Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
The narrative isn't written, but this is what the outline looks like right now.
These are macro-level pieces; micro-level nonsense will occur sporadically throughout the site's preview. We're doing this in the construct of what a story may look like, so bone up on all that crap that you ignored while in English class, staring at the clock and hoping that none of that stuff would ever permeate your brain ever again.
What more could you possibly want from the Ivy League, you selfish twit? In all the fervor of conference realignment and discussions of parity and the changing climate of college lacrosse, the Ivy League just keeps plugging along as one of the strongest conferences in Division I: Since 2009, the Ivy League is the second-strongest conference in the country based on its membership's Pythagorean win expectation, occasionally vacillating in its yearly ranking but always sitting among the strongest leagues in the country. While the conference hasn't produced a national champion since 2001 (Princeton) and hasn't seen one of its teams attend Championship Weekend since 2010 (Cornell), the competitiveness in the league -- both internally and externally -- allows the Ivy League to create an atmosphere of interest and intrigue, even if the conference hasn't produced super-elite teams as it had in the somewhat recent past.
The Ivy League won't deviate too much from this picture in 2013. There is a nationally-elite team, a quiet contender, and depth through the middle of the table that will make the conference race as exciting as any in the country. It's not necessarily a war to win the Ivy League -- it's more like surviving gossip at the tennis club -- but the conference shouldn't fade into the background this spring.
Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.
The Bears' fate doesn't necessarily rest with what the offense can do in 2013, although destiny does have an odd way of putting imbalanced teams in a noose and giving the executioner carte blanche. Brown was a bit of a tire fire last season on the offensive end, ranking only 40th in adjusted offensive efficiency and standing as one of the worst shooting teams in the country -- the Bears were 46th in the country in raw shooting percentage (26.98 percent) and were so bad at converting while with the extra attacker (21.95 percent, 56th nationally) that it's a minor miracle that Brown was able to ride its defense to the Ivy League Tournament. There are some nice parts kicking around the east side of Providence -- Sam Hurster and Nick Piroli will anchor the attack and each shot well last season (33.8 and 44.2 percent, respectively) -- but the issue remains: Unless Lars Tiffany and Steven Boyle can generate some offense, the Bears may struggle in a muddled Ivy League. The adaption won't be easy in 2013 with new rules around stick stringing, which could impact the team's shooting (and its relative strength at not turning the ball over), but if Brown can generate tallies at a decent rate in the spring, they could be a handful.
Former President George H.W. Bush has an inscription on a stone outside of his place in Kennebunkport -- "CAVU." It's a military acronym that pilots use; it stands for "ceiling and visibility unlimited." That's kind of Cornell's situation going into 2013: The conditions are perfect for a sortie. Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't potentially issues beyond the horizon -- and there are -- but the circumstances for a successful mission are in place: The offense is going to be among the best in the country, the defense is flush with parts like Jason Noble and Mike Bronzino that are more than capable at crushing souls, and Doug Tesoriero is going to win a million faceoff opportunities (estimated). It's just . . . weather patterns don't stay constant; that's why they are weather patterns (duh). I don't know if the Red's season is ultimately going to be dictated by the play they get out of the net this season, but the issue inherent in finding consistency between Andrew West and A.J. Fiore is a bit of concern. West and Fiore weren't especially spectacular last season for Cornell, and although you don't need spectacular goalkeeping to win a national title, increased production from between the pipes may help determine the temperament of the Big Red's conditions. Brennan Donville could push both for time, but in the overall that is a subordinated story; the story is where Cornell's keepers will allow them to go in 2013.
In Andy Towers' tenure at Dartmouth he has won exactly five games every single season. That's a weird fact, and I'm not sure exactly what it means. What I do know is this: If the Big Green hope to move from the bottom of the Ivy League and toward the competitive middle of the nation, Dartmouth is going to need to see improvement in 2013 in these areas: (1) possession percentage (58th in 2012); (2) increased possession percentage in league games (46.20 percent); (3) possession margin per 60 minutes of play (4.29 deficit); and (4) faceoff play (37.00 percent). And that doesn't even address why those metrics are important for the Green this spring: There are only a few teams in the country that can survive without ever having the ball, and the Big Green aren't necessarily one of those teams. A team that is rife with offensive inefficiency -- due in part to carelessness with the ball, in part to having a really rough time shooting the bean, and in part to not exactly having a roster full of offensive studs -- needs to volumize their approach, and Dartmouth may have a similar issue going into 2013. If the Big Green can't flip these possession issues (this was a factor in all nine losses in 2012 -- in only one of those games did the Big Green actually dominate possession (against North Carolina, a 13-10 loss)), it could be another long season in New Hampshire. Tim McIntee was a nice addition for Dartmouth in the offseason to and could really help that offense, but there are some baseline things that need to get taken care of before his impact is even considered.
