Welcome Back to Lacrosse, Basketball Fans!

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

A recap of what you've missed so far this season so that you can hit the ground running this weekend!

I know you've been watching basketball and not hanging out with lacrosse. I can smell it in the site stats. You unfaithful piece of garbage! How could you? Do you like Rick Pitino better than Bill Tierney? No?! Then why do you have Rick Pitino's athletics bio in your search queries on your iPhone?! Like, we just got a dog together. We named it "Gait." Do you remember that? It was during fall ball. You were, like, "Let's take this to the next level. Let's get a dog and name it after a lacrosse player." I was totally down with it; I thought we had a really good thing going. And then you cheat on me with basketball for five months and you don't even have the guts to tell me.

I'm sorry, baby. I know it's hard. Basketball made all kinds of promises to you; maybe I would've made the same mistake if I was you. I'll take you back. Let me just fill you in on everything that you've missed so far this season.

WHO HAS BEEN CRUSHING SKULLS?
In a season where things have gone sideways at a rate that makes your eyes bleed, picking out Division I's most impressive teams through the first three quarters of the season is a little difficult. The depth of college lacrosse's highest division is potent again this season, and just because a team has played fairly well from February through mid-April doesn't necessarily mean that a journey through May is an absolute certainty. There are, however, eight teams that have stood out as arguably Division I's strongest clubs:

  • Cornell (10-2): The Big Red remain the nation's highest ranked team in adjusted efficiency margin. Cornell has, for the most part, dispatched its competition with relative ease this season, its two losses -- to Bucknell and Syracuse -- coming in difficult circumstances: the former in weather best described as "bitchy" and without the services of Steve Mock; the latter coming in the Carrier Dome where no opponent has an easy time. The Red are still rolling with Division I's best individual talent in Rob Pannell, and until something drastically changes, Cornell is a Championship Weekend contender.
  • Denver (9-2): The Pioneers are steaming along with the most destructive offense in the country, generating goals on about 51 out of every 100 possessions. If you're still locked in a time warp and think that Bill Tierney wins only with defense, it's time to scramble your face and enter reality: Denver is an offensive destruction machine, and it has carried them all season.
  • Maryland (8-1): The Terrapins have imposed their will on their opposition this year, save an uneven performance against North Carolina in College Park. Maryland may be the most balanced team in the country -- the team ranks ninth in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency -- but it's not just that the Terrapins go about their business as well as (or better than) any team in the county, it's this: Maryland suffocates their opposition, playing just 63 possessions per 60 minutes of play (51st nationally) while playing almost seven more possessions per 60 minutes of play than their opposition. John Tillman has another national title contender on his hands.
  • Loyola (9-2): The Greyhounds haven't been quite as impressive as they were last season in terms of dominating the opposition, but Loyola has still played as well as the hyper-elite this season. There is something somewhat concerning about the Greyhounds, though: Loyola is turning the ball over more in 2013 than it did in 2012, especially after matriculating the ball into the attack box. Playing loose is a dangerous thing for the Greyhounds considering they only play about 64 possessions per 60 minutes of play. Squandered opportunities are the hallmarks of teams that oftentimes fail.
  • Syracuse (8-2): The Orange, for all their perceived faults and criticisms, have positioned themselves nicely for a May adventure. Lacrosse Magazine's Joel Censer wrote some words about Syracuse yesterday that do a nice job at laying out what the Orange's ceiling may be.
  • North Carolina (8-3): The knock on the Tar Heels the last few seasons was that Carolina didn't have the defense necessary to put itself in a position to win a national championship. That isn't the case in 2013: North Carolina ranks 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, has found its stopper in Kieran Burke, and the field defense -- with assistance from Burke -- has stymied opposing offenses, limiting them to just 25.42 percent shooting (12th nationally) and an assist rate of just 14.83 (the 17th lowest mark in the country). This isn't just an offensive showcase in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels are in the best shape they've been in for a long time.
  • Princeton (7-3): Princeton's three losses this season have come against North Carolina (a one-goal defeat that may end up being the game of the year when all is said and done), Pennsylvania (a one-goal defeat that's going to look pretty good at the end of the season given the Quakers' arc this season), and Syracuse (a one-goal defeat that required the Orange to use an inspired late-game run to earn the victory). The Tigers claim the nation's second best offense and with triggermen like Tom Schreiber, Jeff and Jake Froccaro, and Mike MacDonald, Princeton's offense has more than made up for some unevenness from the Tigers' defense this season. Princeton is solid and may improve as its green defense earns more field experience.
  • Notre Dame (8-2): The Irish are the lowest-rated team in the country with an adjusted efficiency margin value above 11.00. (This just means that over 100 total possessions, Notre Dame is scoring 11 more goals than their opposition.) The Irish have been led, once again, by Gerry Byrne's defense, a unit armed with throwing stars and flamethrowers and a really angry disposition. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Notre Dame has also featured an offense that has nicely supported its tent pole defense, a unit currently ranked 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency and having received a huge boost from freshman Matt Kavanagh this year. A trip to Philadelphia is within the Irish's grasp.

