Dartmouth WBB At The 20-Game Mark: Thoughts and Analysis

What gets lost in the current five-game slide for the Dartmouth women’s basketball team, all of which occurred at home and thus only exacerbated concern, is how the team was largely on equal footing with its competition.

Aside from the Princeton loss that was an outlier in many respects (it was the Big Green’s best performance lately as the team came out more active and spirited than ever, the Tigers posted ungodly shooting percentages from the field, and most of all, Princeton is nationally ranked, and a veritable power that did not necessarily click on all cylinders in the game), the visiting slate of competitors—Harvard, Penn, Yale, and Brown—did not really display superior skill or advantage over the Big Green. Execution and coalescence as a team are of course entirely different matters, and various individual slumping stretches in addition to one particular injury have prevented Dartmouth from truly going toe-to-toe with its opponent—as an eye test of on-floor talent would indicate would happen.

Regardless, despite how deceptive the losing streak is in actuality, conference standings do not grant partial credit. The Big Green fall to seventh out of eight in the league, and now stand detached from the cream of the Ivy crop. To close the five-game gap, the team has only eight games left to work with. Furthermore, the Ivy League remains stubbornly trapped in the past in eschewing a postseason tournament, which otherwise would allow for greater general excitement, and more conference-wide participation and incentive. It’s a being-different-for-the-sake-of-being-different syndrome, surely defended with some archaic Ancient Eight moral principles, tinged with elitist contrarianism, but it’s unfortunately something players and fans must deal with and suffer from. But that’s beside the point: Dartmouth must now live with the fact that it tossed away any chance at an elusive Ivy League title—and nonetheless within its own Leede Arena.

Yet despite what now appears a lost season, the team still has plenty to play for—and I’m not promoting a blindly upbeat outlook, or forcing out the seemingly requisite positive spin on school sport teams. You cannot simply evaluate the course of this season without also acknowledging the precedent context for this program.

Here’s a quick reminder of where this team was in their post-2009 NCAA tournament appearance era:

Year Record Win%
2009-10 11-17 .393
2010-11 7-21 .250
2011-12 6-22 .214
2012-13 6-22 .214
2013-14 5-23 .179
Totals/averages 35-105 .250

Albeit currently on a skid, the Big Green have made a monumental jump in the 2014-15 campaign, in which they have attained a 10-10 mark. A much stronger out of conference display (9-5) certainly buttressed their record, and perhaps to a fault; it only further signifies that the extent of this season’s improvement will be defined by how much the team polishes its in-conference play from here on out. But once again, that’s not to discount the progress that’s already been reached and set in stone.

Moreover, it’s instructive to note that Belle Koclanes is only in her second year in Hanover, and in her first stint as a head coach. As she continues to settle in and imprint her coaching mark on this program, as well as build her rotation around her own recruits, this season offers a glimpse into a possibly optimistic future.

The current makeup of the team also provides additional context on how to judge this year’s results. Only three seniors are on the roster, two of which have played this season, and one (Milica Toskovic) who has played at full health and regularly. By and large, the more youthful players have led Dartmouth this year to the program’s strongest start in almost a decade. In other words, the team remains likely a year, maybe two, away from its peak potential.

So while a conference title and tourney bid has almost certainly escaped the Big Green’s grasp—and most importantly, out of their control—this remainder of the season still represents a crucial opportunity to maintain and advance its path of progress.

Below are some quick notes—and high and low trends—on individual performance as the team sits nearly halfway through Ivy League play:

Rising 

Lakin Roland

The more you watch the team, the more Roland sticks out as the best on-court talent, with both feel for the game and shooting touch, as well as the true leader, for the Big Green. She took a sizable drop-off in effectiveness after her best performance in her career—the Ivy League opener in Cambridge—but has gradually begun to regain her form in this last weekend. The junior consistently presents a menacing presence on rebound situations from both ends of the court, and always exudes the most energy among her teammates in every aspect of the game. As of late, when it seemed plainly clear she had broken out of her slump, the junior curiously did not receive a greater share of offensive opportunities—particularly Saturday night against Brown, disallowing her to make full use of her hot stroke (50% for the game, best on the squad). In addition to her ability to create her own shot and convert those resulting from ball movement, Roland has also showed a nifty sense of vision on passes. One can’t help but hope that she gets more chances on offense herself.

