2014 College Lacrosse Preview: Atlantic Sun Outlook

The lone season of Atlantic Sun lacrosse should be a show.

The Plot

Two new programs. One program that has played at the Division I level for just three seasons. Another that has just one tour of duty under its belt. And another program that has only nine wins over the last four seasons. The league's standard-bearer at this point is a program that found its Division I genesis in 2010. This is the Atlantic Sun: Characters from an incomplete Charles Dickens novel that find themselves in relative poverty attempting to overcome social stratification.

Exposition

Underlying background information -- team and league storylines -- that structures the plot.

TRUNCATED ATLANTIC SUN PROFILE: 2010-2013
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER) 24.65% 10
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS) 0.196 10

THE ATLANTIC SUN: MEMBERSHIP PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: 2010-2013
TEAM AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP. NATIONAL RANK
Jacksonville 44.24% 38
VMI 13.00% 58
Furman N/A N/A
High Point N/A N/A
Mercer N/A N/A
Richmond N/A N/A

Furman/Richmond

  • Contending in the Atlantic Sun isn't necessarily the primary focus for the Paladins and Spiders this season. Rather, the existences of Furman and Richmond this season are tied to functioning as a Division I program: Learning how to get on and off the bus like their peers; putting together 60-minute efforts that show no quit; implementing a culture that will return dividends in the future; developing leaders and role players; and understanding the preparation necessary to compete at college lacrosse's highest level. New programs have significantly struggled in recent seasons, holding an average Pythagorean win expectation value of just 19.19 percent. Wins aren't the issue for the Paladins and Spiders (even though playing in a weak Atlantic Sun may throw some victories in each teams' direction that may not inure to the programs if they were in another conference). The issue is acting like a team that sees its purpose and pursues it with enthusiasm. These are flawed teams -- two that may finish the year as some of Division I's weakest teams -- but maintaining deficiencies doesn't erase the opportunity to create preferable circumstances in the future.

High Point

  • There's no guarantee that a team will improve in all areas from year one to year two. Lots of factors are in play that impact development -- internal and external -- and High Point is facing those factors in 2014. The Panthers had a fairly impressive first effort in Division I lacrosse last season, but High Point can't rest on their achievements from a season ago if it hopes to take further strides in 2014. The history of new programs since 2010 illustrates the difficulty of transitioning to a second season of play:

    EFFORTS OF NEW PROGRAMS -- YEAR ONE TO YEAR TWO -- SINCE 2010
    TEAM YEAR I: PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION YEAR I: ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY YEAR I: ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY YEAR II: PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION YEAR II: ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY YEAR II: ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
    Jacksonville 52.89% (29) 26.09 (41) 25.13 (10) 43.80% (38) 27.41 (34) 29.90 (41)
    Mercer 6.94% (61) 17.10 (61) 39.51 (60) 5.80% (60) 17.00 (61) 41.80 (60)
    Michigan 21.88% (58) 24.10 (55) 36.37 (55) 22.37% (57) 26.05 (50) 36.92 (60)
    High Point 26.05% (50) 38.92 (60) 22.37 (57) ??? ??? ???
    Now, High Point is in a decent spot entering the coming spring. Jon Torpey assembled a roster that can platform itself well in 2014. There are a lot of bright spots in North Carolina, and a little bit of luck could send the Panthers to a beautiful reality. But the Panthers are still subject to the game's history of uneven growth from lift-off to orbit. Whether the Panthers can ignore this tradition and smash some skulls is the biggest issue facing High Point this coming season.

Jacksonville

  • The Dolphins are a gigantic favorite in the Atlantic Sun this year and, short of Earth spinning off its axis and crashing into the sun, the team should earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in its short history. There is concern, though, about Jacksonville's overall fervor:

    JACKSONVILLE'S LUCK IN 2013
    METRIC VALUE
    Record 8-5
    Actual Winning Percentage 61.54%
    Pythagorean Win Expectation 36.18%
    Expected Wins 5
    +/- Wins +3
    Winning Percentage Difference +25.36%
    Only Marist and Drexel were luckier -- or overachieved -- more than Jacksonville last season. These things tend to even out over time, and the Dolphins are staring at the business end of a bazooka in 2014: (1) The agenda is lined with elevated competition -- Notre Dame, Duke, Air Force, and Ohio State; and (2) Pressure is on Jacksonville to run the table in a depressed Atlantic Sun. Questions regarding the Dolphins' distortive record last season remain, and Jacksonville needs to overcome that in 2014. Perception matters, and the Dolphins have the opportunity to dictate how people view their program this season.

Mercer

  • Kyle Hannan didn’t have an exceptional season in his first year at Mercer last year, but given where the program was before he took over, things could have gone much worse for the former Goucher head coach. The team took some important strides on the offensive end of the field in 2013, but the team's defense -- long an Achilles' Heel for the Bears -- didn't similarly mature under Hannan's guidance. That's really the key for Mercer this coming season: Finding consistency and production from a defensive unit that shouldn't be overmatched against the slate the Bears will face in 2014. The focus isn't necessarily on Mercer's crease play (Mike Nugent was capable in the circle in 2013 and he'll return to anchor the Bears between the pipes in 2014); rather, it's on the Bears' field defense: In 2013, only 11 teams yielded more shots per defensive opportunity than Mercer did; only five teams yielded a defensive assist rate that exceeded Mercer's 22.53 per 100 defensive opportunities value; only 10 teams committed more penalties per 100 opportunities than the Bears and only two teams -- Sacred Heart and Towson -- played in man-down postures more than the Bears (Mercer, however, did a decent job at killing those circumstances, finishing in the top 25 in man-down conversion rate); and the team generated these values against a schedule ranked last nationally in opposing offenses faced. Mercer will go as far as the Bears' field defense takes them.

VMI

  • If the Keydets weren't the worst team in Division I lacrosse last season there weren't three teams that struggled more than the Keydets. VMI had a violently difficult time in its 13 games in 2013, an effort that resulted in a 1-12 record and saw the Keydets finish the season minus-103 -- !!!!!! -- in aggregate scoring margin. For VMI, the program's issue isn't execution or implementation of schemes; it's a shortfall in fundamental building blocks to success. When you look at VMI's performance in metrics that reflect a competency in fundamentals, the Keydets were deficient: VMI ranked 62nd in turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities; 53rd in unforced turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities; dead last in opponent caused turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities; dead last in run-of-play work rate -- run-of-play groundballs per 100 opportunities -- margin; 59th in offensive shooting rate; dead last in offensive assist rate; and 61st in defensive assist rate. Opportunity exists for the Keydets to take an important step forward in win-generation in the Atlantic Sun, but VMI still has problematic issues in simply how it operates on the lacrosse field. Taking care of the little things will ultimately determine the ceiling for the Keydets this season.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Richmond at Furman -- April 5th

  • GAME II: Jacksonville at High Point -- March 1st

  • GAME III: Mercer at High Point -- March 22nd

  • GAME IV: VMI at Mercer -- March 15th

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

There are four distinct tiers in the league at this point: Tier I -- Jacksonville; Tier II -- High Point and Mercer; Tier III -- VMI; and Tier IV -- The new programs. The Dolphins are likely locked into their place in the hierarchy, but there could be movement within Tier II, from Tier III to Tier IV, and within Tier IV itself.

PREDICTED ATLANTIC SUN ORDER OF FINISH: 2014
RANK TEAM
1. Jacksonville
2. High Point
3. Mercer
4. VMI
5. Furman
6. Richmond
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