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Men's Lacrosse: 2024 Postmortem

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beserkr29's picture
May 16, 2024 at 5:33pm

As we wait for the results of this disastrous season to play out, I am going to take a bitter trip down memory lane of the 2024 campaign. I am actually going to start with the good, because there’s a ton of bad to dissect, argue about, and grumble over. I will do my best to limit the points in this post to just 2024, even though many issues are systemic and have plagued the program for years. I will also, as per usual, emphasize that my beef with the current staff is limited to its results on the field over a collection of years, not with any of them as individual people.

Now, for the good. And, believe it or not, there are a few things that were good this season. Caleb Fyock has to be number one on that list.

Ohio State, ever since 2017, has struggled mightily at goalkeeper. None of the goalies following that season was ever consistent enough to give the Buckeyes a break when things went awry on defense. Until the games against TTUN, Fyock was Big Ten Freshman of the Year. And, I would argue, would have been national freshman of the year as well with a strong close to the season. Physically, Fyock is a bit limited by his size, and had some clearing issues early.

But Fyock was one of the few players over the course of the season who actually strengthened his game. Until the biggest pair of games, unfortunately. And, with 3 more years of eligibility, Fyock could become an absolute brick wall at the back.

Second, Ohio State was actually somewhat good in Man Up situations. The Buckeyes converted 35% of their opportunities this season, which is about average for a DI squad. The unit was not a major difference-maker for Ohio State this season, but it was certainly not an out-and-out liability like some of the other units that saw the field. About 9% of Ohio State’s total goals scored were scored on Man Up (14), which says a lot more about the Buckeyes’ inability to score at even strength than it does about special teams.

Third, Jack Oldman emerged as a competent faceoff man by the end of the season, despite being a true freshman and not getting early season opportunities.

Oldman certainly was the other candidate for developmental player of the year, as he ended up winning 52% of his draws despite playing regularly against some elite Big Ten faceoff men. As Tommy Burke didn’t quite live up to the hype he had when originally transferred in, Jack Oldman is certainly a name to watch out for in 2025.

Fourth, Ohio State really, really excelled at not giving up assists. Obviously, it came with a cost, but the Buckeyes allowed 4.67 assists per game this season, over 15 games. With the schedule the Buckeyes had, a TON of good offenses took on the Ohio State defense. That cumulative 4.67 assists per game would have ranked 63" in the nation. That’s ludicrously low.

To me, that list wraps up the positive things that we can take away from the results of 2024. At 6-9, four genuine positives was probably one or two more than anyone might have expected, but I think they’re solid highlights for this team. Especially considering how poor the offense and faceoff units fared against teams not in the ASUN.

The list of problems this season is lengthy. But let’s go through all of them. What else is there to do after watching the program go 3 games under .500 and look sickly doing it?

Offense, and shooting, lead the list. Oh, do they LEAD the list of terrible things we saw this season. The Buckeyes averaged 10.53 goals per game this season over the whole 15-game schedule. After the ASUN rampage, the Buckeyes dropped to 9.6 goals per game (minus the 16 goal feast on Detroit Mercy). For the season, Ohio State is 53" in goals scored per game. That’s out of 73 DI teams. Only Rutgers was worse than Ohio State in scoring amongst the Power 3 schools (ACC, Big Ten, Ivy League).

Merrimack, Lehigh, Hobart, Navy, LIU, and NJIT are among the programs that scored more goals per game this season than Ohio State. The 9.6 goals per game mark that Ohio State put up against teams with an actual pulse would rank 63" in the nation, tied with Canisius. I don’t claim to be the brightest bulb, but a nationally bottom 10 offense in terms of production against peer-level opponents seems like it’s a major problem for a program with 15 years under a single coach.

Unconvinced? Let’s see how these stack up in the Big Ten only. Context matters for all statistics, otherwise they’ re just fancy lies. Let’s investigate how this team stacks up against their peers. In terms of goals per game, on a full season and first tournament game basis, Ohio State ranks 5th out of 6 teams in goals scored per game.

As mentioned above, Rutgers was at the bottom with just 10.43 goals per game. Shooting percentage? Ohio State is in the same slot at #5 out of 6 with .266 on the shooting percentage board. The Buckeyes managed to edge out Rutgers by a whopping .006 for dead last. That weird, esoteric marker that I harp on all the time, shot on goal percentage? Dead. Last.

