Which Teams Improved and Regressed the Most from 2012 to 2013?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Lacrosse, like life, isn't static (at least for most teams).

Half of this piece is fun to write; half of it is pure misery. Watching teams improve from season-to-season is great; it's indicia that the American Dream -- work hard and you'll see results -- is a real thing and that artificial ceilings fail to exist. Watching teams regress from season-to-season isn't quite as fun; zero-sum results are an unfortunate residue in a defined environment.

There are different reasons that teams improve or regress from one season to the next, but the specifics as to why teams became upwardly or downwardly mobile is probably best left for summer decompressions. For now, let's look at this from Skylab's perspective -- you know, when it was actually in space and not in a junkyard somewhere -- and figure out which teams improved and regressed the most from 2012. There are two ways to look at this: From an adjusted efficiency margin standpoint (that measure determines the overall strength of a team, balancing offensive ability against defensive ability) and from a Pythagorean win expectation perspective (that measures a team's expected winning percentage based on the team's ability to efficiently score and limit scoring). Improvements and regressions are noted by national rank change from 2012 to 2013.

ADJUSTED EFFICIENCY MARGIN: BEST IMPROVEMENTS AND WORST REGRESSIONS
TEAM 2012 ADJ. EFF. MARGIN RANK 2013 ADJ. EFF. MARGIN RANK RANK IMPROVEMENT TEAM 2012 ADJ. EFF. MARGIN RANK 2013 ADJ. EFF. MARGIN RANK RANK REGRESSION
Pennsylvania -1.04 33 7.97 9 +24 Drexel* 3.55 20 1.36 27 -7
North Carolina 3.01 22 12.90 2 +20 Canisius* -8.37 52 -16.10 59 -7
Holy Cross -10.50 55 -3.55 36 +19 Virginia 7.70 10 4.58 18 -8
Providence -8.75 53 -3.49 35 +18 Hartford 1.81 27 -3.78 38 -11
Albany -1.80 35 4.65 17 +18 Georgetown -1.10 34 -6.17 48 -14
St. John's -1.84 36 4.47 19 +17 Siena 3.96 17 -3.79 39 -22
Towson -3.65 42 1.39 26 +16 Bryant 3.84 18 -4.65 41 -23
Bellarmine -3.05 41 1.21 28 +13 Colgate 8.95 7 -2.29 34 -27
Syracuse 4.22 15 9.83 3 +12 Navy 3.58 19 -6.04 47 -28
Cornell 6.65 12 14.66 1 +11 Massachusetts 14.19 1 -0.31 31 -30

*Two other teams had seven position falls -- Lafayette (from 47th to 53rd) and Delaware (from 37th to 44th). I've excluded them from the table so that the table looks pretty.

PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: BEST IMPROVEMENTS AND WORST REGRESSIONS
TEAM 2012 PYTH. WIN. % RANK 2013 PYTH. WIN. % RANK RANK IMPROVEMENT TEAM 2012 PYTH. WIN. % RANK 2013 PYTH. WIN. % RANK RANK REGRESSION
Pennsylvania 47.20% 33 71.94% 5 +28 Lafayette* 31.73% 47 28.60% 53 -6
North Carolina 57.05% 23 77.14% 2 +21 Drexel 58.86% 20 52.96% 28 -8
Holy Cross 25.96% 55 41.15% 36 +19 Canisius 29.31% 52 17.30% 59 -9
Providence 28.00% 53 41.55% 35 +18 Hartford 54.06% 27 40.58% 39 -12
Towson 40.23% 44 53.72% 26 +18 Georgetown 46.72% 34 34.70% 49 -15
Albany 45.50% 36 60.14% 19 +16 Siena 60.13% 18 40.83% 38 -20
St. John's 45.50% 36 59.21% 20 +16 Bryant 60.82% 16 37.26% 40 -24
Bellarmine 41.75% 41 53.92% 25 +16 Colgate 70.56% 7 44.14% 34 -27
Cornell 65.58% 14 81.26% 1 +13 Massachusetts 79.34% 1 49.19% 31 -30
Syracuse 61.43% 15 73.38% 3 +12 Navy 59.69% 19 33.98% 50 -31

*Six other teams had six position falls -- Mount St. Mary's (from 42nd to 48th), Jacksonville (from 38th to 44th), Delaware (from 37th to 43rd), Stony Brook (from 21st to 27th), Virginia (from 11th to 17th), and Princeton (from third to ninth). I've excluded them from the table so that the table looks pretty.

