Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (43) UMBC

The Retrievers made the America East Tournament final, and that isn't too bad.

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: UMBC Retrievers

2013 Record: 7-8 (3-2, America East)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -1.14 (39)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 0.07 (28)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: +8.21%

2013 Efficiency Margin: -5.50 (43)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: +0.04

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • Teams that fail to hold a relatively high Pythagorean win expectation tend to rank fairly low in the "Fun Factor" scale. This is for a simple reason: The "Fun Factor" scale includes a team's Pythagorean win expectation as part of the formula (teams that win a bunch based on underlying performance metrics are, inherently, more interesting to watch (although, a decent argument can be made that it's actually more interesting to watch teams that struggle)). The "Fun Factor" scale also considers other items that impact (my admittedly personal definition of) watchability: The tempo at which teams play and the team's overall ability to embarrass opposing goaltenders (high scoring is the best kind of action . . . with extreme prejudice!). Among those considerations, though, a team's overall expectation of drives the team's overall "Fun Factor" ranking. The Retrievers, somewhat oddly, finished the season ranked fairly strongly in the scale despite holding a Pythagorean win expectation that ranked just 41st nationally (37.18 percent): UMBC ended 2013 ranked as the 29th most fun team to watch in the country. In fact, the Retrievers were the only team in the top 30 with a Pythagorean win expectation below 40 percent. That's . . . that's impressive and I'm not really sure what to think about all of this. UMBC received a bump here due to its pace (only six teams played more possessions per 60 minutes of play than the Retrievers (71.99)) and the rate at which the team canned the bean (UMBC held a raw offensive shooting rate of 31.03 percent, 13th nationally) pushed UMBC up the ladder. Fun doesn't win games but it does give a reason to watch; the Retrievers, given their style, were hanging around with Georgetown and Siena this year as teams that didn't finish with exemplary records but gave fans a reason to care about their efforts.

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

  • UMBC's defense has been the Retrievers' Achilles' heel the last few seasons (more on that below), and that was part of UMBC's problems in 2013. It wasn't just the Retrievers' defense that limited UMBC's ceiling this past season, though -- it was that the Retrievers exacerbated their defensive problems by putting extra pressure on the unit to perform. This comes in two varieties: (1) Failing to maximize offensive opportunities; and (2) Playing in a somewhat high volume of man-down defensive possessions. With respect to the former issue, UMBC finished the year in a positive possession margin posture (0.87 per 60 minutes of play, 25th nationally), but could have done much better: The Retrievers cleared at just 83.27 percent (52nd in the country); had UMBC cleared at the national average (85.96 percent), the Retrievers would have had around a 1.33 possession margin in their favor and could have (theoretically) erased about two goals off the board (not to mention the seven defensive opportunities that would have been jettisoned into the ether). Clearing matters, especially for a team like UMBC that needed to insulate its defense last year from overexposure. The team's faceoff rate (55.26 percent, 14th nationally) and ride rate (15.08 percent, 23rd nationally) was on point for possession-generation; the team kind of missed the boat on its clearing game. As for the latter issue, the Retrievers didn't do a good job at limiting ball watching (UMBC ranked 53rd in defensive assist rate (20.79 per 100 defensive opportunities) and got uneven crease play from Wes DiRito (UMBC finished the season ranked 61st in raw defensive shooting rate (33.51 percent), 62nd in team save percentage (43.88 percent), and 58th in saves per 100 defensive opportunities (27.53)); this is how a defense finishes the season ranked 51st in adjusted defensive efficiency. With such struggles on the defensive end of the field, UMBC made its job more difficult for itself by playing in a somewhat high volume of man-down postures (the Retrievers finished 41st in man-down situations per 100 defensive opportunities), circumstances that are difficult to overcome even for concrete defenses. Against a schedule ranked 29th in opposing offenses faced, this wasn't going to end well for the Retrievers. These are all -- admittedly -- little things, but when little things add up it causes problems.

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

  • Here's a table illustrating UMBC's performance the last four years in some selected metrics:

    UMBC: 2010-2013
    YEAR RECORD ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANK ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANK
    2013 7-8 (3-2) 51st 31st
    2012 5-8 (3-2) 52nd 37th
    2011 6-7 (3-2) 53rd 38th
    2010 4-9 (3-2) 32nd 36th
    Remaining static over a period of years is a positive when that performance ranks toward the top of the country; when it remains static and there are gaps in performance, results -- namely, wins and losses -- aren't going to go in the right direction. The Retrievers have been, over the last four seasons, a program with an average offensive profile and a weak defensive output (save the team's 2010 defensive effort). Until UMBC can get itself out of its defensive rut (assuming it can maintain its offensive performance), the Retrievers will continue to struggle to get to where it was in the late 2000's: An NCAA Tournament team and a double-digit win kind of program.
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