Amber Mixon

And so we arrive at the ultimate under the radar player for the Big Green—and another starter who deserves many more scoring chances than she has gotten so far. While leading the team in minutes in the six conference games played, Mixon still remains an untapped potential; while she has taken 10 less field goals than any other starter, she leads the unit in FG% with .370 (the next player down has .352). When she does take command, the freshman point guard almost always creates a productive result for her team when driving into the paint and attacking the basket (whether skillfully finishing at the rim, drawing a foul, or opening up looks for teammates). Even when she lurks around the perimeter in the halfcourt set, Mixon constantly sends swift, incisive feeds to her teammates that create excellent looks at the rim. A quietly solid three-point shot poses a nice complementary threat as well, and that’s not to mention her tenacity on defense. Considering how offensively lethargic Dartmouth has been for long stretches of time over the last five games, the underuse of Mixon on this end is unjustifiable. I cannot stress enough the necessity of smart and continuous ball movement for offensive production, and Mixon fosters it like no other player. Whether it is herself being more assertive, or more likely the formation of plays and offensive mentality that Coach Koclanes can surely alter, further integrating Mixon on offense is imperative to any success for the rest of the season.

Falling

Milica Toskovic

I understand the importance of having the intangible senior leadership here, as well as a lanky frame and long stretch that reaps benefits on both ends of the court. But Toskovic’s game suffers greatly from a very poor shot selection, often occurring in the early stages of contests. She has tended to force several shots—forgoing the development of a team passing rhythm—and has not always kept her options open on offense. Her tendency to try to excessively settle into/develop a nice shooting touch in the early-going along with similar trends from two or three other teammates every night collectively serve as one of the biggest obstacles to efficient ball movement, which invariably keys any of Dartmouth’s offensive success. Toskovic also commits some of the more unexplainable and reckless turnovers while on offense. Koclanes pulled the senior guard out of the game almost immediately after two or three of her miscues on Saturday, perhaps hinting at a discontent on the coach’s part.

Kate Letkewicz

The alternative to Toskovic, or at least whom Koclanes typically subs in for her senior, does not introduce an upgrade. But that comes with good reason, as Letkewicz, a freshman, still has plenty of growth ahead of her, in the rest of this season and beyond; if anything, gaining some playing time—a jump from 10.5 to 12 MPG in Ivy League matchups—could reveal that Koclanes sees something in the young guard. It’s just that at the moment, Letkewicz oftentimes looks lost when on the floor and is prone to carless mistakes.

Middle ground

Fanni Szabo

Any team improvement moving forward rests largely on the shoulders of the second-year guard, as Szabo’s shooting—and how it fits into the team’s general offensive flow—is a fundamental characteristic of the offense. With a refined repertoire of wing three-pointers, short pull-up jumpers after creating space, and clinical transition finishing, the sophomore has managed to build on her stellar freshman campaign. Yet through the past five difficult games, it’s become apparent that she must learn to recognize when she has an off, cold shooting night, and act accordingly: assume a greater role of facilitator, which she’s more than capable of (she’s a magnet for opposing defenders). Last weekend’s game against Brown provides the best case study for this, as the guard remained perseverant to a fault in yearning to establish her shot (6-20 on field goals), and she impeded Roland (who, as mentioned before, had the hot hand) from taking control of the game. On another note, Szabo must also stay aware of her foul situation, as on two consecutive nights this past weekend, Koclanes was forced to take her out of the game for 10+ minute-spans (one in each game).

