The Eighth Man

Anatomy of an Upset: LSU vs. Lost Boys

Credit: Elizabeth Barbier

Credit: Elizabeth Barbier

Outside of the World Cup title itself, LSU defeating the Lost Boys was the most publicized result of the tournament. If you don’t believe me, just ask the dozens of people that ran like the Battle of Marathon just ended to spread it to the world, interupting captain’s meetings and team huddles everywhere they went.

To be fair to these messangers, the match had something of a David versus Goliath feel. On one side were the Lost Boys, ranked second in the world, undefeated on the season when they had a full roster, and the sexy World Cup champion pick for many analysts, myself included. On the otherside was LSU, unranked, twice defeated already that weekend by teams hailing from the Northeast and Canada, and having proved two months earlier at Diamond Cup that they couldn’t even beat an incomplete Lost Boys squad.

But this time around, it was a different story. LSU went point for point with the Lost Boys early, and kept close enough late to give them a shot when the snitch returned. And, a couple minutes later, Jason Winn came through with the grab that sent the Tigers onto the next round and ended the Lost Boys’ season. So where did things go wrong for the California side? Let’s try to figure it out.

 

#FitBrad

Credit: Robert Valenzuela

Credit: Robert Valenzuela

If there was ever a game to showcase what former Team USA star Brad Armentor brings to the table, it was this one. To say the LSU quaffle game was a one-man show in this match might be an understatement. Armentor scored all seven of the team’s goals, six of which were unassisted. He also controlled the pace, made a couple of key defensive plays, and downright frustrated the Lost Boys.

But Armentor’s dominance, as impressive as it was, was in fact situational. Armentor failed to score once when there was even a single bludger in the defensive set throughout the play. But when there was either no bludger around, or his beaters took the opposing beater out of the play, Armentor scored on seven-of-nine possessions. Here’s how it breaks down

Bludgers Possessions Shots Made Shots Attempted Passes Turnovers
0 9 7 9 0 0
1 or 2 4 0 1 0 3

 

The numbers definitely make Armentor out to be an unstoppable force for quaffle players alone, and between his advantages as a left-handed player and his strength, there is some truth to this. But to put up these types of numbers is speaking to more than simply Armentor’s merits as a player; It’s also speaking to the opposition. Let’s compare his numbers in no-bludger situations between this Lost Boys match and his match the previous evening against Tufts.

Opponent Possessions Shots Made Shots Attempted Passes Turnovers
Lost Boys 9 7 9 0 0
Tufts 6 2 4 1 1

 

In that game, Armentor was only able to convert 50 percent of his chances in no-bludger situations into points, as opposed to 77 percent against the Lost Boys. While no-bludger situations are always more likely to lead to more scoring opportunities, Armentor’s numbers are the kind you just don’t see against an elite team.

So what made things so easy for him? Well, in no bludger situations, Armentor was able to take advantage of one of the Lost Boys’ key weaknesses: their point defending. But he didn’t just take advantage, his opposition made things even easier on him.

On the first possession of the game, Jeff Lin manned up on Armentor. Lin is the Lost Boys’ most consistent point defender, and on that play he forced Armentor to remain on the outskirts of the offensive zone until he finally threw a weak pass to no one in particular.

However, following that play, the Lost Boys trotted out a chaser line of Alex Browne, Vanessa Goh and Missy Sponagle. Browne is a talented player, no doubt, but he had played almost exclusively keeper for his entire career at UCLA, and even played keeper at Diamond Cup for the Lost Boys this season. He simply lacks the experience at point that Lin or even Mitch Cavender can offer. And when Armentor did get by Browne, it was unlikely that Sponagle or Goh would be able to get a body in front of his charging drive. Sure enough, on three straight possessions, Armentor went right by Browne and scored.

