Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (7) Lehigh

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

A tough draw in the first round of the NCAA Tournament ultimately doomed the Mountain Hawks.

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: Lehigh Mountain Hawks

2013 Record: 12-5 (6-0, Patriot)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 0.56 (25)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): -0.39 (40)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: -11.76%

2013 Efficiency Margin: 8.76 (7)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: -1.69

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • This is what I wrote about Lehigh last year with respect to their "fix" going into 2013:
    The "fix" isn't necessarily a "fix" but rather a desire: Keep it all together and show me 2012 wasn't an aberration. Lehigh has all kinds of potential to be very dangerous again in 2013, but the history of this program hasn't exactly been one where back-to-back season of double-digit wins is a common occurrence. The Mountain Hawks' learned how to win big in 2012; now the charge is whether they can keep winning big, which is something that a lot of programs struggle to overcome.
    You're likely having blood leak from your ears after suffering through months of a dangerous brain worm infection if you believe that Lehigh didn't accomplish that task: The Mountain Hawks remained among the nationally elite in 2013, carrying forward a foundation laid -- somewhat surprisingly -- in 2012. The program went undefeated in a league ranked fifth in conference Pythagorean win expectation (just a shade below the ECAC), beat solid programs in Villanova, Penn State, and Bucknell (twice), won a dozen games en route to the NCAA Tournament, and generally kept pace with the standard that the program set in 2012:

    LEHIGH'S SUSTAINED SKULL-CRUSHING
    METRIC 2012 2013
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 33.90 (14) 34.69 (11)
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 23.45 (6) 25.94 (14)
    Adjusted Efficiency Margin 10.45 (5) 8.76 (7)
    Pythagorean Win Expectation 75.81% (4) 71.13% (7)
    There's ebb and flow here, but it's not the kind of ebb and flow that you see with programs that fail to maintain membership in the Championship Weekend Yacht and Lacrosse Club: The Mountain Hawks' didn't meaningfully slide in important metrics. That's important for two reasons: (1) Lehigh did feel the pain of important graduation departures and still managed to hold its position in the national hierarchy; and (2) Lehigh kept its focus following a historically ridiculous 2012 campaign, and that indicates both great talent in Bethlehem as well as structured leadership. As a contrast, Colgate struggled to realize what Lehigh did in 2013; the Mountain Hawks' effort last season was decidedly impressive.

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

  • Lehigh went 5-4 against teams with a Pythagorean win expectation value of 50 percent or greater. That's a decent record against the nation's better teams (the Mountain Hawks beat Villanova (30th), Penn State (15th), Army (18th), and Bucknell (12th) (twice); the Mountain Hawks lost to Denver (10th); Air Force (23rd); Pennsylvania (fifth); and North Carolina (second)), but it's a wrinkle in that record that makes me want to deny Lehigh worker's compensation benefits: The Mountain Hawks dropped three games that they a) could have won, or b) were expected to compete more fervently. The following table explores that theory:

    LEHIGH'S LOST OPPORTUNITIES
    OPPONENT FINAL SCORE LEHIGH'S EXPECTED CHANCE OF VICTORY
    Denver 10-18 (L) 53.78%
    Air Force 10-15 (L) 66.17%
    Pennsylvania 4-6 (L) 49.00%
    Despite being a small favorite against the Pioneers, Denver straight-up thumped Lehigh, shattering what was an 8-8 tie at the 12:33 mark of the third period with a 10-2 run over the final 25 minutes of play. The Mountain Hawks underachieved in a spot where they could have grabbed a valuable win. As for the losses to Air Force and Pennsylvania, Matt Poillon -- Lehigh's all-everything crease monster -- did not play, but:
    • Lehigh folded late in the game (not unlike the team's effort the day prior against Denver), yielding three unanswered goals in the last seven minutes of regulation to an average Falcons team. In fact, the only lead that Lehigh held against Air Force was an early 1-0 advantage; the Mountain Hawks never led at any other stage of the game. Matt Poillon was an important piece to Lehigh's success in 2013, but Lehigh still had the juice to show stronger -- in a difficult spot -- than what the final five-goal deficit illustrated.
    • The loss to the Quakers is reasonable, yet you'd like to see a nationally-elite team win a game against a competitive peer in a "push" type of game. The difference between going 12-5 and 13-4 or 14-3 often turns on efforts in those kinds of contests. Lehigh went just 2-2 in competitive-equal games (both wins coming against the Bison), including the loss to the Quakers.

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

  • Two big factors in Lehigh's success have punched their ticket to the real world: Dante Fantoni and David DiMaria have traded their lacrosse sticks for lunch pails, now forced to spend their days daydreaming about bamboozling goalkeepers while they drone on at their desks. Fantoni and DiMaria have been key cogs in the Mountain Hawks' offensive fortunes over the last two seasons, and their absence in 2014 is going to create a vacuum. There is talent remaining on the roster that can step into each cat's shoes -- Dan Taylor and Patrick Corbett have high ceilings -- but what Fantoni and DiMaria accomplished in Bethlehem is going to take time to replace. The sooner the Mountain Hawks are able to address their new reality without either attack, the better the team's transition to 2014.
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