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10 Man Ride: Chaos, Redwoods, Archers advance

By Joe Keegan

PLL Analyst

Aug 5, 2020

CLEAR! The ride is on. We’re recapping Tuesday’s tripleheader including seventh-seed Chaos’ 19-14 upset over Chrome, the Redwoods’ 11-8 victory over the Waterdogs and the Archers’ 11-9 win over Atlas. Let’s go!

1. Dhane’s World

Dhane Smith (3G, 3A) had the most assist opportunities (7) among anyone without an assist entering the game. He was due. And he delivered.

This Chaos offense finally looked like what I imagined it would when I saw it on paper: Box lacrosse on a field. Dhane is a dominant box lacrosse player. He can create his own shot. His eyes are always up, searching for open lefties across the field. Chaos split the field in half creating a right-handed three man game and a left-handed three-man game, and let Dhane go to work.

This rocker (the grandma rocker, as Deemer Class calls it) caught his defender reaching. Off the up-pick from Curtis Dickson, Dhane rolls back and threatens to throw back. His defender tries to disrupt the pass, but by extending to get in Dhane’s gloves, he gave up the underneath position.

Chaos caused a lot of confusion for the Chrome defense with these three-man games, often with nobody behind the cage. Bringing one pick to the ball pulls a defender out of the slide package. Bringing two picks to the ball? Almost unheard of, and it stretches slides even more. This double pick for Dhane matches him up on a short-stick, and he runs through the hold and through the slide for a powerful finish.

2. Josh Byrne, top center on the powerplay

The Chaos powerplay unit was 1-for-5 during group play. Yuck. Last night, this unit went 2-for-2 (or 3-for-2 when you factor in the two-pointer). The noticeable change: Josh Byrne (4G, 3A) was top center, and he was dealing.

Byrne set up Jake Froccaro (1G, 2T, 1A) for a two-pointer with a patented Hopkins 360-degree fake. Essentially, Byrne flipped fields without ever moving the ball to the lefty side – he was able to get the Chrome defense to sink toward Miles Thompson (1G, 1A) from the would-be weak-side, then find Froccaro for time and room.

Every pass is accessible to Byrne from this spot. And he can make most of those passes from multiple release points. This behind-the-back pass to Thompson is equal parts practical and flashy.

Now, time to address the elephant in the room: This is Connor Fields' spot on the powerplay. Fields did not see any action in Chaos’ 19-point offensive outburst. Head coach Andy Towers was asked about it at halftime and again postgame. His non-answer felt like an answer. They’re not worried about who is playing; they are worried about moving the ball. And the ball moved better on Tuesday than it has all series; Chaos's 10 assists tied the single-game club record.

The move – to sit Fields for Thompson – is part of a larger trend dating back to the 2019 Championship. We saw Wes Berg and Jay Carlson get more run than ever to give the Redwoods and Whipsnakes, respectively, an off-ball presence. And again yesterday, Berg spent time on attack in Ryan Drenner’s spot. In the preseason, playing with six dynamic dodgers sounds great. In execution, coaches have had more success with crease players spacing the field.

3. Kevin Buchanan, still shakin’

I asked for Buchanan (1G, 1A) to pick for Byrne and Austin Staats (2G) more. I got Buchanan operating the two-man game. And in no way, shape, or form am I upset about that.

Buchanan – who announced that he’ll retire following the series on Tuesday afternoon – showed he still has some shake. This is classic Bucky in the sense that he furiously changes direction, threatening to reject, then to use, then to reject the pick. But that one-hand, bottom-hand left-to-left big split dodge?! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that from Bucky, and I watched him up close in Boston for years. The veteran still has some tricks up his sleeve.

4. Crease Collapse of the Day

This Chrome defense played tough. They played together. It’s been fun watching Mike Manley throw himself in front of shots, John Galloway deny shots on the doorstep, Will Haus pummel people who thought they had a “mismatch,” and seeing Reece Eddy and others break out. Here’s one more crease collapse from one of the league’s most physical defenses.

Low time on the shot clock. The Chrome defense knows it cannot give Chaos’ finishers any breathing room on the inside. Jake Pulver and Manley are glued to their men. But when Josh Byrne’s cut brings Jesse Bernhardt near the ball, Bernhardt seizes an opportunity to double. He arrives on hands and slows the pass enough for Pulver and Manley both to react and collapse on Byrne.

5. Nick Ossello selling out

Nick Ossello had a hat trick of hustle stats: a caused turnover, a dive out, and a Kobe assist.

The Kobe assist – put back by attackman (?!) Brent Adams (3G) – was clutch. Transition opportunities are tough to come by against the Waterdogs. You know, because that Zach Currier guy never leaves the field and beats absolutely everyone into the hole. The Redwoods’ six-on-six offense is still struggling. If you’re going to grind out wins in this league, you need to play well in the gray. There didn’t appear to be an advantage until Ossello drove hard, drew Adams’ man upfield, and got his shot off.

