May 27, 2018 by Cody Mills in Analysis with 0 comments
Coverage of the men’s division at the 2018 D-I College Championships is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!
Oregon Ego and North Carolina Darkside treated the fans to another barnburner, double game point contest in the national semifinals, where UNC broke to win 14-13. It was a deja vu moment of the captivating game the two teams turned in during the semifinals of the Stanford Invite, where it was UNC who prevailed in identical fashion, breaking to win 15-14.
Despite arriving at the same result– Nathan Kwon scoring the final point with UNC starting on defense– the two games took different paths. In their first meeting, the teams managed just one break a piece; this afternoon, both squads yielded four breaks before UNC broke to win. What changed?
Strtuctually, UNC didn’t change much between the two games. There were a few new pull plays, but it was conceptually identical. But there’s clear a big difference between a near-perfect game as an offense and yielding four breaks, and that difference stemmed from a rough game by Kai Marcus.
The 2017 Rookie of the Year accounted for six of UNC’s 13 turnovers, setting up Oregon for plenty of break opportunities. After UNC built a two-break lead to go up 5-3, it was a run of four Marcus turnovers from forced throws that opened the door for Ego to break three times to take half.
At the Stanford Invite, even Marcus’ sketchier deep looks were caught (generally by Alex Davis), and his break throws and general decision making were cleaner. Carolina’s only obvious weakness entering the match was a potentially tough game from Marcus, and he certainly didn’t play his best. However, the coaching staff stuck with him until the final two O-points, showing their confidence in his play. Though he didn’t entirely tighten things up, he did manage to acquit himself with some masterfully executed (but still very difficult) shots. A better game from Marcus likely would have led to a two to three goal victory for UNC.
The other big difference was UNC’s poise under pressure. In sharp contrast to their flowing offense in a tight game down the stretch at Stanford, the tension was evident across the Darkside line when they were down 12-10, 13-11, and 13-12. Break throws that had been going up were holstered, and aggressive deep cuts that opened up the offense became cutters hiding in the stack. Luckily for Darkside, captain Matt Gouche-Hanas answered the call and stepped up to take control of the game when nerves were tight. It’s fair to think that working through those struggles when making their comeback calmed their nerves for the final point.
One of the best things about the Oregon offense is that they are who they are, regardless of opponent. They expect to take and hit tough shots, and to use their superior skill and athleticism to aggressively take what they want, rather than what they’re given. It pretty much always works. Oregon won two tournaments and posted a 33-3 record against teams that aren’t UNC (and one of those losses was after clinching Pool C at Nationals).
One of the worst things about the Oregon offense is that they are who they are, regardless of opponent. They expect to take and hit tough shots, and to use their superior skill and athleticism to aggressively take what they want, rather than what they’re given. When they play against a team with the same level of skills and athleticism as them in a high stakes situation, it doesn’t always work.
That’s really the story of the Oregon offense in this game, and it was a magnification of a flaw from the previous contest. Oregon plays such a precise and fast game that they rely on near-perfection, and when the level of defense is raised just a bit, or the level of tension gets to a point that it affects them a touch more, their precision slips. For a team that is used to being reliable and exact, that’s a problem.
It’s not a sure thing: it’s a percentages game. Sometimes the odds fall in their favor. At Stanford Invite, it only failed once–on double game point. Here at Nationals it sputtered multiple times down the stretch, including twice at the end, and opened the door for UNC to battle back for the victory. The accuracy and confidence that their fast-paced, brazen offense demanded simply fell short against the tension of the moment, the momentum of their opponent, and the tight pressure defense.
Despite the difference in breaks shown in the box score, the defensive approaches taken in both games were largely the same. The turns came more frequently, and both sides used their extremely strong D-line offenses to convert breaks.
Oregon stuck with matchup defense, trusting that they could be more athletic than UNC and manufacture turnovers that way. In the first game, this obviously was not the case. They scraped together just one break off a UNC overthrow. Today, while they got a few of these blocks (including a pair from Colby Chuck), the biggest generator of turns was, by far, Marcus throwing it away. Oregon rarely flashed the junkier poach set that they often favor against side stacks1. Ego trusted that, over time, their athletes would be enough to get them the breaks they needed, with a little help from UNC.
There was potential for more variety from the Darkside camp, but they stuck with a riff on their formula from Stanford Invite. There, Darkside used occasional junk looks but played majority matchup defense. Ego was clicking, so nothing was working. Carolina put its junk away and returned to matchup. Today, UNC threw a junk early, leaning heavily on their trapping clam set for the first third of the game.
They used it to effectively snuff the Ego pulls plays, which often meant that Oregon had to work it up the field longer, and while reacting to UNC’s transition. Despite its relative ineffectiveness at Stanford, it netted Carolina a two break lead early in today’s game. The downside of the strategy was that it occasionally gave Oregon a fast break down the field for easy yards if they could beat the downfield wall.
In crunch time, UNC went back to matchup defense and trusted their athletes to make plays on defense.
It worked, as the combination of the pressure and the stakes of the point got them the turns they needed to climb back in and advance to the final.
UNC ran much more horizontal offense which deterred its use, but the same conceptual defense would work against any formation ↩