The toughest league in America -- the CAA to those that don't believe in post-apocalyptic murder events -- returns in 2014 more deadly than ever: With St. Joseph's jettisoned to the relatively calm fields of the Northeast Conference, THUNDERDOME! has shed a competitor that brought a knife to a kill-people-with-medieval-weapons-and-other-things-that-create-awesome-explosions fight. There's nothing quite like THUNDERDOME!: It's a league of strong programs that maintain different flaws but are all on the same competitive plane. The conference is nothing but eye patches and gasoline fires and ineffective dental care. There's nothing sweet or charming about THUNDERDOME!; it's pure courage and fortitude, necessary components to cheating death.
Underlying background information -- team and league storylines -- that structures the plot.
|4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER)||55.38%||3|
|4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS)||0.101||2|
|TEAM||AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP.||NATIONAL RANK|
- THUNDERDOME! is getting away from the Blue Hens a little bit. Delaware has missed the last two THUNDERDOME! Tournaments after asserting itself as a fixture at the event, putting together consecutive 1-5 efforts in league play. Moreover, the Blue Hens are in the midst of an extended regression in play: The team experienced a 3.52 drop in adjusted efficiency margin from 2012 to 2013; from 2011 to 2012, the drop was 1.50 in the same metric; and from 2010 to 2011, the drop was 3.31 in the same metric. This is, in function, a program that ranked as the 21st strongest in the nation in 2010 but closed 2013 as only the 44th strongest. That's an extended decline in performance, one that has turned the Blue Hens from an oddball contender in the nation's weirdest state to a program that can't seem to right itself in suffocating circumstances. 2014 should permit Delaware reasonable expectations, but the Blue Hens need to rediscover their tradition through increased execution at both ends of the field. With Fairfield set to bring its nail gun and ornery attitude to THUNDERDOME! in 2015, Delaware needs to re-assert its strength in 2014 or else things could spiral out of control in the near future.
- Defensive issues aside, Brian Voelker may have a tactical nuclear weapon on his hands in Philadelphia. The Dragons are flying under the radar at the moment, but Drexel's potential to ruin scoreboards with incessant scoring is so strong that the Dragons could elevate their profile sooner rather than later. Returning to anchor an offense that finished 2013 ranked eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency are attackmen Frank Fusco and Nick Trizano and midfielders Ryan Belka and Ben McIntosh. These four cats -- four of the team's top-five point-generators from a season ago -- accounted for 53 percent of Drexel's total points last season, shot 31.62 percent as a group (while taking 53.63 percent of the team's total shots), accounted for 45.76 percent of the team's total helpers, and played in every single one of Drexel's 15 games last season (earning 55 combined starts). The losses of Robert Church -- a goal-scoring machine -- and Aaron Prosser sting, but Drexel is still returning a ton of offense to a unit that drove the Dragons' success last season. Throw in the fact that possession-generator Nick Saputo will return to take draws for Drexel, and factors are in place for Drexel to melt the opposition.
- Somewhat similarly to Villanova in the Big East, the Pride are building a recent reputation for failing to close games and put away opponents that it should -- or could -- defeat. The program seemed to bust a circuit when Towson -- in double-overtime in 2012 -- erased a six-goal deficit in the fourth quarter and closed the game on a seven-zip run. The Pride couldn't seem to shake that loss from their memory and finished the year with only two wins -- against St. Joseph's and Dartmouth -- in its last five games. Assumedly isolated to the 2012 season, Hofstra opened its 2013 campaign with a 5-1 record (which included a victory over Notre Dame at Arlotta), positioned nicely to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, against St. John's, the Pride seemed to bust a circuit. The loss to the Johnnies was followed by a triple-overtime loss to Drexel and then it all fell apart. The sad part of Hofstra's slow descent into misery in 2013 is that the Pride weren't in impossible circumstances:
HOFSTRA'S LOST FORTUNES OPPONENT LOG5: HOFSTRA % OF VICTORY FINAL SCORE St. John's 49.48% 6-7 (L) Drexel 55.80% 7-8 (3OT) (L) Towson 55.05% 6-7 (L) North Carolina 29.64% 5-14 (L) Massachusetts 59.48% 8-9 (L) Penn State 43.73% 7-16 (L)
- The key (and this is really for any team) for the Minutemen is to avoid streakiness. Massachusetts suffered through a four-game losing streak last season and then followed it up with a three-game winless streak in the heart of their conference schedule. That's how a promising season goes sour. The Minutemen haven't been susceptible to this in the recent past, but Massachusetts will, in 2014, have a different look than they did in 2013, attempting to replace key assets -- Will Manny, Kyle Smith, Bobby Tyler, Ryan Hollenbaugh, Colin Fleming, and Jake Smith -- that helped drive their success. If Grant Whiteway and Zach Oliveri can serve as tent pole performers that can create consistency for a team that will look very unlike its 2012 incarnation, Massachusetts should remain in a decent position in the THUNDEROME! zone.
- Outside of Penn State's lack of a safety net this season, the Nittany Lions' ceiling is likely dictate by how much offense the team can generate to complement its defensive efforts (loving called "The Torture Carnival"). Long middling to create tallies at an efficient rate, Penn State finally has its disposal a handful of assets -- Shane Sturgis (A), T.J. Sanders (A), Tom LaCrosse (M), Kyle Zittel (M), Kyle VanThof (M) -- that could make the scoreboard blink frequently for the Lions and keep pressure off of the team's defense to find ways to win. The key, though, is avoiding offensive stagnancy in development; anything that doesn't improve on the team's slow-but-steady offensive growth could create difficult circumstances for Penn State:
PENN STATE'S OFFENSIVE HISTORY YEAR ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY VALUE NT'L RANK 2013 29.82 33 2012 28.74 36 2011 28.09 30 2010 29.51 23 2009 26.32 26
- The Tigers are developing a reputation as the toughest team in the toughest conference in America. There's nothing wrong with that; playing like a pug and willing wins where they shouldn't exist is a reputable life. Towson isn't slick and they aren't pretty, but what they have been under Shawn Nadelen is effective and moving in the right direction:
FROM SEAMAN TO NADELEN: TOWSON'S GROWTH METRIC 2011 2012 2013 Adjusted Efficiency Margin 0.24 (29) -3.65 (42) 1.39 (26) Pythagorean Win Expectation 50.73% (30) 40.23% (44) 53.72% (26) Winning Percentage 23.08% (3-10) 46.67% (7-8) 55.55% (10-8) Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Efficiency Margin 0.72 (24) 1.66 (15) -0.14 (30)
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: Penn State at Towson -- April 12th
GAME II: Hofstra at Massachusetts -- April 19th
GAME III: Drexel at Towson -- April 19th
GAME IV: Penn State at Drexel -- April 5th
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
How THUNDERDOME! finishes doesn't necessarily portend how the THUNDERDOME! Tournament will shake out. The league's postseason is concentrated insanity, a face-melting effort that takes reality and bends it into something that looks like liquid nothingness. The reason for this ties to the volatile nature of THUNDERDOME! itself: The competitors wielding weapons of mass destruction are rarely competitively unmatched, which creates issues in trying to understand why a lost limb doesn't mean that defeat is assured. Consequently, it's difficult to create tiers in the conference, but it appears as if Penn State, Drexel, and Towson are a cut above Massachusetts and Hofstra, while those two schools hold a gap ahead of Delaware. But who actually knows? (The Grim Reaper, that's who.)