Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (10) Duke

USA TODAY Sports

Your 2013 national champions achieved that feat almost magically.

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: Duke Blue Devils

2013 Record: 16-5 (2-1, ACC)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 2.75 (8)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 2.96 (4)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: +1.19%

2013 Efficiency Margin: 7.28 (10)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: -1.55

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • Duke discovered its spirit animal -- and got a little luck -- at the right time of the year. Winning a national title in this era of college lacrosse requires a difficult combination of things coming together: Talent reaching its potential; preferable matchups against quality competition; and the universe bestowing favor when slight differences often dictate outcomes. Duke made it work in May, weaving through the month in face-melting fashion. Folks tend to forget just what the Blue Devils needed to do to earn their second national title; the path to a Memorial Monday victory lap was far from a given for Duke both when the NCAA Tournament began and as it unfolded. In fact, based on year-end log5 calculations, the Devils would still be an underdog in every game that they played:

    log5 PROBABILITIES: DUKE'S IMPRESSIVE RUN TO HARDWARE
    GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG
    Loyola // (7) Duke Loyola (57.81%) (7) Duke (42.19%) (7) Duke // (2) Notre Dame (2) Notre Dame (53.97%) (7) Duke (46.03%)
    (7) Duke // Cornell Cornell (69.36%) (7) Duke (30.64%) (7) Duke // (2) Syracuse (2) Syracuse (59.00%) (7) Duke (41.00%)
    Duke was able -- due to a myriad of impressive performance points -- to surmount all of these teams despite having a performance profile that indicated that the Devils were going to have to play above their heads in each of those pressure-oriented games. That's . . . that's why John Danowski is one of the best -- if not the best -- in the game right now. But it's not just that Duke dropped favorites in each of its games in The Big Barbecue; rather, it's that Duke, based on every possibility during Championship Weekend between the Devils, Syracuse, Denver, and Cornell, had the longest odds to win the title yet still managed to take home gold:

    log5 PROBABILITIES: PROBABILITY OF DUKE WINNING THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
    RANK TEAM PROBABILITY
    1. Cornell 44.23%
    2. (1) Syracuse 25.47%
    3. (4) Denver 16.87%
    4. (7) Duke 13.43%
    A valid argument exists whether Duke was the best team in Division I lacrosse in 2013, but there's little argument around whether the Devils earned its championship. That's man-work, and Duke deserved what now sits in its trophy cabinet.

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

  • Duke's man-down profile is the kind of ugly that comes with an infomercial:

    DUKE'S MAN DOWN MAYHEM
    METRIC VALUE NAT'L RANK
    Penalties per 100 Opportunities 6.88 51
    Man-Down Postures per 100 Defensive Opportunities 13.81 60
    Man-Down Posture Reliance 15.89% 55
    Man-Down Posture Conversion Rate 37.36% 42
    This was a team that played with the personnel imbalance in the opponent's favor a lot, and those opponents relied -- fairly heavily -- on those scenarios to score against the Devils (partly due to the fact that Duke just wasn't a good man-down team). That's layered punishment -- from the officials and from opposing offenses taking advantage of preferable scoring opportunities -- and it almost burned Duke at an important time of the year -- in the national quarterfinals against Notre Dame. Before that game I wondered aloud whether Duke's proclivity for taking penalties would burn them against the Irish (a Notre Dame team that suffered from a bit of inefficiency with the bean). As it turns out, the Devils escaped Lucas Oil Stadium with a win despite creating circumstances that almost sent them back to Durham without a subsequent weekend of games: Notre Dame converted on three of four extra-man opportunities (the Irish neither played in a high volume of extra-man scenarios during the season nor did the Irish have an especially strong extra-man conversion rate (Notre Dame finished the season ranked 53rd in man-up conversion percentage)), falling to Duke by just a goal. Taking penalties puts teams on the edge, and Duke was able to survive itself this year despite staring precipitously at the abyss below.

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

  • Every time someone brings up a flaw about Duke -- the slow starts, the penalties, the need to blend towers of talent, etc. -- John Danowski finds a way to win. Duke seemingly avoids the fatality of flaws and just chugs along knowing that the journey will eventually take them to the desired destination. The Devils are going to start the 2014 season as a top three team (if not at the pole position), and, honestly, the only thing that Duke needs to worry about right now is being Duke. The "fix," then, is just letting Danowski do his thing.
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