10 Predictions for the Championship Series
New rules bring new questions: What will final scores be? How much of a factor will the 13-yard 2-point line be? Will offenses play anyone at X without shot backup? How often will longepole-less defenses slide?
The Championship Series has more questions than answers. Terry Foy called it "a lacrosse lab in real time." We'll see how it plays out when Atlas and Whipsnakes face off on Wednesday, February 22nd on ESPN2.
Here are my 10 predictions for the historic week ahead.
1. Atlas LC will lead the tournament in 2-point goals
Romar Dennis and Bryan Costabile have more 13-yard+ goals (19 apiece) than any player in the tournament.
The 13-yard arc might be too close for Atlas LC. Jake Carraway and Chris Gray have that range, too. Interim head coach Steven Brooks – one of the top 2-point scorers of all-time in his own right – will be scheming ways to open up 2-pointers.
2. 2-point shooting percentage will be less than 18%
Archers LC head coach Chris Bates mentioned that the 13-yard 2-point arc is the most intriguing rule change. "There's no data points on it," Bates told Sarah Griffin. That’s half true.
There’s data on all shots from 13-yards-and-out (since 2019): 18.9%, significantly higher than the traditional 15-yard arc (14.7%).
The unknown: What’s the efficacy when the players are informed that those shots are worth double?
Overnight, a 13-to-15 yard shot went from being the worst shot in lacrosse to the best. Think of the implications. Defensive approaches will adjust accordingly. Every shot from this area will be earned now. Hands-free shots from 13+ will be harder to find. It’s no longer a win for the defense to allow a shot from here.
Fast breaks will be unrecognizable in this format. Would-be 4-on-3s are now 1-on-1s with the goalie. Is an 18.9% chance at two points worth pulling up and passing on a doorstep dunk? Doubtful.
Shot tracking data since 2019 suggests 2-point shooting would hit 18.9%. This prediction hinges on both (a) a defensive focus on 13-yard shots and (b) the extinction of fast break 2-pointers.
Counterarguments to mine have merit. There are no poles, so defenses will struggle to stretch to the arc. The offense’s awareness of a 13-yard arc can be as impactful as the defense’s awareness. Maybe 2-point shooting stays at 18.9% -- or even soars above 20%. But I think the value will be found inside the arc, instead...
3. 1-point shooting percentage will be greater than 36%
Shooting percentage from 13-yards-and-in has been 32.5% since 2019. Here’s why it’ll go higher:
- No run outs. The pass-shoot calculus has shifted. Passes have always had risk associated (i.e. interceptions, drops, errant passes out of bounds). Shots have had less. Until now. Wide shots – 30.9% of all shots! – are now turnovers if the offense touched them last. It doesn’t matter who is closer where and when it goes out. Risky passes are now relatively less risky. Expect one more “one more!” pass from offenses that might otherwise have heaved a possession shot.
- No longpoles. Duh. Offenses don’t need to exert energy trying to create mismatches. They have five of them. (Unless Tyler Warner is on the field.)
- The 13-yard 2-point arc. Even if I’m right about 2-point shooting, it’s a shot that defenses need to respect. It’ll open up the interior. If I’m wrong and 2-point shooting soars above 19% or 20%... then defenses will be stretched even thinner.
4. At least three teams will use two goalies
Whipsnakes LC brings reigning Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year Kyle Bernlohr. Atlas LC brings Jack Concannon, a finalist for the award. Chrome LC goalie Sean Sconone solidified himself as the starter following John Galloway’s retirement. Archers LC are the only lock to trot out a timeshare. But there’s value in playing backups.
I studied save percentage quarter-by-quarter, week-by-week to see if fatigue factors into goaltending. In a typical season, it doesn’t. But this one-week sprint is atypical.
Take a look at the 2020 Championship Series. Save percentage dropped from 53.4% in pool play to 49.6% in elimination games.
That’s a decent dropoff. Even if fatigue explains a fraction of the drop, it's enough to consider playing your backup for two or three halves during round robin play. Coaches need to acclimate their goalies to the new rules without wearing them down. And this format will do exactly that. There’s no time to grab the Gatorade bottle stashed inside the net. The ball is rarely farther than 40 yards from your crease. Expect to see backup goalies play.
