2014 Northeast Conference Tournament Preview

Mike Lawrie

Hawk Hill is the site for the league's tournament this season.

Everything that's worth knowing about the Northeast Conference Tournament.

Participants

2014 NEC TOURNAMENT
SEED TEAM LEAGUE RECORD LEAGUE WINS LEAGUE LOSSES
1. St. Joseph's 6-0 Wagner, Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary's, Bryant, Sacred Heart, Hobart None
2. Bryant 5-1 Hobart, Sacred Heart, Mount St. Mary's, Robert Morris, Wagner St. Joseph's
3. Sacred Heart 4-2 Robert Morris, Hobart, Wagner, Mount St. Mary's Bryant, St. Joseph's
4. Hobart 3-3 Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary's, Wagner Bryant, Sacred Heart, St. Joseph's

Times, Dates of Matchups

Thursday, May 1, 2014 (Semifinals -- at St. Joseph's (Sweeney Field)):

  • (4) Hobart v. (1) St. Joseph's: 4:00 PM (ET)
  • (3) Sacred Heart v. (2) Bryant: 7:30 PM (ET)

Saturday, May 3, 2014 (Championship -- at St. Joseph's (Sweeney Field)):

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

Television/Internet

NEC Front Row -- the Northeast Conference's propaganda machine -- will stream -- for free! -- all three tournament games.

League Tournament Spirit Animal

Is a possessed and grumpy Teddy Ruxpin a spirit animal? Yes? Then that.

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

2014 NEC TOURNAMENT TRUNCATED TEMPO-FREE PROFILES (AS OF APRIL 30, 2014)
METRIC ST. JOSEPH'S BRYANT SACRED HEART HOBART
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 34.26 (20) 30.01 (39) 31.82 (29) 28.29 (52)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.54 (27) 28.24 (19) 36.12 (59) 30.99 (34)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +1.71 (20) +6.63 (2) -4.28 (55) -3.58 (53)
Pythagorean Win Expectation 61.29% (20) 54.68% (28) 40.29% (52) 42.97% (43)

Bryant and St. Joseph's are the strength of the tournament, and it's interesting to note just how competitive those two teams are relative to the rest of the country: The Hawks and the Bulldogs can play. This isn't a league comprised of one legitimate team; there is some strength at the top of the Northeast Conference that is capable of throwing hands with some of Division I's better teams. The relative ability of St. Joseph's and Bryant is a major reason why the Northeast Conference -- as a whole -- finished above the MAAC this season in terms of league strength. It was a good season for the conference for the simple reason that the Hawks bootstrapped themselves into the same tier as the Bulldogs.

Predictions

log5 PROBABILITIES: PROBABILITY OF WINNING THE NEC TOURNAMENT (AS OF APRIL 30, 2014)
RANK TEAM PROBABILITY
1. St. Joseph's 41.70%
2. Bryant 31.53%
3. Hobart 14.05%
4. Sacred Heart 12.73%

In 22 years of college lacrosse, St. Joseph's has one tournament championship in its trophy case: The 2000 MAAC Tournament title (the inaugural MAAC Tournament). That's it, and the Hawks weren't even invited to the 12-team NCAA Tournament that season (the team's profile wasn't strong enough for at-large inclusion in 2000 and the MAAC didn't receive an automatic bid to the Big Barbeque until 2002). This is a major moment for St. Joseph's: Two wins on their home field and the Hawks will experience a May adventure for the first time. There are no guarantees, though, for the Hawks: Bryant is more than capable of earning its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament despite the fact that St. Joseph's enters the NEC Tournament as the team to beat.

