Words About Division I Lacrosse Conferences and Lacrosse Conference Races

USA TODAY Sports

I plugged stuff into the lacrosse computer and results were spit out. This is where blood leaks from your ears.

Have you been reading Inside Lacrosse's conference check-ins this week? I've been linking to them in the daily links post, and if you haven't been reading the dispatches, you need to get on that, college boy. It's April after all, and there's nothing that should be dominating your face more than how these nine leagues currently look: (1) League races have a significant impact on the construct of the NCAA Tournament, both with respect to automatic invitations and the resumes of teams looking for at-large consideration; and (2) The level of play during conference games tends to become more interesting, with teams that have blown their brains to smithereens in out-of-conference games looking for retribution and teams that have survived their non-conference slates looking to assert themselves over their peers and keep momentum going. It's just the best portion of the season, you guys, and it's really starting to ramp up.

As a supplement to Inside Lacrosse's work, I turned on the lacrosse computing machine to try and figure out a few things: (1) Which conferences look the strongest as April's sunrise begins to move toward midday heat; (2) Which conference races look the most dense; and (3) Which conferences host the strongest defenses and offenses in the overall. The results -- based solely on what the teams in these things have done and not based on any predictory assumptions or calculations related to future games -- are mildly surprising, but they do illustrate some interesting things.

This sounds like a job for a potentially confusing table! Engage!

CONFERENCE RANKINGS IN VARIOUS THINGS
CONFERENCE AVG. PYTH. WIN EXP. RANK AVG. ABS. DEV. RANK AVG. AOE RANK AVG. ADE RANK
Atlantic Coast 70.40% 1 0.067 1 35.89 1 26.99 2
America East 45.74% 7 0.099 2 29.99 5 31.46 7
Big East 57.72% 3 0.168 9 31.86 3 28.51 6
THUNDERDOME! 51.96% 6 0.109 5 29.13 8 28.35 4
Eastern Collegiate 56.33% 4 0.131 7 31.15 4 28.46 5
Ivy 64.16% 2 0.120 6 32.65 2 26.53 1
Metro Athletic 29.96% 9 0.101 3 25.19 9 34.40 8
Northeast 38.23% 8 0.103 4 29.34 7 35.06 9
Patriot 53.37% 5 0.136 8 29.46 6 28.29 3

KEY
AVG. PYTH. WIN EXP.: This is the average of a conference membership's Pythagorean win expectations. The underlying calculation is based on adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies.

AVG. ABS. DEV.: This is the average absolute deviation of a conference membership's Pythagorean win expectations. It's not perfect, but it measures the dispersion or variability of Pythagorean win expectations of a conference's membership relative to the mean. A low value means that a conference's membership is bunched together; a high value means that there is greater variability in the expected wins among conference members.

AVG. AOE: The average of a conference membership's adjusted offensive efficiency values.

AVG. ADE: The average of a conference membership's adjusted offensive efficiency values.

Here are some thoughts on all this:

