Virginia-Denver Battle Might Look Strange
Under coach Dom Starsia, Virginia has been known for getting up and down the field whenever possible, in part because its defense was always determined to extend and gamble, force the issue and create transition opportunities. When he was fashioning a legendary career at Princeton, current Denver coach Bill Tierney typically would do anything to slow down the game with ball control, play to his matchup zone defense and go for the 8-6 victory.
When Denver and Virginia square off in Saturday's NCAA tournament Division I semifinal, fans might not recognize who they are watching. Both coaches have gone through some interesting philosophy changes in 2011.
Denver averages nearly 13 goals, has a host of dodging and scoring weapons led by slick Canadian attackman Mark Matthews, and has leaned heavily on its offense while building a 15-2 record. Virginia, which also possesses one of the most explosive offenses in the country, has been suspect for much of the year on defense -- party due to inexperience, partly due to a season-ending shoulder injury to close defenseman Matt Lovejoy, the Cavaliers' top cover guy.
Out of necessity, Starsia has had to resort to the unthinkable in recent weeks. Virginia has sacrificed its constant desire to play up-tempo by employing a zone defense to keep opposing shooters honest and take come pressure off of its defense. In last week's 13-9 quarterfinal victory over Cornell, the Cavs played zone about 70 percent of the game, which included a 7-0 shutout in the second quarter.
"We had to change up a little bit," Starsia said. "I think we've played more zone this year that I've played in the rest of my coaching career combined."
"I'm a micro-manager. My M.O. is to play for the 8-6 game," said Tierney, who has learned to live with giving up nine or 10 goals. "I'd be an idiot if I tried to keep these guys from scoring."