Three Things

  • Bryant ranks 19th in adjusted defensive efficiency -- against a schedule currently ranked 58th in opposing offenses faced -- but it's not the simple recognition of the Bulldogs' defensive efficiency that's impressive; rather, it's the underlying metrics that create Bryant's defensive efficiency that marks the Bulldogs' defense as one of the strongest in the nation:
    BRYANT'S DEFENSIVE LOOK (AS OF APRIL 30, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.25 7
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 53.24% 1
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 21.19% 2
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 39.80% 3
    Defensive Assist Rate 12.45 4
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 39.96 6
    Team Save Percentage 60.20% 3
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 29.12 58
    This is violently solid output: Bryant is yielding a ton of shots per defensive opportunity but most of those attempts aren't finding the cage (in other words, the Bulldogs are forcing poor shot selection); shots that are finding the cage are being eaten up by Gunnar Waldt, one of the more underrated keepers in Division I this season; dovetailing the first point, Bryant's field defense is not only playing disciplined ball and allowing opponents to take bad shots, but the Bulldogs field defense is also controlling off-ball movement (indicated through a deflated defensive assist rate value); and, even though it isn't noted in the table, Bryant's defense isn't being asked to do too much as the Bulldogs play the ninth-fewest number of defensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play, forcing opponents to cash in on the limited opportunities that they have against a defense that rarely yields. Bryant has taken advantage of playing weak offensive teams, but the team's defensive performances in their outings is still incredibly strong.
  • The loss of Alex Love -- Love has only played three games for the Statesmen this year, sidelined due to an abdominal muscle issue -- has impacted Hobart's offensive output this season. The Statesmen have struggled to efficiently score goals this season, and a big part of that is attributable to the hole that Love left in Hobart's attack. The most glaring indication of this void is this fact: Despite only logging time in three games this year, Love ranks eighth among Hobart players in total points (10) and is sixth in goals scored (nine). The loss of Love opened an opportunity for Matt Opsahl to contribute on attack (and he has done fairly well in close with Cam Stone and Jake McHenry), but Hobart's offense lost some bite without Love's ability to finish. A comparison of the team's offensive profile between 2013 and 2014 illustrates -- to a degree -- what the injury to Love has meant to the Statesmen (obviously there are other factors here, including some transition through Hobart's midfield):
    HOBART'S TRUNCATED OFFENSIVE PROFILE (AS OF APRIL 30, 2014)
    METRIC 2013 VALUE (NT'L RANK) 2014 VALUE (NT'L RANK)
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 29.61 (34) 28.29 (52)
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.05 (40) 1.02 (56)
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 27.81% (28) 27.88% (36)
    Offensive Assist Rate 14.32 (50) 13.05 (57)
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 32.16 (22) 32.27 (23)
    Opponent Save Percentage 52.36% (27) 53.04% (39)
    This may not appear to be a drastic change in offensive output, but Hobart lost a cat that was shooting 60 percent when he was injured, generating over three points per game (against solid competition in Siena, Cornell, and Binghamton), and was getting over 85 percent of his shots on goal while taking 16 percent of the Statesmen's shots. Hobart needs to find a way to make a push through the apex of its season without Love and reverse some of the team's offensive issues.
  • Sacred Heart-Bryant may feature one of the most lopsided possession wars of this conference tournament season:
    SACRED HEART-BRYANT: A POSSESSION BLOODBATH(AS OF APRIL 30, 2014)
    METRIC SACRED HEART (NT'L RANK) BRYANT (NT'L RANK)
    Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play -4.28 (55) +6.63 (2)
    Faceoff Percentage 43.14% (50) 69.48% (1)
    Clearing Percentage 88.45% (18) 86.52% (35)
    Riding Rate 8.63% (63) 13.65% (36)
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Faceoff Wins 36.07% (38) 42.38% (10)
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Clearing Postures 58.78% (18) 50.00% (56)
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Opponent Failed Clears 5.15% (61) 7.62% (36)
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Faceoff Losses 41.68% (13) 22.93% (67)
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Opponent Clearing Postures 52.36% (48) 68.78% (1)
    Percentage of Defensive Opportunities from Failed Clears 5.95% (59) 8.30% (26)
    It's not necessarily the possession deficit that is troublesome for the Pioneers; rather, it's the cycle that the possession deficit can create: Sacred Heart's defense is a leaky unit, yielding goals at a high rate; Bryant is expected to pound that unit with possession after possession, likely generating goals at a solid rate; this will create faceoffs -- and given how Bryant creates offensive opportunities and how Sacred Heart creates defensive opportunities -- this could likely result in the Pioneers playing numerous defensive opportunities out of faceoff postures that require defensive stops -- something that Sacred Heart struggles to get -- in order to create offensive opportunities and the chance to keep the blinking lights on the scoreboard close. So, this is more than a Kevin-Massa-is-destroying-my-existence issue; this is a Sacred Heart-may-struggle-to-get-defensive-stops situation, thus increasing the power of Massa's faceoff play over the volition of the game. In short: If Sacred Heart hopes to overcome its possession deficit against the Bulldogs, the Pioneers need a ton of defensive stops out of faceoff losses, something that Sacred Heart has struggled with this season
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