2013 College Lacrosse Preview: Big East Outlook

Winslow Townson

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.

The Plot

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad Big East in 2013. There is so much going on that it's almost difficult to keep up: It's Syracuse last go 'round in a league that it never really wanted to join in the first place; it could be Notre Dame's last effort in the league depending on piggy bank contributions to the Big East Reserve; Marquette is a sideshow in this entire thing but isn't in the cast; Notre Dame has national title aspirations after knocking on the door and coming so close in years past; Syracuse is looking to get to its first Final Four since 2009; Villanova is re-tooling after a disappointing campaign a season ago; Georgetown has a new look with Kevin Warne at the helm on The Hilltop; St. John's is sneakily existing as a national player with two of the strongest offensive weapons in the country (and a hell of a long-stick midfielder); Rutgers is looking for a renaissance under Brian Brecht, the man that turned Siena into the most dangerous thing the MAAC has arguably ever produced; and Providence is headed in a new direction under Chris Gabrielli.

So, yeah. The plot is a little convoluted, especially for a league that was once constituted with supposed clarity: This was to be Syracuse and The Rest. It hasn't quite worked out that way.

Exposition I

Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.

Georgetown

  • Doubting that Kevin Warne can turn around the Hoyas' recent malaise is like spitting on the pew in front of you at church: It's dumb, and you're probably going to get slapped in the back of the head for it. Georgetown couldn't have made a better hire in the offseason after Dave Urick retired, but Warne has his work cut out for him in 2013: Defensively, outside of finding a goalkeeper, the Hoyas will be fine; how Warne (with offensive coordinator Matt Rewkowski) attempts to rejuvenate a fairly pedantic offense and clean up the Hoyas' sloppiness are the two biggest issues that Georgetown faces as it goes through the cultural cleansing that Warne is instilling on The Hilltop. The Hoyas -- despite having all-league players in Brian Casey and Zack Angel -- were among the least efficient offensive teams in the country, finishing the year ranked 50th -- 50th! -- in adjusted offensive efficiency. A big reason for that was the rate at which Georgetown turned over the ball -- around 48 percent of the team's offensive possessions involved a turnover, a mark that ranked 41st in the country -- and only 16 teams shot worse than the Hoyas last season. That's not a great recipe for hanging around important ball games. Throw in a proclivity for taking penalties -- only 14 teams played in man-down postures more than Georgetown and only 21 teams took more penalties per defensive possession -- and the illustration of the Hoyas' sloppiness -- and Warne's focus for 2013 -- becomes clearer. Georgetown has potential to do some special things this spring, but unless the focus on the little things takes form -- passing, shooting, keeping play measured and intelligent, and valuing the ball -- the Hoyas could be in some trouble.

Notre Dame

  • The Irish have leaned heavily on their defense in recent seasons to generate wins, and while Gerry Byrne's defense remains a mega flashpoint in 2013, the biggest storyline for Notre Dame this spring is this: Is the Irish's offense finally ready to complement its defense? Jim Marlatt is among Division I's most underrated midfielders and Sean Rogers always seems to be in the right place at the right time to tear the heart right out of the chest of Notre Dame's opponents. The supporting cast is rife with potential -- Westy Hopkins, Ryan Foley, and Conor Doyle are all 20-point guys that can cause havoc -- but this is still an offense that was only average in totem in 2012 (the team ranked 33nd in adjusted offensive efficiency) and was among the country's worst shooting teams (as a whole, the Irish shot only 26.90 percent last season, a mark that finished 48th in the nation). Matt Kavanagh's presence in the offense this season could help pace a resurgence in Notre Dame's offensive efforts -- Inside Lacrosse rated the attack as its number one post-graduate recruit coming into 2013 -- but in the overall, the Irish's offense (in totality) could still serve as a ceiling-limiter to Notre Dame's overall pursuits. Throw in the fact that the Irish may need to play a little faster this spring than they did in the past -- only three teams played fewer possessions per 60 minutes of play in 2012 -- and an offense that often couldn't find its way a year ago could be put in a difficult position to which it isn't necessarily accustomed to play. The Irish are still among the national elite, but the development of the offense to co-exist with its defense could ultimately determine where Notre Dame ends up in May.

Providence

  • Look: The Friars are going to be a pretty bad team in 2013. But that's not the storyline for Providence this year. The big thing for the Friars this spring is working within the culture new head coach Chris Gabrielli -- formerly of Duke -- is looking to establish in Rhode Island. Providence has been a program adrift the last few seasons, putting together poor results with a roster that seemed to violently change each season. The Friars need to start competing -- night-in and night-out -- as a Division I program, something that has been missing in Providence's DNA since leaving the MAAC for the Big East. Facilities and further support are on the way, but those things won't bear fruit until the concept of Gabrielli's vision is established. It's not a question of wins and losses for Providence; it's a question of whether the Friars can avoid five-plus goal losses and return to the field each and every day and improve and compete. Developing a sense of purpose will assist in that pursuit, and Providence's season will ultimately be defined by how much it ascribes to Gabrielli's work ethic and demands.

