2014 College Lacrosse Preview: Big East Outlook

Drew Hallowell

Syracuse and Notre Dame are out. Denver is in.

The Plot

The Big East has been an odd league since its inception in 2010. The conference started sponsoring men's lacrosse as a vehicle to grow the league's lacrosse concerns in the wake of Syracuse's success, but the result of that intent has been somewhat unclear. The departures of Syracuse and Notre Dame for the ACC further muddy the picture:

HAVE THE BIG EAST'S LEGACY TEAMS GROWN THANKS TO THE BIG EAST CONFERENCE?
TEAM 2013 PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION 2012 PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION 2011 PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION 2010 PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION
Georgetown 34.70% (49) 46.72% (34) 58.20% (22) 58.97% (16)
Marquette 17.69% (54) N/A N/A N/A
Providence 41.55% (35) 28.00% (53) 22.72% (55) 12.20% (59)
Rutgers 31.53% (52) 28.00% (52) 37.95% (48) 48.71% (34)
St. John's 59.21% (20) 45.50% (36) 39.68% (47) 26.17% (53)
Villanova 51.17% (30) 51.80% (29) 60.88% (17) 52.60% (30)

It's kind of a mixed bag. Regardless, those programs that relied on the Orange and Irish to propel them toward potential greatness are now on their own -- with Denver -- to make their own breaks. This is a different kind of league in 2014, even if it holds the same name and many of the same actors from prior iterations of the conference.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED BIG EAST PROFILE: 2010-2013
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER) 45.28% 6
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS) 0.171 9

THE BIG EAST: MEMBERSHIP PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: 2010-2013
TEAM AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP. NATIONAL RANK
Denver 67.15% 10
Villanova 54.11% 23
Georgetown 49.65% 31
St. John's 42.39% 42
Rutgers 36.55% 48
Providence 26.12% 55
Marquette N/A N/A

Denver

  • Denver is going to light up the nation in 2014, but the team isn't without concerns. The biggest issue that the Pios face may be the vacuum that six players -- Eric Law (A), Cam Flint (M), Chase Carraro (M/FO), Kyle Hercher (D), Gordie Koerber (A), Colin Scott (A) -- created due to their departures. The coaching staff that the Pioneers have is among the best in the nation, but those cats in polo shirts still need to find a way to fill the holes created by bodies no longer wearing the gold and maroon. All kinds of talent still dots Denver's roster -- Wes Berg (A), Eric Adamson (A/M), Jeremy Noble (M), Carson Cannon (D), Jack Bobzien (A), Ryan LaPlante (G), and Jamie Faus (G) -- but that talent is going to be integrated into the Pios' reality in ways that weren't necessary a year ago. This could create problems for Denver at the sunrise of the 2014 season, but the Pioneers are facing a situation where its concerns can be worked out in non-deadly situations: Of the Pioneers' first four games, Denver will face only one -- Duke -- hyper-elite opponent. Allowing Denver's assets to determine their value outside of the crushing pressure of facing opponents capable of delivering early-season mortal wounds should benefit the Pioneers significantly. Denver should be a machine in May, but its February look could require some smoothing of edges.

Georgetown

  • The key for the Hoyas in 2014 is continuing the play the team exhibited in its final six games of 2013. Kevin Warne's tenure on The Hilltop started slowly but managed to accelerate as the calendar started to flip toward warmer months. Compared to the team's season-long performance values, Georgetown was, over its final half-dozen games, more offensively efficient (about three-and-a-half goals better per 100 offensive opportunities), more defensively efficient (about four-and-a-half goals stronger per 100 defensive opportunities), a better shooting team (just over two percent more accurate), a better defensive shooting team (about four percent stronger), more effective at moving the ball (generating about a third of an assist more per 100 offensive opportunities), and more effective at limiting defensive ball watching (the team was almost three assists better per 100 defensive opportunities). That's notable development from a program that opened 2013 with a loss to Lafayette. If the Hoyas can pick up where they left off in 2013, Georgetown could quickly elevate its play in Warne's second season.

Marquette

  • It's hard to argue that Marquette didn't exceed expectations last season. The Golden Eagles -- in only their first season of play at the Division I level -- finished the 2013 season toward the top of the bottom 10 of the nation. Considering where most first-year programs finish, Marquette's position on the national landscape is impressive and indicative of the program's volition in future seasons. The key for the Golden Eagles in 2014, though, isn't necessarily increasing the team's win total; rather, it's about focusing on internal development and doing the little things that keep teams competitive in the overall despite difficult circumstances. Marquette may have over-scheduled this spring (the Eagles' nonconference slate includes dates against Lehigh, Hofstra, Ohio State, Duke, and Notre Dame), but that shouldn't restrict Marquette from implementing the keys for future success: An eye toward excelling at fundamental play (managing turnovers, shot selection, limited ball watching, sustainable clearing efforts, limiting penalties; etc.); playing hard for 60 minutes when the desire to quit is pressing; and finding comfort in playing in tough spots. The Eagles have a lot to be proud of given their 2013 campaign, but there is still much room to grow for the outpost program.

