16x9_Game20_Matchup

Chaos vs. Whipsnakes: Championship Preview

By Jerome Taylor | Aug 8, 2020

The most innovative lacrosse season comes to an end. The 2020 Championship Series in Salt Lake City, Utah, reaches its finale when the dominant Whipsnakes take on a captivating Chaos team on Sunday at 12:30 PM ET on NBC. 

Chaos vs. Whipsnakes
Like the viral Dua Lipa song, Chaos' has the chance to do a full 180 on Sunday. Chaos started the Championship Series going 0-4 in group play, looking nothing like the team that won the most regular-season games in 2019. But a lineup change and a new style of play has propelled them to this point. 

On the other side, the Whipsnakes have a throne to protect. The reigning champs haven't lost a single game in the Championship Series. The 'Whips have been phenomenal at every aspect of the game from the stripe to the back of the net. Now, they'll be looking to capture their second title in as many years.


Storylines to Watch
 

Goalie Showdown
Arguably the two best at their position will be forced to one-up each other on Sunday. When Kyle Bernlohr and Blaze Riorden take their places between their respective pipes. 

Bernlohr comes into the game second in save percentage (61%). His play has complemented the league's best defense (nine scores allowed per game).

If opposing offenses have found a way to get a clean shot on the Whips' D, Bernlohr has been there to leave them shaking their heads as they start their ride.

On the other end of the field, MVP candidate (more on that later) Riorden has been the steadying presence throughout Chaos' chaotic campaign. Riorden has kept 'Aos in the game in their losses, evidenced by his league-high 105(!) saves. 

Riorden has been phenomenal during the Series, keeping teams from blowing out Chaos during group play. Recently, he's been stopping teams from mounting a comeback against them. 

Changed Chaos
When a team starts a season winless, the least expected thing would be benching the team's leading scorer from the previous season. 

But that's what head coach Andy Towers did, to start tournament play: benching Connor Fields for Miles Thompson. And based on the results, it's impossible to argue with the decision. 

Thompson's injection into the lineup turned Chaos into one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Not because he's individually more talented than who he replaced but because it has opened up opportunities for the rest of the team.

Guys like Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith have emerged as critical parts of the new-look offense, and their play and chemistry have led Chaos to the Championship game. 

Whips' Need a Better Performance
Throughout the Series, the Whipsnakes have looked like an unstoppable force, but in their semifinal game against Redwoods the team looked mortal for the first time. 

Reigning MVP Matt Rambo was held to zero points. The same for Zed Williams, who has used the tournament to make a name (or names) for himself.

The Whips overcame the unexpected lack of production from critical members of their offense. But against a team as hot as Chaos, an offensive slow-down doesn't bode well for their repeat cause. 

The MVP Race
A champion will be crowned in this game, but so will the league MVP. Four players in this game have a case for the award.  

First, Joe Nardella. He's been the most consistent player on the best team in the league, not to mention the most dominant player at his position. Nardella has won 74% (1st in the PLL) of his faceoffs in 2020. Hard to beat a team when you don't have the ball, and Nardella keeps the ball away from his opposition better than anybody. 

Second, 'the reigning, defending;' 'The Chef,' Matt Rambo. Rambo comes into Sunday leading the league in points (21) and assists (15). Rambo's most notable performance came in a battle for the one-seed. When he registered a record-breaking 10 points, eight of them were assists, which was another record. Rambo has a flair for big games, and it doesn't get bigger than this Sunday.

Third, the only member of Chaos in the running heading into the game, reigning Goaltender of the Year, Blaze Riorden. Riorden's team wasn't carrying their weight in group play, but he sure was. He made 20 saves in three of the team's games, including a record-breaking 23-save game against Redwoods. Keeping the 'Whips offense in check, in a win for the championship, would give him another piece of hardware.

Finally, it's the man of many nicknames, Zed Williams. Zedzilla leads the league in goals scored and has been a problem for opposing defenses. Whether it has been off an impeccable inside roll or a time and room shot, Zed has made finding the back of the net his prerogative. Another scoring outburst could propel him past the other players on this list. 

The dark horse coming on strong in this race is Josh Byrne, Byrne has scored 12 of his 18 points (third in the league) in tournament play. A big game from him and a Chaos win could make the discussion about MVP an even tougher conversation.

Gambling
In the game to take home the championship chalice, the most intriguing bet on DraftKings is the spread. 

If you like an underdog, then you'll love the spread in this matchup. Chaos is currently +2.5 heading into a championship game, playing their best lacrosse, playing a team coming off an ugly win, and it bears repeating: it's the CHAMPIONSHIP. 

Most bettors seem to agree (-121 at the time of the article), outside of the field, this is where the action is.


Ramifications

It's the championship, the winner leaves Utah as the top team, and will have that crown until the PLL meets again. 

Will Chaos dethrone the champs? Or will Whipsnakes continue their reign of dominance? Those questions will be answered on Sunday at 12:30pm ET on NBC.

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