On Saturday, the Premier Lacrosse League will begin the exciting, two-week Championship Series in Utah. Each of the seven teams will play four group stage games and then will be seeded for a single elimination tournament before crowning a champion on Sunday, August 9. All of the action can be seen on the NBC, NBC Sports Network, or NBC Sports Gold.
Another exciting addition this year is the ability to bet on the Premier Lacrosse League.
The Archers did not open as the favorite to win the PLL but they are now. DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello told me that the Archers have seen decent action in the futures market.
Are the Archers still a good bet?
Joe Keegan: If you could have got them at +450, I felt like that was the best value. People talk about the Redwoods because they only lost by a goal in the championship but they forget that the Archers only lost by a goal in the semifinals last year and their MVP, Tom Schreiber, got hurt in that game against the Redwoods. With a healthy Tom Schreiber, the Archers could have been the champs last year.
You look at their offense, they have a quarterback from the midfield in Tom Schreiber, who is a MVP candidate. They have a quarterback from the behind the cage in Grant Ament, first overall pick. He has looked the part in training camp so far.
Having those two on the field. Both of those guys can beat their man, draw a slide, draw a double team, find the open guys. The rest of the offense fits so well around them. Marcus Holman and Will Manny are probably the best right-handed and left-handed shooters, respectively, occupying those spaces on either wing. You have those two quarterbacks [Schreiber and Ament] feeding them, this offense should be insane.
Defensively, they fly around the field. They have two of the best short stick defenders in the league in Mark McNeill and Dominique Alexander, that makes them very switchable on defense. That’s one of the main components of their defense is that they love to switch picks. Similar to the Golden State Warriors who could switch at all five positions on defense. That is a big trend in basketball to become switchable. If you can do that in lacrosse, it’s huge.
Lastly, the Archers adjust defensively in-game better than any team in the league.
The PLL defending champions are no longer the favorites to win the league. Can the Whipsnakes win back-to-back championships?
JK: The Whipsnakes are the best transition defense in the league. If you look at shooting percentage allowed with time remaining on the shot clock. Opponents shot 23.9% with 52-40 seconds remaining on the shot clock against the Whips. The league average in that time is 31.6%. The Whipsnakes essentially defended that early chunk of the shot clock where the best shots come as well as most teams defended late in the clock when teams were heaving up whatever they could.
They get back on defense. They do what I like to call ‘punt on fourth down.’ When they have the ball and there are less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, they will sub out one or two players to get their defensive personnel on. They just beat teams back. They don’t allow any easy goals. Which makes it that much more frustrating to play against their 6-on-6 defense. When you add that with their fastbreak defense, you have the best defense in the league.
On the offensive side, they have enough to produce with the MVP Matt Rambo.
Last year, the Redwoods lost in overtime of the championship to the Whipsnakes. Is revenge on their mind entering this season?
JK: That’s the storyline everyone is playing up. The Redwoods identity is their two-way midfield play. Guys like Brent Adams, Sergio Perkovic, Pat Harbeson, Jack Near. Those guys can play either end of the field which helps them maximize the shot clock but offensively and defensively.
They are very good in transition settings, which last year was the most important key to success (transition offense and transition defense).
This year, in a tournament format, I could see teams slowing down a little bit. With some many games packed into a short period of time, teams might not be as willing to run. And there might be more of an emphasis on what you used to win pro lacrosse, playing behind the cage. That is where I am concerned about the Redwoods. Matt Landis was their top defender behind the cage last year. He enlisted in the military and is not playing. On the offensive side, Jules Heningburg who was their quarterback at “X” is not playing due to medical concerns. Without Heningburg on offense and Landis on defense, they are a little weak behind the cage on both ends of the field.
What is intriguing about Atlas entering the Championship Series?
JK: That is the team with all the star power. If you’re betting on them, you’re betting on the team with the best faceoff guy [Trevor Baptise]. Lacrosse is new to the gambling world and I think the faceoff is going to be a hit with gamblers because you’re never out of it. If you have a guy like Trevor Baptise on your team, you pretty much have the comeback capabilities of an offense with Patrick Mahomes. You can stack possessions. You are never out of a game. It doesn’t matter how much you are down by, as long as there is time on the clock. Baptise won 63% of his faceoffs.
He really gives the Atlas a chance.
There are big names all over the field for the Atlas [including PLL co-founder Paul Rabil]. They had some chemistry issues last year and they did not have a great presence behind the cage. Last year, the Atlas scored the fewest amount of goals initiated from the “X.” This year, they have a Rob Pannell, who is in the conversation for best “X” attackman in the world. Pannell did not play in the PLL so people might have forgotten about him. They will remember him real quick.
After owning the best regular season record in 2019, why are the Chaos not considered one of the favorites this year?
JK: A few reasons. The first is the way they finished the 2019 season. In the regular season, they scored 4 ½ fast break goals per game and in the postseason, they scored one fast break goal per game. In the playoff structure last season, if you were a top two seed, you had to lose twice to be eliminated and the Chaos went 0-2 in the postseason. That is definitely lingering with some people.
The Chaos also got hit hard by the expansion draft. They lost Brodie Merrill to the Waterdogs. He was the quarterback of their defense. Merrill is one of the best defenseman of all-time. Right now, they are stuck with a lot of physical, tenacious on ball defenders. I’m not sure who wrangles them together. Communicated with them like a middle linebacker in football.
They definitely have the talent offensively to get it done. If you’re betting on them, you’re going to see a lot of goals but unfortunately without Brodie, a lot of goals might be going against them.
The Waterdogs are the new kids on the block. Any reason to put some money down on the lone expansion team?
JK: Yes. I think there are a few big reasons why. All these teams were formed before we saw anyone play on a 100 yard field or anybody play with a 52-second shot clock. Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan got to watch every game and see what wins in the PLL. He determined it was two-way midfielders and that is what he went out and drafted in the expansion draft. The best of them will be Zach Currier from Team Canada. He has a complete game. I would be surprised if the Waterdogs were not one of the best transition offenses and transition defenses in the league.
I think they really have a chance despite the lack of star power on attack.
After a 2-8 season in 2019, is there any reason for optimism entering 2020?
JK: The Chrome has a new head coach in Tim Soudan. They have the most new players of any team in the PLL. Despite that, I think they have more chemistry now than at any point last year.
Tim Soudan has coached goalie John Galloway, attack Jordan Wolf, and a bunch of others. He has coached almost half the roster. He is a player’s coach. When Jordan Wolf broke his ribs in 2017, Soudan dug up his rib pads from the 90s and let Jordan Wolf wear them. Wolf has gone on record saying that Soudan will make a speech at his wedding one day. The Chrome will play for him. He knows how to connect with that group. Soudan brought in a bunch of guys who he is familiar with and who his coaching staff is familiar with.
Last year’s chemistry issues should be resolved.
*Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook on July 24*