2014 College Lacrosse Preview: The Johns Hopkins Polling Position

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Can the Blue Jays do what many programs have been unable to handle in the last seven seasons?

The USILA has published a preseason poll every year since the 2007 season. From 2007 to 2013, Johns Hopkins held an average preseason ranking of 4.86 in that tally, a solid mark for a program that hadn't progressed to Championship Weekend since their 2008 campaign. This season, though, the Blue Jays are in a different tier of the poll: Hopkins pulled the 11th position in the 2014 preseason USILA tally, its lowest starting spot since the Jays tied with Army for the 11th position in the preseason 2011 USILA run.

Whether Hopkins' preseason USILA positioning is accurate has generated a lot of chatter. Are the Jays ranked too high? Are the Jays ranked too low? Those questions are fine, but it's the frequent answer to those questions that is most interesting to me: "It's not where you start; it's where you finish." And if I'm a Johns Hopkins fan, I'd be nervous about throwing that answer around without mitigation.

Johns Hopkins is one of eight schools -- along with Cornell, Hofstra, Maryland, Notre Dame, Princeton, Syracuse, and Virginia -- to earn a ranking in every preseason USILA poll between 2007 and 2013. Among those eight schools, Hopkins' average standard deviation from its preseason placement to its position in the final USILA poll is 3.94, fifth among the eight schools considered:1

STANDARD DEVIATION IN PRESEASON AND FINAL USILA POLLING POSITIONS: 2007-2013
TEAM STANDARD DEVIATION RANK
Cornell 2.73 1
Maryland 2.73 2
Notre Dame 3.74 3
Virginia 3.84 4
Johns Hopkins 3.94 5
Hofstra 3.94 6
Syracuse 4.14 7
Princeton 4.14 8

USILA voters have had a good read on the Jays in the preseason, and Johns Hopkins' final polling position hasn't varied much from the team's preseason mark. Using the team's prior balloting history as a guide, there's enough information available to indicate that the Jays may not have top five potential this season, nor will the Jays exist at the back of the top 20. Basically, the USILA has had a decent feel on Johns Hopkins in the past.

Digging into the nitty-gritty of how teams have fared in the preseason USILA poll against their final tally position, the Jays' fate starts to look dire. While ranked teams have generally stayed that way over the seven periods examined, upward movement in the USILA poll has been limited and teams that have started the year in the back-10 haven't had great existences:

MOVEMENT FROM PRESEASON TO FINAL USILA POLLING POSITIONS: 2007-2013
METRIC VALUE
Average percentage of preseason ranked teams that finished ranked 71.43%
Average percentage of preseason ranked teams that moved up at least two positions 29.29%
Average percentage of preseason ranked teams that moved up at least five positions 11.43%
Average percentage of preseason ranked teams that moved down at least two positions 50.71%
Average percentage of preseason ranked teams that moved up at least five positions 31.43%
Average percentage of teams ranked 11-20 in the preseason that were not ranked in the final poll 47.14%
Average percentage of teams ranked 11-20 in the preseason that were ranked in the top 10 of the final poll 15.71%
Average percentage of unranked teams in the final poll that were ranked 11-20 in the preseason poll 84.03%

That's . . . well, that's icky if you plan to spend your weekends at Homewood Field this spring. More often than not teams have moved down at least two polling positions from their preseason spot to their final resting place, and teams ranked 11-20 in the preseason poll have (1) rarely moved into the top 10, and (2) accounted for an incredibly high rate of teams that finish the season unranked in the USILA poll.

The news for Hopkins, though, gets worse: Hopkins hasn't been a climber in the USILA poll. Among the eight teams that have been ranked in the USILA preseason poll from 2007 through 2013, only two schools have had an average position change from preseason to final tally worse than the Jays' mark:2

AVERAGE CLIMB OR FALL FROM THE PRESEASON USILA POLL TO THE FINAL BALLOT: 2007-2013
TEAM AVERAGE POSITION CHANGE RANK
Notre Dame 1.00 1
Syracuse -0.71 2
Cornell -1.57 3
Princeton -2.14 4
Maryland -2.71 5
Johns Hopkins -3.00 6
Hofstra -4.43 7
Virginia -4.57 8

That table could be deceiving if Johns Hopkins had nowhere to go in its polling positions (i.e., the Jays started in the top three and couldn't pick up big gains because the tally stops at one). That, however, isn't the case:

JOHNS HOPKINS' PRESEASON AND FINAL USILA POLL POSITIONS
YEAR PRESEASON FINAL CHANGE
2007 6 5 +1
2008 1 4 -3
2009 5 8 -3
2010 5 14 -9
2011 11 3 +8
2012 2 7 -5
2013 4 14 -10

The team's gain in 2011 -- where the Jays started in the same spot as they'll start in 2014 -- is interesting, but it can't be viewed in a vacuum. The program essentially experienced the reverse of 2011 in 2013, and each period is important in the study.

The takeaway from all of this is straightforward: Caveat emptor when it comes to Johns Hopkins this season. The team has slide more than it has risen in the past, the USILA poll understands Hopkins' universe, and teams in the Jays' spot haven't had the greatest time breaking into the elite in the last seven seasons.

_______

1A little bit of fudging was used to determine the average standard deviations. Any school that ended the year outside of the top 20 in the final USILA poll was giving a final ranking of 21.

2A little bit of fudging was used to determine the average poll position change from the preseason USILA poll to the final ballot. Any school that ended the year outside of the top 20 in the final USILA poll was giving a final ranking of 21.

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