Does the NCAA tournament encourage teams to be conservative?

Eleven of the past 13 national champions have scored fewer goals in title games than they had during the season

May 10, 2012|By Edward Lee

Due in part to the single-game elimination aspect of the NCAA tournament, it wouldn’t seem far-fetched for teams that advance deep into the tourney to become more conservative.

A review of the last 13 national champions shows that only one matched or exceeded its season average in scoring with its final performance in the national title game. That was the 2007 Johns Hopkins squad, which averaged 10.4 goals and scored 12 in a one-goal decision over Duke.

Several teams were close. Syracuse in 2008 averaged 13.4 goals and defeated Johns Hopkins, 13-10, in the tournament final. Virginia in 2006 averaged 15.8 goals and walloped Massachusetts, 15-7. The Orange in 2004 averaged 14.4 goals and edged Navy, 14-13.

So do offenses tighten up as they advance further into the tournament? Former Maryland and Loyola coach Dave Cottle doesn’t think that’s the case.

“I don’t know if you get more conservative,” the current Chesapeake Bayhawks coach said. “I think as a coach, you follow the same thing that got you there. What happens is, you start playing better teams, and when you start playing better teams that run different stuff, you have to spend time preparing for their stuff. The trick to that is as you’re preparing for their stuff, not to say, ‘They do this,’ or ‘They do that.’ The key is saying, ‘OK, when somebody does this, we want to do that.’ I think it took me a long time to learn that. You’ve got to focus in on yourself. As a coach, you see the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent and then you try to game plan to use your strengths to attack their weaknesses.”

Eleven of the last 13 title games have been decided by three goals or less and seven of have been determined by a single goal. Cottle said getting to the tournament means expecting to grind out victories.

“As the competition gets tougher, the scores get closer,” he said. “It’s the energy and the effort that get it going. I think when you get that far, you want to see great energy and great effort.”

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