Some brief thoughts on all of this:

  • Pennsylvania was arguably the nation's most improved team from 2012 to 2013. The Quakers -- under the eye of the highly underrated Mike Murphy -- moved from a nationally average team to one that played like a top-10 quality club. While Pennsylvania's knockout game with Yale in the Ivy League Tournament took a little bit of shine off of the Quakers' diamond (Pennsylvania had NCAA Tournament aspirations this season, but circumstances didn't quite line up for the Quakers to make The Big Barbecue), the fact remains that no team improved its national standing from 2012 more than Pennsylvania. What's scary about the Quakers is that of the nine players that started at least 10 games this season for Pennsylvania, six -- Zack Losco, Drew Belinsky, Brian Feeney, Matt McMahon, Maxx Meyer, and Will Laco -- return to Philadelphia for the 2014 season.
  • Jim Morrissey is a sorcerer. What he has done in Worcester since taking over the Crusaders program midway through the 2011 season is nothing short of amazing. The Crusaders -- which have longed struggled before Morrissey's foray into the black arts -- have become a legitimately dangerous team, a nationally average team -- a compliment with respect to Holy Cross -- that is capable of hanging around and causing havoc. Much was made of Chris Gabrielli's season at Providence (which was bonkers considering (1) that this was Gabrielli's first season in Friartown, and (2) where the program was under Chris Burdick), but it may have been Morrissey's effort just west of Providence that held the nation's best story with respect to performance improvement.
  • Playing consistent defense matters. Case in point: North Carolina. What the Tar Heels were on the defensive end of the field compared to what Carolina became when defending the ball was the driving force behind the team's ascension to the nation's hyper elite. The entire staff at Carolina should be given a six-hour free trip to a petting zoo as a reward for the team's development at the defensive end of the field. As for the players, they get balloon animals for buying in.
  • I know fans of Navy weren't pleased with the season that the Mids put together. A mega ground-gainer in 2012 (Navy was one of the most improved teams from 2011 to 2012), the Midshipmen regressed in 2013. Navy is a different kind of animal with different kinds of program limitations and strengths; the situation in Annapolis isn't necessarily analogous to other programs around the country, thus rendering their progressions and regressions as somewhat unique. Rick Sowell has a solid track record; he may just need more time to reassert the Navy program -- a cornerstone of the Patriot League -- as players come through the Naval Academy Preparatory School.
  • Colgate and Massachusetts were stellar teams that became fairly average in 2013. There's nothing wrong with that, and in an era of college lacrosse where programs move somewhat fluidly through the hierarchy, regressions -- and future improvements -- are expected. The Minutemen never quite found their groove this year, dealing with a Will Manny hand injury and trying to replace several important contributors from the 2012 season. As for the Raiders, it never seemed to come together in Hamilton; the spark that the team had in 2012 never appeared in 2013. An 8-7 record is nothing to be ashamed of, but Mike Murphy may want to erase the memories of some tough losses this season (an 8-9 overtime loss to Hobart, a 4-10 defeat and the hands of Army, etc.). Sustaining elite status is incredibly difficult an era of leveraged competitiveness. Colgate and Massachusetts were victims of this "new normal" in 2013.
  • I wouldn't worry too much about Georgetown's regression. This was Kevin Warne's first season on The Hilltop and the Hoyas started playing their best lacrosse as the season started to accelerate toward its climax, even sliding into the Big East Tournament. The Hoyas are healthier than their ranking drop indicates.
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