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10 Man Ride: Championship Preview

By Joe Keegan

PLL Analyst

Aug 9, 2020

CLEAR! The ride is on. It’s gameday. The Whipsnakes defend their throne against Chaos today at 12:30PM ET on NBC. Tell a friend to tune in. We’ve made thousands of new lacrosse fans this week – and we’re not done yet. Let’s ride! 

1. Neumann and Rowlett vs. Rambo and Zed

The Redwoods blanked the league’s highest scoring attack duo – Zed Williams and Matt Rambo – on Thursday night, holding them to 0-for-7 shooting and six turnovers. Don’t count on that happening again. Prepare for a tag team heavyweight brawl.

Neumann, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, drew Rambo, the reigning MVP, last time these teams met. Neumann plays fundamental, stick-out defense. His length creates a cushion that allows Neumann to beat Rambo to his spots. Here he denies topside and forces a rollback. Rambo scores (his only one-on-one goal with Neumann this game), but a right-handed shot for Rambo isn’t worst-case scenario for Neumann and the defense.

Rowlett will play more of what Jamie Munro refers to as a “bump-and-run” style. He drew Zedzilla last week. This reverse V-hold (another Munro-ism) shrinks Zed’s shooting angle by denying the behind-the-back option.

A couple things to watch here: Will Chaos keep those matchups (Rowlett on Zed, Neumann on Rambo)? Will they throw junk at the Whips? We’ve seen them sink into zone out of timeouts twice now. Will they try to shut off Rambo? That backfired last year in the postseason; Rambo was more than happy to pull himself aside to let his teammates play five-on-five and attack with inverts.

2. Whips invert offense

The Whipsnakes invert (i.e. bring a midfielder with a short-stick matchup to X) more than any offense in the league. John Haus, Brad Smith, and Joe LoCascio are all comfortable operating from behind the cage. They kick Rambo to the wing, draw a slide, and move it to their MVP to make a play. Rambo carved up the league’s best invert defense (the Archers) for eight assists last Sunday. And Haus has showed his vision and ability to hit those skip passes himself at times.

Chaos’ invert defense is disorganized. It misses Brodie Merrill. Chrome carved them up for several invert goals in Game 1. “This is a totally different team!” You just shouted at me as your read that. You’re right – it is a different team, in every area except invert defense.

Defending the mirror is Invert Defense 101. Several Chaos defenders watch as the mirror, Marcus Holman, cuts to the opposite pipe of Joey Sankey’s dodge for an untouched doorstep finish.

Last year in the Championship, Haus found Mike Chanenchuk for a stepdown 2-pointer out of an invert. Chaos cannot afford to let up doorstep dunks or 2-bombs against the invert.

3. Chaos pickers vs. Whips pick defense

How much physicality the refs let the Chaos pickers (and the Whips’ defender covering the picker) get away with will be the biggest game within the game. Chaos plays box lacrosse on a field. Head coach Andy Towers’ team has shot 50.0% on all looks initiated by a two-man game – but only 19.8% when initiating with a dodge. They pick and re-pick relentlessly; Kevin Buchanan stalks Josh Byrne’s defender to set up this rollback.

Chaos will even set some double picks. It might be by design, or it might just be “some lacrosse” as Austin Staats calls it. Either way, it works. This double pick accomplishes two things: (1) it switches a short-stick onto Dhane Smith, who sweeps downhill through a hold, and (2) it pulls two defenders out of the slide package. Miles Thompson’s defender needs to slide – but he can’t slide, because he has no two slide – so Dhane drives to a high percentage area.

The Whips defense doesn’t let pickers set up. They will push pickers out of position, allowing their on-ball defender to fight through. Sometimes they will straight up push the picker into the ball carrier. Ryan Boyle mentioned on the broadcast on Thursday night that coaches around the league aren’t happy with the lack of interference calls in those situations. Will Matty Palumb and his crew crack down early?

If the referees allow the Whips to bully pickers around, we might see more of the Chain Gang (Jake Froccaro, Sergio Salcido, Eric Scott) line than the Kidney Pad Kids (is that what we’re calling them?) line of Dhane Smith, Austin Staats, and Kevin Buchanan. The Chain Gang dodges and mirrors – similar concepts, but less physicality. Those two lines have been matchup-specific so far in the postseason. The Kidney Pad Kids steamrolled Chrome, shooting 9-for-13 (69.2%) off pick-and-rolls; then the Chain Gang used their speed to stretch the slide-and-recover Archers defense thin.

4. “Whipsnakes defense”

Aside from pulverizing pickers, “Whipsnakes defense” has two main principles: They are slow to go, but when they see the back of a helmet, they are going. Tim Muller might be the sneakiest of the bunch. This double team – by Michael Ehrhardt in a five-on-five situation – is the epitome of Whipsnakes defense. Ehrhardt sees the opportunity to crash adjacent, and he capitalizes. Can the Whipsnakes creep up on the Chaos ball carriers?

