2014 College Lacrosse Preview: NEC Outlook

It's a load-bearing conference.

The Plot

The NEC was formed in 2011 for a simple purpose: To create access to the NCAA Tournament for a group of off-brand clothiers. The league has taken heat for this, but in an environment where the simple existence of opportunity means more than dominating opportunity, the NEC's continued pursuit of access reflects the desire for relevance. The league's purpose, though, is obfuscated by the conference's overall strength: The NEC -- on the whole -- has been bad, a Division I-like product that houses many struggling programs that are in mere orbit around a handful of programs on the fringes of cohort-wide consequence. The NEC needs to develop its full capacity in order to earn the respect the league seeks, an effort that is still in its early stages of development.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED NEC PROFILE: 2010-2013
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. (POWER) 35.43% 9
4-YR. AVG. LEAGUE PYTHAG. WIN EXPECT. STDEV (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS) 0.168 8

THE NEC: MEMBERSHIP PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION: 2010-2013
TEAM AVERAGE PYTH. WIN EXP. NATIONAL RANK
Robert Morris 56.41% 21
Bryant 49.04% 32
Mount St. Mary's 44.68% 37
Hobart 36.13% 49
Sacred Heart 32.62% 51
St. Joseph's 19.58% 57
Wagner 11.68% 59

Bryant

  • Kevin Massa can accomplish all things:

    BRYANT'S -- AND KEVIN MASSA'S -- POSSESSION SITUATION: 2013
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Possession Margin +7.61 1
    Percent of Offensive Opportunities Earned Through Face-Off Wins 44.04% 3
    Percent of Face-Offs Kevin Massa Took for Bryant 99.31% N/A
    Kevin Massa's Individual Offensive Opportunities Generated* 291 2
    Kevin Massa Face-Off Wins^ 315 2
    Kevin Massa Face-Off Percentage 72.58% 1
    ^ Only Duke won more face-offs than Kevin Massa in 2013. (Interestingly, Brendan Fowler won 24 more face-offs than Massa last season.)
    * Estimated by reducing Massa's face-off wins by his individual turnovers.

    Kevin Massa changes the game, mostly because he forces the opposition to accept an onslaught of possessions in which the opposition is in a defensive posture. But it's not just that Massa flips the balance of possessions in the Bulldogs' favor; it's also that Massa -- almost single-handedly -- provides Bryant's offense with the luxury of working with inefficiency. Massa's strength on the whistle in 2014 was integral to Bryant rolling up an 8-11 record and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament despite featuring an offense that finished the season ranked 54th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Massa is a possession-generating machine for a team that required -- and may require in 2014 -- volume in order to make the scoreboard blink a season ago. He is a single-purpose weapon, but his output may not have a correlative value in any corner of Division I lacrosse.

Hobart

  • It's hard to figure out what the Statesmen are going to look like this season because the team was pretty bipolar in 2013. LaxPower shows the team underperforming in five games last season -- against Binghamton, Robert Morris, Fairfield, Denver, and Loyola -- and overperforming in three others -- against Siena, Bellarmine, and Syracuse. Five games, though, stick out as especially weird:

    HOBART'S WEIRDEST FIVE GAMES FROM 2013
    OPPONENT SCORE LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFFERENTIAL LAXPOWER +/- YEAR-END LOG5 HOBART WIN PREDICTION
    Siena 18-15 0 + 50.11%
    Binghamton 2-6 0 -- 55.52%
    Fairfield 10-13 0 - 43.76%
    Bellarmine 9-8 -2 + 37.20%
    Syracuse 13-12 -6 +++ 20.09%
    Hobart won two games it probably had no business winning (against the Orange and Knights), scored just two against Binghamton in a game it should have won, underperformed to the tune of three goals against a Fairfield team that it could have beaten, and slapped a Saints team that was the Statesmen's equal. That's three good performances against two bad ones (not including the three games that were excluded from the table, two of which -- against Denver and Loyola -- LaxPower indicates that Hobart should have performed better (even if a log5 analysis illustrates that the Statesmen had a low chance of victory)). These results don't strongly signal where Hobart is headed in 2014, which compounds the mystery of the Statesmen in their new league.