It's been talented class after talented class coming through Cambridge under Chris Wojcik over the last few seasons and the results have been fairly pedestrian: No NCAA Tournament appearances; one trip to the Ivy League Tournament championship (2011); a 16-14 overall record and just a 6-7 mark in conference play; overall production that has left the Crimson smack dab in the middle of the country in terms of adjusted efficiency margin (2012 -- 32nd; 2011 -- 22nd); some odd losses; and a host of weird statistical flashpoints that make you wonder whether Harvard understands its potential and where it can go (like the Crimson's inability to beat opposing goaltenders last season despite the offensive weapons that chant "Veritas!"). This is a program that has only made five NCAA Tournaments in its history (the latest in 2006), but is rolling with roster strength that should reverse that trend. It's a question of learning how to win, I think, and seeing how the Crimson feel their way through the spring is going to define that; programs with an established winning culture rarely (if ever) endure two three-game losing streaks during a single season (a less-than-stellar aspect to Harvard's season in 2012). The players are there for Harvard to move beyond (Daniel Eipp and Stephen Jahelka are legitimate All-America candidates); it's a matter of mounting the hill at this point.
The story at Penn is simple: Can the Quakers survive a schedule -- again! -- that Mike Murphy put together to, presumably, make his players wonder if storming Hamburger Hill was a relatively easy task. In 2011, Pennsylvania played a schedule ranked ninth nationally in opposing adjusted efficiency margin; in 2012, the stakes were raised, finishing third overall when all was said and done. This kind of schedule strength isn't necessarily a problem with programs that maintain a general sense of consistency through the years in terms of player talent and production; Pennsylvania, unfortunately, is attacking this schedule while growing into itself (Murphy has only been at the helm since 2010 and the talent is still adapting to his regime). The schedule in 2013 isn't a can of corn, and while there is a lot of juice on the Quakers entering the spring given their effort in the fall, Pennsylvania may still be one of those teams that produces better than their record shows. If Pennsylvania can get out the gates without having its face ripped off, look out; if they stumble, it may not be because of the team's overall capability but rather that toppling Berlin is kind of hard.
The defensive core -- the core that served as Princeton's cornerstone under Chris Bates -- is gone; the graduations of Tyler Fiorito (G), John Cunningham (LSM), Jon Meyers (D), and Chad Wiedmaier (D) leave a void that isn't easy to fill, what with all the starts, leadership, and (no doink, the most important thing) production. This isn't just a plug-and-play situation for the Tigers entering 2013; while talent remains (Rob Castelo and Chris White are notable returnees), this is going to be a new unit -- in function and form -- tasked with facing a handful of strong offensive teams -- North Carolina, Cornell, Villanova, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, etc. -- that will pressure and test the Tigers on the back end for 60 minutes. The quickness and efficiency to which this unit coalesces throughout the spring is going to be a big driver as to where Princeton can go in 2013; if it flounders, extra emphasis will be put on Schrieber, Froccaro, & Associates Demolition Company, Ltd. to flood opponents with offense and try to win games with pure offensive volume; if it is able to produce in the shadow of its former constitution, Princeton has circumstances in place to balance responsibility and dominate its opponents on both ends of the field (which is the ultimate goal, right?). It's a difficult situation to deal with -- replacing field players and a goalie -- and there isn't a bigger story in New Jersey right now.
Defensively -- save for remaining concerns I have about the Elis between the pipes -- the biggest storyline for the Bulldogs this season is what the offense has in place to try and duplicate the team's run last spring. Matt Gibson (graduation) and Deron Dempster (sitting out 2013) were mega factors for Yale's success with the ball in 2012, and Yale will need to approach a reality without them in 2013. The brunt of the offense looks to revolve now around Brandon Mangan, who is stepping into this new role of value without having that onus on him in the past. Throw in an unresolved midfield situation that has as its current rotation "We'll figure it out," and there just isn't clarity as to what the Elis have to balance against what should be a strong field defense. An attack-based approach with Mangan and Conrad Oberbeck could yield strong results -- especially if Dylan Levings can continue to provide an offense-under-construction with lots and lots of opportunities -- but at this point it isn't a foregone conclusion that Yale is going to have the type of efficiency around its offense that it had a season ago. It's a somewhat quiet point, but where the Elis offense goes this season may ultimately determine Yale's ceiling.
Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.
Sam Hurster, A (Jr.)
Sam Ford, D (Sr.)
Rob Pannell, A (R-Sr.)
Jason Noble, D (Sr.)
Pat Flynn, D (Sr.)
Nikki Dysenchuck, M (Sr.)
Daniel Eipp, A (Jr.)
Stephen Jahelka, D (So.)
Brian Feeney, G (Jr.)
Maxx Meyer, D (Jr.)
Tom Schreiber, A/M (Jr.)
Jeff Froccaro, A (Sr.)
Michael McCormack, D (Sr.)
Brandon Mangan, A (Jr.)
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: Cornell v. Princeton -- April 27
GAME II: Yale at Harvard -- April 27
GAME III: Cornell at Harvard -- April 6
GAME IV: Harvard at Princeton -- April 19
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
This looks like Cornell's league, but if Princeton settles its defensive situation the Tigers can contend for the Ivy League crown (although the Big Red would need to underperform a bit to yield the league's throne). Harvard and Yale -- at this point in any order -- slot in behind Princeton, but could be in the mix for the league's second through fourth positions, which makes the race toward the conference tournament especially face-melty. Pennsylvania has a lot of pieces in place, and if Murphy can survive the schedule, could really shake up the league. Brown comes in behind the Quakers and Dartmouth should reside in the basement, killing mice with lacrosse sticks over by the water heater.