Welcome back to the next edition of our collaboration with Zack Capozzi over at Lacrosse Reference. Each week, we are putting together a stat of the week to highlight a game, team, or individual from Men’s or Women’s lacrosse to focus on.
It might be from a game the previous weekend, or it might be for an upcoming matchup. But either way, it will allow me to use some stats combined with a little bit of commentary for why I think that particular one jumps out to me in a given week.
This week’s focus: Should Duke lacrosse fans be worried?
The handy part of how Lacrosse Reference organizes their team pages is that it lets you go beyond just high level season metrics that the NCAA tracks and look into how a team is performing game by game. Early in the season, it was interesting to see, but not particularly useful with just a few games of sample size. But now, we can really see what direction teams are heading, and can start understanding if a team is improving or declining.
There were actually a few things that made me think of Duke as the team to check out first. One is the fact that their loss to Syracuse wasn’t due to some late comeback, as the Blue Devils never tied or led the game from the point where Syracuse scored the first goal. Compounding this was Syracuse is a team going trough their own struggles, making the game the de facto last place in the ACC game. Then you can layer in the broader lacrosse program reputation at Duke, which is that they are a team that improves throughout the season. This is largely due to the few years where they had an early season loss and still won the national championship. But that’s something that typically only holds up when they lose to good teams early. When they lose to teams they really should be beating, it’s typically not a good season in Durham. So, how are the Blue Devils looking so far in the 2022 season with twelve games under their belt? Well, it’s not encouraging.
Starting with the offense, let’s peak at their offensive efficiency:
Following their Jacksonville loss, it actually looked like that was what they needed to turn things around, and the offense was steadily improving over the next four games. But since then? Steady decline. And this is where the Opponent Adjusted calculation comes in. Both Richmond and Towson were wins where the Blue Devils put up 14 points, which is not bad by any means. But the 10 goals against both Syracuse and Loyola were not encouraging by any means. But where is the silver lining?
It’s not going out on a limb to say that Duke has the lacrosse talent and coaching to turn things around and get back on track as they march through their ACC schedule in April, but it needs to happen immediately. They do have Dyson Williams as the third most accurate shooter in the country and they have the second best man-up unit Men’s division 1.
For reference on the graph above, most teams are in the 3-40% range, which means changes within that 10% window can have a big impact. Duke is actually fourth in the country overall at 37.4% behind that stretch of games from Denver to High Point. But again, the trend is what’s concerning.
Now, let’s take a look at the faceoff dot to see how well they’re doing to feed that offense:
At the high level, Duke sits at 13th in the country with a 57.3% Adjusted Faceoff percentage. Their raw NCAA percentage has them at 15th with 56.7%. So while their past three games are a bit down, Jake Naso has taken almost 80% of the team’s faceoffs and is sitting just under a 60% win rate personally. So are faceoff down a bit as of late? Yes. Is it a problem or something I’d worry about? Definitely not. More concerning would be how late against Syracuse the Blue Devils couldn’t win one at all, but the high level numbers are still very respectable.
So if offense is sputtering, but faceoffs are OK, how’s the defense look? Not great.
The shape of the curve is actually a little deceiving since the lower percentage is actually a good thing since the metrics is number of goals divided by number of possessions.
Similar to the offense, the Blue Devils defense was improving up to the High Point game before they started their current four game decline resulting in a 2-2 stretch. But unlike the offense which had a similar arc, the defense is at a much worse starting point. Their adjusted team defense is 28.1% on the season, which puts them all the way down to 27th in the country, making them a very middle of the road squad. The the trend is getting better, but it’s still not in a good spot. They’re just now getting games under the 30% mark, which is where teams in the 45-51th range are nationally. The direction is good, but Duke needs to step it up if they want to compete with some of the best lacrosse programs in the country come playoffs, if they even make it out of the ACC alive.
Now finally, we can take a look between the pipes. If we know the defense is struggling, what about Mike Adler in net?
For reference, Adler has started every game for the Blue devils this year, which accounts for just under 94% of total minutes played. Nationally in raw save percentage, he sits at #17 with 54.2%. Drilling into more detailed keeper metrics on Lacrosse Reference, Adler has a value of .003 excess saves per shot attempt, which puts him at #51 in the country. Basically what that stat tells you is Adler’s basically doing what you would expect from a goalie right now. He’s not making a ton of extra saves statistically, but he’s also not giving up the goals he shouldn’t be. This does mean that if Duke were to get their defense on the right track and really get better about limiting opponent’s shots, you would also likely see Adler’s numbers climb at a similar rate.
So where does that leave us? Is the Duke lacrosse program a lost cause this season? Absolutely not. But where they need to improve is definitely clear. Their defense is the biggest area to focus on at the moment is absolutely what is holding them back right now. Their offense can absolutely be better, and it *should* be better, but the issues on defense need to be addressed first. So the trending is not great at the moment, but there is still time for the Blue Devils to get things on the right track. But, just not much of it. Their next chance: this Saturday in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.