This list is a slightly more extensive list than it was last year, but still pretty limited. These two schools head in different directions – Michigan preparing for the Big Ten Conference while also playing out the final year of the ECAC, Detroit trying to gear up for an NCAA Tournament berth yet again – and face just three common opponents (and a head-to-head matchup).
In something of an odd coincidence, the teams also cross over scrimmage opponents (Detroit scrimmaged Ohio State in the Fall while Michigan has a regular-season game, Michigan will scrimmage MArquette Saturday and the Titans have a regular-season game later n the spring).
Michigan: Feb. 14 (home, Oosterbaan Fieldhouse)
Detroit: Feb. 16 (Ultimate Soccer Pontiac)
3-8, #58 Laxpower, #54 Tempo-Free Lax
In another interesting twist, both Michigan and Detroit have indoor games in mid-February against a team whose hometown features a balmy 60-degree average that time of year. Go figure. The Bears are in their fourth year as a program, with a one-year head start on Michigan. They’ve been a bottom-ten team all three years, but last year’s finish represented a leap forward.
The Past Results
Detroit last played Mercer two seasons ago, on the road in Macon, Ga. The Titans won comfortably on the strength of a 9-0 run through the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. Without that run, it would actually have been a pretty tight game – the Titans led by just one goal at halftime – but the offensive explosion, led by Scotty Drummond, put the game away with plenty of time to spare.
Mercer is one of two victims of the Michigan Wolverines through two years of the program. U-M’s Team One headed to Jacksonville and thoroughly pasted Mercer 14-4 in 2012. At that point, it was clear that they were well ahead of the Bears, but Mercer made a pretty leap from its second team to last year’s unit. In the 2012 win, four Wolverines who are still around got on the scoreboard (A Will Meter with a goal and two assists, middie Andrew Mosko with a goal, middie Doug Bryant with three goals and an assist, A Thomas Paras with four goals and two assists).
The Forward-Thinking Look Back
|Off. Eff.||25.88 (53)|
|Def. Eff.||38.47 (60)|
Mercer’s lone strong point last year was its ability to possess the ball, thanks to the No. 16 faceoff unit in the country. Justin Evans returns to spearhead the Mercer faceoff unit, which should again be quite good. In the other areas of the possession game – clearing and riding – they were pretty bad, so the faceoffs were truly a lone bright spot.
Offensively, Mercer struggled to score, and that wasn’t against a murderer’s row of strong defenses (aside from Bellarmine at No. 1, Towson’s No. 20 D and Air Force’s No. 22 were the only respectable opponents, in fact). Fortunately, their top eight scorers return, and last year’s top point-getter, Chris Baxa, should make a freshman-to-sophomore leap of sorts.
The defense was even worse than the offense last year, rounding up right near the bottom of the country. Top goalie Mike Nugent is back – and should improve in his second year – but there’s a lot of room for improvement. All three starting defenders also return, but they were outside the top eight(!) in GBs on the team. The best defense for Mercer should remain keeping the ball away from the opposing offense.
Detroit: Feb. 23 (away)
Michigan: April 26 (home)
8-7 (3-2 NEC), #40 Laxpower, #31 Tempo-Free Lax
Despite playing in a league that was pretty weak, Robert Morris managed to rank much higher on Tempo-Free Lacrosse than on LaxPower – I suspect LaxPower undervalues teams that play at a fast pace. The Colonials managed to notch a winning record – something that Michigan and Detroit can both speak to being pretty difficult – and came to the cusp of making the NCAA tournament before falling in the NEC finals to Bryant.
The Past Results
Michigan will be facing Robert Morris for the first time. Yay Midwest (inasmuch as Pittsburgh identifies more with the Midwest than it does with the rest of Pennsylvania).
Detroit played a pretty slow game (for its standards, at least, with 69 total possessions) in Moon Township last year, but more notable was the combined futility on offense. Robert Morris nearly doubled up the Titans on fewer possessions, and Detroit’s efficiency mark was its lowest of the year. Detroit averaged less than a shot per possession, so they didn’t even shoot poorly on the day, just very infrequently.
The Forward-Thinking Look Back
|Robert Morris 2013|
|Off. Eff.||33.17 (16)|
|Def. Eff.||29.39 (25)|
Robert Morris had a pretty good offense last year. They lose the Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 7 point-getters off that unit, so there will be something of a re-shaping. The bright news is that last year’s leading scorer was a freshman, and attack Eric Rankel should be able to make a step forward in his second year on campus. Of course, the Colonials seem to know how to put up points, so even with some dropoff, they shouldn’t suddenly drop down to pathetic output levels.
