Midseason Check-Up: The Nation's Strongest Leagues, Best Races

The ACC is your dark lord.

We're just past the halfway point of the season. Here's some stuff about stuff.

There are 10 conferences in Division I this season, all with different flavors and purposes. The character of those leagues -- the ascot-and-brandy nature of the Ivy League, the bare-knuckle-brawl of THUNDERDOME!, the this-is-my-first-day-here of the Atlantic Sun, etc. -- help define the college lacrosse landscape, providing additional relevance to the latter part of the year. Conferences matter, if only because teams don't exist in a vacuum. And the ACC -- the most ridiculous league ever assembled for lacrosse purposes (and arguably in any college sport) -- has established itself as the most significant conference in the game so far this season.

To create an analysis around Division I's 10 leagues, two questions were asked:

  1. Which conferences have been the strongest so far this season?
  2. Which conferences potentially have the best internal races this season?

Here's how the analysis shook out:

The Nation's Strongest Conferences (So Far)

Averaging the Pythagorean win expectations of the members of each league, the ACC stands as college lacrosse's best conference at this point in the season (and it's not even close).

RANKING THE CONFERENCES (CONFERENCE STRENGTH)
LEAGUE AVERAGE PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION RANK
ACC 75.30% 1
Ivy 57.21% 2
Big East 54.64% 3
ECAC 53.20% 4
THUNDERDOME! 52.20% 5
America East 49.04% 6
Patriot 47.44% 7
Northeast 40.61% 8
Metro Atlantic 33.28% 9
Atlantic Sun 30.49% 10

Some brief notes on this:

  • You can see some tiering in the analysis: The ACC is atop the hierarchy with no peer; the Ivy League stands in a notable position behind the ACC and ahead of the next tier; the Big East, ECAC, and THUNDERDOME! are lumped together, essentially featuring the same top-to-bottom strength; the America East and Patriot are conference equals despite having very different features in its top-to-bottom construct; the Northeast is existing in its own universe; and the Metro Atlantic and Atlantic Sun are in deep space while still orbiting college lacrosse's center. The only surprising aspect of this analysis is that the Big East has taken an important step forward in 2014: Going into the season, the league's four-year Pythagorean win expectation value was 45.28 percent (and that was including Denver). Every other league is pretty much doing what it had done in the past (or close to it). The Big East has importantly improved.
  • On the Patriot League: That's an oddball conference. Loyola ranks second nationally in Pythagorean win expectation, Army ranks seventh, Lehigh ranks 17th, and then things gets messy: Bucknell ranks 31st, Colgate 34th, Navy 46th, Holy Cross 59th, Lafayette 61st, and Boston University 64th. It's tough to have a third of the conference in the top third of the nation, another third in the middle third of the country, and another third at the very bottom of the bottom third of the nation. On the whole, the Patriot League is merely average despite having a handful of really strong teams.
  • I hate publishing this table because it gives fuel to people to burn the Atlantic Sun and Metro Atlantic. Let's be clear: These leagues deserve an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament regardless of how the conferences compare to Division I's other leagues.
  • The ECAC is the most average thing in the history of average things. Look at the membership breakout: Fairfield (67.79 percent, 12th nationally); Ohio State (58.80 percent, 23rd nationally); Bellarmine (54.35 percent, 29th nationally); Air Force (48.59 percent, 37th nationally); Michigan (36.46 percent, 53rd nationally). Drop off Fairfield and Michigan and you get exactly what the ECAC is: A colorless, undefined league.

The Nation's Best Potential Conference Races

Using the standard deviations of the Pythagorean win expectations of the members of each league, the ACC looks to have the craziest league race in 2014 based on performances so far this season:

RANKING THE CONFERENCES (INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS)
LEAGUE PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION STANDARD DEVIATION RANK
ACC 0.0697 1
THUNDERDOME! 0.0739 2
America East 0.0953 3
Metro Atlantic 0.1016 4
ECAC 0.1170 5
Atlantic Sun 0.1426 6
Big East 0.1456 7
Ivy 0.1502 8
Northeast 0.1797 9
Patriot 0.2284 10

Some brief notes on this:

  • This isn't set in stone. Most conference seasons are just starting, and performances in nonconference schedules aren't always the best indications of what's going to happen when league play really takes hold.
  • The ACC is a medieval torture chamber. Not only is it the country's best league, it's also the nation's most competitive in terms of top-to-bottom consistency and relative strength. The ACC deserves a medal, preferably one covered in blood.
  • This table is exactly why you don't throw the Metro Atlantic and Atlantic Sun in the garbage: These conferences are a ton of fun to follow because results aren't guaranteed. These leagues are more balanced than many others, even if they're not as strong -- in the overall -- as others. Competitive balance is important and it gives value to both the Metro Atlantic and Atlantic Sun that is otherwise withheld from both conferences. You want to watch both of these leagues because there's a potential for the unknown. Keep on keepin' on, you beautifully unkempt concerns.
  • You want to know why the Colonial is THUNDERDOME!? That's why.
  • It was somewhat surprising to see the America East ranked so highly. Upon closer inspection, it makes sense: Ignoring Albany (ranked 15th in Pythagorean win expectation), the league's five remaining teams -- UMBC, Hartford, Vermont, Binghamton, and Stony Brook -- are within 20 ranking positions and 16 percent in Pythagorean win expectation value. Basically, there's a huge mess of uncertainty after Albany, and that uncertainty is driven by the fact that these are relatively comparable teams.
  • The biggest change from the preseason prediction as to internal competitiveness and now has been the Northeast's position: The Northeast, over the last four seasons, was ranked second in internal competitiveness; the league is ranked second to last now. That will likely change as conference play starts in totem.
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