season, since there’s enough data nationally that the numbers are pretty meaningful. The figures are also adjusted for strength of schedule, so High Point’s relatively easy slate (it doesn’t get much better, coming in No. 55 overall nationally) means they haven’t been taking on a murderer’s row.
|High Point 2013
The most notable aspect of High Point’s game thus far this season is the slow pace of play. That makes sense for a team that doesn’t have the skill (yet) to play with most of its opposition. It’s also a product of playing against some fellow slowpokes in Delaware, St. Joseph’s, and Sacred Heart. Still, playing slow to keep things close is definitely s tool in the kit for the Panthers.
The Panthers also have relatively few of those possessions, with a percentage well under 50% so far this season. They have out-possessed only one team so far this year, the most recent opponent Jacksonville.
On the settle ends of the field, High Point doesn’t have a whole lot going on. They’re slightly better – just under average – on the defensive side of the ball (albeit having played against some anemic offenses). Their offense is struggling thus far in 2014, however.
All that together, combined with the fact that they’ve played a pretty easy schedule, surprisingly hasn’t knocked them that far down the national ranks in terms of overall pythagorean win expectation. They’re well out of the country’s bottom quarter of teams, and have built pretty quickly, all things considered.
The Panthers are led offensively by sophomore attackman Dan Lomas, who has 10 goals and one assist on the year. U-M fans likely remember him from such events as “scores six goals on Michigan last season.” He’s a true finisher with a statline like that, and is capable of dodging from low to find space. After him, fellow sophomore attack Matt Thistle (who actually has more points on three goals and 10 assists) is the guy to watch. As the production implies, he’s a true distributor.
The next four leading scorers on the High Point roster are all midfielders. Lomas is a finisher and Thistle is an assist-man, but the midfielders are all a little more balanced (albeit with an emphasis on scoring, rather than dishing out).
Redshirt senior Bucky Smith – a Navy transfer – has seven goals and two assists on the year, even though he’s not listed as a starter in all but one game (the most recent one against Jacksonville, so expect him to be a big part of the gameplan). He put up most of his seven goals in wins over St. Joseph’s and Sacred Heart. He supplanted sophomore Christian Bieth in the starting lineup, but Bieth (3G, 3A) will still get some significant run.
The other two starting midfielders are redshirt sophomores Brad James and Mitchell Dupere with five and four goals, respectively, and an assist each. Third starting attackman Michael LeClair is a freshman with three goals and two assists on the season. Redshirt sophomore attack Adam Seal started once in place of Lomas.
This isn’t an assist-heavy offense, with only 23 on 40 goals so far this season, nearly half of them coming from Thistle. If you can shut down his feeding and Lomas’s finishing, the High Point offense is totally handcuffed. That’s easier said than done though, especially for a Michigan offense that has struggled to defend elite attackmen for three years running.
Redshirt junior goalie Austin Giesler, a Virginia transfer, has played all but a minute of the season between the pipes. He’s pretty good, saving .575 of shots faced thus far this season, though allowing nine goals a game with High Point’s slow pace of play isn’t the most impressive, it’s still good given the youth of the program. He frustrated Michigan with 13 saves (allowing 10 goals) last year.
Junior Pat Farrell is the only defenseman to start every game so far, and his eight caused turnovers lead the team – though he has a mind-numbingly low three ground balls to show for it. Redshirt senior Jacksonville transfer Garrett Swaim and redshirt sophomore Nick Bittner have started four games each, and they both have six caused turnovers (with a more-reasonable seven and 14 ground balls, respectively). Sophomore Zack price has picked up starts in the two that aren’t yet accounted for, and has forced five turnovers.
Redshirt sophomore Harris Levine and freshman Tanner Landstra have rotated in for depth (I suspect Levine is the primary LSM, but the Panthers don’t differentiate on the roster, and no poles outside of the starting close D have much production yet this year). Sophomore Joseph Taulane has been the top d-middie, and is one of the team’s top non-faceoff ground ball vacuums. Redshirt sophomore Brendan Montrello has been another option there, but has only three CTs and three GBs on the season.
This isn’t a turnover-heavy defense, instead focusing on reducing the number and quality of shots faced by Giesler. With Michigan’s individual offensive talent (shockingly, some of the best High Point has seen this year – talk about a program turning the corner), there should be opportunities to get good looks on Giesler. The trick will be beating a fairly strong keeper.
