2014 Atlantic Sun Lacrosse Tournament Preview

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Mercer will host the inaugural -- and only -- Atlantic Sun Tournament.

Everything that's worth knowing about the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

Participants

2014 ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT
SEED TEAM LEAGUE RECORD LEAGUE WINS LEAGUE LOSSES
1. Mercer 4-1 Richmond, VMI, High Point, Furman Jacksonville
2. High Point 4-1 Jacksonville, VMI, Furman, Richmond Mercer
3. Jacksonville 3-2 VMI, Mercer, Furman High Point, Richmond
4. Richmond 2-3 Furman, Jacksonville Mercer, High Point, VMI

Times, Dates of Matchups

Thursday, May 1, 2014 (Semifinals -- at Mercer (Moye Complex)):

  • (3) Jacksonville v. (2) High Point: 3:30 PM (ET)
  • (4) Richmond v. (1) Mercer: 7:00 PM (ET)

Saturday, May 3, 2014 (Championship -- at Mercer (Moye Complex)):

  • Semifinal I Winner v. Semifinal II Winner: 1:00 PM (ET)

Television/Internet

The Atlantic Sun is making their own market for its championship, broadcasting all three games -- for free! -- on ASun.tv. Unleash the southern drawls!

League Tournament Spirit Animal

Crabs in a bucket.

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

2014 ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT TRUNCATED TEMPO-FREE PROFILES (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
METRIC MERCER HIGH POINT JACKSONVILLE RICHMOND
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 28.70 (49) 29.03 (46) 30.70 (36) 26.84 (54)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 40.66 (65) 30.61 (31) 34.50 (51) 30.65 (32)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +3.14 (14) +0.21 (33) -4.58 (57) -5.89 (64)
Pythagorean Win Expectation 25.35% (59) 45.91% (34) 41.06% (48) 39.85% (53)

The Atlantic Sun ranks dead last in the nation in overall conference strength -- the league's Pythagorean win expectation is just 29.84 percent, notably below the MAAC (which ranks ninth nationally at 38.05 percent) -- and the constitution of the league's tournament reflects the league's overall struggles. These are teams with aspects of strong play -- Mercer's ability to dominate possession is among the nation's best; High Point is an undervalued team relative to the rest of Division I and has some defensive pop; Jacksonville can score a bit; and Richmond has been the best of the new programs this season -- but this tournament won't be confused with what the ACC did to everyone's faces at PPL Park last weekend.

Predictions

log5 PROBABILITIES: PROBABILITY OF WINNING THE ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
RANK TEAM PROBABILITY
1. High Point 33.68%
2. Richmond 30.45%
3. Jacksonville 25.54%
4. Mercer 10.33%

What the Atlantic Sun lacks in overall strength it makes up for in leveraged internal competitiveness. On the year the Atlantic Sun ranked fifth nationally in race tightness with the bulk of the conference's membership within striking distance of each other. That should make for a hyper-interesting postseason tournament, with no team holding a decided advantage over any other participant in the three-game playoff. This is why the Atlantic Sun came to fruition: These teams needed each other and will benefit from playing competitively comparable teams.

As for the specific probabilities: (1) Mercer stands as the tournament's one-seed but has the longest odds at the title based on the way that I ran the probabilities (if I run the probabilities as different way, Mercer's chances are second only to High Point); (2) the inverse to Mercer's situation applies to Richmond; and (3) High Point's balance makes them the favorite entering the tournament. Leagues like the Atlantic Sun -- featuring a host of teams that aren't among the nation's elite and frequently engage in uneven performances -- make tournament probabilities difficult to create in a consistent fashion. Science!

Three Things

  • Mercer's defense is a major issue entering the tournament, but the Bears lucked out in their semifinal draw: Had Richmond beaten VMI last weekend, Mercer would have faced Jacksonville -- and the Dolphins' fairly capable offense -- in the semifinals; instead, due to the Keydets defeat of the Spiders, Mercer draws Richmond and the team's struggling offense. This is a matchup dream for Mercer: Due to the expected possession margin in Richmond-Mercer (the Bears play with a big margin in their favor; Richmond plays in big deficits), Mercer can limit its defensive exposure -- driving down the number of stops the Bears' inefficient defense needs to make -- while putting pressure on Richmond's inefficient offense -- only three teams turn the ball over more on a per-possession basis than the Spiders -- to score goals in the limited opportunities they're expected to get. This should create a situation where: (1) Mercer's relative strength (its offense) can hammer at Richmond's relative strength (its defense); and (2) Mercer's defense is relieved from pressure while Richmond's offense has pressure put upon it. It isn't that the Bears are the one-seed that is advantageous to Mercer; it's that the Bears get the best opponent they could have hoped for in the semifinal round.
  • There is a lot to like about High Point but it's the Panthers' defense that is likely the key to the team's potential championship run in the tournament. High Point hasn't played a schedule littered with elite offensive opponents -- the Panthers' schedule ranks 40th in opposing offenses faced -- but High Point's defense has done an incredible job at suffocating its opposition:

    HIGH POINT'S DEFENSIVE PROFILE (AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 30.61 31
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.17 18
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 25.88% 16
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 64.71% 64
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 45.52 1
    Team Save Percentage 60.00% 4
    Defensive Assist Rate 13.10 7

    Austin Geisler -- High Point's soul-crushing keeper -- has been a dominant force of concentrated power this season, turning everything away that comes his way (and he sees a lot, as much as any goaltender in the nation). This is the reason why the Panthers look like the favorite in the Atlantic Sun despite entering the tournament as the two-seed.

  • Jacksonville entered 2014 as the Atlantic Sun favorite but due to (1) a defense that has ranked in the bottom quarter of a nation, and (2) a possession problem that exacerbates the team's defensive issues, the Dolphins haven't quite satisfied expectations this season. It's the team's possession factors that are especially interesting:

    JACKSONVILLE'S POSSESSION METRICS(AS OF APRIL 28, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play -4.58 57
    Faceoff Percentage 38.85% 62
    Clearing Percentage 88.39% 19
    Riding Percentage 12.21% 45
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Faceoff Wins 31.51% 54
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Clearing Postures 61.37% 10
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Opponent Failed Clears 7.12% 41
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Faceoff Losses 43.10% 9
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Opponent Clearing Postures 50.71% 58
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Failed Clears 6.19% 55
    Here's what this table illustrates: (1) Jacksonville gets the vast majority of its offensive opportunities from clearing postures, but the Dolphins struggle at getting defensive stops that create clearing postures; (2) the Dolphins have done a nice job at clearing the ball, but aren't getting enough defensive stops to make the team's clearing ability a huge factor in their games; (3) the team's inability to win draws is a problem only because Jacksonville (a) can't get defensive stops, and (b) the team is yielding lots of goals, thereby creating faceoff situations; and (4) a crazy high volume of Jacksonville's defensive postures are coming from faceoff losses, creating a cycle that ties to point (3). Defense matters, and Jacksonville's defense has not only allowed for the Dolphins' opponents to make the scoreboard blink, but it's heavily influencing the team's possession situation.
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