Daisy Jordan

After a relatively strong display of post-game offense (14 points on 6-10 FG’s)—and for a team in need of it—against Princeton on January 31st, the junior has slacked off since then, shooting a combined 3-15 in the two following games. Many of the misses came on extremely unlucky bounces, and you could see her frustration after every near-miss. If she just adds some more dimensions to her activity in the offensive paint—pump fakes on shot attempts, and passing out of the post so as to not force shots—Jordan can certainly fill the void of a respectable big man presence on the team. On defense, the center must also keen in on staying tight to the player she marks

Olivia Smith

The freshman, who stands as one of the tallest players on the team, has been a pleasant surprise in the short spurts of action she’s seen. While a scarcity of attempts plays a part in this, Smith nevertheless has the highest overall FG% (.488) and highest in-conference mark (.600) on the entire team. Such efficiency, and even more so because of her bursts of energetic and aggressive post play off the bench, has made the center a valuable contributor, and unheralded at that. At least for now, she should progress no further than this reserve role, as Smith’s primary flaw stems from getting exhausted too quickly, which occasionally leads to lazy fouls.

Team-wide developments and Tia Dawson

The need to address a pressing defensive flaw would not become more pronounced than in last Saturday’s contest: Brown generated all but four of their total 50 points (28 PITP and 18-24 FTs) from drives into the restricted area to produce easy looks near the rim. It’s the common theme of the opposing offense that has continually crushed the Big Green in the last five games. Basic points in the paint totals don’t emphasize it enough, as opponents rely heavily on slashing towards the hoop from well outside that area, and successfully so; getting for the most part out-rebounded from game to game lends further insight into this issue for Dartmouth. An introduction of greater help defense—from the weak side or simply from the closest teammate nearby—might help in this situation. After all, shifting players more towards the rim can never prove too detrimental, as the inconsistent shooting that typifies most Ivy League teams cannot fully capitalize on freer looks far from the basket.

Yet a solution to this problem probably relates more to the health of senior Tia Dawson. After a solid first two years in Hanover, the center played only five games as a junior, and has seen injuries restrict her time (11.7 MPG) on the court once again this season. But what she did in the short playing time against Brown on Saturday night bodes extremely well if she ever returns to regular minutes. Playing through leg injuries, Dawson collected 10 rebounds and three blocks in only 13 minutes of play. When you think about it, that’s absolutely ridiculous considering the small sample size (and evocative of Hassan Whiteside numbers). Prorate that to a Per 25 min. total—she played 27.8 MPG in her presumably injury-free first two seasons—and you have some absurd 19.2 RPG and 5.8 BPG marks. It would not be far-fetched to attribute the team’s recent struggles against tougher competition to her minimal presence. Of course it would be near impossible for Dawson to sustain such production and reach the projections, but her performance nonetheless demonstrates how indispensable the center might really be to her team’s success—namely through the fulfillment of a much-needed rim protector for at least +20 minutes.


Here’s some additional analysis/coverage of the team’s progress.

2014 NFL Week 13: Patriots-Packers Analysis

Defensive highs and lows

The final boxscore paints an ugly picture, and would point to this game being closer than it really was. Yet despite yielding a gaudy 368 yards in the air and 130 on the ground, a once formidable Patriot defense did nothing if not hunker down once backed up in its own territory. Allowing a final tally of only 26 points, and most significantly forcing a currently unrivaled Packer offensive machine to a 0-4 mark in the red zone certainly represents a triumph in this aspect of the game. Greater talent and added reinforcements for the defense in 2014 no longer made the usual–giving up plenty of yards but sufficiently bottling up the opposing offense enough for Brady & Co. to leap ahead–acceptable. Yet in the context of facing a furiously hot Packers team, with perhaps the most balance and dynamism on the offensive side of the ball, forcing four field goals en route to a sub-30 point performance lifted at least some blame from the New England D. However, Aaron Rodgers’s 45-yard strike to Jordy Nelson with 14 seconds left in the half proved destructive. The lapse in late-half discipline obviously falls squarely on the pass defense, and notably disrupted the team’s progression into the second half of play. A hallmark of Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ game plan has been to finish the opening half strongly, so as to fluidly continue momentum into the second half in which the team often starts with the ball (Belichick nearly always defers possession to the second half). Yet by allowing this devastating late touchdown score–to stretch the deficit to nine–such a crucial transition could not occur. The Pats failed to carry momentum into the break, and subsequently flamed out on their first possession of the third quarter without a first down.

