2014 College Lacrosse Preview: MAAC Outlook

USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville and VMI are out. Quinnipiac and Monmouth are in.

The Plot

The results of the MAAC's championships since 2010 tell the story of one of the most unsettled leagues in the nation:

  • 2013 Champion: Detroit (Four-Seed). Two upsets in the semifinals.
  • 2012 Champion: Canisius (Three-Seed). One upset in the semifinals.
  • 2011 Champion: Siena (One-Seed). One upset in the semifinals.
  • 2010 Champion: Mount St. Mary's (Two-Seed). No upsets in the semifinals.

Things don't always go to plan in the MAAC, and that gives the league life despite the fact that the conference isn't necessarily swilling brandy with some of Division I's best. The MAAC is an improvised assault, an exploding mass of energy that is difficult to control.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED MAAC PROFILE: 2010-2013
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER) 37.39% 8
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS) 0.120 4

THE MAAC: MEMBERSHIP PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: 2010-2013
TEAM AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP. NATIONAL RANK
Siena 53.12% 27
Marist 43.00% 41
Quinnipiac 38.98% 44
Detroit 35.22% 50
Manhattan 28.56% 54
Canisius 25.46% 56
Monmouth N/A N/A

Canisius

  • Tim Edwards is an animal. He's somewhat forgotten in the MAAC, but he's as valuable a midfielder to his team as any in the nation (Tom Schreiber excluded; The Human Weapon is on a different plane). Just look at the production he provided to the Griffins' overall offensive efforts in 2013:

    TIM EDWARD'S FINGERPRINTS ON CANISIUS' OFFENSE
    METRIC VALUE PERCENT OF TOTAL
    Goals 20 19.80%
    Assists 19 35.85%
    Points 39 25.32%
    Shots 66 16.38%
    Edwards' value increases when you start digging into Canisius' box scores and look at the Griffs' scoring details:
    • Of Edwards' 20 goals last season, 13 were unassisted. Those 13 unassisted goals were the third-highest goal total -- not considering Edwards' 20 tallies -- that Canisius had in 2013.
    • Edwards was responsible for 36.84 percent of Vince Gravino's goals last season, assisting on seven of Gravino's 19 tallies in 2013 (Gravino finished second on the team in goals scored last year (behind Edwards' 20)). Without Edwards, Gravino arguably does significantly less destruction.
    • In an environment with some noise (it's impossible to track from box scores how many offensive possessions a player actually runs during the season), Edwards ranks 47th in the nation in adjusted points per 100 offensive opportunities (9.47). That puts Edwards in the same territory as Colgate's Ryan Walsh (9.49, 46th), Notre Dame's Matt Kavanagh (9.16, 51st), and North Carolina's Jimmy Bitter (9.10, 54th).
    Edwards is a game-changing crown jewel for Canisius. How he performs in 2014 likely dictates the Griffins' ceiling this spring.

Detroit

  • The Titans lose some big defensive assets -- A.J. Levell (G); Jordan Houtby (LSM); Jamie Hebden (D); John Dwyer (D) -- from a team that finished 2013 ranked 25th in adjusted defensive efficiency, but it's not those defensive losses that are suffocatingly concerning about Detroit in 2014. Rather, it's the Titans' potential style for this coming spring that creates issues regarding Detroit:

    DETROIT'S POTENTIAL ISSUE: TOO MUCH CHAOS?
    METRIC 2013 VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Pace 69.83 12
    Possession Margin -1.53 41
    Clearing Percentage 80.06% 59
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 24.90 56
    Opponent Caused Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 28.02 60
    Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 29.77 62
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 57.78 61
    Turnover Margin per 100 Opportunities -2.29 38
    "Run-of-Play" Work Rate Margin -3.14 49
    Valuing the ball and maximizing offensive opportunities are two of the most important aspects of a team's play. Dictating pace if it results in sloppiness isn't going to do the Titans any favors. A focused approach on fundamental precision could be the difference between meandering through a campaign and excelling in a league that is ripe for Detroit's taking.

Manhattan

  • It's not necessarily about finding an increased volume of wins for the Jaspers this season (and the team's schedule may not be conducive to a bucket of victories anyway). The key for Manhattan in 2014 -- Steve Manitta's second season in Riverdale -- is continuing to develop and promote a culture that will provide the Jaspers with the tools to contend in the MAAC in 2015 and beyond. The MAAC isn't getting any easier, and Manhattan needs to start functioning like a program that has the tools and performance points of a Division I program with forward volition. Entering the sunrise of the 2014 season, every MAAC program except for Monmouth -- a first-year combatant in Division I lacrosse -- is ahead of the Jaspers. Maturing into a team with an identity -- does Manhattan out-work all of their opponents? are they an offensive handful? are they a team that can kill you in specialist situations? is the team an impossible out at home? are they gritty and difficult to put away or are they skilled and sophisticated and difficult to game plan for? are they fundamentally sound? -- will ultimately define the future of a program that desperately needs to understand and advance its existence.

