There are two distinct chunks to UMBC's 2014 schedule: (1) The early-season, nonconference portion of the agenda that features a lot of . . . developing programs; and (2) The America East portion of the schedule, finding solitary residence on the back-end of the Retrievers' slate. UMBC's schedule doesn't look quite as strong as it did last season, and the constitution of the agenda may create a duplicitous nature about the Retrievers this coming spring.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
February 22: Monmouth; March 1: Richmond; March 11: Mercer; March 15: @High Point
Without getting too technical (and decidedly boring), the Internal Revenue Service has put in place certain restrictions on the utilization of net operating losses related to the acquisition of companies holding net operating loss carryforwards. This policy was enacted to curb non-operational net operating loss shopping, something that many companies pursued in a boldface effort to reduce the overall amount of tax that they'd owe to the federal government. Analogue restrictions don't exist in college lacrosse: If a team wants to go out and buy some wins (potentially), that team is free to do so without mitigation. That's kind of what UMBC did this season: The Retrievers went out and put four games on their schedule against programs that are still novice participants at the Division I level. Importantly, UMBC accomplished this by removing Robert Morris, Rutgers, and Fairfield from their schedule -- teams that the Retrievers met in 2013 and went a combined 18-27 -- while keeping High Point in the fold (a 3-12 team in 2013) and adding two new programs and one that went 4-8 last season. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does smell like the Retrievers are looking to put together a regular season campaign that features at least a .500 record (UMBC hasn't done that since the program went 6-6 in the regular season in 2011 (the team went 5-7 in the regular season in 2012 and 6-7 in the regular season in 2013)). Wins are wins are wins, but the value of wins is different, especially when viewed in the proper context. The Retrievers really need to impressively sweep these games in the early part of their schedule to validate the approach undertaken.
March 29: Stony Brook; April 6: @Binghamton; April 12: Hartford
The meat of the America East is going to be some combination of UMBC, Binghamton, Hartford, and Stony Brook. Those three teams will jockey for America East Tournament seeding all season long with one getting left on the sideline at the end of the year. Unfortunately for the Retrievers, UMBC hasn't had a metric ton of success against these three teams -- save for Binghamton -- in the last four seasons:
- v. Stony Brook: 1-3. Last beat the Seawolves in 2013. Average margin of defeat: -4 (9-13).
- v. Hartford: 2-4. Last beat the Hawks in the America East Tournament in 2013. Average margin of defeat: -1 (12-13).
- v. Binghamton: 3-1. Last beat the Bearcats in 2013. Average margin of victory: +1 (10-9).
If you want to judge the Retrievers' 2014 season, your determination is likely going to turn on how UMBC performs in these three games. They are ultimately the driving factors in determining the Retrievers position in the America East (and, consequently, in college lacrosse's landscape). The proof is exponentially clear: UMBC has put together four consecutive 3-2 campaigns in America East regular season play; from 2010 to 2012 the team's two losses were attributable to two of these three teams (Stony Brook gave the Retrievers a loss in each of those seasons) and in 2013 one of the team's losses came from the cohort (Hartford).