WHO HAS HAD THEIR SKULL CRUSHED?
The usual suspects comprise the basement of college lacrosse this season -- VMI, Wagner, Canisius (the 2012 MAAC Tournament champions!), Mercer, etc. It is important to note, though, that Wagner is not currently performing as the worst team in the country. That honor goes to the Keydets, more than four goals worse than Wagner on a 100-possession basis (adjusted for opposition faced). This is obviously an odd situation to deal with, and it is likely attributable to the Seahawks' new approach to existence -- SWAGNER!

SAY WHAT?!
SHOCKING FACT: Teams generally improve or regress from year-to-year. The question, then, is which teams are playing at higher or lower levels than just a season ago? To answer that -- and to alleviate any of the "Wait, Providence isn't terrible?!" feelings you may be having -- I looked at the 2012 year-end adjusted efficiency margin rankings of all 61 schools that participated in Division I last season, set them against their current 2013 adjusted efficiency margin rankings, and created a table. This is that table:

ADJUSTED EFFICIENCY MARGIN RANKING DIFFERENCES: 2012 TO 2013
TEAM RANKING CHANGE TEAM RANKING CHANGE TEAM RANKING CHANGE TEAM RANKING CHANGE
Bellarmine +24 Albany +22 Pennsylvania +21 St. John's +20
Holy Cross +17 Providence +17 North Carolina +16 Hofstra +15
Marist +12 Cornell +11 Towson +11 Syracuse +10
Binghamton +10 Brown +8 Rutgers +8 Quinnipiac +8
Robert Morris +7 Penn State +5 Army +5 Denver +4
Hobart +4 UMBC +4 Harvard +3 Bucknell +2
Notre Dame +1 Yale +1 Air Force +1 Detroit +1
Maryland +/- 0 Delaware +/- 0 Manhattan +/- 0 Michigan +/- 0
Mercer +/- 0 Duke -1 Wagner -1 Loyola -2
Fairfield -2 Princeton -3 Drexel -3 Villanova -3
Dartmouth -3 Sacred Heart -3 Vermont -3 Mount St. Mary's -4
VMI -4 St. Joseph's -5 Stony Brook -6 Lafayette -6
Lehigh -9 Johns Hopkins -9 Canisius -9 Ohio State -10
Jacksonville -12 Virginia -16 Hartford -17 Georgetown -17
Bryant -22 Colgate -23 Navy -24 Siena -30
Massachusetts -33

Bellarmine is obviously the biggest gainer, but it's where they gained -- moving from 41st in the metric to 17th -- that is the most impressive aspect of the Knights ascension through the Division I hierarchy. As for Massachusetts, being overthrown from the absolute top of the table has consequences.

