Which Teams Had the Nation's Easiest Schedules in 2013?

Gail Oskin

"Easy," of course, is relative.

There's nothing "easy" about Division I lacrosse. Teams, like, need to play games and lift weights and stay vigilant to the ever-present possibility of the robot apocalypse starting in their backyard -- that's tough stuff. It's just that some teams, either by design or circumstance, have a somewhat easier slate to play compared to some of their peers. There's nothing wrong with that -- we're all special snowflakes, after all -- but it does illustrate some things about specific seasons and performances.

This is an analogue to the piece that ran yesterday about the teams with the nation's hardest schedules. It examines the same metrics and the associated thoughts are consistent with the preceding piece. Again, I care more about the second table than the first (for various reasons).

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE: TOUGHEST OFFENSES AND DEFENSES FACED
TEAM RANK SOS: OPP. OFF. TEAM RANK SOS: OPP. DEF.
Quinnipiac 54. 28.80 Hartford 54. 32.02
Army 55. 28.52 Stony Brook 55. 32.10
Detroit 56. 28.31 Binghamton 56. 32.36
St. Joseph's 57. 28.13 Jacksonville 57. 32.59
Jacksonville 58. 27.99 Vermont 58. 32.62
Manhattan 59. 27.95 Marist 59. 32.67
VMI 60. 27.75 Robert Morris 60. 32.73
Marist 61. 27.73 Mercer 61. 32.75
Wagner 62. 27.32 Manhattan 62. 32.94
Mercer 63. 26.41 Wagner 63. 33.85

Some brief thoughts:

  • Army ranked third in the nation in scoring defense (goals allowed per game), but it was against a schedule that didn't feature all that many destructive opposing offenses. When you adjust the Black Knights' defensive effort for competition faced and look at their performance on a possession-by-possession basis, Army ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Cadets rolled with one of the strongest defenses in the country -- anchored by Brendan Buckley and Sam Somers -- but the Knights' unadjusted scoring defense rank is a little non-contextual and misleading.
  • Marist ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense (goals per game), but only four teams in the country saw a weaker slate of opposing defenses compared to the Red Foxes' schedule. When you adjust for possessions played and competition faced, Marist ranks 26th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Among the teams in the above-table, that's the most notable variance. That's not to say that the Red Foxes were impotent or useless; rather, it's just that the Red Foxes have more noise in their per-game ranking than some other schools. In fact, I think that you could make a decent argument that Robert Morris -- which ranked 12th in scoring offense but 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency -- actually had a stronger offense this season than Marist based on each school's output and the relatively similar defenses each team faced.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE: EFFICIENCY MARGIN AND PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION
TEAM RANK SOS: EFF. MARGIN TEAM RANK SOS: PYTH. WIN EXP.
Detroit 54. -2.98 Vermont 54. 40.92%
Quinnipiac 55. -3.05 Quinnipiac 55. 40.61%
Vermont 56. -3.13 Detroit 56. 40.49%
VMI 57. -3.47 Robert Morris 57. 37.86%
Robert Morris 58. -3.65 VMI 58. 37.86%
Jacksonville 59. -4.60 Marist 59. 36.38%
Marist 60. -4.93 Jacksonville 60. 35.99%
Manhattan 61. -5.00 Manhattan 61. 35.17%
Mercer 62. -6.34 Mercer 62. 32.81%
Wagner 63. -6.53 Wagner 63. 30.96%

Some brief thoughts:

  • Wagner has to be the toughest job in the country. It has to, because if it isn't, then the universe isn't making any damn sense and we should start over, likely manufacturing another big bang and hoping that everything works out for the best. The Seahawks had the easiest schedule in the nation last year and followed it up with the country's easiest slate again this season (it was actually marginally easier in 2013). Wagner responded with just a 0.55 percent winning percentage increase (that ranks 32nd in the nation) but wasn't able to add to its 2012 win total. You have to have a heart made of angry concrete to not want to see Wagner kick off its shackles and compete at a higher level; the Seahawks, however, just aren't at that point in Matt Poskay's tenure. That's just a really hard situation to find success.
  • Mercer and Manhattan welcomed new head coaches in 2013, and the level at which both scheduled this year is intelligent given the circumstances. The Bears' schedule -- which originally included two Division II teams but ultimately ended with only one game against a lower division opponent -- was also the function of a tough situation in getting opponents on the slate. You can't scoff at either school for the slate they played considering the statuses of both programs.
  • Marist ranked fourth nationally in winning percentage improvement over 2012 (48.57 percent) and put four extra wins on the board compared to 2012. The Red Foxes, however, had the most notable schedule strength regression from last season to this year. Was the decrease in Marist's schedule strength the reason the Red Foxes saw notable improvement in their record? Maybe, but it wasn't the only driver for Marist: The Red Foxes improved their adjusted efficiency margin and Pythagorean win expectation rankings from 40th (in both measures) in 2012 to 32nd (in both measures) in 2013. This is a team that moved from the bottom third of the country to right around the middle of the nation in terms of performance activity and expectation. So, Marist was improved over last year, but I'm not quite sure that the Red Foxes were absolutely four wins better than a season ago. The decrease in schedule strength has a role in Marist's season, but the overall improvement that Keegan Wilkinson got out of the Red Foxes was also a factor in the team's success.
  • Quinnipiac is in a similar position as Marist, but the Bobcats' situation isn't quite as strong as that of the Red Foxes. Only five teams in the nation had a more drastic drop in their strength of schedule than Quinnipiac, yet only nine teams had a stronger rise in winning percentage from 2012 to 2013 compared to the Bobcats' mark (21.43 percent, an extra three wins for Quinnipiac over a season ago). Was this attributable to the drop in schedule strength? Again, the answer is "partially-maybe": Like Marist, Quinnipiac's adjusted efficiency margin ranking improved from 57th in the nation to 49th. That's not totally attributable to an easier schedule; the Bobcats played better in 2013 than they did in 2012. With all that youth that had been hanging around Hamden, Eric Fekete started to see his guys come around a little bit. So, the schedule may have mattered -- and had a hand in the three extra wins -- but Quinnipiac was also a better team this year than last.
  • Robert Morris had a 20 percent drop off in winning percent (the nation's 11th biggest regression) and the Colonials' schedule was actually easier in 2013 than 2012 (only eight teams had a more notable easing up on their slate). Losing Kiel Matisz has consequences, you guys. I still love you, Robert Morris, and you're even more interesting given this weird wrinkle in existence.
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