Bobby Mo’s defense was decent, but not quite to the elite level of the offense. It should also see a big dropoff, with starting goalie Charles Ruppert and starting D-pole Ben Lewis graduating. There is enough returning talent in the defensive unit to tread water there, but combined with a new goalie (non-Rupperts played a grand total of 21 minutes last year), there should be a hit.
Robert Morris was a very poor possession team last year, thanks in large part to being the second-worst faceoff unit in the country. With Nicholas Beaudoin struggling mightily, they were content to throw LSM Tyler Rankel out at the dot, and he was predictably bad. Unless a new player can come forward to provide a spark at the position, improvement here would be accountable to the randomness of draws.
Detroit: March 4 (home)
Michigan: March 15 (away)
7-7 (3-4 ECAC), #28 Laxpower, #27 Tempo-Free Lax
Bellarmine was a nice example of the leap a team can take simply by focusing on what it’s good at (defense, in this case), and growing up a bit as a team. The Knights were 2-4 in close games in 2012, and although they didn’t improve their success much in that regard (3-5 in 2013), they were getting blown out less – and blowing teams out more – in the other games.
The Past Results
Michigan’s loss in Louisville last year partially doomed not just the 2013 season, but will have a major negative effect on 2014. Goalie Gerald Logan injured his shoulder in that contest, and though he put together a strong year after that game, it could have been better if he was healthy. Now, he’ll miss all of 2014 after having surgery to repair that shoulder. U-M hopped out to a lead on the Knights, but a make-it, take-it situation led to runs of six straight goals in the first and second periods, and five straight in the third and fourth (four of them in just over a minute on the clock). Bellarmine was a good-not-great possession team last year, so giving up those runs was a poor showing for Michigan.
The Titans also fell victim to a big run out of the Knights. After a 1-1 draw through the first quarter, BU scored seven of the next eight to build a big lead early in the third, and cruised to a win. Detroit struggled clearing in the third quarter, a big part of the run, and BU attackmen Cameron Gardner and Lance Robinson each netted a hat trick.
The Forward-Thinking Look Back
|Off. Eff.||24.74 (56)|
|Def. Eff.||23.26 (1)|
Bellarmine’s offense was awful. Though the Knights hit double-digits six times, one came in a loss, and most of their big scoring outputs were against the moribund defenses on the schedule. Gardner (top scorer) is back, but Robinson (No. 3) is gone, as is last year’s second-leading scorer, Michael Ward. So too are Nos. 4, 5, and 7, and the eighth-leading scorer was an LSM last year. This offense will be back to square one to an extent. Started from the bottom now we… will probably still be at the bottom.
The defense, on the other hand, was outstanding. Air Force, Denver, Virginia, and Penn were the only teams to hit double-digits against Bellarmine. Unfortunately, a big part of that success is out the door with extremely talented goalie Dillon Ward, and some key defensive pieces are gone as well. Repeating as an elite unit is tough for what is essentially a mid-major team, and with these losses I see a big dropoff.
Bellarmine was below average on faceoffs. Although they lose the most-deployed specialist in Michael Herring, the players behind him actually fared much better, so moving back toward average is a solid bet.
Feb. 10 (Ultimate Soccer Pontiac)
Before I actually preview both of these teams next week, a Cliff’s Notes version: Michigan made some progress judging by the eyeball test, but didn’t change much based on the stats and results. Detroit took a big step forward by making the NCAA Tournament and nearly upsetting Notre Dame, but really only improved marginally over 2012 on the basis of the whole body of evidence.
The Past Result
Since last year’s game got canceled (it was like learning there would be no Christmas this year for this guy), a recap of the 2012 meeting, as presented in last year’s preview:
UDM scored in runs of two (twice), three, and four goals in the course of the game – a theme for Michigan’s defense throughout the year, actually – and led 12-7 almost midway through the fourth. Thomas Paras drew things within four goals, but a Tim Lehto unassisted tally closed the door on any comeback attempts, and a Thomas Paras goal with under a minute left served to do little more than make the score look a bit nicer.
If the teams’ schedules had been reversed – if Michigan had taken on two highly ranked and highly skilled opponents while UDM was getting their first action of the year – it might have been a little closer, but the Titans’ experience (one player on Michigan’s roster last season had ever played Division I ball, while obviously every non-freshman on the UDM squad had a year of varsity under their belt) was too much for Michigan to overcome.
Stay tuned in coming days, when I’ll run down the rest of the schedules for each team, and then get into full-on season previewin’ mode.