Late in the game, with the snitch on field and the beaters focusing on the seeker play, Armentor had four straight opportunities against no bludgers. This time, the Lost Boys had both Cavender and Jake Tiemann on the field, and both focused their attention on Armentor. Forced to wade through a field of physical opposition, Armentor scored on just two of the four possessions.

Excuses can definitely be made for the poor line composition; the team may have simply misjudged how Browne would be able to match up against Armentor. But to wait until the very end of the game to dedicate two defenders to him was questionable at best and foolish at worst. As someone who scouted LSU for this tournament, I can tell you that it doesn’t take much tape to realize that you have to force someone else on LSU to beat you in the quaffle game, no matter what that takes. But the Lost Boys allowed Armentor to do what he does, and the result was just enough goals to keep the Tigers in the game.

 

LSU Shot First

Of course, none of Armentor’s points would have been possible if the Lost Boys could have managed to maintain bludger control, or even just have one unobstructed bludger in the defensive end. Unfortunately, the Lost Boys failed to manage this time and again.

In the matchup between the two teams at Diamond Cup, the Lost Boys gained bludger control on brooms up and did not give it up until they were giving players deep in their rotation some playing time. But in this match, it was LSU who took bludger control off the start and didn’t relinquish it until after the Lost Boys first line of Michael Mohlmann and Chris Seto had subbed out.

The Tigers both maintained control and pushed their opportunity by taking advantage of an extremely simple beating adage: In a beater standoff, it’s best to throw first. And LSU didn’t just exploit this on the defensive end, but on the offensive end as well.

Excluding the initial possession off of brooms up, LSU initiated beater play with a throw on the game’s first three offensive and first three defensive plays. Defensively, the beat left the Lost Boys with no bludgers to assist the offense, though Tony Rodriguez was able to bail the team out with a series of midrange shots. But offensively, the beats left three straight no bludger situations, and Armentor, as we mentioned early, converted on all of them.

Immediately following the substitution of the Lost Boys first beater line, Peter Lee came up the field on offense with partner Amanda Nagy and immediately forced the issue with a beat. Unsurprisingly, the Lost Boys came away from that play with their first bludger control of the game.

But even with bludger control, the Lost Boys struggled to push their advantage, mainly because LSU valued and prioritized getting it back. After Lee and Nagy came away with bludger control, Armentor led a possession that took just short of two minutes, giving his beaters ample time to go to work. Sure enough, the Tigers beaters came away from the play back in control.

From that point on, the bludger game tended to go in cycles, with the Lost Boys occasionally getting control back, but only able to briefly push their advantage before a long LSU possession once again sapped the Lost Boys of the momentum, and a second bludger. Still, those tiny opportunities likely would have piled up over time, especially as the Lost Boys’ beaters settled into the game. Unfortunately for them, the time wasn’t there to be had.

 

Time Moves Slow

We like to think that, over the course of a quidditch match, the team with more talent proves it. But, in some games, external factors can mitigate that. Sometimes, it’s the weather providing a more equal playing field. In this game, it was time.

The snitch returned to the pitch almost exactly 24 minutes of real time into the game. At that point, LSU had a total of 13 possessions, while the Lost Boys had just 12 – an average of about one minute of real time per possession. In a game of so few chances, getting out of snitch range is nearly impossible, regardless of what’s happening on the field.

Even if the Lost Boys had converted 75% of their possessions into goals, LSU could have stayed in snitch range by converting on just 46% of theirs. But in actuality, the Lost Boys converted on just 42% of their possessions, meaning to stay in range LSU would have needed to convert on just two of their 13, or 15%. Suffice to say, they were able to do more than that.

So what should we take from this? Are the Tigers the kings of slowing the game down? Should we be calling it LSU-ing instead of Kansas-ing?