Nelson (87) ran about 35 yards after his catch and gave a huge boost to Green Bay heading into halftime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Nelson (87) ran about 35 yards after his catch and gave a huge boost to Green Bay heading into halftime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Rodgers’s vital adjustment 

Secondary to the much anticipated Brady vs. Rodgers showdown, the Patriot secondary (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner) and top Packer wideouts (Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb) matchup was initially won by the former group. The New England cornerbacks controlled the explosive Green Bay receivers for the majority of the first half, even deterring the typical amount of targets from their quarterback. Yet Rodgers adapted to this situation, and maintained offensive efficiency, albeit with many drives culminating in mere field goals, while shifting the route of his passes to lesser known recipients. Rodgers acclimated himself perfectly, connecting with an array of new targets headed by rookie third-string WR Davante Adams, who ended the game with a career-high 121 yards. Rodgers had already led the Packers to 13 points before completing his first pass to either of his top receivers, the first to Cobb at the 11:22 mark of the second quarter. This, in turn, necessitated a change in the organization of the Patriot defense. As the game progressed into the second quarter and second half, Rodgers’s ability to sustain offensive potency diluted the defensive pressure placed on Nelson and Cobb, spreading it to other parts of receiver coverage. Consequently, the powerful duo became more freed up, ultimately attaining a combined 138 yards despite early struggles, all working towards Green Bay dictating the flow of the game.

An abandoned offensive dimension 

Encountering a porous 30th-ranked run defense, the Patriots at first seemed inclined to develop an effective rushing attack for the third consecutive game. Three running plays in the first four offensive drives indicated at least some focus on establishing this facet of the offense, especially when the first third down situation called for LeGarrette Blount instead of Brady (which resulted in a failure to convert). But even though Blount gained 58 of the team’s total 84 yards on the ground, the Patriots did not adequately exploit this potential advantage. Offensive balance has not only keyed the previous seven-game win streak, but has facilitated Brady’s mid-season renaissance. For several long stretches during offensive drives, and particularly in the first half when the team permanently fell behind, the Pats elected to exclusively pass the ball. It was as if New England felt it was already in a late fourth-quarter hole–and not in an early game situation, where it failed to devote enough patience to establish a ground attack against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.

Life after loss

Although the heavyweight tilt concluded in a loss, several factors work towards New England’s favor moving forward. Despite the aforementioned lack of a true rushing attack, a clinical job done by the opposing, future MVP quarterback, and the top receiver (Julian Edelman) hampered by injury for much of the day, the Patriots contested the game well. Losing by only five points in one of the toughest road environments proved not so much a demoralizing result, as indicated by the upbeat character of Patriot players following the game. And since New England did not necessarily play to its full capacity on Sunday, and suffered a loss but was not pummeled, such a defeat often works positively once evaluated in retrospect. For whatever reason, entering the postseason with a long win streak and long-built momentum doesn’t always bode well. If the Patriots finish the regular season powerfully, this Week 13 loss could easily serve as a blessing in disguise and stabilize this playoff-bound team’s sense of momentum.

Brady (right) and the Patriots have likely faced their toughest opposing quarterback in Rodgers (left) this last Sunday. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Brady (right) and the Patriots have likely faced their toughest opposing quarterback in Rodgers (left) this last Sunday. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

