I certainly was hoping for a little easier road to the final four for Navy than having to beat two ACC teams, including one on the road. But don't forget the apprehension that Navy fans felt going into the 2004 tournament. That was the year the Mids had to play Cornell in Ithaca in a quarterfinal; the year that Cornell and Hobart moved their first-round game up a day so that, in effect, Cornell's coaches were able to scout Navy in person in its first-round game against Penn.
There was a lot of hand-wringing, and with good reason. But it turned out okay, didn't it?
I have seen North Carolina in person (against Virginia) and on television (against Maryland). Was very impressed by them in person. Their goalie, Zimmerman, is up and down. He got pulled from the first Navy game (17 goals against, 12 saves).
But he had monster games against Hopkins and Virginia—15 saves in each—and look how those games turned out. UNC beat Hopkins and had a lead in the final two minutes at Virginia before it lost in overtime. Their best d-man is Kaiser; he guarded Rubeor of Virginia and held him very much in check. But Billings got a ton of open looks; I will look back in my notes at who was guarding him.
Their faceoff guy is very good. He is winning around 61 percent for the year and I think won 10 of 11 against Hopkins at one point. But he didn't see much of Wallace in the first game (young William took only eight of 30 faceoffs).
A quick look at North Carolina's numbers:
-More than half of the goals they have given up were unassisted (67 of 132). Is the defense slow to slide? Does the goalie have bad mechanics, i.e. he doesn't set himself when players are shooting on the run? Is he suceptable to screens in front of him?
Conversley, does this mean UNC is good at clogging passing lanes? Given that three of their four assistants have defensive backgrounds—two defensemen and a goalie—this is very possible.
Either way, that statistic will not have escaped the attention of Looney, Daratsos and Lenseth. Navy put 32 of its 41 shots on goal in the first meeting; that's an amazing shooting performance and one that, if replicated, will probably land Navy in the quarters.
-Teams are converting 41 percent of their man-up chances against the Tar Heels. Can Navy make this statistic come back to hurt UNC? Referees generally do not give away many penalties in the playoffs; can the Mids draw unmistakable fouls? This is where Steve Looney exceled. He drew three penalties against Maryland in 2005; the Mids scored on two of the ensuing extra-man possessions—and won by one.
-North Carolina has 21 high school all-Americans. That's an awful lot of talent.
-The first meeting—and Navy's five-game winning streak in the series—is a great intangible, and one that both sets of coaches need to be mindful of. I was glad to hear Richie Meade say that he thought all along that Navy would play UNC; the headstart in telling his players that UNC is NOT the same team now that they were on March 2 will resonate much more since the players began hearing it a while back and not just once the pairings were announced.
-UNC will expect to play a lot better on Saturday than they did on March 2. But then again, I think Navy's offense is different and will be hard to prepare for. UNC hasn't seen much of Tim Paul at attack and only saw a little of Lenseth. I don't want to put too much pressure on Lenseth, but he could be the key here. He is a big-time player; his 44 goals as a senior at Yorktown were not cheap goals.
He scored two game-winning goals in overtime in the state playoffs, so clearly his coach—the younger brother of Albany Coach Scott Marr—thought enough of Lenseth to have him be in the picture when the season hung in the balance. I don't think Lenseth was highly recruited, probably because he had a monster senior year but was quiet as a junior while he waited his turn to play. UNC has high school all-Americans, but maybe the fire in Lenseth is burning a little hotter to prove to the ACC teams they should have been recruiting him.
We'll talk again Friday.