5. Jack Concannon will lead the tournament in save percentage
We alluded to offenses replacing long-range shots with passes to the paint. An obvious byproduct: The goalie best suited for this format is Concannon.
Concannon denies more shots than he allows from five yards-and-in. It’s nonsense. Nobody else stops more than 48%. League average is 42.1%.
Nothing about this format favors goalies. But Concannon never conformed to the laws of goaltending anyways.
6. Jay Carlson will scoop 5+ groundballs per game
Coaches constantly run a cost-benefit analysis of schemes. One of my favorites: The cost of foregoing fast break defense versus the benefit of hunting for offensive rebounds. Fast breaks under Olympic rules are not 4-on-3s. They're even more dangerous; they’re 1-on-1s.
Conservative offenses punt on possessions when the shot clock hits 10. That’s <20% of a summer shot clock; and >33% of a February shot clock. Will offenses still sub early? Will they send one or two players to crash the boards?
Sans the faceoff stripe, rebounds are the only way to stack possessions. The Whipsnakes led the league with a 35.5% offensive rebounding rate last summer, thanks to Jay Carlson. Boards may be more of a 50-50 proposition without six-foot vacuums on the field. If OREB% becomes a bigger point of emphasis across the league, then Carlson will clean up.
7. Logan Wisnauskas will score the most goals
Sweeping. Hitching. S-dodging. Time-and-room.
Logan Wisnauskas can score in every way possible.
The 2022 Tewaaraton winner scored more goals than everyone except Lyle Thompson as a rookie. I won’t use the U-word; nobody knocks Wisnauskas’s game. But those 24 goals flew under the radar a bit. Possibly because his linemate, Brendan Nichtern, stole the spotlight by winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Or because first-overall picks are supposed to play like first-overall picks.
Wisnauskas exceeded even the highest expectations. He’s Chrome LC’s most important piece – both in this tournament and in the long-term.
8. Whipsnakes LC will allow the lowest goals against average
The Whipsnakes won't throw homerun checks to turn you over. But they will play fundamental defense and force wide shots -- which are now turnovers.
The Whipsnakes will turn the endline into a sixth defender.
Tyler Warner and Roman Puglise are the best defensive pairing in the tournament. Every other team is teaching poles to use short-sticks or offensive midfielders how to defend, period. The Whipsnakes have a head start.
If the Whipsnakes can protect the paint (where 70.5% of shots are put on cage), then they can turn shots into turnovers. Only 54.3% of shots from outside the hash marks are on target. Plus, Bernlohr gobbles up poor angle shots. His save percentage jumps to 62.2% when opponents are forced down the alley.
Unless there’s 36 square feet of twine behind Bernlohr, it’s damn near impossible to score against the Whipsnakes.
9. Marcus Holman will win MVP
A three-goal game is a hat trick. Six-goal game is a sock trick.
In 2018, Marcus Holman buried nine goals (!) in a game, dubbing it a SSBD trick.
He should start thinking on a name for a 12-goal game. Just in case.
Holman and Will Manny require different defensive rules. They’ve seen short-stick shutoffs. Slow-to-go defenses dare the Archers to be someone they’re not. That strategy makes sense when you can pole the other four players on the field. Will defenses play zero-help schemes when Grant Ament, Matt Moore, and Ryan Ambler have short-sticks? We’ll see.
Wisnauskas, Bernlohr, and Costabile would be my MVP picks per team. But I’m going with Holman to align with my tenth prediction…
10. Archers LC will win the Championship
The Archers finished first and second in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively, in 2022. They finished first in both categories in 2021. Their Achilles’ heel in September has been the faceoff stripe – a non-factor in February.
Everything that will matter in February, the Archers have it. Accurate shooting? Check. Ball movement? That's their forte. Substitutions? Assistant coach Brian Kavanagh is an innovator in the box. Gritty two-way players? Jeff Trainor and Ryan Aughavin are hungry for their chance to compete.
Holman, Manny, Ament, Moore, and Ambler is the best five-man offense heading to D.C. A blend of dodging and finishing. Shooters and feeders. Righties and lefties.
There are some defensive question marks. Who starts in cage? How will the absence of poles impact their slide-and-recover scheme? But everyone has questions to answer. Let the lacrosse lab experiment begin.