And it’s not close. With a .543 mark, Ohio State is over 4 points behind 5th place Rutgers, who sits at .587. Do that math. Rutgers is just 1.3 points away from hitting the elite .600 threshold. Ohio State is nearly 6 points under the same benchmark. And Ohio State, by some miracle, scored more goals per game over the season than Rutgers.

To review, then, the Buckeyes ranked next to last or last in the conference in every significant offensive category. The one conference win the Buckeyes have had the past two seasons, Rutgers, is the only team doing worse than the Buckeyes offensively. And, if I am going to be honest, next year is not going to be any better.

The root cause of this offensive struggle fest? Shooting. Shooting has been horrible for years now with the Buckeyes. It’s an issue that spans multiple coordinators, even, and there are schematic problems in addition to execution problems to talk about. First, Ohio State doesn’t pass or dodge well enough to generate quality shots. Some of you will be asking how I could possibly know that, as the resident 11W moron? Don’t worry, I’ll feed you, baby birds.

You can see it in the assist numbers. I extolled Ohio State for allowing only 4.67 assists per game, a pitiful number for opponents. Unfortunately, Ohio State only managed 5.0 assists per game this season on their own. That’s utterly abysmal.

Two actions generate assists: dodges and cuts. Dodges threaten defenses like dribblers in basketball do. A good or great dodge forces defenses to double-team when they don’t want to, freeing up a shooter to get a shot off without anyone in nis face. The Buckeyes don’t do that.

On the flip side of that coin, a good scheme will allow cuts to attack space in front of the goal, leading to assists off the pass. Ohio State doesn’t do that either, at least on a regular basis.

I can remember a time or two when Kurt Bruun cut to the net, or a middie managed to cut to space. But certainly not enough to make a difference. This is especially flabbergasting when you think about the success Ohio State has had with Canadian players with box backgrounds, where movement and basketball-adjacent actions to get shooters open are commonplace.

With the roster constructed as poorly as it was for this season, in addition to losing the best passer the program has ever seen in Jack Myers, I didn’t expect a top-10 offense. But this was brutal. And we have not even talked about the actual execution of shots themselves.

A middle-of-the-road offense will have a .290 shooting percentage. That is the exact median shooting percentage in 2024 as of this writing. For the math challenged like myself, that means at least 36 teams shot that well or better through last weekend. Ohio State, through 15 games, shot .266. Notre Dame, the season leader, is at .362. Ohio State is 58th in the country for shooting percentage, and 9% worse than the best offense in college lacrosse at shooting the ball. Notre Dame, unsurprisingly, scores 5 more goals per game than Ohio State. As an added bonus, the Fighting Irish scored 16 more goals than Ohio State in sum total, despite playing 4 fewer games.

Super interesting that a team scoring 50% more goals per game than a program we support had more success this season.

Digging even deeper, Ohio State’s even BIGGER (!) problem is absolutely awful accuracy. I’ve mentioned for years that a team has to get to at least .600 in shot on goal percentage to be good on offense. As I mentioned above Ohio State was at .543 this season in SOG percentage. The top 5 goal scoring teams nationally this season averaged .622 in SOG percentage, with the median being .614. How funny and interesting.

By comparison, Ohio State is a piss poor offensive team, and has been stagnating to this level for years now. The Buckeyes struggled to generate uncontested shots all year, as evidenced by their terrible shooting and awful assist numbers. If anyone runs across statistical data or figures showing the contrary, you post it down in the comments and we can see how my conclusions are off. I imagine it will be a while.

I’m tired of the numbers, so let’s move to the personnel. It’s becoming pretty clear, in lacrosse and football, that relying mainly upon transfers is a poor recruiting strategy. Largely that seems to be a result of the numbers involved. Basketball teams have success using the portal almost exclusively to build rosters because the roster is a maximum of 12 players.

It is much easier to teach a brand new system, get buy-in, ride out growing pains, and mesh personalities when there are only a dozen bodies to herd. With a lacrosse roster, which is at or around 50 for most DI programs, you cannot grab 20+ new players and expect things to go well. I hedged my season preview on this point, and should have realistically just gone with my gut. Taking in so many transfers was a mistake. Full stop.

