2014 College Lacrosse Preview: Ivy League Outlook

Drew Hallowell

For the first time in forever the Ivy League doesn't have a definitive favorite.

The Plot

This, basically:

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED IVY LEAGUE PROFILE: 2010-2013
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER) 57.83% 2
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS) 0.127 5

THE IVY LEAGUE: MEMBERSHIP PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: 2010-2013
TEAM AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP. NATIONAL RANK
Cornell 73.87% 1
Princeton 68.79% 7
Yale 58.96% 17
Pennsylvania 55.89% 22
Brown 53.91% 24
Harvard 52.49% 28
Dartmouth 40.97% 43

Brown

  • Here's the fear for the Bears in 2014: It's not just that Bruno lost two-thirds of its starting close defense and its freakish long-stick midfielder in the offseason; it's that Brown suffered these defensive losses and needs to replace the core of its offensive midfield. Bruno is going to have a much different look in 2014, and how the offense develops around four players -- Sam Hurster, Henry Blynn, Nick Piroli, and Bailey Tills -- could determine the ceiling for Brown in 2014:

    BRUNO'S OFFENSIVE PROFILE: 2013
    METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 28.00 44
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.06 39
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 26.17% 43
    Assist Rate per 100 Offensive Opportunities 15.84 42
    Clearing Percentage 84.62% 43
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 45.94 35
    Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 36.44 48
    Opponent Save Percentage 56.79% 47
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Defenses Faced 30.04 23
    Without the luxury of relying on one of the nation's best defenses this coming spring (at least presumably given the major contributors doing boring real-world things now), Brown's offense is going to need a shoulder a heavier load and maximize its opportunities if it seeks to contend in a muddled Ivy League. Priority one is addressing the team's midfield situation -- Johnny DePeters, George Sherman, and Alex Jones accounted for 26.4 percent of the team's total points last season, 23.6 of Brown's total goals, 31.3 percent of Bruno's assists, and 27.9 percent of the team's total shots -- and finding some answers through the middle of the field that can complement Brown's relatively young -- yet productive -- attack. The quicker that the Bears can alleviate their offensive issues, the quicker the team can compete in a loaded league with little clarity.

Cornell

  • Cornell didn't just lose Rob Pannell in the offseason due to graduation. The Red lost Pannell, Steve Mock, Max Van Bourgondien, Connor English, Jason Noble, A.J. Fiore, Thomas Keith, and their head coach -- Ben DeLuca. If you're keeping score at home, that's: (1) Four of the Big Red's top six point-generators from 2013, including the Tewaaraton winner from a season ago and an attackman that put 60 goals on the board (enough to earn recognition in the NCAA record book for goals scored in a season); (2) Three cats that accounted for 90 assists last year, almost 65 percent of the helpers that Cornell generated in 2013; (3) A keeper that started 53 games in his four-year career, including all 18 from 2013 while holding a 51.7 save percentage; (4) Two All-America defensive players, including a close defenseman that earned first-team status last season, was a second-team selection in 2012, and was an honorable mention pick in 2011; (5) 26 starts through the offensive midfield between English and Van Bourgondien; and (6) A program navigator that won 77.1 percent of his games in Ithaca (37-11) while guiding the Red to two NCAA Tournament appearances and a trip to the national semifinals in 2013. This begs the question: With so many important losses, how quickly will Cornell adapt to their great new wonderful? It's a mega season of transition for the Big Red, and the speed to which the program adjusts its focus is the determining factor in where Cornell could head in 2014.

Dartmouth

  • The Big Green haven't had a spectacular four-year run under Andy Towers. Dartmouth, admittedly, doesn't have a ton of lacrosse history -- the program has won just two Ivy League titles (1964 and 2003) and has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance (2003) -- but the Green are in an extended rough patch that also includes some notable underachievement compared to expected results:

    DARTMOUTH'S FOUR-YEAR ISSUE WITH UNDERACHIEVING
    YEAR PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION RANK EXPECTED RECORD ACTUAL RECORD DIFFERENCE
    2013 36.91% 42 5-9 3-11 -2 Wins
    2012 42.86% 39 6-8 5-9 -1 Win
    2011 41.52% 44 6-8 5-9 -1 Win
    2010 42.58% 38 5-8 5-8 Even
    4-Yr. Avg. 40.97% 43 6-8 5-9 -1 Win
    Pitching away opportunities for victories isn't a formula for success, especially when success has been hard to come by. The Green are stuck in a static nightmare, one that portends a difficult 2014 given the fact that Dartmouth's peers are consistently expected to win over half of their games. This is a major turning point season for Towers and the Green: It's Towers' fifth season in New Hampshire, and with an unsettled situation in the league's hierarchy, the Green need to make a move. Failure to develop in preferential circumstances could stymie any potential for Dartmouth to pull themselves out of the conference's cellar.

