Since 2009 -- Bryant's first full season as a Division I member -- the Bulldogs have three wins against teams that finished the year ranked in the USILA top 20: against Drexel (2012, a 7-6 victory); against Army (2010, a 7-6 victory); and against Yale (2010, a 9-7 victory). This has made Bryant a cult figure in Division I lacrosse, one that creates curiosity simply in its existence. The Bulldogs' efforts against high-caliber teams over the last five seasons, though, does not evenly align with the niche market -- the trade or business of slaying the elite in a pronounced capacity -- that many perceive as Bryant's domain.
Digging into the details of Bryant's efforts against its best opponents since the 2009 season, a theme emerges: The Bulldogs aren't getting shellacked, but Bryant also isn't closing the deal and establishing itself as a concern with force. It's reflective of the difficulty of breaking through to the higher reaches of Division I's hierarchy, but it's also indicative of Bryant's ability to competitively position itself against opponents that have the potential to uncork a tire-iron beating on a less qualified combatant.
The Bryant File: Realized and Unrealized Breakthrough Opportunities
- Record against teams finishing in the USILA top 20 in the year of meeting: 3-15 (16.67 winning percentage). The average score of these games is 6-9 in favor of Bryant's opponents, although over the last two seasons the Bulldogs have closed the gap to 9-11 in favor of their opponents.
- Average ranking of opponent that finished in the USILA top 20 in the year of meeting: 13. Bryant's three wins -- Drexel (2012), Army (2010), and Yale (2010) -- came against teams ranked an average of 17th in the final USILA poll, the most notable victory coming against Army in 2010 (the Black Knights finished the year ranked 16th). In the Bulldogs' three wins against teams that finished the year ranked in the top 20 of the USILA poll, Bryant hasn't drowned their opponents in blood, winning by an average of one goal (the Bulldogs dropped Drexel and Army by one goal; Bryant beat Yale by two tallies).
- Overachievement/Underachievement: Bryant hasn't overachieved against elite competition. In the team's 18 games against the nation's best since 2009, the Bulldogs have -- according to LaxPower's ratings system and prediction model -- overachieved significantly in one game (against North Carolina in 2010, a 4-5 loss for Bryant), overachieved reasonably in one game (against Yale in 2010), and underachieved on two dates (against Drexel in 2013 (a 5-11 freak show loss) and against Brown in 2009 (a 7-11 defeat)).
- In totem, Bryant's predicted average margin of defeat (-2.44 goals) is in line with the Bulldogs' actual average margin of defeat (-2.61 goals). Bryant, in general, does what it does against its best opponents: Lose by two to three goals.
- Against teams that finished the year ranked in the top 10 of the final USILA poll, Bryant's predicted average margin of defeat was -3.80 goals; the team's actual margin of defeat was -3.00 goals.
- Against teams that finished the year ranked in the top 15 of the final USILA poll, Bryant's predicted average margin of defeat was -3.08 goals; the team's actual margin of defeat was -3.00 goals.
- Against teams that finished the year ranked 15th to 20th in the final USILA poll, Bryant's predicted average margin of defeat was -1.25 goals; the team's actual margin of defeat was -1.75 goals.
None of this is necessarily bad. Bryant's lacrosse situation wasn't even a Division I operation a decade ago, and through a high-value coach -- Mike Pressler -- and a handful of players that could have played almost anywhere in the country, the Bulldogs have pulled themselves into the conversation around top 20-type teams. Yet, Bryant hasn't truly broken through as a sociopathic animal that gets kills against alpha predators and those holding a residence somewhere below the Bulldogs in terms of trophic dynamics. Saturday offers a special opportunity for Bryant when Yale visits Smithfield. If Bryant is able to drop the Elis in Rhode Island, much of this discussion starts to erode given Yale's potential in 2014.