Last year, Michigan relied heavily on shooting from then-freshmen Kyle Jackson and Mike Hernandez, with both launching 10 shots. U-M is a more accurate shooting team this year, and there’s a much wider range of offensive talent. Hernandez (who also added three turnovers in last year’s game) hasn’t been the huge factor for Michigan he was last year, and reducing that pressure should give Michigan a more diverse attack that’s capable of finding more openings against the Panthers.
High Point is a poor faceoff team, which should mean very good things for Brad Lott and Michigan. The most-deployed option is sophomore Jamie Piluso, who comes in at .473 on the year. However, he only has a few more attempts than junior Chris Davila (.488), so it’s a team effort there. With the way Lott has played against Drew Kennedy of Hopkins and Doug Tesoriero of Cornell, the questions might be more about snagging the 50/50 GBs than Lott not winning any clamps. He went .500 against him last year, but this is a much better version of Brad Lott.
High Point has been a decent clearing team at over 87% on the year. That’s pretty encouraging for a relatively young program, but with some of their most skilled players in the goal (Giesler) and close D, they’re polished enough to withstand all but the heaviest rides. Michigan might have one of the heaviest rides they’ve seen all year (they cleared perfectly against Sacred Heart’s awful ride and have failed here and there against some not-too-heavy groups).
Coming the other way, High Point has hardly opted to ride the opposition at all, forcing only eight fails on 85 opposing attempts. Michigan isn’t the cleanest team at advancing into the offensive box, but they’re approaching 90% efficiency in that regard this season, and unless High Point suddenly breaks out some new tactics (or they commit some unforced turnovers), should be able to do well in this one.
High Point has been fairly penalty-prone this year, and with Michigan’s newfound ability to really achieve at a high level on EMO (it helps to have talent and experience, yeah?) there should be some opportunities there. The Panthers are holding opponents to .280 effectiveness there, but Cornell’s man-down was even better and Michigan hit .500. When they get their own chances, the Panthers are converting at a .235 rate, and Michigan’s defense against much better teams has allowed about 40% conversion. U-M should be able to avoid giving up man-down goals simply on account of playing a clean game.
Losing to the Panthers last year was a huge letdown for the Wolverines, especially since it was a semi-odd game in the rain with a turnover-prone Michigan offense that couldn’t get much going outside of the two freshman midfielders. The Wolverines looked at that point to lose their last winnable game of the season (though they’d later upset St. Joseph’s at home).
This year, both teams appear to be much better, but it’s probably fair to say – given the near-upset of Cornell and a pair of wins already – that Michigan has made more improvements, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. U-M needs this game to have a chance to get above .500 ever again this season, given the way the schedule plays out, and that’s probably motivation enough.
Taking big steps for Team Three means winning a game like this.
Michigan’s spring break trip probably hasn’t started like expected (it’s been raining/sleeting/whatever in North Carolina the first couple days this week), but living up to expectations on the field is the name of the game.
- Michigan should be able to dominate possession. As mentioned above, the faceoff battle was pretty even last year, but Sophomore Brad Lott is head-and-shoulders better than Freshman Brad Lott, and he’s rounded into form as one of the nation’s best. Meanwhile, Piluso hasn’t even been the best on his team. The Wolverines’ clear/ride combo should be an advantage, as well.
- Michigan’s dominance of possession will prevent High Point from slowing things down like they prefer to do, since the Wolverines like a bit more speed in the game.
- Whereas last year’s offense was totally dependent on two freshman midfielders, this year’s group has talent at attack and midfield, and has more answers when one thing is shut down. Look for Hernandez to be more of a distributor, and Kyle Jackson to compete with freshman attack Ian King for the team lead in scores.
- Was Robbie Zonino’s strong performance in the Cornell game a sign of things to come or a flash-in-the-pan in terms of long-term success? Unfortunately, I lean slightly more toward the latter, though both factors are obviously at play here. If he can save more than .500 of shots faced, that should be enough for the Wolverines to earn a comfortable win.
- Lomas and Thistle will get theirs. Not only are they simply really good, but the U-M defense has traditionally struggled against a top-two at attack who can really give opponents fits. While talent is getting there defensively, the depth for Michigan isn’t up to snuff yet.
- The Wolverines will give up a now-customary three-plus goal run, but it won’t be enough to bury them, like it might be against a more experienced team.
Michigan’s an early-season success story nationally, and winning a game like this is something that they should be able to do, on the road or not. They come out focused on their spring break trip, and show more glimpses of a strong future in a 15-9 Wolverines win.
Share your predictions, discussion, etc. in the comments.