I see many similarities between this series and Hopkins-Virginia. The Cavaliers have beaten the Blue Jays in five of the past eight meetings--and came within 12 seconds in the 2005 semifinals of making it 6 for 8.
Hopkins and Navy are preparation-oriented teams. It's nearly impossible for opponents to throw a wrinkle that those coaching staffs haven't seen somewhere before, either on film or in person.
But the defenses at Virginia and Georgetown don't mind that you may know what's coming. Their success is based on being very aggressive and athletic; it's more about execution than schemes.
After his team's 7-5 loss to Virginia on Saturday, Hopkins Coach Dave Pietramala noted that, in practice, his team struggles simulating Virginia's speed and ability to trail check. Look at the numbers: Hopkins has not scored more than nine goals against Virginia since the 1999 final four (a 16-11 UVa win).
Look at Navy's goal totals against the Hoyas since 1999 (in order): 10, 11, 7, 3, 7, 6, 5, 7.
Georgetown pressures the ball from just about anywhere on the field; as coaches often say, playing the Hoyas means getting a lot of 10 seconds possessions. There's either a goal or a turnover in that time.
Navy's problem in the series has been that the Hoyas have gotten early leads (in the regular season last year and in 2005, 2003, 2002 and 2000). When Navy turns the ball over, it leads to a lot of possession time for Georgetown; the Hoyas are allowed to be patient and
confident and, when Navy gets the ball back, it is forced to rush things. And that plays even more into the hands of Georgetown's pressure defense.
Similarly, the Hoyas do not like playing from behind. Their offense panics and they take bad shots; not for nothing is their shooting percentage around 20 percent every year.
So, ultimately, what to watch on Saturday:
I think Dingman will get inside on Georgetown's defense. The question is: What shots will he take? Duke's crease attackman, Zack Greer, got inside the Hoyas three times last Saturday; twice he shot low and scored. The third time he shot low again and goalie Miles Kass was ready and made an incredible save. We all know Dingman likes to shoot high to high in those situations; it's sort of a guessing game in those situations, almost like a penalty kick in soccer. And Dingman needs to be guessing right.
Paging Colin Finnegan. Navy's two recent wins in the series are down to goalie play. Jon Higdon made 15 saves in the 11-4 victory in 2001. In 2004, Matt Russell burst onto the scene and made 14 saves in a 7-5 victory.
I have said all along that Finnegan is going to be fine this year, or at least until a very detailed scouting report emerges on him (and he may still be fine after that, the only question is what adjustments he makes and how quickly he makes them).
Nechanicky vs. Lambe: Assuming this is the way Georgetown goes, Nechanicky needs to be composed. Lambe is very physical and throws every check in the book. Nechanicky is probably used to getting clean looks when he goes behind the cage, but I can't see it happening on Saturday. Lambe almost certainly will go behind with Nechanicky and won't let him settle.
Nechanicky has really improved his vision over the past couple weeks. He missed some wide-open players against Canisius and Bucknell and Colgate, though he also hit a couple players for close shots in the past two games.
Still, I think Navy would be wise to have the player not guarded by Lambe carry the ball. Where Nechanicky can hurt the Hoyas is by making a quick "second pass," i.e. getting the ball from whomeever is carrying it and moving it quickly to someone for a shot.
In terms of ball carriers...since Shun White isn't available, I'll take my chances with Mirabito and also with the middies inverting (i.e. put the midfielders behind the goal and have them attack the short-sticks). Try to beat Lambe off-ball or when he comes for a slide.
Also look for Dingman to set a few screens behind and carry the ball a bit, too. The advantage to Dingman going behind is that Stevenson isn't fast enough to stay with Mirabito and Nechanicky if there's a switch.
Last thing: Navy's spacing needs to be perfect. If the Hoyas have to go a long way to slide, it leaves people open. Navy's off-ball players need to move find open spaces and most importantly, Navy needs to handle the pressure and find the open players with one or two defenders coming full-tilt.