2014 NFL Season Opener: Patriots-Dolphins Analysis

Patriots On Offense

After a very promising first 30 minutes of action, the course of the offense’s performance throughout the contest could only be described as a tale of two halves. Firstly, the response to a Miami punt-block and subsequent opening-game touchdown was very resounding. Notably, the impact of mercurial star tight end Rob Gronkowski–severely hampered by injury in the previous season–became evident long before his TD grab at the 8:37 mark in the second quarter. Despite a few years away from his true breakout campaign, Gronk nevertheless garnered plenty of attention from Dolphin pass coverage, opening up valuable space for the other recipients of Tom Brady’s darts (which turned wobbly later on in the contest) in the first half of the game. Beneficiaries namely included Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, and even Shane Vereen out of the backfield, as well as the rushing attack to a lesser but still considerable extent. After utilizing short to medium passes for progress downfield for most of the first half, Brady finally slung a deep ball with 11:31 left in the second quarter, a pass with just enough air under it to neatly fall in the hands of Edelman. This explosive play–of which the Pats had few and far between–jumpstarted what would ultimately turn into the team’s second touchdown drive, but Brady mysteriously chose not to challenge Miami’s secondary in the remaining relevant junctures in the game (before the insurmountable deficit towards the end).

Wake (91) forced fumbles on both on both of his sacks of Brady (12). (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Wake (91) forced fumbles on both of his sacks of Brady (12). (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Yet a 17 unanswered point-streak and 10-point advantage constructed in the first half figured insignificantly in the final outcome, as in the latter 30 minutes of play, the Fins defensive effort–particularly the overwhelming pass rush–drowned out any rapport Brady built with his receiver corps in the first 30. Furiously-pressing defensive end Cameron Wake and company grabbed a stranglehold on the battle at the line of scrimmage, but it was the now-punchless and helpless Patriots offensive line that harshly disrupted the rhythm of both Brady and the entire offense more so. The key to countering the New England attack has always centered on the amount of time Brady has to throw the ball, so one can only speculate how Logan Mankins (freshly and inexplicably shipped to Tampa Bay weeks prior to the season’s start) could have mitigated the Fins’ QB pressure. As a result of the line’s instability, Brady had much poorer placement on several of his throws in a half that his offense was brutally shut out, a reaction to a pressurized pocket that the Patriots can only hope to be anomalous for him with respect to the remainder of the season.

Patriots On Defense

The final Dolphin touchdown drive was the unequivocal coup de grace, but beforehand, it would be unreasonable to think that the Patriots defense should shoulder the responsibility for the first two times Miami crossed the goal line. A shocking blocked punt 75 seconds into the game saw the Fins start their first drive 15 yards away from seven points, and a strip-sack by the aforementioned, terrorizing edge-rusher Wake gifted QB Ryan Tannehill and his offense the ball at the opposing 34-yard line (9:14 mark in the third quarter). Both of these momentous plays gave the recently-augmented Patriots D horrible positioning–an aspect of the game the unit simply cannot control.

Perhaps one cause for concern pertains to the eerie similarity of this year’s defensive squad–supposedly a revamped one that would get the team over the proverbial hump, and possibly rank among the league’s finest–to those in the recent past: once again, the tendency on this side of the pigskin is yielding plenty of yardage but clamping down effectively once backed up in its own half of the field, and limiting the opposition to field goal tries while opportunistically manufacturing turnovers (in fact occurring on two consecutive Miami drives in the second half). This of course can prove effective when coupled with an excellent offensive personnel, but the Pats defensive group appears capable of much more, and should aid rather than burden an aging leader of the offense in Tom Brady on the other side of the ball.

The play of Darrelle Revis:

However much buzz surrounded the matchup between the newly-minted Patriot Revis and a rebound season waiting-to-happen in WR Mike Wallace, and how the former would stay true to his character, establish his suffocating “island” in the secondary, and cruelly render the latter ineffectual, it just didn’t happen. Wallace, in his second year as a Dolphin, ended up with a flashy stat line of seven receptions for 81 yards and a score. On a few of his catches, Wallace did shed Revis off himself along the progression of his route, but the result of this WR-CB clash was more of Revis not living up to his billing than anything else. It may just be part of an acclimation process to a new defensive structure, and it’s worth noting many regard his opposition as one of the swiftest in the league, but Revis often failed to stick with his marker, granting Wallace more freedom than one would expect in this contest.

