2014 College Lacrosse Preview: ECAC Outlook

Pour one out for the ECAC.

The Plot

Painfully long litigation won't exist relative to the potential for keeping the ECAC on life support despite having almost all of its vital organs shut down: The plug is getting pulled on the league at the beginning May. In the conference's decade-plus history -- the league started sponsoring Division I play in 2001 -- the ECAC has featured 17 different members, a hostel for programs looking for shelter. The volume of programs that spent time in the ECAC is borderline ridiculous, and the ECAC's willingness to provide a temporary home eventually netted -- for the 2013 season -- the MAAC one school (Quinnipiac), the NEC one school (Hobart), the Patriot League two schools (Loyola and Navy), THUNDERDOME! two schools (Penn State and Massachusetts), the America East two schools (Stony Brook and UMBC), and the Big East four schools (Georgetown, St. John's, Denver, and Rutgers). Your memory will not be forgotten, ECAC (mostly because a quarter of Division I had an ECAC email address at some point).

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED ECAC PROFILE: 2010-2013
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER) 47.88% 5
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS) 0.147 6

THE ECAC: MEMBERSHIP PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: 2010-2013
TEAM AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP. NATIONAL RANK
Ohio State 61.76% 14
Fairfield 53.62% 26
Air Force 45.77% 36
Bellarmine 43.95% 39
Michigan N/A N/A

Air Force

  • There's a lot of steam behind the Falcons this season and for good reason: Air Force was probably a game better than their season-ending record from 2013 (7-7). Not only did the Falcons perform about a win stronger than what their final record illustrated, the team was in the hunt for four more victories against solid competition:

    AIR FORCE 2013: DRATS!
    OPPONENT AIR FORCE CHANCE OF VICTORY FINAL SCORE
    at Bellarmine 51.84% 10-11
    at Denver 37.30% 10-11 (OT)
    at Fairfield 58.58% 8-9
    Ohio State 42.83% 9-10
    The takeaway is simple: A couple of bounces that go the Falcons' way may have earned Air Force an 11-3 record, and almost impossible-to-believe-so-stop-lying-to-me-on-the-Internet possibility. That's really the takeaway when thinking about Air Force in 2014: This is a program that has struggled to break through in recent seasons; finding a way to close games that the Falcons should or could win is the determining factor in whether Air Force cements itself as a top 20 team this spring. Talent is there -- Keith Dreyer, Tommy McKee, and Mike Crampton form an incredibly strong attack; Erik Smith is a load through the midfield; Bryan Price is capable at the dot; and Alex Warden was an all-rookie honoree last year -- it's just a matter of Air Force putting all the pieces together and doing what solid teams do: Succeed when others fail.

Bellarmine

  • Dillon Ward graduated, man. He's gone and he's not coming back. The first-degree Knight for Bellarmine was an epiphany for the team last season: After giving Will Haas the start in the season-opener in 2013 (an effort that saw Haas yield seven goals in the first half), Kevin Burns went to Ward and never looked back. Ward's play totally elevated the Knights' defensive efforts, one that ranked toward the top of the nation -- if not at the top of the nation -- in both value and individual performance:

    BELLARMINE'S 2013 RELIANCE ON WARD
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 23.36 2
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.09 31
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 21.00% 1
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 42.83 4
    Ward's Save Percentage 66.2% 1
    Possession Margin +0.42 27
    "Next guy up!" doesn't necessarily apply to the void that Ward leaves in Louisville. He was the backbone to Bellarmine's defense in 2013, and while Bellarmine returns a host of defensive contributors from last season (Colin Hart, Sean Joyce, Brad Davis, and Bobby Schmitt), this is almost like when Jameson Love graduated from Bryant at the end of 2012: The entire scope of a defense's performance changes in the absence of elite ball-stopping. The Knights need to find their way quickly in Ward's absence or Bellarmine could struggle to maintain their position in the Division I hierarchy.