Providence

  • Chris Gabrielli did the seemingly impossible last season in Providence in just his first season with the Friars: He made Providence more than a tire fire. The level of improvement that the Friars exhibited from 2012 to 2013 stands as one of the most pronounced in the nation. Providence, though, wasn't without flaws. Going into 2014, an important issue dominates the program: Can Providence fix its problems in generating opportunities if the team's defense continues to lag behind the offense's maturation?

    THE PROVIDENCE PROBLEM: 2013
    METRIC VALUE RANKING N'TL AVERAGE
    Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin -2.30 48th -0.13
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.03 28th 30.10
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 33.53 44th 31.38
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 32.57% 60th 28.10%
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 30.00 48th 34.17
    Team Defensive Save Percentage 48.33% 52nd 52.58%
    It takes time to develop, and Providence is staring at two growth areas -- in possession margin and defensive execution -- that require immediate attention. The team's ceiling is likely determined, in large part, by the Friars' efforts in curing their deficiencies with respect to those two areas of performance. In short, greater balance in the team's totality of play is the power plant to Providence's continued elevation in play under Gabrielli.

Rutgers

  • There are a lot of good things in place for the Scarlet Knights this year: Rutgers has a coach that can find success in Brian Brecht; Kris Alleyne has all the makings of an elite keeper; Scott Klimchak is a solid finisher; Nick DePaolera and Scott Bieda are capable facilitators through the midfield and at attack, respectively; and Joseph Nardella is a horse at the dot. The question for the Scarlet Knights is whether everything will start to coalesce on the banks this season. Rutgers is rolling with 14 -- !!!! -- seniors in 2014, a leadership group that has experienced massive struggles while transitioning from Jim Stagnitta's regime to Brecht's vision for the program. This group is ready to explode toward something other than sustained misery and questionable wins against inferior opposition. Rutgers hasn't been positioned well in recent years to experience growth, but valuable factors are in place for the Scarlet Knights to claw out of the crab bucket they've been stuck in. A Big East Tournament invitation may be a reach for Rutgers, but finishing with a handful of league wins and competitive performances in its conference slate is a legitimate possibility.

St. John's

  • The best analogue that I can come up with when thinking about St. John's this coming season is Albany 2013: An attack-oriented team that should melt faces with tons of offense and an elite attackman; defensive questions that may limit the team's ceiling and create issues in pulling away from opponents. There's no question that the Johnnies can make the scoreboard blink thanks to the continued matriculation of Kieran McArdle at St. John's, but the losses at the defensive end for the Red Storm -- Dillon Ayers (LSM) and Jeff Lowman (G) are the team's biggest departures -- are concerning for a program that ranked just 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. The growth of the Johnnies on the back end is ultimately the determining factor in where St. John's goes in 2014, especially the team's performance in the crease. The Red Storm are loaded with potential, but a realization of kinetic energy may define just how much pain St. John's can unload on its opponents in a very manageable league.

Villanova

  • Finding consistent goaltending and filling the void of now-departed offensive savants are the overt issues that Villanova will face as the Wildcats approach the sunrise to the 2014 season, but there may be something a little more pressing for Villanova: Rediscovering the keys to closing games. The Wildcats were abysmal at finishing games last year against elite competition, and the team's inability to shred carcasses like a predator after 45 minutes of play ultimately killed the 'Cats' hopes for a trip to the NCAA Tournament and a plus-.500 record:

    [FACEPALM I]
    OPPONENT SCORE AT THE END OF Q3 FINAL SCORE
    Lehigh Down 7-8 9-11 (L)
    Drexel Up 9-7 10-12 (L)
    Princeton Up 10-8 11-14 (L)
    Pennsylvania Down 9-10 9-13 (L)
    Notre Dame Tied 6-6 9-13 (L)

    [FACEPALM II]
    OPPONENT POSSESSION MARGIN (Q1-Q3) POSSESSION MARGIN (Q4) VU: Q4 OFF. EFF. OPP.: Q4 OFF. EFF.
    Lehigh -2 +1 28.57 50.00
    Drexel +12 -2 20.00 71.43
    Princeton +5 -4 9.10 40.00
    Pennsylvania -5 -3 0.00 25.00
    Notre Dame +3 -2 30.00 58.33
    Uneven efforts over 60 minutes can generate wins against inferior competition, but against solid teams -- the Wildcats will see many strong programs this season, including Lehigh, Drexel, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Princeton, Penn State, Denver, St. John's, and Johns Hopkins -- it generally leads to disaster. Villanova needs to instill the importance of closing this season.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: St. John's at Denver -- April 12th

  • GAME II: Villanova at St. John's -- April 19th

  • GAME III: Marquette at Rutgers -- March 29th

  • GAME IV: Denver at Villanova -- April 5th

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Denver is a 1,629 miles from the Big East's home base, but the Pioneers are the league's heart in 2014. St. John's and Villanova are important arteries in the conference's life force, but they are subordinated behind what Denver means to the league's existence this season. Georgetown, Providence, and Rutgers are interesting veins, but they don't have quite the purpose of those above them in the league's pecking order. Marquette and Joe Amplo probably need another season or two to make a move in the Big East's table.

PREDICTED BIG EAST ORDER OF FINISH: 2014
RANK TEAM
1. Denver
2. St. John's
3. Villanova
4. Georgetown
5. Providence
6. Rutgers
7. Marquette
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