Each week the NCAA releases its updated statistics report and a small part of me dies on the inside: I know that in a few short minutes that sports information departments around the country are going to scour the rankings and begin a Twitter assault on the universe, unleashing all the high-ranking team and individual tidbits about their school's lacrosse program. I have three problems with this: (1) Those Twitter blasts provide little context to what those rankings actually mean; (2) These NCAA rankings are generally on per-game measures, and per-game measures (compared to possession-based metrics) are full of noise and sort-of-truth; and (3) There isn't a sports information department on Earth that is going to note all the icky rankings that their lacrosse team holds.
So, rather than just letting this slide (which is what normal and balanced humans would do), I'm going to fight back: I'm pulling apart a handful of these tweets and addressing them in three ways -- (1) the level of truth in the tweet; (2) creating context to the tweet, providing brief notes as to why the team's ranking is important; and (3) balancing the proffered note with a side of ickiness (because the world of lacrosse isn't just rainbows and eyeballs made of jellybeans).
Let's do this.
New NCAA rankings has #UVALAX #1 in GBs & only Hofstra is turning the ball over less than UVa. Cockerton #3 in goals. McWilliams #2 in CTs— Vincent Briedis (@Briedis_UVa) April 2, 2013
Wonderful! Let's beat this up a little bit:
Truth Factor: Somewhat truthful. Virginia actually has the lowest turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities rate in the nation (just 33.24) and nobody commits fewer unforced turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities than the Cavaliers (just 18.35). It's the Hofstra note that's a little misleading -- On a 100 offensive possession basis, the Pride ranks sixth in turnovers (39.41) and 23rd in unforced turnovers over the same basis (22.80). As for the groundball note, only one team -- Fairfield -- generates more groundballs on a possession basis (eliminating face-off groundballs) than Virginia (the Cavaliers haul in around 35.60 on a 100-possession basis). The Cavaliers' per-game groundball rate is a little inflated by the team's pace this season (around 71.81 (ninth nationally)) per 60 minutes of play.
Context: Why is Virginia's low turnover rate so important? The Cavaliers need to maximize their offensive opportunities. The team is only ranked 22nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, generating around 32 goals per 100 offensive opportunities (the rate rises to around 37 goals (18th nationally) when you only look at the opportunities that the Cavaliers have had to score when they've breached the attack box). Virginia has relied a bit on volume to generate goals so far this season, and the team's ability to control the ball -- no team holds a higher functional offensive opportunities ratio than the Cavaliers' 96.01 percent mark and only one team has lost functional offensive opportunities at a lower ratio than Virginia's 30.47 percent value -- has helped the team stay in their games this season.
Ignored Ickiness Note: Virginia's team save percentage is just 47.37 percent (55th nationally) and only three teams have seen their goalie end defensive opportunities with a save on a less frequent basis that the Cavs (Virginia is only generating saves on about 26 out of every 100 defensive opportunities that they play).
New nat'l stat rankings are out, #PennState ranks 4th in scoring defense (7.3 goals against per game), Kaut ranks 2nd in save %, 5th in GAA— Penn State MLAX (@PennStateMLAX) April 1, 2013
Fantastic! Let's investigate like we're wearing important hats:
Truth Factor: Pretty damn truthful. Penn State's adjusted defensive efficiency mark ranks eighth in the country at 23.99 goals per 100 defensive opportunities. Kaut's individual save percentage positioning is obviously 100 percent reality.
Context: Even on an adjusted basis Penn State's defense remains among the national elite, but it should be noted that the Nittany Lions have only faced a schedule ranked 33rd in the country relative to opposing offenses faced (the adjustment accounts for that). Five of Penn State's opponents this year all fall below the national average in adjusted offensive efficiency (30.10): Michigan (21.53); Massachusetts (29.78); Binghamton (26.28); St. Joseph's (22.85); and Villanova (29.45). Much of Penn State's defensive prowess this season is attributable to Kaut's work in the cage: On the season, the Nittany Lions are ending about 40 out of every 100 defensive opportunities with a save (the 11th highest mark in the country), and opponents are shooting just 21.28 percent against Penn State (the third-lowest mark in the land).
Ignored Ickiness Note: The Nittany Lions are playing right around the national average in terms of man-down situations per 100 defensive opportunities, but opponents are converting on almost 38 percent of those attempts (42nd nationally) and those teams are actually relying on those situations to score against Penn State (that reliance rate -- about 16.44 percent -- ranks 58th in the nation).
Aces! Enhance . . . enhance . . . enhance . . .:
Truth Factor: These things are all pretty true. The problem is, of course, with the context. One note: Siena is generating saves (based on 100 defensive opportunities) at a rate that ranks 20th in the nation (about 37 stops over that possession set). Sharp's high save rate -- almost the totality of the Saints' saves this season -- is partially attributable to the fact that Siena is playing about 74 possessions per 60 minutes of pay (the seventh highest mark in the country). Sharp has been good and Siena is asking him to make a bunch of stops to end defensive possessions, but his per-game save rate is inflated a bit by the fact that the Saints play so many possessions over the course of 60 minutes of play.
Context: Siena may be killing it with the extra attacker in their favor, but only four teams in the country play in man-up situations less than the Saints (Siena only plays about seven extra-man situations per 100 offensive opportunities). So, basically, Siena has been really good at something that it rarely gets to deploy. This isn't the greatest set of circumstances for the Saints for two reasons: (1) Siena isn't a particularly efficient at canning the bean, registering only about 30 goals per 100 offensive opportunities (their mark ranks 43nd in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency); and (2) The Saints are actually relying somewhat strongly on man-up situations to score, generating about 13 percent of their tallies (25th in the country) with the extra attacker in their favor. As for Casey Dowd's groundball value, that's obviously driven by his face-off play (Dowd is drawing at 54 percent this season, the majority of his wins on the whistle occurring with Dowd securing the loose ball). If you pull out face-off win groundballs, Siena is actually a pretty miserable groundball team in the run-of-play: Only nine teams control loose beans at a rate (based on 100 possessions) lower than the Saints' 22.63 mark. Dowd may be a groundball machine, but Siena's work rate on securing loose balls in the overall is pretty miserable (only nine teams have a larger margin between their groundball rate in run-of-play situations and their opponent's groundball rate in run-of-play situations).
Ignored Ickiness Note: Siena is ranked 55th in clearing percentage and only creates functional offensive opportunities -- offensive possessions that breach the attack box -- on just 88.89 percent of their chances (only eight teams do a worse job at matriculating the ball into the box).