May 10, 2013

MD3 Breakdown: The New Art of Tourney Scouting

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

You can have all of the film and stats in the world on RIT's Kyle Aquin, but you've still got a find a way to stop him. That will be Cabrini's challenge on Saturday.
© RIT Athletics

As Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman sat in his office on Wednesday evening watching the webcast of the Washington & Lee-Sewanee game, the winner of which would face the Sea Gulls in the second round of the tournament, it was business as usual. These days, technology has made prepping for your next tourney opponent a breeze, with live feeds, archived games uploaded to the Internet and instant stats all available on your laptop.

It wasn't always like that. Berkman's first year at Salisbury was in 1989, a time fax machines were the height of technology, and scouting opponents — especially the ones you hadn't see before — required a lot more legwork.

"If we were playing a team we hadn't played, usually I had still talked to five or six coaches who had played them," Berkman said. "We knew who their players were and we had an idea of what they were doing. We didn't have the video in front of us showing them going from point A to point B. But we still had somewhat of an idea."

"I remember copying VHS tapes with two VCRs so we could watch opponents going into the NCAA tournament," added Cabrini head coach Steve Colfer. "If we only had one copy of a game, we'd all go into the conference room and sit around and watch it. Now, it's different. I guess we kind of forget with all of the new technologies and the instantaneous results and video."

Before the technology boom of the last 10 years, coaches sometimes had to be proactive about live-scouting different teams during the regular season.

"In the old days, coaches would predict where they would play, so you'd see guys going out to Ohio to watch the Ohio teams. I've done that before," said Roanoke head coach Bill Pilat, whose first season with the Maroons was also in '89. "When I was a player, our coach would go to Ohio if we had an off weekend, and he was driving all the way out and wondering if we might play Ohio Wesleyan or Denison. And then the call comes and you're playing someone else. You just wasted a whole weekend."

As Berkman noted, much of the tournament scouting in the past was done by picking the brains of coaches who had seen the opponent during the regular season, and maybe sending an assistant on a long drive to pick up a grainy VHS game tape. Much of that has gone by the wayside because of recent conference rules that stipulate that you can't talk about or send film regarding a team in your league to an outside coach.

"It was like the Wild West. Everybody would talk about everybody," Pilat said. "Now you have all these rules. When you get an opponent who you don't know a lot about, you have to look back at their schedule and see when the last non-league game was because you can't talk to any of the league guys."

Conference mandates have made scouting somewhat of a challenge even in the information age.

"You try to get as much information as possible, but this time of the year it's difficult because the last six or seven games these teams have played are conference games, so a lot of times getting film is difficult," said RIT head coach Jake Coon, who faces Cabrini on Saturday. "You do your best and go back as far as you can and use your contacts and try to find out whatever you possibly can. Scouting reports, info, film, whatever it may be. You never go in blind, but there are times when you have more information than others."

"Sunday night at 10:15 p.m., we were scouring our network looking for any and all information on Norwich," said Tufts coach Mike Daly about his first round opponent. "Thankfully, due to our relationships and things, we were able to track down enough information to be prepared."

For Berkman and seven other coaches heading into Saturday's games, getting a ton of information on the opposition isn't quite as critical because they've already played. Salisbury-W&L, Lynchburg-Roanoke, Stevens-Tufts and Western New England-Nazareth are all rematches of regular season games. That doesn't mean the Sea Gulls staff won't be utilizing every bit of information to its advantage.

"Obviously, every team has its own nuances and tendencies, and if you can negate a couple of those tendencies or take them away and maybe get them out of their comfort zone, it can cause a few more mistakes and a few more turnovers," he said. "But nobody is going to be reinventing the wheel this week."

The same is true with the Roanoke staff, even though the Maroons are seeing Lynchburg for the third time this spring. Pilat tries to make sure he's not getting too consumed by all the scouting tools he has, however.

"The only thing with all of the information is it takes a lot of time," he said. "Sometimes I've got to stop myself from watching films, and films, and more films. I've got to go home. Or we've got to go to practice. Sometimes the guys are stretching and I'm getting in last minute thoughts on people. With all that info, you are just bombarded and you want to use all of it."

There is the potential to hit a point of diminishing returns in terms of scouting, especially during the accelerated timeline of the NCAA Division III tournament where there is typically a game every three days. The minds of your typical college student are not as one track as the coaches.

"Who knows how much the kids are actually processing what we're telling them," Colfer said. "We assume that they're listening to everything we say, but maybe sometimes we fill their heads with too much stuff."

"You can sometimes over-coach it," admitted Coon. "You do have to be careful of that, as well. You don't want to nitpick every little thing. It's a game, things will change and you'll adjust. You don't want to be so on point. When it's all said and done, the guys have to go out and do what they are supposed to do. Finish their chances, execute. To an extent, you have to rely on that."

Still, the quest for the seemingly unlimited information available will continue, no matter how hard or easy it is to come by these days.

"We'll use every available tool to try to sharpen our game or sharpen our guys and their ability to anticipate," Daly said. "We'll do everything we can do to gain every little inch because that's what it comes down to at this time of year. We just want to give our guys the best chance to be successful."

Adrian (14-3) at Dickinson (17-0), 1 p.m.

Avenging its regular season loss to Otterbein in the first round, along with picking up its first-ever NCAA tournament victory, was a big moment for Adrian, but now things get a little trickier. The Bulldogs will have to protect their nine-game winning streak against a Dickinson juggernaut that is playing the best lacrosse in Division III.

