The game: 9. Lafayette (11-19 overall, 6-12 Patriot) at 1. Boston University (22-9, 15-3)
In-league efficiency: Lafayette: -.04 (1.08 pts/poss, 1.12 allowed); BU: +.10 (1.08 pts/poss, .98 allowed)
One key chart:
Data via KenPom.com
Lafayette junior Seth Hinrichs missed almost exactly half of the Patriot League season with a knee injury, making it easy to analyze the impact of his absence. The Leopards’ offense was slightly worse without its leading per-game scorer, but as the above graph shows, his impact was much greater on the defensive end. Without Hinrichs, Lafayette allowed 1.20 points per possession to Patriot League foes, about equal to the nation’s worst in-conference defense (IUPUI in the Summit League); with him, they were merely average, at 1.05. So it should be no surprise that the Leopards went 0-8 with Hinrichs sidelined before winning six of their final 10 games.
Superior mascot: The general superiority of dogs over cats is by now well-established, but even if you’re a cat-lover who refuses to recognize the right side of history, you can surely admit that leopards aren’t really cats. Terriers are strong, feisty hunters who also double as companions. Call me when you find a pet leopard.
Critical matchup: John Papale, D.J. Irving, Travis Robinson et al. vs. Lafayette’s perimeter defense.
It’s tempting to wonder how the Leopards’ high-powered offense will fare against BU’s generally stout defense. But it won’t matter one bit if BU scores 88 points, as it did in both regular-season meetings. At Lafayette, the Terriers made a blistering 15 of 30 three-pointers; in the return (with Hinrichs healthy), BU drained 11 of 25 treys. The Leopards, whose defense was abysmal for two-thirds of the season, need to avoid giving up open looks — and only then can the focus shift to their offense.
History: March 12, 1999: Lafayette’s last and only other postseason game in Boston. In their first NCAA tournament appearance of the modern era, the Leopards took on #2-seed Miami at the TD Garden (then the Fleet Center). Lafayette trailed by just five points at halftime, but the Hurricanes pulled away, 75-54, for their first-ever March Madness victory.
One thought on Lafayette: The Patriot League’s top seed hasn’t been seriously tested in a quarterfinal since 2008, when American needed a last-possession three-point play by Brian Gilmore to escape Holy Cross. (All four quarterfinals that year were decided by one possession or overtime.) But Lafayette is feistier than the typical first-round fodder, in part due to the timing of Hinrichs’ injury: If the last month is any indication, Lafayette would’ve finished better than 6-12 with eight more games of a healthy Hinrichs. BU blasted the Leopards twice this season, so it can’t feel too bad about tonight’s matchup — but watching film of Lafayette’s opening-round win at Loyola (84 points on 65 possessions) couldn’t have been fun.
One thought on BU: Am I alone in feeling like BU’s offense is better than it actually is? Maurice Watson, Jr. is one of the area’s best creators of offense, D.J. Irving is a good one-on-one scorer, Dom Morris is tough to push off the block, and several good shooters surround them. The Terriers have a weird habit of committing goofy turnovers, like passing to nobody, but they never look out of control on offense in any consistent way.
The key, though, is that BU doesn’t do so well in the less conspicuous areas. One aberration against American aside, the Terriers aren’t good at offensive rebounding, in part because Morris is often the only player near the hoop. More importantly, BU just doesn’t draw fouls; its free throw rate for the season is 31.5%, better than just 10 other D-1 teams. The Terriers’ offense is still good — it’s just not great, even though it sometimes looks that way.
Winner gets: The victor of Bucknell-Army, which should be a downright compelling 4-5 game. Both teams gave BU trouble in both meetings this season, especially at Agganis Arena, where the Knights forced overtime and the Bison won by 10.
Prediction: Pomeroy says 80-71 and gives BU an 81% chance of winning, but probably underrates Lafayette a tad due to its games without Hinrichs. I’ll say the final score isn’t quite that close, with the Terriers prevailing 78-66.