Moreno (28) torched the Pats run defense on Sunday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Moreno (28) torched the Pats run defense on Sunday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Miami’s game-sealing drive:

Critical third-down conversions would ultimately put the Dolphins ahead 30-20 in the fourth quarter–as part of a drive in which 6:01 elapsed, and that clinched their opening-season victory–but even more notably, the drive highlighted the influential play of Miami’s run game. Knowshon Moreno paved the way with an overpowering 134 yards on 24 carries, and along with another 59 yards on the ground from Lamar Miller, the Fins rushing attack dictated tempo throughout 60 minutes of play, a notion that materialized only in retrospect of the entire game’s action. By instituting a formidable ground game that continually ruptured through the Pats’ unit hovering around the line of scrimmage, Moreno and Miller attracted increased defensive attention to create two important by-products: shifting New England’s focus off Tannehill and thus giving him more comfort in the pocket, and decreasing the number of opportunities for the Pats offense by simply keeping it off the field.The Dolphin offensive line deserves much praise as well in this area, and in addition to allowing more time for its quarterback to throw, perhaps has begun the process of proving its many detractors wrong.

World Cup Day 13: Italy-Uruguay Game Log

Pre-game thoughts: Costa Rica’s match with England in Belo Horizonte will not be of utmost importance, but for an unlikely scenario: Los Ticos have shockingly already clinched the group–without having faced what has now become the group’s weak link in England–and will likely win it outright with a +3 goal differential and four goals scored in only two games. That leaves the Italians and Uruguayans to duel it out for a second-place finish and knockout stage berth (teams which have +0 GD/2 GS and -1 GD/3 GS, respectively, making it highly improbable that their victory even compounded with a Costa Rica loss would result in winning the group). The Azzurri enter the crucial game in Natal with an upper hand, as a draw would allow them passage into the round of 16 as well. But after a stellar first outing against England, the Italians were surprisingly trounced by upstart tournament darlings Costa Rica, a game in which several questions concerning Italy’s defense arose. With a truly powerful attack, one reinvigorated upon Luis Suarez’s return, Uruguay will prove a formidable opponent that has gained key momentum as of late. While the Uruguayans will seek to replicate their WC success–a process that extends with a victory against Italy–the Italians will want the same result (or a tie) to reclaim their sense of European soccer authority, and progress out of the group stages for the first time in eight years. With all the international talent from both sides involved, and the stakes being as high as ever for each country, Tuesday’s clash will surely be entertaining as it is competitive.

First half:

-Mario Balotelli has struggled to settle into his role in Italy’s altered offensive formation that has placed him up top with Ciro Immobile; frustration might have now sunk in for the mercurial striker, as Balotelli commits two dumb fouls within a minute that earn him a yellow card (his second in the tournament, meaning he misses the team’s second round game if they advance today)

-in the first 25 minutes of the contest, while the Azzurri controlled possession and mostly dictated the pace of the game, Uruguay developed more dangerous attacks composed of better runs and spacing in the offensive third of the pitch than their opponents; yet after this mark in the game time, the Italians have gradually begun to translate their ball control into more concerted and fluid offensive pushes

-a couple of quick and effective pass combinations lead to La Celeste penetrating the left-side goalmouth (from the perspective of the attakcers), signifying the best offensive chance for either side in this game–legendary Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon works his magic again though, getting a hand on two Uruguayan shots while situating himself well outside the goal line

-for a Uruguayan side that cannot settle for anything less than a win to advance, it’s a worrying sign that Italy has so heavily and overbearingly dominated the ball in this opening half, leaving with Uruguay with an inadequate amount of chances on goal

-the play of midfield talisman Andrea Pirlo often determines his team’s fate: through 45 minutes of action, he has had 46 touches on the ball, compared to 72 in his first game (a win) and 36 in his second (a loss) at the same halfway point in the game

Second half:

A stunned Marchisio contests his ejection. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

A stunned Marchisio contests his ejection. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

