Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (2) North Carolina

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

The Tar Heels were outstanding in 2013.

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: North Carolina Tar Heels

2013 Record: 13-4 (2-1, ACC)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 2.95 (5)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 1.88 (13)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: +11.76%

2013 Efficiency Margin: 12.90 (2)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: +9.89

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • Going into 2013, I ranked the Tar Heels eighth on my preseason media poll ballot. This was lower than most voters had Carolina going into the season, but I had concerns about North Carolina's defense -- a unit that was leaky in 2012 -- and whether it would take a step forward in 2013. Those concerns, as it turned out, were unfounded: The Heels became one of the stronger defensive teams in the nation last year, finding a groove and solidifying their situation in the crease with freshman Kieran Burke. The development of that unit from 2012 to 2013 is fairly incredible:

    CAROLINA'S DEFENSIVE GROWTH: 2012 TO 2013
    METRIC 2012 2013
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 31.37 (36) 26.84 (16)
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.05 (34) 1.04 (20)
    Raw Defensive Shooting Percentage 30.22% (40) 26.95% (20)
    Defensive Assist Rate 22.18 (57) 15.28 (16)
    Man-Down Postures per 100 Defensive Opportunities 13.53 (56) 9.47 (16)
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 33.08 (22) 34.05 (28)
    Team Save Percentage 51.16% 54.81% (19)
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 30.34 (24) 32.18 (6)
    Here's what that defensive development meant for Carolina: The Tar Heels went from a team expected to win about 57 percent of its games (23rd nationally) to a team expected to win around 77 percent of its contests (second nationally). Now, North Carolina improved on the offensive end as well (the Heels ranked 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2012 and finished 2013 ranked second nationally in the same metric, improving by about six goals per 100 offensive opportunities), but the gap that Carolina closed in its defensive performance metrics -- about five goals per 100 defensive opportunities -- was decidedly important for Carolina in 2013 as the team actually played in a possession margin deficit in 2013 (about half a possession, a mark that ranked 34th nationally). Had the Tar Heels not improved as drastically as they did at the defensive side of the ball, Carolina could have been in a bucket of monkey poo given the relative exposure that the team's defense faced. This across-the-board growth from the Tar Heels' defense stands as one of the most notable developments in the nation, especially considering that it was necessary for Carolina to reach its performance potential.

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

  • The second half collapse from Carolina in the national quarterfinals will haunt the program in the near future, but that was already discussed in the Denver decompression. Instead of rehashing that, there's something else that stands out as a weird wart in the Heels' 2013 campaign: The neutral-site loss to a re-tooling and Will Manny-less Massachusetts team in Georgia. Now, the Minutemen weren't bad this past year -- the Minutemen finished the year ranked 31st in Pythagorean win expectation -- but Carolina probably should have left the deep south with a victory: According to a year-end log5 analysis, the Tar Heels would have a 78 percent chance of victory against Massachusetts. It's not just that Carolina was a superior team to the Minutemen that makes brains leak out of your ears when you consider the result; rather, it's that North Carolina led 11-8 at the start of the fourth quarter and yielded four unanswered goals to the Minutemen over the final 15 minutes of play. In that period: (1) The Heels had seven offensive opportunities, burning an extra-man opportunity on one, turning the ball over on another out of a timeout, blowing a clear on their penultimate offensive opportunity, and seeing Zach Oliveri kill two opportunities with saves; and (2) Massachusetts had eight offensive opportunities in that period, getting two goals directly off of face-off win possessions and another goal that was earned from a possession that started with an Oliveri stop (the Minutemen also committed two turnovers in the period to which Carolina couldn't capitalize). That's a tough way to lose a game that should have ended up in the left-hand column of Carolina's record.

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

  • Continue to realize the potential. North Carolina has a roster as talented as any team in the nation; Joe Breschi has been stockpiling elite talent ever since he departed Columbus for Chapel Hill. It's all there for the Heels, but the team needs to continue to keep its head down and focus on the little things. ACC play doesn't get any easier with the additions of Notre Dame and Syracuse; if Carolina puts things on cruise control, all the growth that the team experienced in 2013 will be lost.
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