Rutgers

  • It's year two in the Brian Brecht era on the banks of the Raritan, and while the promise of what Brecht can bring to the program is still true, the vision may not yield rewards in 2013. The Scarlet Knights were fairly awful last season, winning just 40 percent of their games (the team's six wins were against opponents with a combined 19-63 record (none of which actually had a winning record)). And that's not even the end of it: On an overall efficiency basis, only seven teams finished the year with a worse adjusted efficiency margin ranking (adjusted offensive efficiency over adjusted defensive efficiency) than the Scarlet Knights. It wasn't just a tough season in New Jersey last year for Rutgers, it was borderline gruesome. So, the issue for the Scarlet Knights in 2013 -- from 30,000 feet -- isn't necessarily the offense finding an identity without Will Mangan or the defense stepping forward from the depths of Division I; rather, it's about Rutgers starting to operate and perform like a program developing into competency: Increased efficiency in shooting; taking advantage of caused turnover situations and generating scores; taking fewer penalties and limiting personnel imbalance situations for a defense that requires insulation; finding value in the offensive midfield and growing options in that area of the field; etc. Finding a spot in the Big East Tournament isn't a huge concern for Rutgers, on the whole, right now; it's operating as a Division I team, showing glimmers of hope that Brecht can replicate the job he did at Siena.

St. John's

  • There is enough talent in Jamaica right now that the Johnnies could make the NCAA Tournament. I'm serious. The Red Storm were a revelation in 2012, and with numerous pieces returning in 2013 -- Kevin Cernuto, Kieran McArdle, Dillon Ayers, Jeff Lowman, ad infinitum -- Jason Miller could have a special group on his hands this spring. That's a huge thing for a program that only re-emerged in 2005 -- dormant for a decade -- smack in the middle of an era where trying to find a place in the hierarchy of Division I lacrosse was as hard as ever. The question for the Red Storm this season, though, is whether the program can take that next step (often the hardest one for a team to take). Momentum is fickle, and upticks are often followed by downticks, especially for programs outside of the traditional elite that aren't established in their position. There are issues with the Johnnies that could limit the team's ceiling this year -- the third attack spot is still relatively open and the second offensive midfield isn't particularly strong (at least right now) and will put more pressure on the first midfield to produce -- but with a strong defense and important (and potent) play from Cernuto and McArdle at attack, the thrust of the Johnnies' season is within its hands. It's just a question of whether St. John's is able to duplicate its success from a season ago and climb the next run on the ladder.

Syracuse

  • Rehashing the micro-level piece about the Orange would be cheating, so how about this: Syracuse hasn't been to Championship Weekend since 2009, its longest absence from college lacrosse's biggest stage since the Orange first visited the Final Four in 1983. This isn't as drastic as Johns Hopkins current drought, but for folks in Central New York that have developed an impatience with accepting the current state of Division I play -- that it's more than Syracuse, Hopkins, the ACC, and Princeton; Championship Weekend trips are far from a birthright at this point -- it's akin to having your face removed with a flamethrower. John Desko is far from the hot seat (and roster depth/talent is on the way), but should the Orange fail to advance to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals this season -- despite all the questions currently hanging around Syracuse's ceiling for 2013 -- there is going to be lots of grumbling in Auburn public houses about why the Orange aren't the Orange anymore. Syracuse has potential entering the spring, but the overwhelming pressure of making Championship Weekend after a three-season layoff -- the ghosts of a two-decade streak are hard to eradicate -- is an important aspect to the Orange's effort this year.

Villanova

  • All the chatter about the Wildcats is generally built around the team's offensive weapons -- which are sharp with Jack Rice, Will Casertano, Nick Doherty, and Max Hart -- and the basketball-oriented offense that the team runs. That obfuscates the real issue with the Wildcats, though: Where's the defense? Specifically, can Villanova get competent (not extraordinary, just competent) play out of the net this season? You don't need an all-world goaltender to do amazing things in college lacrosse (although it does help), but erratic play between the pipes can doom a campaign. While the Wildcats do have some overall defensive issues -- this was a team that ranked only 46th in adjusted defensive efficiency a season ago -- but continued issues in the net remain Villanova's biggest impediment to success: With a four player mess right now (Peter Metcalf, Billy Hurley, Reed Carlson, and Greg Stamatov are all fighting for time right now) and none especially standing tall at the moment, this continues to be a limiting factor to the Wildcats' overall potential for lots of Gatorade baths. Stamatov, apparently, has some juice in his crosse; if he is ready to step in and buoy Villanova's defense -- which has a really nice piece in John LoCascio -- the Wildcats could be in decent shape. But until that goaltending situation is cleared up and defined, huge questions remain.

Exposition II

Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.

Georgetown

  • Brian Casey, A (Sr.)

  • Travis Comeau, A (Sr.)

Notre Dame

  • John Kemp, G (Sr.)

  • Sean Rogers, A (R-Sr.)

Providence

  • Andrew Barton, M (Jr.)

  • Mike Noyes, D (R-Sr.)

Rutgers

  • Nick Contino, D (Jr.)

  • Nicholas DePaolera, A (Jr.)

St. John's

  • Kieran McArdle, A (Jr.)

  • Kevin Cernuto, A (Jr.)

Syracuse

  • Brian Megill, D (Sr.)

  • Derek Maltz, A (Jr.)

Villanova

  • Jack Rice, A (Sr.)

  • Will Casertano, A (Sr.)

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Notre Dame v. Syracuse -- April 27

  • GAME II: St. John's v. Syracuse -- March 9

  • GAME III: Georgetown at St. John's -- April 6

  • GAME IV: Villanova at Notre Dame -- April 20

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Notre Dame looks like the favorite here, if only because the Irish are rolling with the fewest questions across the board compared to its league peers. This isn't to say that the Irish aren't potentially elite -- they are, especially if Kavanagh can come into South Bend and contribute right away -- it's just that there are a lot of dangerous teams sitting behind Notre Dame at the moment. Syracuse slots in behind the Irish (the gap to the top is up to you), with St. John's appearing to have the early run on the third position in the table. Villanova follows the Johnnies with Georgetown lurking as a potential Big East Tournament participant. From there, the Scarlet Knights take the sixth spot with Providence pulling up the rear (but playing stronger than they did a season ago).

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