-Italian manager Cesare Prandelli abandons his Balotelli-Immobile combo experiment, subbing out Super Mario–who will see his next WC action only if Italy advances to the quarterfinals now–for 29-year old Marco Parolo, also electing to not take the risk of allowing a carded player to remain in the match

-as Uruguay begins to pressure the opposing goal more and more to begin the final half, it receives a massive help: the referee hands Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio a red card for a dangerous tackle with his cleats up–though it doesn’t seem too egregious (perhaps meriting only a yellow), adding a controversial nature to such a significant, game-changing decision

-GK Buffon, who energetically and furiously sprinted to the other side of the pitch to contest his teammate’s expulsion, will factor in hugely in the remaining time of this game, spearheading his team’s primarly defensive effort playing with 10 men–so far, in the minutes following the red card, Buffon has risen to occasion and already saved a few Uruguayan shots

-despite Italy producing some attacking pushes, it’s feeling more and more like a hockey game in which one team has a power play (a 31-minute one for Uruguay) and the other must settle for clearances downfield (Italy); such a strategy will be effective–notably returning to the team’s traditional, defensive-first mindset–but if the Italians are to close out this game with a tie, they must attain control of the ball in the opposite half of the pitch in order to shave off at least some time

-it’s as if Luis Suarez needed to fulfill his notorious, questionable on-field character in order to truly jumpstart his team and propel it to victory: on the 79th minute, a tussle between Suarez and Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in front of the goal ends with Suarez moving his head into Chiellini’s left shoulder and apparently biting down, as he’s done in two other infamous incidents in the past; interestingly, Suarez also goes down after the clash (a result of taking a hit to the face that doesn’t seem too harmful), perhaps learning from his past biting episodes that if the bitten player falls, he should do the same in order to hide and offset the infraction–then, just within a few minutes of this moment and subsequent dispute, Uruguay earns a corner kick, on which centerback Diego Godin capitalizes with a header (that in fact bounces off his upper left back) to give his team a 1-0 lead (81′)

-a chaotic flow to the game ensues, as while Italy must press forward to look for an equalizer, the team also sustains a few dangerous counterattacks, that fortunately amount to nothing; until the game’s end five minutes into stoppage time, the Italian bench bickers and clamors vehemently–likely stemming from the red card shown to Marchisio and lack of one to Suarez by the referee–with one of the team’s trainers getting sent off, and other bench players and coaches helping to collect and pass balls to on-field Italians to speed up play; finally, about half a minute past the allotted five for injury, as every member of the Uruguayan coaching staff surrounds the line judge and frenziedly motion to their wrists to signal that the final whistle is overdue, the tense and frantic match concludes, as Uruguay advances to the knockout stages, and Italy fails to do so for the second consecutive time in the World Cup

Godin (3) knocks in the go-ahead goal to vault Uruguay into the second round. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Godin (3) knocks in the go-ahead goal to vault Uruguay into the second round. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

World Cup Day 11: Thoughts On Belgium’s Victory Over Russia

1) With all three of their goals coming in the final 20 minutes of games (70′ and 80′ against Algeria, 88′ most recently versus Russia), and all of which either tied or won a contest, Belgium has made a habit of springing to life late during the World Cup within the last week. Whether the additional pressure playing as the clear favorite when the game winds down proves stimulating–which seems unlikely, as the scarcity of WC experience on the roster would only indicate a poor reaction to facing a deficit/deadlock late–or culminations of game-long offensive attacks and possession advantage, the Red Devils have thrived like no other squad in last-gasp opportunities. Just as the rest of soccer world settles on writing off this rising European power, as talent-packed as its continental contemporaries, and decries the team for its overrated label, Belgium strikes–often following an extensive, dispiriting lull in the game–and emerges victorious, to where it’s now clinched a second round berth with six points in Group H. Such a naturally-developed tendency has worked to the their favor in perhaps the weakest group in the tournament, but the Belgians will have to start much more sharply once commencing play in the knockout rounds. There were signs of this kind of effort to begin forcefully in the early-going during the game against Russia, but those ended in vain, as Belgium couldn’t not sustain their attacks towards goal until they resurfaced late in the second half.