  • It shouldn't be surprising that the ACC ranks as the strongest conference in the country in terms of average Pythagorean win expectations. The foursome -- Maryland (79.72%), North Carolina (74.41%), Duke (65.70%), and Virginia (61.79%) -- holds no peer in Division I lacrosse this season, and that fact makes me want to slap the Terrapins for ditching the league after the 2014 season for something else. The Ivy League slotting neatly behind the ACC is expected as well, featuring a host of teams with statistical expectations as strong as any in the nation (Cornell (first) and Princeton (eighth) are in the top 10 in the metric; Pennsylvania (11th) and Yale (12th) are in the top 15). Entering the season I don't think anybody that hadn't recently had surgery involving a drill being used to repair a skull would have expected the Patriot League to rank outside the nation's top four conferences, and yet, here we are. There are just a lot of average teams in the conference this season, with Bucknell looking like the league's trusted favorite, Lehigh and Army expected to reside within the nation's top-third when all is said and done, a bunch of teams kind of hanging around the national average, and Lafayette and Navy not anticipated to do much other than take shots to the face. These are crazy times.
  • If you want to see offense, the ACC has a detonator and four tons of plastic explosive that it'd like to show you. With Duke (fourth), Maryland (eighth), and North Carolina (10th) driving the bus -- featuring so many offensive weapons that treaties should exist to limit their potential of throwing diplomatic relations into uncomfortable situations -- the ACC is just deep and balanced when it comes to making opposing defensive coordinators want to going into marketing or something rather than stay in coaching. With respect to the Big East's ranking, I find the construct of what is driving that -- Villanova's unique basketball-oriented offense; Notre Dame's somewhat erratic efficiency at canning the bean (the Irish rank 20th in the metric); the St. John's attack pushing the Johnnies into the second position nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency; and Syracuse's constantly-questioned offensive approach and viability (which currently ranks ninth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency) -- the most interesting out of any of these leagues. It's not all that accurate to say that the Big East has been an offense-first league in 2013, but characterizing the conference as a defense-first league (based on Kevin Warne's presence at Georgetown, Gerry Byrne's spider web of pain in South Bend, and Leland Rogers' unit at Syracuse) isn't exactly truth-bearing fruit either. As for the Patriot League . . . woof. To only rank slightly stronger than the NEC and only a shade behind the America East -- as a conference -- is grounds for self-impalement considering the volume of individual offensive talent playing under that league's banner. It's almost unbelievable that the Patriot League has just two teams -- Lehigh (14th) and Bucknell (16th) -- ranked in the nation's top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency, but that's the situation that Earth is dealing with at the moment.
  • For all the talk about how good the offenses have been in the Ivy League this season (and they've been solid), it is the league's aggregation of defenses that sits alone at the top of the country. (Somewhere in Denver Bill Tierney smiles.) It's only a small lead that the Ivy holds over the ACC, but it's a lead nonetheless: Cornell (third) and Pennsylvania (seventh) rank in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency; Yale (12th) and Brown (15th) rank in the top 20; and Harvard (23rd) and Princeton (26th) rank in the top half of the nation. You better bring a laser pistol when coming at the Ivy League this year. With respect to THUNDERDOME!'s ranking -- that's exactly what is going to make navigating that conference so difficult this year: Featuring a host of teams that have struggled to efficiently put the ball in the back of the net, the defenses in THUNDERDOME! are going to have a significant say in how the league table looks at the end of April. These aren't, in totem, impossible defenses to crack, but on the whole this league has been defined by its defensive units in 2013 rather than its offensive ones. What's exacerbates that fact is the margin between THUNDERDOME!'s average adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency values -- just about a goal, which should yield some tight results over the next month or so. With respect to the NEC -- I'm not sure anybody can stop anybody else in that league, but it's not like the NEC is rolling with tons of super-efficient offensive teams. That league may be determined by which teams create some stops on a somewhat frequent basis or pops for some timely offense down the stretch.
  • Alright, let's address the league races issue. The absolute deviation values show that the ACC is the most balanced league -- all the teams plot fairly close to each other. In other words, it's really tough to pick out which team (or teams) is (are) the clear favorite (favorites) in the ACC at the moment as their Pythagorean win expectation values are so similar. This makes sense, right? I mean, if you thought that North Carolina was the favorite to win the ACC and I thought Maryland was the favorite, we probably wouldn't come to blows, right? (Good.) As for other conferences, I love the fact that the America East and MAAC have little volatility and teams are evenly expected to win a similar amount of games; while these aren't leagues with especially deep talent pools and teams that are going to make noise at the national level, the competitive balance in the league is notable from top-to-bottom and everyone in those conferences (at a broad level) is a possibility to earn an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. These aren't good leagues, but everyone in them is comparatively bad the same relative plane; that's organic excitement, people. Next, the Big East's and Ivy League's high dispersion rates may look shocking, but the two leagues face a common issue: Somewhat top heavy contenders with a mushy middle and a few stragglers; the real value of both the Big East Ivy League races -- despite the calculated volatility -- is going to be how each tier in those conferences shake themselves out, and then if teams can remain mobile between the tiers. In other words, there are balanced races within the overall conference race in both the Ivy League and Big East, creating a different kind of interest than what the blobs of the MAAC and America East provide. It's just a different color on the continuum.
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