Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spiked, Part II

TigerBlog was recently asked to comment on where he thought Michael Sowers ranks as a player among the ones he's seen play at Princeton.

It's an interesting question. Sowers just completed his freshman year with 82 points, with 41 goals and 41 assists. The list of his accomplishments is incredibly long, so this isn't nearly complete:

* first player in program history with a season of at least 40 goals and 40 assists
* second freshman in Division I history with at least 40 goals and 40 assists (Canisius' Randy Mearns was the other, in 1990; Mearns is now the Canisius coach)
* Ivy League freshman records for points and goals
* Princeton record for points in a season (by any player, not just freshmen)
* unanimous Ivy Rookie of the Year; first-team All-Ivy League

Princeton went from 10.0 goals per game last year to 14.7 per game this, with Sowers. Princeton's 220 goals are the third-best season total in program history.

So where does Sowers rank?

Well, there are things he does that no other player at Princeton has ever been able to do, like change direction as quickly as he can. His field vision is as good as anyone's.

Can you compare him to players like Kevin Lowe? Jesse Hubbard? Ryan Boyle? Just having him in that conversation after his freshman year is extraordinary.

The player TB can most compare him to is Tom Schreiber. They're probably the two most ambidextrous players TB has ever seen. They are both equally as dangerous as shooters and feeders. They have the most incredible ability to see a teammate who doesn't even realize he's open that TB has ever seen. Plus, every time they touch the ball, you can sense that the crowd is starting to wonder what they're going to do this time.

And here's the thing about Schreiber - right now, he might be the best lacrosse player in the world. And that's who TB would compare Sowers to at this point, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Sowers finished his freshman year with 82 points. If you multiply 82 times three years, then at this rate Sowers would have 246 career points at the end of his junior year (if he stays healthy; please join TigerBlog on knocking on any and all wood surfaces). The Princeton career record is 247, held by Lowe.

Sowers could very well be the best player TigerBlog has seen here. If he's not a first-team All-America, it will be because he's a freshman, not because he's not one of the three best attackmen in the country.

Having said all that, Sowers has not had the best 2017 season of any Princeton player. That would be Zach Currier.

And TigerBlog will go further - Currier has had the best season of any player in Division I. And, going even further, it's possible no Division I men's lacrosse player will ever equal what Currier did this year.

By the way, here is the feature story "Spiked" that TB wrote about Currier in mid-season. Spike is his nickname.

TigerBlog, of course, is biased towards Princeton guys. And he's had the benefit of seeing every game that Currier has played this year.

Maybe if he saw every game Connor Fields played at Albany, for instance, he'd feel like Fields, whose 106 points are 24 more than the next-best total (that would be the 82 that Sowers has, as well as Loyola's Pat Spencer and Duke's Justin Guterding), was the best player in the country this year. Until he saw Currier's numbers, anyway.

TigerBlog isn't sure what's more ridiculous - Currier's numbers, or the fact that his numbers don't really begin to tell the story of how he plays the game.

Let TB start with the numbers.

Currier leads all Division I midfielders in scoring with 24 goals and 34 assists for 58 points. Those are, by the way, Schreiber-like numbers for a middie. In fact, Schreiber's best season at Princeton - actually he did it twice - was 60 points.

Then there's the rest of it.

Currier led Princeton in caused turnovers with 21. Only one other player, Bear Goldstein with 17, had more than 14.

Currier won 114 of 202 face-offs, a .564 percentage.

And then, there are the ground balls - all 130 of them. To give you a sense of context on Currier's ability to pick up ground balls, he's had 10 games in his career with at least 10 or more. No other Princeton player since John Cunnigham in 2010 has had even one.

Currier is one of 11 players in Division I with at least 100 ground balls. The other 10 players are face-off specialists, who between them have 53 points, or five fewer than Currier by himself. None of them has more than 11 points.

TigerBlog has no way to look this up, but he suspects that the list of players who have ever had 130 ground balls and 58 points isn't a very long one. It might just be Currier.

For more context, the school record for ground balls at Princeton is 131, set in 1991 by Greg Waller, also a face-off man. Waller had six goals and three assists that year. 

TigerBlog is asked a lot to put Currier's numbers in a context for another sport. It's like leading the NBA in assists and blocked shots or Major League Baseball in stolen bases and home runs. These are not normal numbers.

Then again, he's not a normal player. Like TB said, his numbers don't tell the story.

To see how unique Currier is, you actually have to watch him play. He is fearless. He plays with ferocity. His fingerprints are on every piece of every game his plays. He is the most relentless lacrosse player TigerBlog has ever seen.

His ground balls are not usually the result of simply winning a face-off. His are from scrums. His are from piles. His are when opposing players are pushing, shoving, holding, slashing. He turned picking up a ground ball from something TB never really considered to one of the most beautiful elements of the game.

Beyond all of that, Currier elevated his game during the second half of his senior year in a way that was extraordinary. And he saved maybe his best for last with this insane line against Brown: two goals, four caused turnovers, 21 for 34 on face-offs and 16 ground balls.

Currier is no doubt headed for first-team All-America honors. The five finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy will be announced tomorrow. TigerBlog doubts that Currier or Sowers, who are both among the final 25 nominees, will make the cut. He hopes that at least one of them will, but Princeton didn't make the NCAA tournament, which is usually a measuring stick.

Whether Currier is a finalist or not isn't the issue. Take it from someone who saw every game he played this year.

He is Division I's best men's lacrosse player in 2017.

You'll never be able to convince TigerBlog otherwise.

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