The very best teams, like Ohio State football and Maryland lacrosse, take in a select number of transfers that are objectively better than any other option on the roster. Teams like Colorado football and Rutgers lacrosse that base much of their roster on transfers struggle over the long term. Rutgers had immense success taking the Kirsts and a few other legitimate studs. Amping up the transfer acceptance has led to their downfall. And, for some reason, Ohio State chose to not only follow the same path, but then deploy their new players incorrectly.

How so? Let’s start with Kurt Bruun. Bruun came to Columbus a few months removed from playing for a DIII national title. Bruun scored over 100 points, was instrumental in getting Tufts to the title game, and filled a giant position of need (left-handed attackman).

This season, Bruun appeared in 14 of 15 games. Most of his time on the field came on Man Up this season. For some reason, Bruun wasn’t allowed on the field despite being the most accurate shooter on the team this season on offense (9 goals on 21 shots, .428 shooting percentage). Full disclosure: Justin Sherrer, an LSM, scored 2 goals on 2 shots in transition to take the accuracy crown.

Bruun’s niche in the offense could have been a deadly off-ball threat. He is not, like an overwhelming number of recruits this staff brings in, athletic enough to be a difference-maker with the ball in his stick. It’s just not in Bruun’s wheelhouse to beat a defender in the Big Ten. Think Jackson Reid in his 5" year. That was a perfect role for Bruun. Obviously, he wasn’t injured enough to miss more than 1 game. Bruun’s shooting was exceptional. And yet, he only saw spot duty on Man Up, and an occasional appearance on the left-handed attackman’s side.

Bruun was shooting nearly 10 points better than anyone else with more than 5 total shots. He showed better instincts off the ball than any player Ohio State has had in quite a few years. And yet, somehow, Bruun was just a role player all year. A role player on a team that fundamentally was incapable of hitting the goal with shots. It boggles the mind.

Now, to acknowledge some adjustments over the course of the season, the offense did move away from having Alex Marinier carry the ball. It took way too long to get there, but that did happen.

Marinier was plugged into a Colby Smith role after a few games, which suits his strengths much more. Marinier has an incredibly quick release, especially with his feet set. He will be well suited to an expanded off-ball role next year, if they can figure out a way to get some space off the dodge, and make the defense begin to rotate.

The most effective dodger over the back half of the season was Jack McKenna. That is certainly not McKenna’s best role on offense. He was brought in as an off-ball shooter, and his size warranted the shift in roles as no one else could get past Big Ten defenders.

McKenna had some really, really good shots this season that would have actually complemented the (rickety) offense of last year well if a left-handed threat had emerged. The problem, as I see it, is a complete lack of recognition of the only good dodger on the team. Blake Eiland.

Eiland has been slotted into the SSDM role his entire career thus far for Ohio State, and yet has consistently been the most dynamic player on offense with the ball in his stick. Eiland is exactly the type of player Ohio State should be building its roster on. He is from Ohio, played his way into the Western Reserve Academy pipeline, and then committed to OSU.

He’s made the most out of every offensive opportunity he has been given. And yet, somehow, the staff still won’t push him to the offensive side. I’m not sure the reasoning, although I imagine it has something to do with how poor the SSDMs have been for ages. But given how absolutely dreadful the offense was this year, at some point you have to call the quacking, swimming, waddling bird a duck.

Some position changes make sense, like when high school attackmen have to run out of the box because they’re just not ready for a full-time role on offense. But Eiland has shown consistently how good a dodger he is. And still, he goes to play defense, sapping his legs when it comes time to run down the field to try for goal. If the guys didn’t want to come to Columbus, it would be one thing. But this is just criminal.

In sum, on the personnel side selection side, the roster building of the staff has been pathetic the past few years.

I don’t think that the transfer portal was intended to be the primary source of Ohio State’s talent, but it’s very clear that the recruiting of Ohio State has not been nearly as successful as it should have been the past 3 to 4 classes.

