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Princeton vs. Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse 28

NCAA D1 Men’s Lacrosse Beware: Hopkins Is Holding Back

3 - Published March 8, 2012 by in College, NCAA

Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse is sitting pretty at 5-0.  They have wins over Towson, Delaware, Siena, Princeton and Manhattan.  The official poll has them at #2 behind Virginia, and the Laxpower Power Rankings have the Blue Jays at #5.  They beat Towson by 6, Delaware by 2, Siena by 4, Princeton by 2, and Manhattan by 11, en route to a shutout win.

But I can’t begin to tell you how many Hopkins doubters there are out there.  It’s unreal!  At this point, I’ve heard it all, but I’ll explain why Hop just might be the most dangerous team in college lacrosse this season.  Yes, they’re playing with a target on their back, but I still don’t think we’re seeing the real Hopkins at this point.  And if the #2 team in the country is holding back, like I think they are, then the rest of D1 lacrosse needs to WATCH OUT!

Princeton vs. Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse 28

Princeton vs. Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse 28

A Little History

2 years ago, Hopkins started playing a ton of freshman.  Greeley, Ranagan, Durkin and others began seeing serious time for the Jays, but Petro never really let them off the leash.  It’s almost as if the entire season was just a big build towards something else down the line. The result was an extremely disappointing (from a short-term view only!) 7-8 season.  Hop lost to the top 5 teams in D1 by a combined 30 goals, but there was something there.  and in 2011 we saw a lot more of it.

The 2011 Jays were a very different beast.  A lot of the same guys, but a very different record.  At the beginning of the season, Hopkins played super conservative lacrosse.  They then lost to Princeton playing this style, got a little more aggressive, and then lost to Cuse 5-4.  But after that, they picked it up again, and beat Virginia, UNC and Maryland, all by one goal.  And towards the end of the season, the conservative Hopkins we’d all known had been replaced by a riskier version of the Jays, and one that was capable of beating anyone.

Their players were a year older, and more experienced, and new talent had even entered the ranks.  Hopkins had quickly become a world beater again.  A really tough Denver team took them down in the playoffs 14-9, and the combo of Denver’s experienced D and their high powered offense was a little too much for Hop.

The Here And Now

Remember the past.  But also that it’s 2012.  And Hop is back with almost every single player intact, even though a captain in Boland, and a newcomer in Stanwick, are injured right now.  But that doesn’t seem to matter that much because Hop is winning, again.  Yet somehow the 2012 Hopkins looks even more conservative than the 2011 version did!  So has Hopkins taken a step backwards?

Yes. Hopkins has taken a step backwards, just not in the way that you think.  Most people associate a step back with negative connotations.  They look at it as a failure to keep progressing, but I don’t know that an assessment like that is really fair, or true.

Every team is different.  And between Hopkins’ last game in 2011 (May 21st), and their first game in 2012 (Feb 17th), NINE months passed.  But for Hopkins to dial things back and play even more conservative lacrosse makes little sense at first glance.  The thinking usually goes that most of the progress made last year will come back, especially if all of your guys return, and to a certain extent, I agree with that.  But look closer, and you’ll see why this initial reaction is false.

The Reasoning

I tend to think of aggressive vs conservative lacrosse as a pendulum, and I think how far you swing in one direction dictates how far you can effectively swing in the other direction.  Basically, any team with talent that can play conservative, can ALSO play aggressive, if they choose to.  And here is how this applies to JHU:

Last year, Hopkins played relatively conservative lacrosse for much of the season.  Then, towards the end, the Blue Jays started pushing transition, running two-way middies and being more aggressive on defense, by going for even more takeaways or turnovers.  They may have played conservative lacrosse in the beginning, but it was nothing like what we’re seeing now (passing up 6 on 4s, stalling in the 2nd quarter, not throwing takeaway checks, etc), and when they played fast and loose later on, it was a change, but it wasn’t like watching Syracuse.  It was still Hopkins lacrosse to a certain extent.

Well this year, Hop has taken things to a whole new level of conservatism.  Their poles rarely seem to go after takeaways, and seem more content to force bad passes and create good times to double with the body.  On offense, they run THEIR offense, and seem happier to get a 5 minute possession and a goal than a goal every minute for 5 minutes.

But if Hop flipped the switch LAST year, doesn’t it make some sense that might try it again?  And if they do, what can we expect to see?

My guess is a VERY open and freewheeling offense.  It will be based on what they do now most likely, but players will have much more choice, and liberty to create, as opposed to just move the ball on after drawing a slide.  The defense will extend and press more at times, and sit back even more at others.  The conservative approach we see now will make Hop seem like a totally different team in April and May.  And this makes them incredibly dangerous.  How do you scout a team you’ve never really seen before?

Petro doesn’t hate taking risks, as long as you are 100% prepared to deal with whatever consequences emerge.  We saw this last year towards the end, when Hop started playing less conservative lacrosse.  He still screamed at guys for making mistakes, but he does that now.  So Petro’s anger levels simply aren’t a factor.  If he puts you back in after screwing up, you’re fine.  And that’s what we saw last year, at least for the most part.

Last year, Hop lost to Princeton, and this year, even though the Tigers are better (in my opinion anyway), they won.  And they did so playing super conservative lacrosse.  Now just imagine what will happen when they do that this year.  And if you’re a D1 lacrosse team, start prepping now.  Talent, creativity and a rock solid foundation of basics?

Hop is only going to get better.

When Will We See The Change?

Last year Hopkins lost an early game or two, and probably had to play more up-tempo, aggressive lacrosse before they wanted to.  Simply put, they needed wins.  The 8-3 Princeton loss sort of forced their hand… at least that’s how it happened in my mind.  But this year they’re winning, and already have two top 20 wins under their belts.

This weekend, Hop plays UMBC and I don’t think we’ll see the change here.  If UMBC can pull of the upset, like they did to Maryland on Tuesday night, then we may see it.  But even then I’d doubt it.  If they lose to UMBC AND Syracuse, I think we’ll see it against Virginia.  If they beat UMBC and lose to Cuse, probably not.  Either way, that Hop – UVA game will be special as UVA’s poles will press a bit.

My guess is that we’ll really see it when Hopkins plays Maryland.  That’s going to be a HUGE game for both teams, and EVERYONE will be watching.  Seems like a great time to unveil your most frightening version of yourself!

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