Fairfield

  • Fairfield is developing a reputation as a team that is square in the middle of the country in terms of offensive strength, but has gotten to that point by either hitting pedestrian signs in the parking lot or attempting to burn through the opposition's goalie stick:

    FAIRFIELD'S OFFENSIVE SORCERY
    METRIC 2011 2012 2013
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 28.82 (22) 30.57 (25) 29.91 (30)
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.23 (1) 1.08 (19) 1.16 (18)
    Raw Offensive Shooting Percentage 23.40% (56) 27.45% (40) 25.52% (47)
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 35.96 (54) 38.45 (61) 35.54 (40)
    Opponent Saves Percentage 55.56% 56.39% 54.58% (41)
    Offensive Assist Rate 16.63 (24) 14.20 (48) 14.79 (48)
    Each program is different, but Fairfield is entrenched right now in an aggressive "GREEN LIGHT! TARGET LOCK! FOX TWO!" mentality where guys are attempting to get it on their own with a large swath of collateral shot damage as a residue. Depending on how Fairfield has developed its shooting accuracy, the Stags' overall offensive efficiency could flourish this spring. The residue of a stronger dedication to finding twine instead of parts unknown could yield great rewards: It's weird to see a team rank right in the center of the nation in terms of overall offensive strength and yet find residence among the bottom third of the nation in shooting and opponent save rate. Fairfield has challenged opposing keepers to make stops, but it would be nice to see the Stags with greater accuracy on their challenges. The impact here could be substantial.

Michigan

  • The Wolverines haven't had an easy two seasons at the Division I level, but things are starting to change in Ann Arbor: Talent is arriving. It's going to take time for that talent to coalesce, but pieces are emerging for Michigan that indicate that the program is heading in the right direction. One of the scariest things that the Wolverines are facing in 2014, though, is the loss -- due to injury -- of their stalwart keeper -- Gerald Logan. Michigan has relied heavily on their stoppers to end defensive opportunities in the recent past, and the loss of Logan could really sting a program that needs value assets wherever they can get them:

    MICHIGAN'S 2013 RELIANCE ON LOGAN
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 34.40 47
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.15 45
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 29.15% 43
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 42.80 5
    Logan's Save Percentage 56.3% 13
    Possession Margin -4.14 56
    Now, Michigan has a highly-regarded freshman keeper on the roster -- Robbie Zonino, ranked as the eighth-best incoming goalie in his class -- but it's hard to move from a proven quantity that meant so much to Michigan's defensive efforts (efforts that would have arguably been in really rough shape if Logan wasn't stopping the bean the way he was). Programs in a nascent period of growth can't afford to lose major contributors, and Michigan is facing that situation in 2014.

Ohio State

  • How the Buckeyes deal with the graduations of Logan Schuss -- The Silver Gleaming Death Machine -- and Dominique Alexander are the overt concerns for Ohio State this spring, but the losses of those two offensive machines -- and how the Buckeyes fill their voids -- isn't necessarily the driving factor in the Buckeyes' potential for success this season. Rather, Ohio State's ceiling is arguably dictated by how strong the team's defense comes to play, a developed unit that the Buckeyes could rely on to drag Ohio State to victories if the team's offense sputters. The close defense returns intact, a solid unit that wasn't flashy but still comprised the core of a defensive unit that finished last year ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Robby Haus, just a sophomore and ripe for growth after an impressive freshman campaign, earned all-ECAC honors in 2013; his line mates -- Dominic Imbordino and Joe Meurer -- are seniors that have competed against some of the best offenses in the nation over their careers are have the experience and ability to form a potentially limitless degree of pain for the opposition. And Greg Dutton is back for his final run between the pipes. If the Buckeyes' offense can't efficiently can the bean, the team's defense should be strong enough to drive Ohio State toward victories.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Ohio State at Fairfield -- April 26th

  • GAME II: Air Force at Ohio State -- April 19th

  • GAME III: Fairfield at Air Force -- April 12th

  • GAME IV: Bellarmine at Air Force -- March 8th

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Ohio State looks like the strongest team in the league in 2013, and the fact that the Buckeyes will host the ECAC Tournament this season affirms that belief. Ohio State, though, isn't as dedicated a favorite in its conference in 2014 as Albany and Denver are in their respective leagues: The Buckeyes could take some shots to the mouth from Fairfield and Air Force (and it's unclear which of those two teams are better positioned to stalk Ohio State). Bellarmine is kind of existing in its own tier, and Michigan is desperately hoping to elbow out a win or two to try and finish fourth on the table and earn an invite to the ECAC Tournament (so they can, presumably, taunt Ohio State on site).

PREDICTED ECAC ORDER OF FINISH: 2014
RANK TEAM
1. Ohio State
2. Fairfield
3. Air Force
4. Bellarmine
5. Michigan
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