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.
There really isn't an overarching plot to independent play. Like the ronin, Division I independents roam the landscape without a master, warriors without a particular purpose except to live dangerously with implements of destruction (for samurai, swords; for lacrosse independents, crosses that kind of look like kung-fu sticks).
Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.
The Panthers aren't exactly projected to smash faces this season, which makes sense. For High Point, however, I don't think that's the biggest storyline that they're facing in 2013. Jon Torpey is going to go through a lot of the same growing pains that his peers at nascent programs are going through as well. What's interesting about the Panthers this spring is that they're doing it: 1) down south; and 2) without a conference. There is no safety net here for High Point (at the moment); performance on the field this season carries important weight as it may dictate the direction of the program -- both for recruiting purposes and for potential conference alliances -- in the future. That's a lot of pressure in year one, but it's a pressure that exists in the current climate of Division I play. A big thing for the Panthers this season isn't necessarily wins and losses, but how the program permeates into the local consciousness: How will High Point draw for its games? Will people care? What kind of momentum can be built around the program -- both on campus and relative to townie support -- to push High Point past its perceived limitations (real or imagined)? There's all kinds of juice on Furman right now with Richie Meade at the helm; can the Panthers start to create its own excitement in a nontraditional area simply by existing? It's an interesting aspect to the Panthers' season, and it may be the biggest storyline that High Point has this year.
The Jays' Championship Weekend drought is a huge storyline for the program this year, but I'm not going to belabor that point. The storyline that interests me the most entering 2013 for Hopkins is this: 2012 saw the Jays struggle somewhat on offense (the team ranked 26th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season); will Johns Hopkins get enough production and activity from its midfield in 2013 to create an offensive unit that sufficiently complements a defensive unit that will be, again, among the strongest in the nation? ESPN analyst -- and perfectly manicured hair savant -- Paul Carcaterra is enamored with what the Jays have in the midfield for this upcoming season, but I remain somewhat skeptical. There is undeniable talent in that area of play for Hopkins -- John Ranagan has all the physical tools to play both ways; Rob Guida is arguably the team's strongest midfielder and is underrated relative to his peers around the country; John Greeley, if 100 percent healthy, is an imposing figure in the offensive box and creates all kinds of problems; and Lee Coppersmith is quick enough to create matchup problems depending on the posture of play and who he is running with -- but that talent created uneven results in the Jays' campaign in 2012. Johns Hopkins' attack is complete and dangerous -- and could serve as the offense's pivot again in 2013 -- but the Jay's midfield needs to provide further support to the unit. A combined 21.83 raw shooting percentage from the aforementioned four midfield contributors -- all upperclassmen (three being seniors this season) -- isn't going to get the job done, especially if opposing defenses are going to try and take Zach Palmer and Wells Stanwick away. More consistent production from the midfield provides balance, and it may be the key to where the Jays' offense goes in 2013.
There are 23 -- 23! -- players on Marquette's roster that have taken a redshirt season; there are 21 -- 21! -- players on the roster listed as true freshman. Will Joe Amplo's approach -- building through redshirt campaigns, bringing in selected transfers, and putting pressure on freshman to contribute when necessary -- yield dividends? It's tough to see right now. The Golden Eagles impressed this fall at the Colleluori Classic, dropping High Point and running with Robert Morris, but the spring is a different kind of animal than the fall: The competition is stronger -- Marquette isn't exactly playing a run of scrubs, facing Ohio State, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Denver, St. John's, an Duke -- and the stakes are real. Joe Amplo is sitting on potential, developing a culture that could result in a few wins this season -- a fact that few new programs have experienced in the past -- and setting the foundation for a strong future in Milwaukee. But, 2013 still may serve as an unkind reminder to new Division I teams that Division I ball is tough and there aren't many shortcuts to success. How Marquette fares, though, could eventually influence how other programs prepare their roster and set out to navigate new waters.
Worrying about wins and losses this season for the Bears is kind of missing the point. (Mercer is going to lose a lot of games this season; anxiousness about the inevitable is like riding on a nuclear bomb headed for Earth -- just accept the situation and move on.) The big thing for the Bears under new coach Kyle Hannan is getting the program to perform and operate like a Division I team. The storyline here, then, is how Mercer continues its development in its third year of operation, focusing on the rudimentary aspects of play. Will the Bears cut down on turnovers? (Mercer led the nation -- by a wide margin -- in 2012 in turnovers per offensive opportunity at around 60 percent.) Will the Bears continue to keep themselves out of man-down postures? (Only one team played man-down less than Mercer last season (for a myriad of reasons) and no team took fewer penalties than the Macon natives.) Will the team increase its efficiency in clearing the ball, thereby creating more functional offensive opportunities? (Only two teams had a worse clearing mark in 2012 than the Bears' 76.43 rate.) Will Mercer find a shooting groove? (No team shot the ball worse than the Bears a year ago, putting together a woeful 20.14 percent effort.) It's the little things that will define Mercer's season in 2013; focusing on the big things obscures the real issues. If the Bears can do the little, fundamental things better this year than a season ago, that's something important and valuable.
Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.
Matt Thistle, A (So.)
Bucky Smith, M (Jr.)(
Tucker Durkin, D (Sr.)
Zach Palmer, A (Sr.)
Tyler Melnyk, A (R-Jr.)
Tyler Gilligan, LSM (R-Fr.)
Zack Ward, A (Jr.)
Alex Goldsberry, D (Jr.)
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: Loyola at Johns Hopkins -- April 27
GAME II: Johns Hopkins at Maryland -- April 13
GAME III: Marquette at High Point -- April 13
GAME IV: Mercer at Wagner -- March 9
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
As independents are necessarily untethered to a conference -- Did I just explode your head melon with that statement? If so, are you new to existence? -- there really isn't a landscape here that will develop. The amorphous nature of independent play holds value only to national concerns. As such, Johns Hopkins -- loaded with talent and the pressure of replicating the school's historic success -- remains a national player with elite aspirations and status; a trip to Championship Weekend (if not Memorial Monday) is within the program's grasp, but a difficult schedule could determine the tenacity of Hopkins' NCAA Tournament outlook. Mercer is likely to remain among the basement dwellers in Division I, but watching the development of the program under Hannan is paramount to wins and losses; two-wins for the Bears (against Division I opponents) isn't out of the question (although it isn't a foregone conclusion). For High Point and Marquette, it's absorbing the adventure and learning how to get on and off the bus as a Division I program. Wins and losses are important, but simply existing in 2013 is more important to each of these teams. Neither will be especially competitive -- these are teams that will, more likely than not, reside somewhere in the bottom third of the nation -- but coming out and playing hard each game this season will lay the foundation for future efforts.