Stars in lacrosse, more than any other sport, seem to hardly matter at all when looking at college results. The Buckeyes’ highest rated players the past few classes have either sputtered completely or transferred out to take on an even lesser role at bigger name programs. That actually goes for entire recruiting classes, even. The 2020 recruiting class was an absolute failure. Precisely 1 of the signees from that class went on to play any significant role in Buckeye lacrosse. One. Trent DiCicco. And he was an SSDM. At least 3 players (by my count) never went through a practice at Ohio State.

The 2021 class was not quite as bad. Bobby Van Buren has proven to be a brittle stud, the quintessential superstar in the making who just hasn’t been healthy enough to make a name the past two years. He is incredibly tough and very talented, just consistently injured.

Until this season, Ed Shean was the only offensive contributor in a major way from the 2021 class, but Alex Marinier’s transition to a good goalscorer has upped that to two major contributors. Ari Allen looked good his freshman year, but got hurt early and has never really developed into a serious threat. Garrett Haas is the only unknown, as he’s only been participating in college lacrosse for one full season after a two-year break.

In 2022, things rise from bad to mixed. Defensively, Cullen Brown, Jonny Cool, and Blake Eiland have proven to be really serious players.

Brown stepped into a starting role and pushed out incumbent starter Jake Snyder for a hot minute until Bobby Van Buren was unfortunately injured. Brown’s really been a revelation. Cool has done pretty well at LSM, rotating with Justin Sherrer. And Blake Eiland might actually be the best midfielder on the roster on offense, while playing mostly defense. Offensively, 2022 was bad. The best high school signee has played almost zero college lacrosse. Again, injury.

Two others have started games, but haven’t consistently been making an impact on games. Could be for any number of reasons. One player transferred without having done anything aside from practice, maybe. And the others are playing occasionally in mop up duty.

This year’s freshman class is headlined by Caleb Fyock, who should have been the freshman of the year in the Big Ten. Cardin Stoller at Rutgers put up gaudy save numbers in a couple games at the end of the season and robbed Fyock, who admittedly had a couple tough games to end his first year.

Other than Fyock, only Jack Oldman really saw any time at all. And, in fairness, Oldman supplanted an All-American faceoff man to hold his own against the country’s best Faceoff specialists. That’s not nothing. But at best, the rest of the class gets an incomplete. At best.

The gaping holes in the past 4 classes are pretty evident. Transfers looked like an easy way to paper over the many, many misses. So many misses.

The “You win with people.” truism applies to lacrosse as much as it does football. And a lot of this year’s transfers didn’t pan out in the slightest. Eli Fisher was good, Jack McKenna was above average, Gannon Matthews was decent overall (good early, faded late), and Ben Mayer did some nice things even if he tailed off as the opponents got tougher.

Realistically, however, none of the players brought in from other Programs this season made a significant positive impact on the program. That’s not an interpretation, that’s a fact. Top to bottom, this roster was full of holes and underperformers. And that’s on the coaching staff.

The big question is this: what’s next? Obviously, it is quite apparent where I fall on the state of the program. Despite my thoughts, the Board of Trustees and Athletic Department have spoken.

Nick Myers stays. That answers one question and begs another. How does this program get fixed?

I honestly think it doesn’t. Not in 2025. Offense is not going to be elite in one offseason. There’s one 5-star middie coming in, Liam White, who is an Ohio State legacy going back to his grandfather. White starts for a good Boys’ Latin squad in the country’s hardest high school lacrosse conference. That’s exceptional. White looks pretty versatile for Boys’ Latin, dodging well and able to finish inside too.

A couple of unknown Ohio guys are on tap as well, including Dominic Shaw and Angelo Lamatrice. Shaw and Lamatrice put up gaudy numbers, but don’t exactly play in the most challenging conferences. Tommy Janowicz is the third Ohioan in the upcoming freshman class, another Ohio State legacy who is the great-nephew of Vic Janowicz, the Heisman winner. Aside from White, however, there doesn’t look to be an instant impact candidate in the 2024 class. This sets up an interesting circumstance.

Ohio State returns all of its goals, basically, except for Kurt Bruun. That’s a ton of returning production.