Mount St. Mary's

  • This was Mount St. Mary's offensive profile in 2013:

    2013 OFFENSIVE PROFILE: MOUNT ST. MARY'S
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 31.77 18
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.07 37
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 30.88% 15
    Offensive Assist Rate 19.23 20
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 43.38 22
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 30.98 14
    Opponent Save Percentage 48.33% 12
    The Mountaineers are set up pretty well for 2014, right? Well, not exactly:
    • The team lost its top 10 point-generators -- Andrew Scalley, Brett Schmidt, Cody Lehrer, Bryant Schmidt, Dan Stranix, Eric Ososki, Connor Carey, Jake Willertz, Anthony Golden, and Mark Burns -- from a season ago. Again, not a part of its top 10 point-generators from a season ago; its top ten point-generators from a season ago. Those ten players accounted for 96.33 percent of the Mountaineers total points from 2013. Not only that, this group of now-departed players accounted for 94.84 percent of the team's goals from a season ago, 87.78 percent of Mount St. Mary's assists, and 92.23 percent of the team's total shots. The most active returning player from a season ago is Clayton Wainer, a midfielder that put up four goals on 16 shots for four total points on the season.
    • That departed group of 10 players accounted for 45 starts at attack -- the team's entire attack unit -- and 43 starts through the offensive midfield. Basically, Mount St. Mary's lost their entire offensive starting lineup. No big deal.
    It's probably safe to assume that the Mountaineers are going to struggle to efficiently can the bean this spring.

Robert Morris

  • Robert Morris is beautiful. There's just something about the Colonials' style -- up-tempo to the point of blurring reality -- that makes Robert Morris beyond appealing to the point of dangerous obsession. "Go!" is a lost art in the game, yet Andrew McMinn still paints a beautiful portrait of abstract expressionism that speaks to what lacrosse can and should be. The Colonials impose their pace on almost everyone, but there are four games that may be must-watch affairs involving Robert Morris this coming spring: Dates against Bellarmine, Drexel, Hobart, and Bryant. In those four games last season, the Colonials played at a tempo that was at least two possessions greater than their season-long average of about 70 opportunities per 60 minutes of play:

    REPEATING (PACE) HISTORY?
    OPPONENT 2013 PACE + RMU SEASON AVERAGE
    Bellarmine 78 +8
    Bryant* 73 +3
    Drexel 80 +10
    Hobart 77 +7
    * This was the regular season game that the Bulldogs and Colonials played. In the NEC Tournament final, the teams combined for only 64 possessions.

Sacred Heart

  • A coaching change does not always merit an immediate positive change in direction for a program. In fact, many programs regress season-over-season after a change in their program navigator. With Jon Basti's arrival at Sacred Heart for this coming spring, Pioneers fans may need to temper their expectations a little bit given how programs that experienced a coaching change prior to the 2013 season performed last year:

    COACHING CHANGES FOR THE 2013 SEASON: CHANGE IN PERFORMANCE FROM 2012
    TEAM 2012 PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION 2013 PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION VALUE CHANGE PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION RANKING CHANGE
    Georgetown 46.72% (34) 34.70% (49) -12.02% -15
    Lafayette 31.73% (47) 28.60% (53) -3.13% -6
    Manhattan 22.06% (57) 26.24% (56) +4.19% +2
    Mercer 5.80% (61) 22.37% (57) +16.57% +4
    Providence 28.00% (53) 41.55% (35) +13.55% +18
    Average - - +3.83% +0.6
    Based on what happened from 2012 to 2013, Pioneers fans should be pretty happy with a 2014 season in which Sacred Heart holds a Pythagorean win expectation of 35.49 percent, pushing the team toward a 5-9 or so record (that'd be a two-win improvement over last season for the Pioneers). Anything that exceeds those values would be gravy for Basti's first season in Fairfield.

