Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (52) Sacred Heart

The Pioneers made the NEC final, but how did their season look in the overall?

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: Sacred Heart Pioneers

2013 Record: 3-11 (3-2, Northeast)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -2.43 (52)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -2.61 (54)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: -9.34%

2013 Efficiency Margin: -8.27 (52)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: -0.69

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • Reverse Survivor tends to catalogue teams that are often engulfed in flames, burning brighter and brighter until there is nothing left but ash and the forgotten remains of the once-existing. Sacred Heart, however, was able to pull through a critical situation, stabilizing itself when death would have been an easier option: After losing its first eight games (six of those games were gut wrenching, seeing the Pioneers fall by three goals or less), Sacred Heart rebounded to win three of its final six games, including victories over Mount St. Mary's (a 14-5 shellacking), Wagner (a 21-8 seismic explosion), and Robert Morris (a hard fought 14-13 victory, a game in which the Pioneers built a 10-5 lead early in the third quarter, squandered it through the penultimate period, but used an unanswered three-goal run over the last 51 seconds of the third period and first 1:15 of the fourth quarter to ensure the win). The Pioneers were better than a three-win team in 2013 (Sacred Heart's Pythagorean win expectation value (31.66 percent) shows that the Pioneers were closer to a four-win type of team), but it's more important that the Pioneers were able to recover from a difficult start to its season to salvage a position in the Northeast Conference Tournament (Sacred Heart entered its league playoff as the four-seed), and played fairly well against a superior Bryant squad (the Pioneers faced an 11-6 deficit to start the fourth quarter, but scored the game's only goals in the final quarter, bringing the final deficit to two (indicative of how close the game was through various stretches of play)). There isn't much solace in "Well, things could have been worse," but Sacred Heart -- a team that hasn't seen .500 since 2008 and only earned its first Northeast Conference Tournament bid this past year -- should take some pride in the fact that it battled for 14 games when it could have packed in its season more than halfway through the campaign.

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

  • The Pioneers' defense was a wagon taking on water while trying to ford the Columbia River (Sacred Heart ranked 55th in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2013); the Pioneers' overall success was arguably dictated by an offense that finished the season ranked 37th in adjusted offensive efficiency. That isn't necessarily a problem (many teams are influenced by performance on one side of the field), but for Sacred Heart there was an inherent issue in this: The offense pitched the ball away far too much, killing a positive situation (the Pioneers finished the season ranked 13th in possession margin per 60 minutes of play at 2.67) and making their lives unnecessarily difficult. Sacred Heart committed about 54 turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities (58th nationally); about 27 of those turnovers over the same basis were of the unforced variety (55th nationally) and 27 were forced (56th nationally). Sacred Heart needed to value its offensive possessions as (1) the team's offense was the Pioneers' strength, (2) with possession margin in the team's favor, it gave the Pioneers the opportunity to either keep pace with opponents or build a cushion on the scoreboard, and (3) Sacred Heart needed to insulate its defense from exposure; the excessive level of turnovers that the Pioneers engaged in, however, ruined what could have been a pretty good thing for Sacred Heart, ripping up a script that may have had some interesting plot developments for the Pioneers. Looking at the six games in which Sacred Heart lost by two goals or fewer (Holy Cross, Providence, Stony Brook, Vermont, Quinnipiac, and Bryant (in the Northeast Conference Tournament)), in only two games -- against the Bulldogs and Bobcats -- did the Pioneers commit fewer turnovers on a possession-by-possession basis than their opponent (in a raw, aggregate sense, the Pioneers were only stronger than Bryant); in the other four games, Sacred Heart was minus-26 in aggregate turnovers and were in an average turnover margin deficit of 16.93 on a 100 possession basis. That is horrendously bad, and considering that the Pioneers were never in a possession deficit against these teams (Sacred Heart was plus-seven against Holy Cross and Vermont, plus-two against Providence, and even with Stony Brook), the Pioneers were as much responsible for the final outcomes of these games (the team's offense -- which was its victory volition -- lost opportunity after opportunity to make the scoreboard blink) as their opponents' performances were.

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

  • Jon Basti, Sacred Heart's new head coach, needs some time and room. Tom Mariano guided the Pioneers for almost 20 years; Basti is going to need some space to find his own guys and build a program. Programs don't need incredible levels of talent or execution to thrive in the Northeast Conference, and Sacred Heart took some important steps in 2013 (despite an small level of regression). Some valuable pieces return to Fairfield next season -- Cody Marquis, Matt Gannon, Mike Mawdsley, Andrew Newbold, Tim Caton, etc. -- but the team needs to start operating on a level that doesn't make their job more difficult than it has to be. That starts with intelligent, controlled play (you don't even want to know what the team's penalty situation looked like in 2013 and what it meant for the defense), and playing to their potential. A trust in Basti's methods -- and a focus on the little things like protecting the ball and maximizing opportunities -- can yield immediate rewards for the Pioneers in 2014.
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