Harvard

  • Much like Georgetown, the Crimson closed 2013 with some solid momentum. After making Duke pee their pants in Cambridge, Harvard played their last five games with fervor and purpose, exceeding the team's overall performance output:

    HARVARD'S LAST FIVE GAMES AGAINST ITS FULL SLATE
    METRIC SEASON VALUE LAST FIVE GAMES VALUE
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 29.99 (29) 35.16
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.47 (22) 29.32
    Adjusted Efficiency Margin 0.52 (29) 5.84
    Harvard was playing its best ball at the end of the year last season, and that's notable in that the Crimson were doing it against arguably the best competition it played all season. With the volume of young pups that dot Harvard's roster -- highly-regarded young talent -- the Crimson could be in a strong position to shake off its 6-8 existence and finally press the top of the Ivy League as a possible dark horse contender for the league crown (Harvard last won an Ivy title in 1990). The Crimson still have concerns entering 2014 -- the team was one of the most fundamentally unsound in 2013 when it came to valuing the ball and clearing the bean -- but Harvard may ride the momentum of a strong finish to 2013 into the sunrise of their 2014 campaign.

Pennsylvania

  • The Quakers may struggle at times to score (and the Quakers had a big issue with turning over the ball in 2013), but the team's defense essentially returns intact, losing only Anthony Santomo as a major contributor. The potential for Pennsylvania to grind out wins with its mercenary defense is real:

    PENNSYLVANIA'S FACE-SMASHING DEFENSE
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 22.46 1
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 22.17% 3
    Defensive Assist Rate 14.29 7
    Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 28.09 6
    Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 55.21 2
    Opponent Unforced Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.12 5
    Team Save Percentage 58.62% 6
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 31.84 10
    The Quakers were an elite defense in 2013, arguably one of the top three in the nation last season. Assuming that the unit retains much of its quality, Pennsylvania is going to force the opposition into low scoring games that allow the Quakers' defense to drag Pennsylvania to victories. This was a formula that worked fairly well for Penn last year -- the team was expected to win around nine games in 2013 -- and if the Quakers' offense plays with a stronger value of the bean (thereby maximizing the team's offensive opportunities), Pennsylvania could charge toward the top of the Ivy League -- and the nation -- in short order.

Princeton

  • The Tigers are more than capable of winning shootouts, and Princeton may play games in that posture -- not unlike Albany last season -- if the Tigers' goaltending situation doesn't receive a salve:

    PRINCETON'S 2013 GOALKEEPING PROFILE: WELP!
    METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 31.11 44
    Team Save Percentage 50.49% 45
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.12 37
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 27.21% 23
    Defensive Assist Rate 20.00 49
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.97 23
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 31.31 16
    Everything else is in place for Princeton: The offense is deep with production, seeing Tom Schreiber -- The Human Weapon -- anchor the team's midfield and Mike MacDonald dominating the crease and majoring in Goalie Embarrassment; the field defense, after a year of transition in 2013, is seasoned and fully serviceable. The team's deficiencies are significantly muted compared to its conference peers, save for Princeton’s ability to generate saves. Winning titles isn't contingent upon having an All-American keeper, but sustainable play from the crease is necessary to approach a team's ceiling. What the Tigers get out of the net could significantly impact the Tigers' overall efforts in 2014.

Yale

  • Andy Shay has done an incredible job in New Haven in the last four seasons: The Bulldogs, a program with limited depth in tradition, have gone 43-18 since 2010, made two NCAA Tournament appearances (2012 and 2013), won the Ivy League Tournament twice (in 2012 and 2013), and were Ivy League regular season champions in 2010. In a conference that Princeton and Cornell have dominated, the Elis have quietly emerged as the league's third-best program, holding preference in spots over its well-regarded peers. Consequently, 2014 is an important season for the Bulldogs in a number of ways: (1) Yale wants to maintain its position in the Ivy League's hierarchy in a year of unrest for the conference; (2) The Bulldogs are undergoing roster transition from 2013, losing the services of Kirby Zdrill (A), Peter Johnson (D), Michael McCormack (D), Deron Dempster (A); and Michael Lipin (M); and (3) The Elis are running with national expectations in 2014 and won't sneak up any team this coming spring. What does that all mean? This quote from an opposing coach may be prescient:
    "They're a very well-coached team. They know themselves, they play with great emotion. They're going to be exceptional facing off. They're experienced on the offensive end, but they have some holes defensively. They don't have the top depth with their personnel, but they find ways to be successful and I think they're going to be very good this year."

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Princeton v. Cornell -- April 26th

  • GAME II: Princeton at Yale -- March 22nd

  • GAME III: Pennsylvania at Yale -- April 12th

  • GAME IV: Cornell at Pennsylvania -- March 22nd

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

I miss the halcyon days of predicting the Ivy League. You'd choose between Princeton or Cornell at the top of the conference and then hope that the rest of the portfolio somehow met expectations. Now? Well, it's Everyone Except Dartmouth, then Dartmouth. I drafted six different predictions and the only two schools that I couldn't see finishing at the top of the table were the Big Green and Bruno. The Ivy League is an absolute mess to project in 2014, a significant departure from the relative social order that the conference happily embraced in the past. What follows is merely an attempt at anticipating the impossible, and I probably hate my predictions as much as you.

PREDICTED IVY LEAGUE ORDER OF FINISH: 2014
RANK TEAM
1. Princeton
2. Yale
3. Pennsylvania
4. Cornell
5. Harvard
6. Brown
7. Dartmouth
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