The Red Devils were distracted by exams all week, which might cause a slow start, but there aren't many spots on the field where Adrian has a distinct advantage. The Bulldogs top offensive trio of John Hudzinski, Drake Dailey-Chwalibog and Cody Kilcoyne, which combined for nine goals and three assists against Otterbein, will be starved for time and room against Dickinson's efficient backline.

Prediction: Dickinson, 13-5.

Salisbury (15-5) at Washington & Lee (16-4), 1 p.m.

Nazareth's Collin Clark had two goals against Western New England in the first matchup between the two teams, but the Bears still drilled the Flyers, 12-6. Will things be different the second time around?
© Nazareth Athletics

We're closing in on three months since the Sea Gulls and Generals first met on Feb. 20, which resulted in W&L capturing a 7-6 double OT triumph. A lot of things can change during that time. Or do they?

"I watched them on TV [Wednesday] night and it's the same guys scoring the goals and the same guys playing good defense and the same little d-middie running between the lines bringing it up to the offense," said Salisbury head man Jim Berkman. "It's a very similar team to the one we played, maybe a little more seasoned, as I'd say we are at this point, as well."

Both teams are coming off a loss in their respective conference championship game and a laugher in the first round of the tournament. W&L has the home advantage, but Salisbury has been better on the road this year (three of its five losses came at home). Goals are going to be at a premium with two stingy defenses, but the Generals are used to that.

Prediction: W&L, 8-7.

Washington College (13-4) at Stevenson (18-2), 7 p.m.

We'll see how the matchups play out, but if Washington College attackman Bennett Cord and Stevenson close defender Kyle Holechek go head-to-head, the NCAA might have to spring for a fourth official just to judge that individual contest. Both Cord (6-foot, 210 pounds) and Holechek (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) love contact, and the winner of that tussle might determine the outcome of the game.

That subplot aside, this game will come down to the goalies. In their first years as starters, both Washington's Ted DiSalvo and Steveson's Dimitri Pecunes have been solid and, if everything goes to form, both will ensure that this is a close game. Playing under the lights, where the Mustangs are comfortable – 16 of their 20 contests this spring have been 7 p.m. starts – shouldn't make a huge difference, but it will be a less familiar world for the Shoremen, who have only played three night games this year.

Prediction: Stevenson, 10-7.

Lynchburg (13-5) at Roanoke (16-3), 7 p.m.

"It kind of becomes a player's game." That's what Roanoke's Bill Pilat says of this second meeting between these two teams. The coaches can make all the adjustment in the world, but these this duo is so familiar with each other, there's nothing – other than perhaps a man-up or slide package wrinkle – that the players don't know about. As such, it's tough not to default to the team that has won the first meeting, especially when it's being played at home.

Prediction: Roanoke, 13-9.

Aurora (16-3) at Cortland (17-0), 6 p.m.

Hopefully Kylor Berkman can find someone to give him a scout on Cortland...

He'll need all the information he can get, but with all due respect to Ohio Wesleyan (and pretty much everyone else in the country), the Spartans have moved up a pay grade in this clash. This callow Aurora program is going to take nothing but positives from this experience (other than the score), but the ride will be coming to an end.

Prediction: Cortland 13-4.

Western New England (12-6) at Nazareth (15-4), 12 p.m.

In the first incarnation of this game, Western New England rocked Nazareth, 12-6, in the Coaches vs. Cancer event on St. Patrick's Day. A four-goal run to start the game and another quad-spot in the third was far too much for the Flyers to handle at the time. The Bears ability to hold precocious Naz rookie Luke Wooters (62g, 25a) to just a lone point – one of four teams to accomplish that feat this spring – pretty much ensured the outcome.

But we're looking at a different Nazareth team now. Since that game, the Flyers are 11-1 and, other than the fiasco against RIT, haven't given up 12 goals or more. WNE is an improved team, as well. The rebound victory over Endicott in the CCC finals, along with the gritty win over EConn in the first round, speaks to a team that is peaking at the perfect time. But is that peak high enough? I think so.

Prediction: Western New England, 12-11.

Cabrini (15-3) at RIT (16-2), 1 p.m.

This is the game of the day, and both coaches are aware of how good their opposition is.

"Their attack is probably the best unit we've seen all year," said RIT head coach Jake Coon. "They complement each other very well and are very crafty. The [Corey] Elmer kid is as slick as can be. Thorp is not far behind, if he is."

"Their goalie is great. They have a lot of kids who can score. They are really balanced offensively," said Cabrini skipper Steve Colfer. "Defensively, they are big and they have athletes. The challenge is formidable. They are not the third-ranked team in the polls by accident. They are right in the hunt for a national championship."

I could come up with a number of scenarios in which the Cavaliers win this game, but home field advantage and the bye tip the scales in favor of the Tigers.

Prediction: RIT, 14-12.

Stevens (13-4) at Tufts (15-4), 12 p.m.

Who has a leg up in this rematch of an 18-14 Tufts victory on March 16? "They've got every advantage in the world," said Jumbos head coach Mike Daly. "They've got the revenge factor. They played a pretty competitive game [Wednesday] night and did a pretty unbelievable job. They have the best midfield in the country. We're going to have our hands full." That's all true, but I wouldn't say every advantage. Tufts is still playing at home, where they've gone 9-1 this spring, and they have one of the best one-two attack combos in Beau Wood and Cole Bailey.

Perhaps the most interesting subplot in this game is on faceoffs, where both teams are sub-.500 for the season. Every loose ball off the draw will be attacked with ferocity from the wings because, with the offenses these two teams boast, a faceoff win is almost as good as a goal. The defenses will be under siege, but the Tufts goalies make one more save.

Prediction: Tufts, 15-14.

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