Eulogizing the 2013 College Lacrosse Season: (15) Penn State

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Jeff Tambroni continues to develop the Nittany Lions program.

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: Penn State Nittany Lions

2013 Record: 12-5 (6-0, THUNDERDOME!)

2013 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 0.82 (24)

2012 Strength of Schedule (Efficiency Margin): 2.00 (12)

Winning Percentage Change from 2012: +10.59%

2013 Efficiency Margin: 5.28 (15)

Efficiency Margin Change from 2012: +2.40

II. "ATTA BOY!" FACT

  • Penn State's defense was silly effective in 2013, once again finding a place among the national elite. With a strong backstop in The Blonde Satan (Austin Kaut) and a field defense that put two players on the All-THUNDERDOME! first team (Steven Bogart and Tyler Travis), the Lions' defensive play this past season drove the team's success. It's a bonkers profile:

    PENN STATE'S TORTURE CARNIVAL
    METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 24.54 6
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.10 33
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 22.20% 4
    Defensive Assist Rate 12.45 3
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 37.92 17
    Team Save Percentage 60.91% 2
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 30.51 30
    But it isn't just that the Nittany Lions were a soul-crushing force of human disdain. Rather, it was that the Nittany Lions were defensively exceptional even against some of the nation's best offenses. Outside of efforts against Denver and Lehigh, Penn State was able to hold opponents that ranked, at year's end, in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency to a scoring rate under their season-long value. This is how you bend reality in your favor (or at least make the circumstances manageable):

    PENN STATE AGAINST TOP-20 OFFENSES
    OPPONENT FINAL SCORE OPPONENT OFF. EFF. RANK RAW PENN STATE DEF. EFF.
    Denver 15-12 (W) 1 (40.92) 41.38
    Drexel 13-6 (W) 8 (36.28) 18.18
    Lehigh 10-12 (L) 11 (34.69) 38.71
    Ohio State 9-10 OT (L) 14 (33.91) 30.30
    Bucknell 11-3 (W) 16 (32.26) 9.68
    Villanova 7-6 (W) 19 (31.31) 22.22
    Penn State absolutely obliterated Drexel and Bucknell's existence, curb-stomping their faces and then putting the bodies through a wood chipper to finish the job. Those are insane defensive efforts against two of the best offensive teams in the nation; the margins of victory, of course, heavily influenced by the Nittany Lions' ability to limit anything that either the Dragons or Bison could get going. The hallmark of great defenses is performing well against phenomenal competition, and Penn State pretty much kept its composure when it could have gone into a tailspin and underperformed against some of the nation's most remarkable offenses.

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

  • Penn State's loss to Yale in the NCAA Tournament was dastardly (a 7-10 defeat in which the Lions led the Elis 5-1 at the break), but that Yale team was a monster and was just a few ticks away from beating Syracuse and advancing to Championship Weekend. (Plus, according to a log5 analysis, that Yale-Penn State game was basically a push.) If you're looking for a Penn State effort that earns a smashed tomato, it's the team's defeat in the THUNDERDOME! final, a 10-11 loss to Towson (the lone blemish on the Nittany Lions' 2013 THUNDERDOME! campaign). It's not just that Penn State lost -- the Lions, according to a year-end log5 analysis, would be 61 percent favorites over the Tigers -- but rather that Penn State's defense had a gruesome day against a fairly pedestrian Towson offense:

    PENN STATE'S DEFENSIVE LAPSE AGAINST TOWSON (THUNDERDOME! FINAL)
    METRIC V. TOWSON TOWSON ON THE SEASON*^ PENN STATE ON THE SEASON^
    Defensive Efficiency 33.33 29.57^ 24.54^
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 34.38% 25.56% 22.20%
    Defensive Assist Rate 15.55 15.83 12.45
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 18.18 33.33 37.92
    Team Save Percentage 35.29% 52.80% 60.91%
    *: This is Towson's offensive analogue. For example: Defensive efficiency shifts to offensive efficiency.
    ^: Season-long values are adjusted for competition faced where noted with an '^.'
    There are no givens in Division I lacrosse these days; the depth of talent in the cohort is stronger than it has ever been. However, the anatomy of an upset -- and the Tigers' defeat of the Nittany Lions was an upset (LaxPower ranks it as the 13th most notable upset of the season) -- hasn't changed much through the years: The underdog playing above its head while the favorite struggles (most often in its best area of play). Against Towson, Penn State put together an uneven performance when it couldn't afford to do so.

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

  • The knock against Penn State the last few seasons is that the Lions haven't had an offense to complement its defense, holding the Nittany Lions back from charging at the top of the college lacrosse hierarchy. There is truth to this, but Penn State is going in the right direction: Jeff Tambroni has offensive talent in the fold now at University Park; the only question relating to this talent is the development arc that it will take. TJ Sanders is a legitimate underclass force, Shane Sturgis is finding his form, Tom LaCrosse took an important role in the midfield for Penn State in 2013, The Kyles (Zittel and VanThof) are nice pieces -- there are offensive assets in place for Penn State to make the scoreboard blink efficiently in 2014. If these guys are ready to step into the void left by Nick Dolik and Jack Forster (not to mention to recruiting haul that Tambroni is bringing in), the Nittany Lions could have the balance at both ends of the field that Tambroni has been working toward.

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