Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (59) Mercer

The Kyle Hannan regime has Season One in the books.

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: Mercer Bears

2013 Record: 4-8 (Independent)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -6.34 (62)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -4.54 (59)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: +26.19%

2013 Efficiency Margin: -12.87 (59)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: +11.92

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • 2013 could have been a disaster for Mercer: Former head coach Jason Childs left the program for Shorter University (a Division II program) in early July 2012, forcing the school to scramble for a new head lacrosse coach; when Kyle Hannan, formerly of Goucher College (a Division III concern), assumed control in early August, he missed the bulk of the summer recruiting season and was left to piece together a schedule that was incomplete; due to the schedule crunch, Hannan was forced to add two Division II schools to the team's 2013 schedule, one of which -- Lees-McRea -- backed out leaving Mercer with only 12 games last season; and the Bears were still in the process of learning to function as a Division I program, trying to move from the bottom of the hierarchy to a more notable position. And yet, Mercer survived and grew in 2013: The team won three games against Division I competition (a 10-9 defeat of St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, a 12-11 defeat of Wagner on Staten Island, and a 16-8 demolition of VMI in Lexington); the team hung tough against Towson (an 8-9 overtime defeat), Manhattan (an 11-12 loss), and High Point (a tough 10-12 defeat that the Bears lost in the fourth quarter); and the offense, led by three fairly sharp players in Chris Baxa (just a freshman in 2013), Zack Ward, and Cole Branch, inched its way up the national charts, finishing 50th in adjusted offensive efficiency and showing well in selected underlying offensive metrics. It'd be a stretch to say that Mercer was excellent in 2013, but considering where the season could have gone given the problems the program faced over the summer and leading into fall ball, the Bears should be exceptionally proud of their effort last year.

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

  • Mercer was a bit of a defensive mess in 2013. Even with possession margin strongly in the Bears' favor (only 18 teams played with a stronger possession margin per 60 minutes of play), Mercer still ranked 60th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. Balancing against an offense that was notably stronger than the defensive production the team put in, it was the Bears' defense that kind of hurt the team in the overall. Usually this scenario involves uneven crease play, but Mike Nugent put in a fairly strong effort in 2013: He held a 55.3 save percentage and ended somewhere around 40 percent of the team's defensive opportunities with a save while under heavy fire (the Bears yielded around 1.2 shots per defensive opportunity). Connectedly, it was arguably Mercer's field defense that drove the team's suspect defensive performances: Only 11 teams yielded more shots per defensive opportunity; only five teams yielded a defensive assist rate that exceeded Mercer's 22.53 per 100 defensive opportunities value; only 10 teams committed more penalties per 100 opportunities and only two teams -- Sacred Heart and Towson -- played in man-down postures more than the Bears (Mercer, however, did a decent job at killing those circumstances, finishing in the top 25 in man-down conversion rate); and the team generated these values against a schedule ranked last nationally in opposing offenses faced. The defense just wasn't quite what it needed to be given the strategic underpinnings of the effort (it felt like a hunker-in-and-survive defense, and it didn't quite execute the way it should have), and that'll need to improve as the 2014 season approaches.

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

  • Believe in Hannan. Look: Mercer is still growing; the Bears showed nice sparks of life in 2013 and the team was improved from 2012, even though Mercer could have stumbled given their Summer 2012 issues. Patience and continued development is the name of the game in Georgia, and Mercer is slowly getting in a position to start rattling some cages (especially in the Atlantic Sun). This is still a program that found its genesis in 2011, just two years ago and under a different program navigator. Measured growth is okay, and the Bears are on that path. If Hannan and his staff can clean up Mercer's defensive problems, the Bears move closer to the top of the bottom of the nation (if that makes any sense) than the basement of the country.
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