Men's Notes: Shooting Woes Plague Virginia
by Gary Lambrecht | Twitter
In recent years, even when Virginia shot with the kind of efficiency that typifies the high-scoring team it has been under 23-year coach Dom Starsia, the Cavaliers have endured their share of close calls against decided underdogs.
From 2012 to 2014, UVA slipped past Drexel three times with one-goal, early-season victories. In the second game of the 2014 season, the Cavaliers barely escaped Richmond, 13-12, when the Spiders were a brand new Division I program.
This time in another dangerous weeknight game, Virginia cracked against an up-and-comer. High Point, an unranked, fourth-year program that is defending its Southern Conference title, knocked off 10th-ranked Virginia, 12-11, in overtime.
Good things are happening in Charlottesville, despite the bottom line. Three games into 2016, Virginia is winning 60 percent of its faceoff attempts and has controlled the ground ball battle, 126-86, while opponents have committed 18 turnovers per game. The Cavs are out-shooting opponents by an average of 43-30.
But they simply can’t find the back of the net. Virginia has converted only 22.5 percent of its 129 shots and is averaging just 9.67 goals per game.
For the first time since 2004, and only the second time during the Starsia era, Virginia is off to a 1-2 start and has lost its first two home games. The 2004 team lost four of its first five, wound up 5-8, and missed the NCAA tournament a year after winning its second of four NCAA championships under Starsia.
As the Cavs – who will drop out of the top 10 on Monday – prepared to face visiting Penn on Sunday, with fifth-ranked Syracuse coming to Charlottesville six days later, Starsia said he and the coaching staff are walking a line of sorts.
“You can’t ignore [shooting slumps], but you also don’t want to jump on them about it. They know it needs to get better,” Starsia said. “If we were taking too many outside shots and not enough quality shots, that would be an issue. We don’t want to ride them about it. As long as we keep selecting good shots and being decisive about it, we’ll be OK.”
The Cavs opened their season with a stunning inability to score against Loyola. Virginia converted just four of 40 opportunities and put only 18 shots on goal, as seniors Zed Williams and James Pannell whiffed on a combined 15 chances. The Greyhounds took just 33 shots en route to an 11-4 rout.
Virginia next took down Drexel in Philadelphia, 14-7, despite the fact that Pannell and fellow attackman Ryan Lukacovic did not play. Starsia described the reasons as “some of it was physical, some of it team matters.”
Greg Coholan moved to attack and Ryan Conrad ran with the first midfield. Coholan scored three goals – on 16 shots. Collectively, the Cavs were 14-for-51 and made only six of 33 attempts in the first half.
The High Point loss, which happened three days after the Drexel trip, was more about the Virginia defense allowing 12 goals on just 28 shots. High Point attackman Dan Lomas was clutch with four goals, including the game-winner.
But Virginia failed to capitalize on 24 turnovers by High Point, partly by hitting 11 of 38 shots (29 percent). High Point goalie Tim Troutner stopped 15 shots.
“People [on the outside] have a tendency to go a little nutty about [the 1-2 start], but I like what we’re doing in practice. I like the quality of our effort,” Starsia said. “It seems like every turnover or mistake we make, it comes back to bite us at a bad time. We just have to keep fighting through it. That is what will define who we are as a group.”
No. 12 North Carolina suffered an upset loss to Hofstra last weekend, but is still off to a 2-1 start after suffering heavy graduation losses from last season. The Heels play at No. 7 Johns Hopkins on Sunday. (Peyton Williams)
KEEPING UNC REBUILDING IN PERSPECTIVE
North Carolina coach Joe Breschi wasn’t exactly shrugging off the Tar Heels’ 10-5 loss to Hofstra on Saturday.
But Breschi was all about perspective, starting with the fact that it’s still February. Hofstra, a year removed from losing a slew of one-goal games, has a nice blend of experience and talent, led by senior attackman Sam Linares. He teamed with Josh Byrnes to score nine goals.
With former stars Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter and Chad Tutton gone, Carolina is in search of an identity offensively. That said, the Tar Heels are still averaging 13 goals per game on 33 percent shooting.
“It’s easy to look at one game [as a fan] and slip into a panic,” Breschi said. “We’re replacing five All-Americans, including two of our top five, all-time leading scorers [Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter]. People think we’re just reloading, but we’ve got a lot of good players with not a lot of experience. It takes time.”
The 12th-ranked Tar Heels (2-1) are coming to Homewood on Sunday to face no. 7 Johns Hopkins, a team the Tar Heels have owned in recent years. Breschi thinks Carolina will benefit from the early loss, for two reasons.
He said the Tar Heels practice habits got a bit sloppy during Hofstra week, and he added that the annual chatter about Carolina getting back to the final four for the first time since 1993 should die down. It’s clear the youthful Heels have work to do.
“The superstars are gone. The pressure is off. Now we’re underdogs,” Breschi said. “Let’s just go out there and play.”
SOMETHING SPECIAL AT BUCKNELL?
Frank Fedorjaka, the 10th-year coach at Bucknell, looks at the Patriot League as one of the game’s deeper, tougher conferences – maybe the best collection of lacrosse teams the league has ever produced.
He also thinks the Bison’s 3-0 start suggests Bucknell could be something special in 2016. The Bison, which open league play on Saturday at defending champion Colgate and will host Navy next week, have not won their first three games since 2007.
“We’re generating a lot of shots from a lot of spots, and we’re getting a lot of extra possessions,” he said. “The best thing about this team is the balance it has.”
Bucknell scored 13 goals each in easy victories over Delaware and Fairfield and had Bryant in an 11-5 hole before hanging on for an 11-10 win two weeks ago.
The offensive balance has been exceptional. Attackmen Sean Doyle (6g, 5a), Will Sands (6, 4) and Connor O’Hara (6, 1) are leading the way. First-line midfielders Thomas Flibotte (4g), Tommy O’Connor (4, 3) and Kyle Shanahan (4g) have been steady.
Bucknell’s extra possessions are due largely to excellent play from the faceoff unit and the defense. Freshman Jarett Witzal has won 70.7 percent of his draws. The defense, which features the signature, 10-man ride, is creating offense impressively.
Sophomore LSM Matt Gilray, 6 feet 4, has three goals and four assists, to go with his team-high 17 ground balls.
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