5. “Whipsnakes offense”

“Whipsnakes offense” is built on one principle, and one principle only: Hit singles. Make the easy play. Plenty of teams say they don’t care who scores; the Whipsnakes walk the walk. Their offense benefits immensely from that extra pass.

Whips shooters have buried 26.2% of their unassisted looks. Off one pass, they’re shooting a healthier 33.8%. And off two or more passes, the Whips have drilled 44.1% of shots.

Keep an eye on their third attack spot. Brad Smith and Jay Carlson will split time. Smith is the party starter, shooting 30.8% off the dodge and dishing four second assists (tied with Tom Schreiber and Paul Rabil for most in PLL). Carlson is the garbage man. He’s shooting 55% and has 13 groundballs – unheard of for an attackman. The Whipsnakes boast a league-best 32.9% offensive rebounding rate thanks to Carlson. Each player – Smith and Carlson – gives the Whips a different look. Chaos may opt to short-stick Carlson (they tried to short-stick Marcus Holman at times on Thursday) to bump an extra pole up against this Whips midfield.

6. Nations 

Don’t be surprised to see Chaos run this Nations concept out of a timeout. Nations is a two-pass pick-and-roll. Like most of Chaos’ offensive actions, it is borrowed from the indoor game.

Curtis Dickson sets an up pick for Dhane, who throws down to Miles Thompson. The idea is that Thompson has a better passing window to Dickson. The Archers play this damn near perfectly – Scott Ratliff switches onto the roll, and Matt McMahon deflects the pass. It’s difficult in close quarters with long poles involved; a bit more spaced out, and this set could be a beauty.

7. Tyler Warner’s last hurrah?

Whipsnakes SSDM Tyler Warner started Harvard Medical School this week from the PLL bubble. One of the game’s best has a bright future beyond our sport.

Warner is dominant on faceoff wings, on-ball, and off-ball. He executes the Whips’ gameplans perfectly – whether that’s playing help defense with a foot in the paint or attaching himself to cutters’ hips. He rarely needs help – even when switched on attackmen. Warner will change direction with the shiftiest players, and plant them into the turf when given the chance.

“I’m kinda preparing for this Championship Series to be my last hurrah,” Warner told Inside Lacrosse’s Matt Kinnear. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue playing in med school because of the demands, having to be in the hospital constantly. I don’t want to short-change anybody. Whether I’m not committed to being in shape or being on top of my game, I’m hurting the team. On the flip idea, I can affect a patient.”

Read Matt Kinnear’s full feature on Warner here.

8. You miss 100% of the Glicks you don’t take

Chaos LC SSDM Mark Glicini has normalized jumping in front of 90+ mph rockets. Blocked shots have been renamed in honor of him. He’ll get a piece of a shot (er, a shot will get a piece of him?) at least once per game, plus several other Glick attempts. And his teammates are buying in.

By my unofficial count, Jarrod Neumann (5 Glicks), Glicini (4), Tyson Bell (3), and Patrick Resch (2) have all soaked multiple shots. Some are unintentional, but most are premeditated. This is a full out dive by Resch.

9. Blaze Riorden packing light

“I brought myself, my clothes, and a clean mindset,” Chaos LC goalie Blaze Rioden told Marisa Ingemi.

The reigning Goalie of the Year did not bring a laptop. He is focused on lacrosse – and it is paying off so far. Blaze has made more saves (at a higher save percentage) than any goalie. For the second year in a row, he has seen a ton of shots. Blaze deserves two Goalie of the Year awards in 2020, like the time Dunder Mifflin gave Dwight two Employee of the Month plaques for February in lieu of a pay raise.

Read Marisa’s feature on Blaze here.

10. Nardella vs. Kelly at The Stripe

Whipsnakes LC faceoff specialist Joe Nardella is the frontrunner for MVP right now. He was one of the best faceoff athletes in the league in 2019 – and then he lifted his game to a new level.

Nardella’s trademark is his ability to scrap after the clamp. In 2019 he won a league-low 38.5% of clamps, but still managed to face off above average. Now, he’s controlling 58.1% of clamps, and converting that into a 73.9% faceoff percentage. He’s clutch – 5-for-5 with five groundballs in overtime – and he wins a ton forward, especially last time he met Tommy Kelly at the stripe. For Chaos to have a chance, they need to prevent Nardella from sparking offense – and hope they can keep him under 70%-ish.

Thanks for reading!

Spread the word, submit any questions you want to see answered in this space to me on Twitter (@joekeegs), and I’ll talk to you tomorrow!

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