2013 College Lacrosse Preview: The Albany Situation

What's the Great Danes' ceiling in 2013?

When the coaches in the America East got together in a smoky room in the back of a restaurant to put together a preseason poll for the league, I’m not sure that they all had the intention of making Albany – the team that started its 2012 campaign with seven straight losses before getting its stuff together and making the league tournament’s championship game (a 14-8 loss to Stony Brook on Long Island) – the conference’s February favorite, but that’s what happened. The Great Danes took home three first-place votes and enough other high-ranking tallies to sit atop the preseason throne (even if their points margin was only slightly better than what the Seawolves and Retrievers were able to achieve). That’s kind of the story for Albany this season: There is potential that Scott Marr can work with, but will that potential generate kinetic energy? I don’t know; if I did I’d be a character in Back to the Future that owns a sports almanac and creates an alternate reality where Lea Thompson is dressed as if she’s starring in The Real Housewives of Hill Valley.

There are two things that are likely going to drive whether Albany can set itself apart from the rest of the America East (which, one again, looks messy (although, I’d bet actual American currency that at least one team actually puts together a winning record in 2013 (unlike in 2012))): (1) Whether the Great Danes are able to thrive offensively – both in terms of efficient function and strategic methodology – with the Thompson Trio acting as a the team’s primary production hub; and (2) Whether the Great Danes’ defense is ready to step forward and support the team’s offensive efforts, providing balance where it was missing a season ago.

Thompson Trio Assemble!
I’m not a guy that necessarily loves a high volume of offensive production concentrated in only a handful of guys. I’ve always thought that the old Netherlands approach of “Total Football” could translate well to the lacrosse field, requiring offensive players to have the ability to serve as interchangeable parts (to a degree) while leveraging offensive responsibilities and creating a thousand points of dangerous attack. Albany doesn’t exactly have that opportunity available to them this coming spring, and it’s expected that the Great Danes’ offensive efforts are going to be substantially supported by the efforts of Lyle, Ty, and Miles Thompson in the vacuum of Joe Resetarits’ graduation. With three players shouldering the vast majority of Albany’s offensive load – with all kinds of questions as to whether there will be any support from the midfield that is more than nominal – can the Great Danes succeed and build upon an offensive effort in 2012 that resulted in Albany holding an adjusted offensive efficiency value that ranked 22nd in the country?

The offensive skill and capability of the Thompson Trio is hard to argue; they were built in the Iroquois tradition and with continued development in college field play – and the understanding of approach that aligns with that – the three attack are uniquely positioned to cause havoc in the attack box this spring. What concerns me is whether the trio is ready to be featured – almost exclusively – as, essentially, the entire composition of Albany’s offense in terms of production:

  • With the offense becoming even more attack focused with all three Thompsons running in-close, is the triumvirate ready to assume – and thrive against – total defensive focus from the opposition? If the trio (or parts of the trio) aren’t getting the looks they want or producing as they think they should produce due to a suffocating level of attention, how will the triumvirate react and, more importantly, what does that mean for Albany’s overall offensive efforts?
  • With increased usage – domination of carrying, shots, and creating offense through sharing the bean – will the Thompson Trio suffer a decrease in efficiency (which is somewhat frequent in these situations)? (It’s not like the Thompson Trio didn’t have heavy usage rates last season, it’s that this year they are undoubtedly going to dominate the ball with little mitigation.) Is the field game maturity there with all three players to assume significant usage and not devolve into selfishness, pressing the issue and actually creating greater burdens for Albany’s offense to overcome? The answers to these questions are opaque, and with a lack of clarity dominating the midfield situation for the Great Danes right now, the issue is a potentially strong driver for Albany’s success.

On the bright side, with the Thompson Trio driving the Great Danes’ offensive approach this spring, the focus and attention that they will bring will allow for a midfield that needs time to find itself to assume responsibility only where it is able to succeed; there is no pressure on that unit right now to provide determinable value at the moment. That isn’t to say that Albany’s midfield can run the table as essentially a tumor on the Great Danes’ offensive efforts, but rather that the focus that the Thompsons draw could create preferable situations for the midfield to succeed while doing so in a non-burdensome environment.

Can the Defense be Average?
I’m not sure that Albany’s defense is quite ready to step forward and produce at a level that places it among the top 30 or so teams in the country, but it may be good enough to win the America East by the end of the regular season should a circumstance or two move in Albany’s favor. The Great Danes were a bit of a tire fire defensively in 2012 (not the worst in the nation, but not especially formidable), finishing the year ranked 44th in adjusted defensive efficiency and holding rankings in some selected defensive metrics – defensive assist ratio (48th); raw defensive shooting percentage (60th); etc. – that make your eyes want to secede from your face. While potential development among the unit from last year is something that shouldn’t be ignored (there is a veteran presence among the field defensive unit), it’s not like the Great Danes are in a totally new defensive situation where opponents cower in fear and simply give Albany the ball as if it were their lunch money (at least right now). This is an issue for the Great Danes and it could ultimately be the determining factor in what the program’s ceiling is for this spring. There are two thoughts here – related only because they’re associated with defensive concerns – that I think are the big discussion points:

  • If Albany’s defense continues to produce towards the bottom third of the country, increased pressure is, again, put on the Great Danes' offense to perform efficiently to mask the failures of the defensive side of the field. With the offense’s increased concentration around three players this season, simply assuming that the offense can operate in this fashion – not to mention the onus put on specialist situations (faceoff play, clearing, riding) to operate effectively so as to limit defensive exposure and insulate an inefficient unit – is hope masquerading as fallacy at this point.
  • Is Albany’s goaltending play going to be more than the worst thing in the Capital Region not named The New York State General Assembly? You can make an argument – a pretty good one, actually – that Albany's biggest problem last season was the play it got out of the net. On the year, Albany saw only about 24 percent of its defensive opportunities ended with a save (59th nationally) and the team, as a whole between Max Huber (41.6) and John Carroll (38.3), only held a 40.3 save percentage. That's not getting it done, especially when you consider that Albany's keepers weren't necessarily under fire (only 14 teams saw fewer shots per defensive opportunity); simply, the Great Danes just couldn't generate saves. (Also exacerbating this situation was the team's inability (or lack of desire) to generate caused turnovers (only five teams killed defensive possessions at a lower rate through takeaways than Albany), allowing opponents to run their possessions and pepper the Great Danes' goaltenders with shots that, more often than not, weren't saved.) That needs to be addressed, and without stronger play is a 40-ton anchor being dragged at the bottom of the ocean.
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