There are a number of teams out there that come across as head scratchers this year, but Loyola Lacrosse might just be leading the way. Coming into the season, expectations were pretty high for the Hounds, and with a tough schedule, Loyola was tested right away. While Loyola came away with some big wins, they also lost some questionable games, currently own a 6-5 record, and have a tenuous grip on a top 20 poll spot. What’s the deal with Loyola Lacrosse in 2015?
Photo Credit: Craig Chase
Since there is still plenty of time for Loyola Lacrosse to rebound (3 regular season games against Maryland, BU, and Bucknell AND the Patriot playoffs), I want to take a look at what Loyola has been doing right, and where they have been struggling. Hopefully that sheds some light on their somewhat erratic season so far!
Loyola Lacrosse: A Team Of Contrast
First, we’ll look at team stats from this year, and team stats from last year, where Loyola went 15-2. While basic statistics can’t tell the whole story, certain numbers may just jump off the page if there is a big difference between 2014 and 2015.
Goals scored per game – LOY vs OPP
2015 – 11.82 vs 10.55
2014 – 12.88 vs 7.47
Loyola Lacrosse is now giving up, on average, slightly more than 3 goals per game than they did in 2014. That will impact any program’s win rate! But can we simply say that the Loyola defense is the cause for this change? Let’s take a look at some other numbers.
Let’s look at shots per game. Since Loyola is giving up 3+ goals more per game than in 2014, we would likely assume that their shots given up would also increase by a good chunk. But 30% more goals against doesn’t always mean 30% more shots faced.
Shots per game – LOY vs OPP
2015 – 42.6 vs 37.5
2014 – 41.2 vs 34.1
Loyola is actually giving up only 3 more shots per game than they did last year, but somehow that is translating to 3 extra goals against per game on the scoreboard. We see that this is not some magic formula immediately as Loyola Lacrosse is taking one more shot per game this year, but scoring one LESS goal per game on average.
This can mean, or not mean, a lot of things. Is Loyola giving up better shots to their opponents? Is Loyola taking worse shots than they did a year ago? Was the inherent personnel change from year to year the cause of this, or did their opponents get better?
Or maybe a lot of that swing can be found in one place, like man-down and man-up conversions?
Man up/Man down – LOY vs OPP
2015 – 34.5 vs 50.0%
2014 – 44.2 vs 31.4%
Opponents are putting up, on average, about 1 more man up goal every game on Loyola this year. And Loyola is scoring about 2/3s of a goal less per game doing the same. Man up and man down seems to account for about half of the number swing this year from last for the Hounds. So where is the other half (or two goals) coming from?
For me, there is no pure and totally correct answer to this question as the answer stems from a number of places, but its biggest influence might just be ground balls. When Loyola was the top dog, and won their national title, they were ground ball machines. Not only did they pick them up like crazy, but they pushed the tempo after a good GB, and some of that mentality seems to have gone the way of the dodo unfortunately.
Just last year, Loyola out-groundballed the competition to the tune of 611 to 478. That averages out to 35.9 GBs per game. Opponents were kept to under 30 per game at a cool 28.1. This year, we’ve seen that gap shrink, and while Loyola has snagged 33.0 GBs per game, their opponents have upped their level to 28.8 GBs per game. Could almost 4 ground balls per game really be the culprit for Loyola’s 2015 dip in production?
For some teams I would probably say no, but for Loyola, I’d have to argue that yes, this is the case. The Hounds have been able to pick up loose balls all over the field and convert that into offense quickly. This has been a definite strength of the program for the last number of years. But when I’ve watched the Hounds play this year, I see more settled offense and a little less run and gun. The risky plays seem to have decreased, but if the numbers above are legitimate at all, so has Loyola’s scoring, and that’s a bad thing for a supposedly up-tempo team.[fvplayer src=”https://youtube.com/watch?v=FvNEHAl_aFc” splash=”https://i.ytimg.com/vi/FvNEHAl_aFc/hqdefault.jpg” caption=”Highlights: Men’s Lacrosse vs Navy”]
When I look at Loyola’s roster, or I watch them play, I don’t see the drop in talent that a lot of others seem to see. What I do see is a good team playing a little slower than they should, and scoring less goals as a result.
Loyola has shown flashes this year of up-tempo exciting lacrosse, and if that mentality starts to manifest itself again late in the year, the Hounds could be a real darkhorse to make some waves coming out of the Patriot League. I believe the talent is there… if the Hounds start to play with reckless abandon and push transition again, you just might believe it too.
Be the fastest team on the field. Be the Hounds, Loyola. It has served you well! Don’t let Brown become the most transition-heavy team in D1 lacrosse. That’s YOUR thing!