Premier Lacrosse League semifinals expert picks and best bets: Out with the old, in with the new

Premier Lacrosse League PLL
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Charlie White


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Lacrosse handicapper for Pickswise.

In a very unfortunate series of events, the first round of the PLL playoffs turned in the most lopsided slate of the year. Every game was a blowout and the buses were warming up by halftime. We saw our souls get stolen due to these blowouts, leading us to a 1-2 weekend. Honestly, for a slate as flukey as that, going 1-2 really isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Here’s to hoping the semifinals brings us some more luck.

Waterdogs +1.5 (-120) over Whipsnakes

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We have been fading the Whipsnakes against the spread all season long and it has been profitable in most weeks. The Waterdogs have played the Whipsnakes twice this year, going 2-0 against the spread and 1-1 straight up. The Waterdogs are the only team to actually beat the Whipsnakes this year, so we should be in for a good matchup this weekend.

Here is why I think the Waterdogs can win outright.

Like any matchup, let’s start at the faceoff stripe. On paper this looks like an outright mismatch between Joe Nardella of the Whipsnakes and Jake Withers of the Waterdogs. However, I wouldn’t be so sure it is. Withers was able to go just over 51% last weekend against Trevor Baptiste, becoming a nightmare for him after he turned the faceoff into a ground-ball battle. Obviously no faceoff specialist in the league is going to constantly win clamps against Nardella and Baptiste, so Withers turns it into a ground-ball tussle instead. With help from his wings and constant pressure on the ball, the Waterdogs are able to “steal” faceoffs from the opposition. I see them doing the same in this one. 

As for the matchups, the main one I am looking at is the Whipsnakes’ defense against the Waterdogs’ offense. We saw just how deadly the ‘Dogs were last weekend, putting up 19 on the Atlas. This Whipsnakes’ defense is a completely different beast, but it is still vulnerable. The Waterdogs deploy an offensive strategy that the Whips have trouble defending. How they adjust their gameplan from the last matchup between these two teams will be interesting, but I still think the Waterdogs will get theirs. We’ve been saying it all year, but don’t trust the Whipsnakes as favorites of 1.5 or more. We’re going to keep that trend going. 

Waterdogs/Whipsnakes Under 24.5 (-130)

I understand why the total was set this high, but I think this is too many goals for these two teams. In their two matchups this season, both games have stayed under 24.5 (23, 21) even though the first game went to overtime. Stylistically, these two teams don’t put up big numbers against each other. 

In terms of the matchup, the Whipsnakes deploy arguably the best defense in the league — led by Goalie of the Year favorite Kyle Bernlohr. Although the Waterdogs’ offense is lethal, the Whipsnakes have shown the ability to keep high-powered offenses at bay. In just their last four games, they have allowed an average of 9 goals per game. That is with playing the Archers, Atlas, Chrome and Cannons. Although they are coming off a week of rest, I expect the defense to come out hot. 

On the other side of the ball, the Waterdogs’ defense also isn’t any slouch. Dillon Ward in net has been up and down since joining the team halfway through the year but is still one of the league’s top ball-stoppers. The Whipsnakes’ offense likes to take a lot of shots, so if Ward can start out hot he could get in the zone quickly. If both goalies are playing their best, this game would be lucky to crack 20 combined goals.

Again, it’s the playoffs and the winner of this game goes to the championship next weekend. Will the Whipsnakes reach their fourth championship in four years or will the Waterdogs play spoiler? Both teams should be playing tighter than usual knowing what’s on the line. I expect this one to stay comfortably under. 

Archers -1.5 (-130) over Chaos

Although I was holding out hope for Chrome to advance last weekend, I think deep down I knew that the Chaos were probably going to win that game. We saw a vintage Blaze Riorden and Josh Byrne performance that fueled the team to a playoff win. I think because of the way they won last week, people are expecting this team to perform like the 2021 champion Chaos squad did. While that is certainly a possibility, I wouldn’t bank on it. 

The Archers are 2-0 against the spread versus the Chaos this season, winning by an average of 4 goals per game. The Archers’ offense has been the most efficient in the league, while the Chaos’ defense has been the least efficient. The only reason their performance last week looked so dominant was because of the man in the cage: Riorden. He is capable of having an x-Factor performance at the snap of his fingers, but it’s no guarantee. Predicting an out-of-world performance from one player weighing heavily in your handicapping strategy is not effective, especially when that one player is Riorden against this Archers’ offense. If the Chaos let the Archers shoot the ball 50 times, they are going to score 15 or more goals — it’s that simple. I think we have seen enough of the Chaos’ defense this season to know what they are and what they aren’t. What they are is a defense that allows teams to shoot at an absurd rate. 

I know the Chaos have a history of booting the Archers out of the playoffs, but I would be willing to bet that streak ends this weekend. The Archers are just too good right now to trust a team that captured their third win of the season in Week 1 of the playoffs to beat them. I think the Archers take this fairly easily.

Pickswise is the home of PLL Predictions. Check out all of our PLL Picks throughout the Premier Lacrosse League season.

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