Which Conferences Were the Strongest in 2013?

USA TODAY Sports

Which was the "best" conference? Which conference featured the strongest offenses and defenses? Which league was the most competitively balanced?

The 2013 season is technically over, but it's not really over. The 2014 season doesn't meet its fall genesis for another four months and that means that the 2013 season continues -- in static animation -- until college lacrosse emerges from cold storage. The first item of business to discuss? Which conferences were the strongest -- in various ways -- in 2013.

I turned on the lacrosse computing machine to try and figure out a few things about the nine lacrosse leagues that made your faces melt this past spring: (1) Which conferences were the strongest based on top-to-bottom performance; (2) Which conferences were the most competitively balanced, featuring the least notable gap between the competitive ability of the top of the league to the bottom; and (3) Which conferences hosted the strongest defenses and offenses in the overall. The results 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 68.95% 1 0.053 1 36.23 1 27.85 2
America East 42.29% 7 0.098 3 30.54 5 33.68 7
Big East 54.87% 3 0.124 7 32.28 2 30.27 5
THUNDERDOME! 48.12% 6 0.110 4 29.36 8 30.34 6
Eastern Collegiate 52.47% 4 0.126 8 30.81 4 29.67 3
Ivy 62.10% 2 0.111 5 31.50 3 26.34 1
Metro Athletic 30.57% 9 0.113 6 26.19 9 35.22 8
Northeast 35.19% 8 0.077 2 29.36 7 36.43 9
Patriot 49.39% 5 0.142 9 29.69 6 30.08 4

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 competitively 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:

  • EH?-SEE!-SEE! EH?-SEE!-SEE! This shouldn't make your brain leak out of your ears (and if it does you should probably seek prompt medical attention, hopefully from a licensed medical professional that deal exclusively with melon juice coming out of one's ear holes), but the ACC was the best conference from top-to-bottom in 2013. The gap between the totality of the ACC's expected win percentage and that of the Ivy League -- the second highest rated conference -- was notable, almost as large as the gap between the Ivy League and the Big East. The beauty of the ACC this season, though, wasn't just that it featured four nationally elite teams; rather, the totality of what the ACC offered -- four elite clubs that were competitive peers with each other, seeing the "bottom" of the league in the same vicinity as the "top"; the best offensive showcase in the country; and the second best collection of defensive teams in the nation (only slightly behind the Ivy League) -- had no peer. Here's what's scary -- the league is only going to get better in 2014 with the additions of Syracuse and Notre Dame. Face melting, ahoy!
  • You can see clear tiers in the overall strength of leagues: The ACC sits atop the hierarchy; the Ivy League falls behind Swofford's Monster; the Big East and ECAC are bunched together in the next tier; the Patriot League and THUNDERDOME! come in the next grouping; the America East then occupies the next rung on the ladder; and the NEC and MAAC -- in that order -- occupy the final tier in Division I lacrosse. There was stratification among lacrosse conferences but small groupings in those stratifications. It'll be interesting to see how conference realignment and new program participation for 2014 -- the ACC's additions; Loyola leaving the ECAC, charting a course to the Patriot League; Boston University joining the Patriot League; Quinnipiac leaving the NEC for the MAAC; Monmouth joining the MAAC; the Big East's different flavor as it pursues a new wonderful; the birth of the Atlantic Sun and all that it entails; etc. -- impacts the relative competitive strength of conferences (and how the hierarchy in Division I plays out) in just one season.
  • Bashing the MAAC and NEC isn't particularly fair. I understand why people laser-target the two leagues -- in the overall, these aren't conferences that boast nationally-relevant programs that can make a run at Memorial Monday -- but simply ignoring those two conferences because the hyper elite don't run under those two leagues' flags misses the point: There are interesting things happening in those two leagues. The NEC was among the most balanced conferences in the country in 2013, even if the league housed -- in the overall -- a membership that didn't expect to win a ton of games in 2013. There's value in competitive balance as it makes league races exciting and worthwhile. As for the MAAC, the competitive balance within the league was stronger than what the Big East and ECAC provided (and almost as balanced as THUNDERDOME! and the Ivy League), making each gameday something to keep an eye on as outcomes were a little more fluid relative to expectations. These are good things for two leagues that are staring at an uphill climb to compete with the big boys; as the programs in those two conferences continue to develop, the competitive balance within the league provides a solid foundation for drawing attention from lacrosse-hungry fans.
  • Hypothetical: Based on 2013 Pythagorean win expectations, how would these conference rankings shake out based on 2014 conference memberships? That's a tough question, but I groped my way to an answer. Ignoring new programs and conferences entering play in 2014, and based on realignment moves that have already been put in place for the coming season, here's how the conferences shook out in average membership Pythagorean win expectation: (1) ACC (69.73%); (2) Ivy (62.10%); (3) Patriot (52.27%); (4) ECAC (49.63%); (5) THUNDERDOME! (48.12%); (6) Big East (42.86%); (7) America East (42.29%); (8) Northeast (35.08%); (9) MAAC (34.14%). Notable movers are the Big East (losing Syracuse and Notre Dame and brining Marquette on board) and the Patriot League (adding Loyola). We'll see how this plays out in around a year.

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