WHO SHOULD BE DOING ARM CURLS IN ANTICIPATION OF HOISTING THE TEWAARATON AWARD?
The Tewaaraton Foundation announced its second round of additions to its Tewaaraton Award "Watch List" yesterday, putting Jeff Lowman of St. John's and Pennsylvania’s Anthony Santomo on the list of players under consideration. At this point the award committee's list features over 100 players under assessment, a fact that is impressively bonkers on two levels: (1) There aren't 100 players that are legitimately in contention to win the award this season (just like every other season); and (2) If you're going to list 100 players, at least make sure you don't screw the pooch and leave out relevant production machines (like Denver's Eric Law, Loyola's Justin Ward, Bellarmine's Dillon Ward, and a host of others).

There are probably a half-dozen cats that are going to be in serious discussion for the award over the next few weeks, but there are three that have possibly set themselves apart as the nation's most valuable, productive, and strongest players -- Cornell's Rob Pannell, Albany's Lyle Thompson, and St. John's Kieran McArdle. All three are driving their respective team's successes this season, and their individual accomplishments are only rivaled by what their mere presence contributes to the whole.

HOW ARE THE NEW GUYS MAKING OUT?
Marquette and High Point put on the foil this season and each entered Division I lacrosse with a splash -- the Panthers beat Towson in only their second game ever and the Golden Eagles traveled west and beat Air Force on the Falcons' home turf. Things have moderated a bit for each since then, but in the overall, each program has acquitted itself fairly well in their freshman campaigns. For more on this, here's a recent piece on the two new programs and here's an updated comparison table on how the two schools have gone about their business this season:

NEW PROGRAMS: HOW THEY STACK UP
METRIC MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES HIGH POINT PANTHERS
Adj. Offensive Efficiency 27.22 (46) 25.80 (54)
Adj. Defensive Efficiency 39.80 (61) 37.83 (57)
Adj. Efficiency Margin -12.57 (59) -12.03 (57)
Pythagorean Win Expectation 23.56% (57) 23.39% (58)
S.o.S.: Opponent Adj. Offensive Efficiency 29.75 (41) 28.22 (57)
S.o.S.: Opponent Adj. Defensive Efficiency 29.86 (24) 30.03 (27)
S.o.S.: Opponent Adj. Efficiency Margin -0.11 (33) -1.81 (49)
S.o.S.: Opponent Pythagorean Win Expectation 48.02% (40) 44.92% (50)

I WANT ANSWERS ABOUT [INSERT CONFERENCE HERE] AND I WANT THEM NOW!
First of all, you're selfish and are likely emotionally imbalanced. You should seek professional help, preferably from an executioner. Second, you can't have answers about [insert conference here] because the majority of these leagues are maelstroms of terror with currently undefined kill zones. Lacrosse!

But if you want an admittedly cursory breakdown of the eight auto-bid conferences, I guess it would look a little something like this:

LACROSSE CONFERENCE RACES ON PLANET EARTH
CONFERENCE FAVORITE(S)* CONTENDER(S)^ CONFERENCE RANK
America East Albany Stony Brook 7th
Big East Notre Dame, Syracuse St. John's 3rd
THUNDERDOME! Hofstra Penn State, Drexel 6th
ECAC Loyola, Denver Bellarmine 4th
Ivy Cornell Princeton, Pennsylvania, Yale 2nd
MAAC Marist None 9th
NEC Robert Morris None 8th
Patriot Bucknell, Lehigh Army 5th

*: Favorites are determined by taking the highest ranked league member relative to Pythagorean win expectation and including any team within five ranking positions from that team.
^: Contenders are determined by taking the lowest rated league member treated as a favorite and including any team with a Pythagorean win expectation value within 15 ranking positions of that team. There are probably more contenders in each league that aren't listed -- especially considering the role of tiebreakers -- but I needed to cut the cord somewhere.

Otherwise, you've shown up at exactly the right time to get you answers, college boy.

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