Goals were modest coming into Michigan’s first year as a varsity program. Although the Wolverines had won three of the past four MCLA National Championships, the overall level of excellence in 2011 (and even 2010) wasn’t quite to the 2008-09 standard, and Michigan lost tons of talent going into the debut of Team One.
Combine all that with the simple difference in competition level between MCLA and Division-1, and you’re not expecting to light the world on fire your first go-round. However, three to four wins was a modest and attainable goal for this Michigan team, and they fell well short of it, emerging with a single victory over fellow adolescent program Mercer.
Let’s take a quick look at the Wolverines’ statistical profile:
|Michigan Wolverines 2012|
|Faceoff Wins||141||Faceoff Wins||199|
|Offensive Efficiency||.240||Offensive Efficiency||.359|
We’ll take that one step further and look at the advanced tempo-free stats, adjusted for strength of opponents, courtesy of TempoFreeLax.com:
So, yeah. This wasn’t a good team. Possession game, offense, defense – hardly anything was excellent, and there’s a lot of room for improvement.
What Went Well
There is exactly one thing that the Wolverines were good at in 2012: The ride. Despite being mostly outmanned on a man-for-man basis, Michigan rode opponents into just a 79.08% success rate on their clears, good for second-best(!) in the country, behind the decidedly more talented unit from Johns Hopkins.
It’s clear that Michigan’s 10-man (though they didn’t run it on every ride, it was a big part of their gameplan) will be successful at the D-1 level. Especially with a couple years of recruiting varsity-caliber athletes, they’ll be a good riding team. Of course, they gave up a couple long-range goals on account of the 10-man, but it was probably worth it in the end, and those goals will become less frequent with more experience and athletic talent.
OK, there’s actually another thing that Michigan was pretty good at this year: playing a clean game. They committed only .075 penalties per defensive possession, and as the defensive talent improves, that number should stay constant or even decrease slightly.
Although Emil Weiss’ numbers weren’t excellent, the save percentage he put up (.519) with a pretty bad defense in front of him was a sign that the goalie situation will be in good hands whether he wins the position or is beat out by a better player going forward.
Room for Improvement
Oh hey, this section is going to be really long.
First things first: Faceoffs, they were bad. At times (particularly against Loyola), Michigan didn’t even bother trying to win faceoffs off the draw, preferring to scrum for the ball and at the very least preventing immediate transition opportunities for the opposition.
The biggest achilles’ heel for Michigan may have been the clearing game. While the ride was second-best in the country, the clear was second-worst. That’s the area in which Michigan’s lack of Division-1 stick skills and athleticism was most obvious. A sub-.500(!) day against Penn State, a day barely over that mark against Mount St. Mary’s, and a variety of other horrible clearing days exposed Michigan’s biggest deficiency transitioning to the Division-1 level.
The defensive efficiency and offensive efficiency were actually equal amongst the Division-1 cohort (No. 55 nationally), but for my money, the defense was worse than the offense. There are reasons for this: Michigan’s starting LSM from the previous year (Matt Asperheim) graduated, a starting longpole (Harry Freid) suited up for his fifth year at St. John’s, both goalies graduated, etc. The talent simply wasn’t up to par. Part of that was injury-related, and part will be rectified only through recruiting. Although the defensive coaching staff was the same, led by DC Ken Broschart, the scheme became much more advanced, and that was a tough adjustment for some players, as well.
Offensively, Michigan’s lack of stick skills was at times a bugaboo – midfielder Willie Steenland committed 37 turnovers, and otherwise-excellent attack Will Meter chipped in 23 of his own – and boosting D-1 talent will help prevent opposing defenses from pressing out to cause turnovers, and also reduce the number of uncaused turnovers committed. With another year in the offensive system, and a better group of talent, Michigan’s propensity to force things (particularly feeds to the crease) should also be toned down, and the ability to patiently wait for good looks should ramp up.
Michigan in general didn’t do a good job of controlling the pace this year. As an outmanned team, it’s no surprise that their intention was to slow down the game, and keep it close with the opportunity to steal a game or two in the fourth quarter. That didn’t happen, and they ended up playing the 16th-fastest lacrosse in the country. Reducing their own turnovers, in particular, would have been a huge boost to that effort.
The Distant Future
I will have 765 posts this offseason (that number is approximate) breaking down areas in which Michigan’s team can be expected to improve – or things they won’t get much better at – so I’m not going to belabor this point much.
As Michigan adds Division-1 talent, the results on the field will get better, and potentially do so very quickly. While the outgoing senior class did an outstanding job laying a foundation for the future, aside from a few select players (particularly Trevor Yealy), they did not possess D-1 talent. The incoming freshman class sacrifices experience and a known quantity in the leadership department for better skill.
Whether that skill translates immediately into wins is the big question. The schedule isn’t going to be much easier – if it is at all – and in certain areas, simply being more competitive is a better goal.