Marist

  • The Red Foxes are potentially staring at the business end of a bazooka: While Marist has notably and importantly improved over the last four seasons, the team needs to fill significant production and leadership holes from a season ago (one of the best -- if not the best -- seasons that the Red Foxes have put together in recent memory). Maybe the hardest thing that Marist faces in 2014, though, is that the Red Foxes need to avoid the oftentimes crippling effects that a reversal of fortune brings for programs. In 2013, Marist was three wins stronger than their expected win total last season, the biggest difference in expected versus actual wins in the nation. (Moreover, the Red Foxes' actual winning percentage -- 71.43 percent -- was 22.28 percent greater than the team's expected winning percentage based on Marist's production on the field, the second highest mark in the country.) Luck/overachievement/whatever has a way of evening out over time, and if the Red Foxes aren't prepared to combat the universe's potential correction of Marist's existence, the Red Foxes could develop a psychological mindset that isn't conducive to driving forward and finding victories. This is a huge transition year in Poughkeepsie, and how Marist approaches all its impediments to success is the defining feature to the team's season.

Monmouth

  • Good luck, Hawks:

    FIRST-YEAR EFFORTS SINCE 2010
    TEAM PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
    High Point: 2013 20.31% (59) 24.47 (59) 38.04 (58)
    Marquette: 2013 27.69% (54) 27.69 (46) 37.74 (57)
    Michigan: 2012 21.82% (58) 24.10 (55) 36.37 (55)
    Mercer: 2011 6.92% (61) 17.10 (60) 39.51 (59)
    AVERAGE 19.19% 23.34 37.92

Quinnipiac

  • It's time to see some sustained development from Quinnipiac. With the Bobcats' move to the MAAC from the NEC this year, the program needs to continue to grow, something it did fairly well from 2012 to 2013:

    QUINNIPIAC'S DEVELOPMENT: 2012 TO 2013
    METRIC 2013 VALUE (NT'L RANK) 2012 VALUE (NT'L RANK)
    Pythagorean Win Expectation 35.75% (45) 25.55% (56)
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 31.04 (30) 26.96 (42)
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 37.50 (54) 38.07 (58)
    Winning Percentage 42.86% 21.43%
    Yet, Quinnipiac needs to avoid doing what struggling programs do: Grope through extended losing streaks. The Bobcats suffered a five-game losing streak in 2013, something that took shine off of Quinnipiac's diamond. Learning how to win (and to win consistently) is a difficult task for a maturing roster; turning the tide in one- and two-goal games is the difference between a program that is operating with a legacy of momentum and one that is working on putting that momentum in place. (In Quinnipiac's five-game skid, the team lost three consecutive one-goal games and followed up that streak with a two-goal loss to Binghamton.) This is as much a culture-building pursuit as it is skill and game management development. Quinnipiac is close to having roster balance conducive to more sustained success, but the Bobcats need to assume the responsibility of achievement.

Siena

  • For the Saints -- likely the favorite in the league this coming spring -- it's all about finishing the drill in 2014. John Svec is in his third season in Loudonville and hasn't been able to take the step the Brian Brecht was able to achieve while with Siena: Advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The last two seasons have ended in haunting misery for the Saints, a program that claims two trips to The Big Barbecue. It's one thing to be at the doorstep, but it's another to fail to step through the door despite having fully capable legs and a desire to seek what's inside:

    (4) DETROIT - (3) SIENA ('13 MAAC FINAL): TRUNCATED TEMPO-FREE BOX SCORE
    METRIC DETROIT SIENA
    Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 33.33 32.26
    Offensive Opportunities 33 31
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.45 0.87
    Offensive Shooting Percentage 22.92% 37.04%
    Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 33.33 58.06
    Team Save Percentage 44.44% 56.00%
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 25.81 42.42

    (3) CANISIUS - (1) SIENA ('12 MAAC FINAL): TRUNCATED TEMPO-FREE BOX SCORE
    METRIC CANISIUS SIENA
    Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 32.26 30.00
    Offensive Opportunities 31 30
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.71 0.93
    Offensive Shooting Percentage 45.45% 32.14%
    Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 45.16 46.67
    Team Save Percentage 47.06% 33.33%
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 26.67 16.13
    Opportunities aren't fungible; when they appear, they need to be seized. Siena blowing two consecutive MAAC title games leaves the Saints in a momentum-neutral position, a difficult circumstance to stomach considering Siena's position in the conference and how the MAAC is viewed externally. Establishing strength and asserting it matters, and the Saints need to focus on that this season.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Siena at Detroit -- April 12th

  • GAME II: Quinnipiac at Marist -- March 22nd

  • GAME III: Marist at Detroit -- April 5th

  • GAME IV: Siena at Quinnipiac -- April 19th

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Predicting the MAAC should be limited to simply asserting that seven teams will appear -- in some order -- on the league table. The level of "Well, it's possible . . . " in the league in 2014 lines any assumption about how the league will shake out with nuclear waste. While the MAAC lacks headlining talent, the depth in competitiveness in the league is going to make a lot of programs look like chameleons depending on the particular week.

PREDICTED MAAC ORDER OF FINISH: 2014
RANK TEAM
1. Siena
2. Detroit
3. Quinnipiac
4. Marist
5. Canisius
6. Manhattan
7. Monmouth
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