Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (63) VMI

The Keydets had a really rough season.

You spent the better part of four months meticulously dissecting the 2013 college lacrosse season. You shouldn't stop now because cold turkey is a bad way to go through life, man. College Crosse is providing decompression snapshots of all 63 teams and their 2013 campaigns, mostly because everything needs a proper burial.

I. VITAL SIGNS

Team: VMI Keydets

2013 Record: 1-12 (1-5, MAAC)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -3.47 (57)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -2.30 (52)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: -20.88%

2013 Efficiency Margin: -21.48 (63)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: -5.53

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • Brian Anken's third tour with VMI was ugly, especially coming off of a 2012 season in which the Keydets won four games and were able to win three out of their last four contests (the victories in that closing stretch came against Manhattan, Mercer, and Detroit). It's tough to find some sunshine in VMI's 2013 campaign, but two things do stand out as impressive: (1) Matt Lindemann, the Keydets' now-departed keeper, withstood all kinds of fury this past season and performed fairly well in those circumstances; and (2) VMI didn't give up on its season, defeating Manhattan in late-April after 11 consecutive defeats. Lindemann's effort in 2013 was brilliant in its own special way: His save percentage (51.6) ranked 39th nationally; only 18 teams asked their keeper to end defensive possessions with a save more than VMI, and Lindemann played 95 percent of the Keydets' minutes (only two keepers -- Gerald Logan (Michigan) and Dillon Ward (Bellarmine) -- made more stops per game); Lindemann saw almost 1.2 shots per defensive opportunity, a mark that ranks in the highest third of the nation; and VMI played at a heavy possession deficit on the season, playing over five extra defensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play than their opponents (thanks, in part, to Stephen Robarge's graduation in 2012). That's a difficult situation for a goalie to compete within, and Lindemann did a notable job in net considering those circumstances. As for VMI's upset of Manhattan, I'm not sure that people would have bet real American dollars that the Keydets would pull out the win in Lexington prior to the game: While the Jaspers weren't exactly crushing souls in 2013, VMI entered that match with a resume that featured 11 straight losses (only one of which was by fewer than five goals (a 7-10 defeat at the hands of Canisius)) and had just gotten shellacked by Mercer (8-16). The Keydets managed to earn the Gatorade bath, though, and did so in fairly convincing fashion.

III. "YOU'RE GROUNDED UNTIL YOU QUALIFY FOR THE AARP!" FACT

  • Looking at VMI's profile, it's clear that the Keydets struggled defending and scoring the ball. The team ranked last in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and 61st in adjusted defensive efficiency. This is obviously a problem, but it's the controllable things that often drive these metrics that pushed VMI into the abyss this year -- turnovers, clearing, and corralling loose balls. The Keydets ranked 62nd in the country in turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities (60.26) (the team was 53rd in unforced turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities), 62nd in clearing percentage (74.48 percent); and last nationally in run-of-play groundball margin per 100 total opportunities (-9.37). The failed clears were offensive opportunities that couldn't gestate in the attack box, and VMI needed those opportunities because it struggled to get the ball in the back of the net (only four teams had a raw offensive shooting percentage worse than the Keydets' 22.96 percent mark); the turnovers -- partly attributable to a weak clearing game -- killed opportunities to embarrass opposing netminders; and the team's groundball rate put extra pressure -- combined with the team's inability to matriculate the ball into the attack box and the looseness to which the team possessed the ball -- on VMI's defense to perform. It's all wrapped together, and these small things lead to bigger issues. Teams that have disturbing values in these underlying metrics are often the ones that ultimately strain to find wins, and the Keydets were an example of that in 2013.

IV. MR. FIX-IT HAS A ONE-FIX ENGAGEMENT, AND IT'S . . .

  • There isn't a single-item fix for VMI. The Keydets aren't a prodigious scorer away from a .500 record; a defensive player developing to the point of all-league stature doesn't thrust VMI into the top half of the nation. There's a talent issue in Lexington -- the Keydets didn't put one player on any of the MAAC's all-league teams last year -- but I think that's subordinated behind something a little more straightforward: It's about fundamental execution -- valuing the ball, clearing better, getting in extra shooting practice, stronger defensive and offensive fluency, etc. If VMI takes care of the building blocks, there are wins available for the team in 2014 (especially in the Atlantic Sun).

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