2) It was a given that Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard would make an impact in Brazil, but it wasn’t until Sunday that he truly made his mark–and in typical 2014 WC-Belgium fashion, doing so as the game reached the final whistle. As the Red Devils pushed animatedly for an elusive go-ahead score, Hazard was right in the middle of the action, his creativity shining amid solo runs and productively slick distribution to his teammates. As the game progressed, his touch and ability to weave through the opposing defense became more refined and noticeable. The midfielder set up several chances–ones that his fellow Belgians should have undoubtedly better capitalized on–before finally exhibiting his best run with two minutes left in regulation, with Hazard’s pass finding 19-year old substitute Divock Origi, who had enough room to comfortably power home the winner.

3) Finally, Belgian manager Marc Wilmots has continued to display a magic touch in managing and tinkering with his squad, another one of his substitution decisions paying major dividends late in the game: after he sent Origi onto the field on the 57th minute, the young striker scored 31 minutes later to give Belgium a thrilling 1-0 victory. Wilmots’s other two subs helped the cause as well, providing fresh legs and buffering the team’s offensive drives. And while the Red Devils shouldn’t rely on this golden touch (a lucky one for the most part, unless he’s in the midst of revealing his unheralded coaching genius) in future games as much as on their performance on the field–which alone should carry the team far–it’s quite reassuring to have a coach that can positively effect the course of the game like Wilmots, based on his knowledge and feel for a squad that has lately experienced some chemistry issues.

World Cup Day 8 England/Uruguay: England’s Woes A Matter Of Efficiency

With a discouraging 2-1 defeat to a Uruguay squad led by a familiar face in Luis Suarez, England now lies on the brink of World Cup survival. To advance out of Group D, the English would have to beat Costa Rica and then need Italy to topple both Costa Rica and Uruguay, with Costa Rica losing either of their next two games by at least two goals.

Yet despite having sustained losses (both on 1-2 counts) to Italy in their first game and most recently Uruguay in their second, the Three Lions possessed the upper hand in shot categories during these two games, and thus developed more goal-scoring opportunities than their foes. Much of this disparity could result from a combined 84 minutes that the team has trailed so far (42 in each of their WC matches)–the opposition adopts a more defensive mentality once obtaining a lead, so most of the Englishmen’s activity would take place in their offensive third of the pitch–but it still doesn’t explain how England faltered in the most important statistic in the game: goals.

Consider the following table, that includes the total shots, those on and off target, and those blocked, below:

Total shots On target Off target

Blocked

England

18 5 11 2
Italy 13 4 8

1

England

12 6 5 1
Uruguay 8 2 5

1

Assuming an advantage in nearly every one of these measurements of a team’s efforts towards goal, and notably in the most significant and insightful ones (totals shots and shots on target), England did more damage with its attack than either of its two opponents.

But that’s when efficiency with these attempts and offensive drives factors in prominently–taking into account the outcome of these shots. In terms of shots intended towards goal, Italy converted two of their 13 (15.4%) while England did so on one out of their 18 (5.6%) in the first game, and Uruguay slotted home two of their eight (25%) with England at just one for 12 (8.3%) in the second game. Upon evaluating the percentages of shots on target that resulted in goals, these numbers become all the more striking and noteworthy, as well as further vital to understanding the Three Lions’ struggles: the Italians scored on two of four SOG (50%) and the English did so on one of five (20%), and in the second match, the Uruguayans scored on each of their two SOG (100%) whereas the English went one for six (16.7%).

The distinction between the offensive effectiveness of England and its competitors is unmistakable. Italy and Uruguay have maximized and took full advantage of their opportunities; though producing fewer than England in number, these two teams better capitalized on their chances, and outperformed England in the facets of clinical goal-scoring ability and finishing. So as much as the Three Lions contain youthful talent and dynamic attacking capabilities, they are evidently lacking in the most significant offensive aspect–an inadequacy that, as of now, will likely undo the team, and grudgingly send them home earlier than expected.