The issue, rather clearly, is that no one is there to stir the drink. To make defenders miss. IF, and it’s a big ass if, White can fill that role of dodger, then the Buckeyes could really have an offense cooking. Unfortunately, the gap between MIAA defenders and Big Ten senior defenders is about the size of the Grand Canyon. Liam White would have to become pretty close to Joey Spallina to get the offense where it would need to be from a personnel standpoint. And that’s the other edge of the sword.

Ohio State returns a lot of offensive production, but it was production that was so poor it ranked near the bottom nationally across a swath of statistical categories. If all your players are bad on one side of the ball, and your good players on the other side of the ball are all out of eligibility, do you feel secure going to Ann Arbor next year with your job on the line? I°ll say no.

Then what does Myers have to do? He’s got to go to the portal. Buckeyes are short 4-5 bodies as it is, and this isn’t including any potential departures.

The last gasp of the COVID players have hit the portal from the Ivies, and Ohio State is going to be hoping they can find some defensive help after pretty much every good defender leaves. Ohio State will lose Hudgins, Jake Snyder, Justin Sherrer, Eli Fisher, Connor Cmiel, Greg Langermeier, and Trent DiCicco from its ranks on defense.

For those at home, that’s 4 of 5 SSDMs that saw significant minutes, the only 1st team All-Big Ten performer on the roster, a 5-year defender, and a significant LSM contributor. Basically, the SSDM room is going to be Blake Eiland and no one else.

Or just no one, because of Blake Eiland’s need to be an offensive player. With or without Myers, those numbers don’t change. That is a devastating loss of defensive quality when the defense was actually somewhat pedestrian and the only thing keeping some of the Big Ten games close. The poles will still be good in 2025 if Bobby Van Buren plays the whole season, otherwise the hunt also begins for a starting close defender.

For Myers, the glaring needs in the portal are short stick defenders and dodgers on offense. And SSDMs aren’t jumping into the portal from other teams if they’re good. Where are we going to see him get these theoretical reinforcements? The undergrad portal is open, with close to 100 players in it already.

Four of them are from Ohio State, including the second-highest rated recruit Ohio State brought in as a freshman for this season.

A couple of decent names have trickled out, but there’s no program changer (yet). Undergrads on good squads (at all levels) still have a Final Four to chase, so the best prospects for getting better still aren’t announcing publicly yet. And, from what I’ve seen, the staff is playing things close to the vest. It'll be interesting to see what happens after Memorial Day. Regardless, there’s not exactly a plethora of good options out there right now, especially in areas of need for the Buckeye roster.

In short, the only way this gets better is if this staff raids the transfer portal in the same way that brought the team to ruin this year. Grab as many players with good production at lower levels as they can, and hope it all works out.

With the recent track record, I’m betting that will end about as well as this season did. Caleb Fyock is a definite upgrade at goalie, but he can’t save 50 shots a game with his whole defense graduating. That’s how many the Buckeyes will be giving up next year if they’re going to be trotting out a whole rotation of converted poles or offensive midfielders.

To wrap up a very, very long post, this season was beyond disappointing. Failure abounded at every level. The coaching staff pasted together an offensive lineup with paper mache and hot glue, only to see the offense collapse at the first sign of pressure.

Unless Joey Spallina is lured to Columbus by some crazy NIL money, there’s not going to be a massive change in the offense. Another year together will help some. But most of these players are going to be heading into their final year of college lacrosse, and the room for improvement is not going to be that big. The team couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn against middling defensive teams, let alone the elite.

Only the goalie and defense kept things from getting wildly out of hand. Ohio State is going to have to hope that Liam White can be more UNC’s Owen Duffy (32 goals, 22 assists) than Syracuse’s Trey Deere (2 goals, 5 games played) when it comes to 5-star production as a freshman. Yes, I know the circumstances were different for those two players, but you’re going to have to roll with the comparison.

If White isn’t at the Duffy level, the 2025 schedule is going to have to be massaged a little to avoid every ACC and Ivy League power out of conference blowing the doors off next year’s team. If not, we’ll see a year exactly like this one.

That’s it for the 2024 season. It won’t be missed, and I’m glad it is over. For the life of me, I can’t find anyone the staff is reaching out to in the portal online, so I’ll fire up a transfer portal post when I see some news pop up.

Go Bucks.

This is a forum post from a site member. It does not represent the views of Eleven Warriors unless otherwise noted.

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