St. Joseph's

  • Ryan McGee redshirted in 2013, but the attackman returns to St. Joseph's roster in 2014 as the centerpiece to the Hawks' offensive efforts. McGee was an undervalued asset in his last season of play for St. Joe's -- a rough calculation ranked McGee 14th in adjusted individual points per 100 offensive possessions in 2012, generating 11.41 points over the unit of measurement (in line with players like Tom Schreiber of Princeton and Andrew Scalley of Mount St. Mary's) -- and he should have a significant impact on the Hawks' efforts this coming spring. Here's a truncated profile of McGee's contributions to St. Joseph's offensive production in 2012:

    RYAN MCGEE'S FINGERPRINTS ON THE HAWKS' OFFENSE: 2012
    METRIC VALUE PERCENT OF TOTAL
    Goals 38 38.00%
    Assists 14 25.93%
    Points 52 33.77%
    Shots 112 23.28%
    McGee's rankings on the team's overall output also illustrate his value to St. Joseph's offensive concerns: In 2012 the attackman was first in goals scored, tied for first in assists, first in points generated, led the team in shooting percentage (he blew away his teammates in accuracy, more than 11 percent more accurate than his closest peer that took at least 20 shots), tied for the team lead in groundballs, and assumed virtually all of the Hawks' ball-handling responsibilities. McGee is an all-everything player for St. Joseph's, and he could be the reason that the Hawks take a step forward from their 5-11 effort a season ago.

Wagner

  • You don't have a heart if you don't want Wagner to win at least two games this season. The Seahawks are Division I's hard-luck story of infinite sadness, proof that the War on Poverty didn't succeed everywhere:

    THE WAGNER EXPERIENCE: 2000-2013
    YEAR RECORD LAXPOWER RANKING LAXPOWER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKING WINS
    2000 0-13 55/55 48/55 N/A
    2001 1-12 55/55 54/55 CCNY (D-III)
    2002 3-10 53/55 55/55 CCNY (D-III); Binghamton; Siena
    2003 1-11 53/54 54/54 Siena
    2004 1-12 54/54 51/54 VMI
    2005 2-12 54/55 54/55 Lafayette; Robert Morris
    2006 0-15 57/57 52/57 N/A
    2007 0-15 56/56 53/56 N/A
    2008 0-15 56/57 57/57 N/A
    2009 1-15 59/59 57/59 Presbyterian
    2010 1-14 60/60 54/60 VMI
    2011 0-12 60/60 48/60 N/A
    2012 1-13 60/61 61/61 Sacred Heart
    2013 1-12 63/63 63/63 VMI
    There are potential wins on the schedule for Wagner this season -- the team hosts Monmouth and Mercer and travels to VMI and Richmond -- and the Seahawks need to prime the pump for a number of victory parades. Emotional attachments to teams generally reside in an individual's love for his or her alma mater or a program that they've followed for an extended period of time, but Wagner's saga stands alone as one that makes even an emotional cripple experience something close to actual human feelings. The Seahawks need to win, if only to give a senior class that has gone a dreadful 2-37 since 2011 -- that's a 5.41 winning percentage, featuring victories over only Sacred Heart and VMI -- some sense of tangible achievement and improvement.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Hobart at Bryant -- March 22nd

  • GAME II: Bryant at Robert Morris -- April 19th

  • GAME III: Robert Morris at Hobart -- March 15th

  • GAME IV: Sacred Heart at St. Joseph's -- April 19th

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

There are two distinct realities in the NEC in 2014: There are the possibly-capable and the probably-incapacitated. There isn't much middle ground between the two points on the conference's spectrum, although an argument can be made that one or two schools -- Mount St. Mary's and/or St. Joseph's -- are existing in the cloud of grey. Bryant, Hobart, and Robert Morris are likely throwing hands to determine which school will enter May as the league's postseason favorite, but the Bulldogs are likely best positioned -- right now -- to earn the league's regular season crown.

PREDICTED NEC ORDER OF FINISH: 2014
RANK TEAM
1. Bryant
2. Hobart
3. Robert Morris
4. St. Joseph's
5. Mount St. Mary's
6. Sacred Heart
7. Wagner
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