This dive out is as good as it gets. Saved by Tim Troutner. Whoever wins the race gets a fresh 52. It would have been easy for Ossello to focus on finishing his check on Christian Cuccinello – but what would that have done for the team? He keeps his eye on the shot and wins the 50-50 rebound – a differentiator in the postseason, especially tomorrow against the Whipsnakes.

While we’re on the topic – in case you are not extremely online – Ossello has raised $14,495 (and counting) for OWLS Lacrosse, the Chicago-based non-profit partner of the Redwoods. If you’d like to contribute, here’s the link.

6. Waterdogs sharing the ball

In many ways the league’s first expansion team played like more of a team than most. Through group play the Waterdogs led PLL in assist rate (56.3%), a.k.a. the percentage of shots that were assisted. They spun the ball after drawing doubles until they found the open man.

The problem? They cashed in a league-low 21.2% of their assisted shots. That’s cooler than being cool. League average catch-and-shoot rate was 32.7% last year. No team shot below 31.1% over the whole season. Had the Waterdogs shot at that rate, they would’ve pumped in 8.4 more goals over the course of the group play – making them one of two teams with a positive goal differential!

Every team has ifs and buts. There’s not much separating these squads. But the Waterdogs ball movement (and off-ball movement) is truly promising. Head coach Andy Copelan is onto something. Actions like these – from Kieran McArdle to Christian Cuccinello to Drew Snider (off the seal-and-roll!) – are promising for the Waterdogs going forward.

7. Black Lives Matter – Leadership & Representation

Our sport needs to be a more welcoming place. That’s no secret. It begins with uncomfortable conversations; with leaders, which we are lucky to have the best in Kyle Harrison; and with representation in the form of the Black Lacrosse Alliance, formed by Jules Heningburg and the Black players of the PLL.

Tari Kandemiri wrote about the formation of the Black Lacrosse Alliance’s mission to amplify Black voices in our sport. Please read her piece. Let’s continue to work toward change.

8. Tom Schreiber playing the lefty pair

Jake Watts nailed it during the game: Tom Schreiber (3G, 2A) is one of one players who can play the two-man game on both wings.

Schreiber took over against Atlas. He assisted Josh Currier on a right-handed two-man game. He set up Christian Mazzone on another roll (denied by Jack Concannon on the doorstep). He scored sweeping off the lefty two-man game. He found Currier cutting from the weakside as he operated that lefty two-man game. And he popped to space for the quickest off-hand catch-and-release that these eyes have ever seen.

The Archers twins offense – and its conductor, Captain America – turned it up when it mattered most. We’ll dive deeper into this in tomorrow’s newsletter when we preview Archers-Chaos on Thursday at 8:00PM ET on NBC Sports Gold.

9. Rob Pannell’s rocker, a perfect complement

Dating back to his days at Cornell (ever heard of it?), Rob Pannell (3G, 1A) is best known for his question mark dodge. It’s one of the best shots in the history of the sport. Rob Pannell at the island is lacrosse’s version of Kareem’s sky hook; if he wants to take that shot, he will. And nobody can prevent that.

The moves he’s added to his bag – a backhand at GLE, a rocker step at the island – are even better. Like a pitcher disguising his off-speed offering with a carbon copy delivery, Pannell’s footwork and stickwork on the rocker mirrors that of his question mark until the final moment. He drives to the island, sinks his hips, shifts his weight to the outside, places a second hand on his stick, and … keeps driving to his left?

10. What’s the answer for Atlas?

Atlas has secured the first overall pick in a loaded 2021 draft. Cool. What does this team need?

There’s only one ball to go around, and it’s not going around enough as it is. Only 41.7% of Atlas’ shots during group play were assisted. That assist rate is last in the league (by a wide margin) and down from 53.2% in 2019 (2nd in PLL).

This offense added up to less than the sum of its parts. There’s a lot of weapons, and a lot of overlap. Ryan Brown went from right-handed sharpshooter to left-handed sharpshooter to part-time left-handed sharpshooter. As Chaos and Waterdogs injected more finishers into their offense, Atlas removed off-ball shooters in favor of downhill dodgers.

There are plenty of options with the top pick. Draft Mac O’Keefe (Penn State) to flank Pannell with Brown and O’Keefe? Start a bidding war between teams interested in Michael Sowers? Trade it to Chaos straight up for Connor Fields?! We already know Chaos is eyeing Jeff Teat (Cornell). Who says no to that deal?

One thing is guaranteed: Atlas will add a generational talent this offseason. Figuring out how the team’s existing talent fits is step one in identifying which generational talent makes the most sense.

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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