Here it is: Michigan’s best chance of the year to come away with a win. Even though High Point has exceeded early expectations (already picking up a win and coming close in a couple other games), this is one that Michigan has to expect to win.
High Point’s expectations were pretty low coming into the year, and though they’ve already exceeded some of those, they haven’t done it against the best competition.
Towson (whom the Panthers defeated) looks one or two steps ahead of totally hapless, along with Delaware, Jacksonville, and St. Joseph’s in that range. While Air Force and Bellarmine are middle-tier opponents (trending upward for the Knights, in the other direction for the Falcons), HPU won’t really see top competition until Brown in a couple weeks.
The question of course, becomes where Michigan stands vis-a-vis those other programs.
|High Point 2013|
|Faceoff Wins||68||Faceoff Wins||58|
|Offensive Efficiency||.230||Offensive Efficiency||.332|
High Point is doing pretty well on faceoffs, but thanks to boatloads of clearing attempts by opponents (likely a product of turnovers and a poor shooting percentage by the Panthers), there’s a slight possession deficit. Things are close enough that you can call it right about even.
It’s the efficiency where HPU is really lacking. The offense is pretty poor (that mark would be third-to-last nationally based on 2012′s adjusted numbers, and HPU ain’t facin’ no murderer’s row so far). The defense would have been middle-of-the-pack or worse, based on last year’s numbers (and again, these are unadjusted, so things might be worse than they look).
the offense has been a two-man show to date for High Point. Canadian freshman Dan Lomas has been strictly a finisher from the attack, racking up 13 goals and two assists (both against Jacksonville in HPU’s most recent outing). Sophomore linemate Matt Thistle (a Manhattan transfer who only appeared in four games for the Jaspers last spring) has used balance to get his 15 points, distributing and scoring on his own. He’s your point guard.
Outside of those two, there’s a big dropoff in productivity. Redshirt frosh midfielder Mitchell Dupere is third on the team in scoring, but that’s good for just five points to date, and it’s taken him 21 shots to get there. He’s a bomber that hasn’t seen a whole lot of success yet. Bucky Smith and Michael Messenger, also midfielders, are right in Dupere’s range, too.
This is an attack-driven offense to date, but it could simply be due to a dearth of scoring ability in the midfield just as much as it’s any design of the offense. Adam Seal has been the third starter on attack, but his scoring line to date consists of just one goal and one assist (Dupere started one game on attack, rather than his typical role in the midfield).
Michigan didn’t have the shutdown defender to stop Garrett Thul, but against a team that doesn’t have a Thul and still relies on a very limited group of scorers, you’re bound to see much more success. The key is forcing tougher shots – because Gerald Logan has shown he can stop those (and some easy looks, too).
The High Point defense has been non-terrible, and Michigan fans know that’s something to celebrate out of a first-year program.
Redshirt freshmen Jeff Hale and Harris Levine have been starters, along with sophomore Pat Farrell (a Scranton transfer) and redshirt junior Garrett Swaim (who lettered two years at Jacksonville). The HPU roster doesn’t differentiate between close defense and LSM, but given that none of those players have notched a single shot attempt or assist on the year, it might not be relevant, at least from the standpoint of going forward with the ball.
Swaim and Farrell (the grizzled vets of the unit) lead the defensive unit in caused turnovers with four apiece – this is clearly not a defense based on taking the ball away from the opponents.
In net, redshirt sophomore Austin Geisler – a Virginia transfer who was actually supposed to be in the mix for serious playing time at UVa – has played all but a few minutes between the pipes. He’s been pretty good, saving .585 of shots faced. His defense seems designed to protect him a bit, not a bad strategy for a young program with a high-caliber goalie.
This battle should be a mirror image of the other side of the field. Can Michigan’s offensive players generate good enough opportunities to beat a pretty good goalkeeper? Early indications – against by far the nation’s toughest schedule, to be fair – are that it will be a struggle, especially pending Thomas Paras’s health.
Faceoffs have been split between two players, with Freshman Jamie Piluso taking about 70% of the draws and winning .545 of them. Sophomore Chris Davila, a junior college transfer, has taken nearly all the rest, and is only winning at a slightly lower clip. 541. With Brad Lott rounding into form a bit, there should be some battles.
The High Point clear has been pretty good, especially given the youth of the program (Michigan’s clear was brutal last year), and is not a liability, to say the least. The ride has earned a few possessions here and there, and could be a weapon against a similarly youthful team like Michigan.
In the penalty department, High Point is averaging nearly five no-nos per game, with opponents at about three and a half. Michigan has been (until the Army game) one of the least-penalized programs in the country two years running. High Point is also awful at converting on the man-up (as a relative neophyte to the game, that seems like an area where sheer talent, particularly outside shooting, can make as much a difference as anything), while allowing opponents to score nearly 40% of the time. This should be a true area of advantage for the Wolverines.
Every game is huge as an opportunity for Win One, and this is probably the Wolverines’ best shot of the year. They’re playing a program that’s equally new to lacrosse (Michigan actually announced almost a year later than the Panthers to start play a year earlier, giving them far less time to build the program), and one that should be vulnerable.
Whereas a close loss to Johns Hopkins could have counted as a moral victory (still registering as 0% of a win in the Actual Victory ledger), there shall be no moral victories in this one. It’s a game the Wolverines should – and must – win.
The stakes are set, and it looks like this is one of the few games on the year where U-M can not only match, but exceed the opponent’s personnel in a number of areas.
- High Point ends up with a slight advantage in faceoffs. Brad Lott is starting to come around now that he’s getting the chance to practice regularly, but wing play, chemistry, etc. will all play a factor. High Point happens to have a couple pretty good faceoff men, and they should do their thing.
- Michigan scores at least one man-up goal. The Wolverines have converted thrice already this year, and should have a few opportunities against what is a poor man-down.
- Gerald Logan records his second-best save percentage of the year. It would be silly to assume he can outdo the insane .676 (on 37 SOGs!) that he accomplished against Army, but High Point doesn’t have the offensive talent yet to challenge as much as some of U-M’s other opponents. a .633 mark against Penn State is the number to beat.
- Michigan sees its first official hat trick of the year(!) (Willie Steenland recorded one against Marquette in an exhibition). My money is on either Peter Kraus or Mike Hernandez, with Kyle Jackson also in the mix.
As mentioned above, this is a game Michigan should win. That’s because the Wolverines field the better team. Accordingly, I would be remiss not to predict victory, no? It won’t be a walkover like last year’s game against Mercer, but Team Two records Win Two, U-M emerges with a 14-8 victory.