Well, yes and no. Armentor undoubtedly did an admirable job, as he always does, playing the game at his pace. The possessions he was in control of were long and methodical, with more than one of the possessions against two bludgers lasting well over a minute. But the Lost Boys did everything they could to increase the tempo of the game. Their 12 possessions before the snitch returned had an average length of 14 seconds, and out of those 24 minutes of real time pre-snitch, only about two minutes of them were spent with the Lost Boys on offense. Even with Armentor’s play, it would have been impossible to sap that much time out of the game with the Los Angeles team playing at that pace.

Impossible, at least, before you consider stoppages. Of the 24 minutes of real time before the snitch returned, only 13 of them were used playing actual quidditch. The rest were a combination of referee stoppages and injuries. Let’s look at them one at a time (length of stoppages in parenthesis):

First LSU Injury (2:34): This one is the least egregious time waster, a serious injury that needed to be looked at by medical professionals. I will say that if an injury is to anything but the head or back – basically, if you can walk off the field without making it worse – referees need to start getting those players to the sidelines more efficiently. Still, injuries happen, nothing anyone can do about that.

The Stern Talk (1:55): After a non-controversial goal, the referees spent two minutes determining that Vanessa Goh has made contact with the hoop – contact that didn’t affect the play – and then warning her not to do it again. How did this take two minutes? I’m really not sure.

Second LSU Injury (2:30): This injury delay is much more egregious, if only because the injury itself was handled in just over a minute. But the referees got together to discuss the play, and then waited until after play could have restarted to card Lee for an illegal hit and then discuss the play with him, wasting a entire extra minute.

The Beat Before (0:24): A player was beat before scoring, and the play was called properly. This call does not require a stoppage in play, but we had one, along with added time to return a player that was not affecting the play back to the spot he was at when time was called. Technically correct, but a definitive no harm no foul situation. Sure it’s only 24 seconds, but that’s twice as long as the average Lost Boys possession in this game, and don’t you think the Lost Boys would have done anything for one more possession?

The Scrum (3:42): Obviously, this was an extremely egregious situation, resulting in a red card for Jordan Earls and a yellow card for Mitch Cavender. And it’s clearly important to get all of your referees’ opinions when dealing out such major punishments. But even so, four minutes is an awful lot of time to use doing it, especially the four minutes directly before the snitch returned.

This all isn’t meant to discredit what LSU did in controlling the pace of the game. But it’s important to note that their efforts were heavily augmented by a lot of time wasted above and beyond what they did on the pitch. If there was a reason to feel sympathetic to the Lost Boys for this result, this would be it.

 

(Actually) Seek and Ye Shall Find

Of course, we wouldn’t be analyzing any of this if the Lost Boys had walked away with the snitch in what was Steve Dicarlo’s only SWIM situation of the entire season. But doing so would have required a better effort than he gave in those fateful minutes.

While we don’t get a perfectly consistent view of the snitch play from the video of the match, what I was able to take from it is that each team’s seekers got about 40 unimpeded seconds with the snitch. The Tigers, trying multiple seekers and aggressively attacking the snitch, turned those 40 seconds into four real attempts at a catch, one of which almost succeeded before being called off. DiCarlo couldn’t turn his 40 seconds into even one attempt, at times not even engaging the snitch.

At the very end of the game, he had 20 seconds alone with the snitch, and could do nothing more than have his hands batted away again and again by the man in yellow. Seconds later, Jason Winn had the grab, and, along with it, the well-deserved victory.

 

Summing It Up

So what is there to take away here? First of all, it’s important to not sell short any of the LSU performances. Armentor had the game of his career, the Tigers’ beaters outplayed what were believed to be the best beating corps in the game, and their seekers were hungry and it showed.

But it’s also impossible to ignore how the shortcomings of others made it possible for LSU to steal the win. The Lost Boys were outgunned strategically from the onset, both in their quaffle defending and their beating. They took far too long to adjust, and never looked like a cohesive unit. The referees helped to slow the game to a crawl, and LSU was still in it when the snitch returned. And, finally, when they really needed that grab, they couldn’t get it together to get one here.

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