With the PLL season winding down, all eyes are on Philadelphia for the semifinal matchups between the Atlas and Chaos, followed by the Whipsnakes and Waterdogs. We’ve already gone over Greg Winston’s analysis of which matchups will be the keys to victory, but now I’m going to dive into where each team gets the edge at a higher level.
With the PLL Stats team’s work to chart each game, some very interesting trends started appearing with this weekend’s matchups. In scanning through, the gravity of the quarterfinals surprises really jumped out in a many areas.
PLL in Philadelphia: Who Has the Edge?
Why So Many First Round Upsets?
Most notable was exactly how dominant the Archers had been all season, making their upset loss even more remarkable. The Archers led the PLL in two-point goals, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and were in the top three in both offensive and defensive transition and settled situations. On top of that, they led in offensive shooting percentage, followed by the Redwoods, who also saw an early exit.
If the Archers and company were leading in so many of these categories, how did the teams do that were left? What was odd is that in a number of these categories, the four remaining teams were scattered all over the board. The one place I finally started seeing them grouped together? Some key offensive shooting zones.
Offensive Shooting Zones
The fun here starts right down the middle of the offense. Chaos leads the league with 36 doorstep goals, tied with the Whipsnakes’ 36 goals in the middle. Chaos is very loaded in a couple key areas, though. Usually it’s among the worst in the league, except it gets almost all of its goals (64%) from the doorstep, high lefty wing, or from two pointers. For the Whips, they’re in the bottom half of the league in every category except for where they lead: in the middle and the righty wing, where they get 60% of their goals.
Things get a little more interesting for the top-seeded Waterdogs. They are the top in opposite corners of the offense, the low righty wing and the high lefty wing, but this is still just 30% of their goals. Atlas? Honestly, it scores from everywhere. The Bulls lead the league in two pointers, but they are only in the bottom three in one shooting zone (the middle). They basically can score from anywhere. So, now the next step is of course to see how this maps against the PLL contender’s defensive shooting zones numbers and check if there are any mismatches to watch for in Philadelphia.
Defensive Shooting Zones
First, Chaos and Atlas. While Atlas leads the league in two pointers, Chaos is the second-best defense in terms of two-pointers allowed (thanks, Blaze!). But Blaze Riorden is not just strong with the long ball, he also anchors a defense that’s second in doorstep goals.
So where are their vulnerabilities? Either lefty wing and the high righty wing. The only area out of those three where Atlas really excels league-wide is the low lefty wing (*cough*Jeff Teat*cough*), but don’t ignore Eric Law’s league-leading 15 doorstep goals to really test Chaos’ strength. With a PLL Championship trip on the line, you need to be scoring goals you shouldn’t be in Philadelphia.
Going the other way, the Atlas defense will contend with the league’s best high left wing player Josh Byrne and two-point threat Ian MacKay. Unfortunately for Atlas, that high lefty wing is one of its weak spots defensively. So, as this game unfolds, the key will be with the big lefties on both sides of the field – not just how well they’re shooting, but how much attention they draw. If either defense starts overcommitting to have an early slide ready, other weak points for either team can develop.
In the second matchup of the PLL Semifinals, we’ll have the Whipsnakes and Waterdogs. As mentioned previously, the Waterdogs are strongest offensively in the two corners, low right and top left (Ryan Brown and Kieran McArdle, for those keeping track). And while the Whipsnakes are actually pretty strong where McArdle is at his best, they have not had as much success with Brown’s area down low. Where they’re even worse is the low lefty position, where the Whips are bottom of the league. One dynamic that may put a wrinkle into this is the switch the Brian Phipps in goal for this game, according to Inside Lacrosse’s Terry Foy. With much less film on Phipps, the Waterdogs may be spending more game time seeing where they can attack him the best.
On the other side of the field, you have the Waterdogs strong in the middle and at both high wings in terms of defensive shooting allowed. They’re in the middle of the pack everywhere else. This creates a perfect strength versus strength matchup between these two teams, and one of these will have to give. Either the Whipsnakes generate more of their points down low on a hot Dillon Ward in goal, or their strong play on the wings and in the middle will be more than the Waterdogs defense can handle.
And that hasn’t even mentioned the faceoffs yet. Trevor Baptiste and Joe Nardella lead the league in clamps, corresponding well to their 65% and 57% winning percentages, respectively, which is good for first and third in the league. Not too far behind is Max Adler, who had major struggles in his first PLL season but has made enormous improvements in Chaos’ late season runs.
For the Waterdogs, Jake Withers doesn’t wind a ton of clamps, in part due to his style, but it doesn’t matter. He’s fourth in the league in winning percentage, because he has the two best wings in the league (Zach Currier and Ryland Rees) picking up the ground ball once it’s loose. Speaking of wing play, the only team left without a player in the top 10 for wing ground balls in Chaos, leaving Adler on a bit of an island in that respect. He is fourth in the league in clamp percentage (60%), but he’s going head-to-head with the PLL leader Baptiste (64%) in Philadelphia.
What does all of this mean? In both games, faceoffs are not only going to really matter, but they’ll be an all-out battle.