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 was one -- one! -- conference in the country last year that didn't have a single team achieve an overall .500 record: The America East. It takes a special kind of league membership to strangle itself out-of-conference and then engage in some crab theory while in conference play (three teams -- Hartford, UMBC, and Albany -- went 3-2 in their league slate and no team left play unscathed). Last season was a weird mush of unpredictability, with UMBC struggling at odd points, Albany making a rush at the conference tournament championship after starting their campaign 0-7, and Stony Brook proving that it was just the right shade of "good enough" to earn the right to get shellacked by Johns Hopkins in the NCAA Tournament.
The conference looks like it has some decent potential in 2013, but this is still a league without a program that will probably end the year among the top-20 in the country; the top of the table will likely be dominated by teams that will hang around the middle of the nation, vacillating as fate sees fit.
Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.
The Thompsons make the headlines for Albany, but the storyline for the Great Danes is the defense, specifically what they may or may not get out of the cage in 2013. Last season was an icky effort from Albany in stopping opponents, coming in 44th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency while playing a schedule ranked fourth in opposing offenses faced. That kind of uneven effort on one side of the field against the other -- based on adjusted efficiency margin, the Great Danes were right around the center of the country (mostly because the offense produced at a level that ranked around the top-third of the land) -- creates uneven results, which is strong indicia of why Albany finished 5-11 and lost its first seven games. If Max Huber, a sophomore, can improve on his effort between the pipes, things are likely to turn in a more positive direction, killing defensive possessions with stops and allowing a field defense that wasn't prone to creating turnovers to keep their heads on a swivel. There is opportunity here, but the biggest piece is Huber's relationship and function within the overall defensive production.
The Bearcats' ceiling in 2013 isn't all that high -- we're talking about a dollhouse residence here -- but there is something brewing in Binghamton that deserves some attention -- Michael Antinozzi and what he can accomplish with a decent offensive supporting cast of Tyler Perrelle, Brandon Planck, and Matt Springer. (Springer, incidentally, could have the biggest impact in the nation in terms of players coming off of an injury and increasing a program's overall win total.) Antinozzi's raw numbers last season weren't especially impressive (32, 14) compared to the national elite, but when adjusted for competition played and offensive possessions played, the midfielder's point production ranked 30th in the country in 2012 among the nation's top-200 point producers. Antinozzi can play -- his value to the Bearcats is akin to what Tom Schreiber provides to Princeton, albeit with a weaker cast of characters (and individual ability) -- and all the shouting that I did about him last season could return an echo in 2013.
The defense was a giant concern last year for the Hawks, pulling back the fortunes of one of the best -- and most efficient -- offenses in the country that nobody talked about. There are still concerns on the defensive end of the field entering 2013, but there's something quietly foreboding about Hartford's offense entering the spring: The Hawks were one of the best teams in 2012 at sharing the ball, a fact that helped push the team's overall offensive efficiency, but will enter 2013 without four of its top five point producers from a season ago -- Carter Bender, Ryan Compitello, Aidan Genik, and Martin Bowes. These four players were invaluable offensive assets for Peter Lawrence last year, dominating the frequency of goal scoring tandems and generally driving the team's production. The losses of Bender and Compitello are especially hurtful, and players like Rory Nunamacher and Jared Franze are going to need to take heavier roles in the offense in totem. This is an issue for the Hawks, although it's hidden under the surface a little bit.
The Seawolves' potential for success in 2013 closely mirrors what kept Stony Brook from really making noise in 2012: Generating a positive possession margin to insulate the defense and allow the offense to get to work. The culprit for Stony Brook's -3.80 possession margin in 2012 (57th nationally) was dastardly work at the dot, seeing J.J. Laforet and Mike Andreassi primarily drive the team's 37.22 (!!) face-off percentage (58th-worst nationally). Had the Seawolves been able to draw at the national average -- around 50 percent -- Stony Brook actually moves into a positive possession position, creating about two extra opportunities per 60 minutes of play. There aren't a lot of answers coming out of the North Shore of Long Island that this situation has been rectified, and given the fact that the Seawolves may need some time to gel offensively -- Matt Bellando, Robbie Campbell, and Russ Bonanno have all departed -- there is some concern about the offense's ability to thrive through efficiency if they can't generate volume. This could be the difference between the Seawolves dropping six one-goal games as they did in 2012 and turning the tide on that in 2013.
The Retrievers' goalie situation remains a concern entering 2013 -- Adam Cohen was less than spectacular in 2012, and he has competition on the roster this season -- but there's something else that is maybe a bigger story entering the spring: UMBC, formerly the unquestioned class of the conference, hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009. Stony Brook has, in many ways, passed the Retrievers in the league as the conference's strongest program, and for a university that has a strong tradition in college lacrosse, a three-year absence from May after making consecutive tournaments from 2006-2009 (including three tournament titles in 2006, 2008, and 2009) creates some anxiety in Catonsville. Combined with the fact the Retrievers haven't even made the America East Tournament final since 2009, and there's questions that necessarily surround where UMBC is headed after advancing to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals as recently as 2007. The Retrievers aren't far from taking a position atop the conference again, but seeing how UMBC attempts to ascend to the throne after some recent malaise is an interesting issue.
When you look at a program like Vermont, a season isn't necessarily defined by wins and losses; rather, semblances of improvement are paramount. Last season, the Catamounts were their own worst enemy -- only six teams turned the ball over more per offensive possession than Vermont and just seven teams were in man-down postures more per defensive possession than the Catamounts. This was all exacerbated by the fact that Ryan Curtis' team played at a -5.41 possession deficit per 60 minutes of play (due in large part to the team's struggle at the dot), the third-worst mark in the country. There aren't especially high expectations in Burlington for the Catamounts' upcoming campaign, and Vermont isn't likely to stick a bunch of wins on the table in 2013. How Vermont goes about its business, though, is what will ultimately be the biggest thing for the Catamounts this spring -- Will the sloppiness (which should come with a guillotine) continue, or is Vermont going to be serious about getting serious?
Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.
Miles Thompson, A (Jr.)
Ty Thompson, A (Jr.)
Michael Antinozzi, M (So.)
Greg Cove, D (Jr.)
Jared Franze, M (Sr.)
Alex Matarazzo, LSM (Jr.)
Mike Rooney, A (So.)
Jeff Tundo, M (Sr.)
Ethan Murphy, D (Sr.)
Scott Jones, A (Sr.)
Drew Philie, A (Sr.)
Jeremy Hutchens, D (So.)
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: UMBC at Stony Brook -- April 13
GAME II: Albany at Stony Brook -- April 27
GAME III: UMBC at Albany -- April 20
GAME IV: Hartford at Albany -- April 7
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
There doesn't look like there's a straight hierarchy in the America East again next spring; it's more of a tiered system with teams of relative strength grouped accordingly. At the top is a Stony Brook-UMBC grouping; below that, Albany exists (although the Great Danes aren't too far from the Seawolves-Retrievers tier); Hartford sits alone behind Albany, but could wreck nice things in the conference if the defense comes along and the offense can find volition without Bender and Compitello; and below that is a Vermont-Binghamton tier that probably is going to only sort things out among themselves. There's still an ambiguous quality to what the league will look like in 2013, and that kind of makes this race cryptically interesting.