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2013 College Lacrosse Preview: What Does a National Champion Look Like?

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Everyone wants to pick the national champion before Memorial Monday, but what are the traits that these teams have had over the last four seasons?

Winslow Townson

What a national champion looks like isn't necessarily what makes a team terrible or not terrible; I think there's a difference in looking at those profiles, kind of like if you were an agent for international supermodels and while flipping through headshots of potential clients were tossing to the side really pretty people for exceptionally pretty people that will eventually develop crippling cocaine habits as they walk the runway in Milan. There's just an inherent distinctness in the scope, right?

That's where this exists: We're looking at exceptionally pretty people and trying to figure out why these exceptionally pretty people are exceptionally pretty. (That's the dumbest sentence I've ever written, which is impressive because I consistently set the bar lower and lower every day.) I ran through an analysis like this prior to the tournament last year and Maryland -- which made the national title game -- looked most like the national champions from 2009 through 2011. With Loyola taking home top honors last season, it's time to revisit previously proffered trends. Here's a table that summarizes the metrics formerly utilized, including where the Greyhounds shook out when all was said and done:

VALUE 35.33 21.34 13.99 31.99% 0.20 45.10% 0.08 0.10 2.69
RANK 1 6 1 6 2 5 51 48 8
VALUE 36.67 24.02 12.65 35.34% 0.22 52.24% 0.09 0.13 2.25
RANK 1 6 2 5 1 4 48 30 9
VALUE 34.73 24.69 10.04 33.67% 0.18 51.79% 0.08 0.13 4.97
RANK 6 10 5 8 8 1 59 33 1
VALUE 34.97 23.17 11.80 30.57% 0.21 44.44% 0.08 0.10 0.51
RANK 10 4 2 24 12 8 52 42 28

Adj. Off. Eff.: Adjusted offensive efficiency.
Adj. Def. Eff.: Adjusted defensive efficiency.
Adj. Eff. Margin.: Adjusted efficiency margin.
O. Eff. Sht. %.: Offensive effective shooting percentage.
O. A/R.: Offensive assist rate.
EMO %.: Offensive extra-man opportunity conversion rate.
EMO/O. Poss.: Extra-man opportunities per offensive possession.
EMO Rel.: Rate of reliance on extra-man opportunities to generate goals.
S.O.S.: Strength of schedule.

So, Loyola appears to have rendered some of these trends potentially useless in trying to identify a national titlist while also falling in line with its predecessors in other metrics:

  • POTENTIALLY STILL USEFUL: Adjusted efficiency margin within the top five with adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency values within the top 10; high conversion rates with the personnel imbalance in their favor, all within the top 10 nationally; very little reliance on scoring with the personnel imbalance in their favor (in other words, the team doesn't need to score in extra-man postures to make the scoreboard blink); and the teams play few extra-man opportunities per offensive possession.
  • POTENTIALLY USELESS: Exceedingly high offensive shooting rates (although Loyola is an outlier and still around the top-third of the country); exceedingly high offensive assist rates (although Loyola finished in the top-12, which isn't all that far behind where Virginia was in 2011); playing an exceedingly difficult schedule (which makes sense, as good teams are good teams are good teams).

With the added data from 2012, though (and some other things I've been keeping an eye on), I think there are a few other metrics that help identify what could be a national champion when the selection committee makes its picks for the 2013 NCAA Tournament field:

  • Pythagorean Expectation: All four prior champions had expectations in the top five of the country with Syracuse and Duke finishing with the top mark and the 'Hounds finishing second (Virginia's value was fourth in 2011, and that was a charmed run to the title for the Cavaliers in 2011).
  • Clearing and (to a Lesser Extent) Possession Margin: All except Duke in 2010 had a clearing percentage among the top three in the country; both Loyola and Syracuse had possession margins in the top 10 in the land (both Duke and Virginia were around the top 15). Taking care of the bean and maximizing the possession game are valuable assets, and I think this will trend strongly down the line.
  • Turnovers per Offensive Possession: Had I been tracking turnovers per offensive possession -- which I didn't before 2012 -- I think that'd be added to this list in short order. This ties strongly to the clearing metric and also overall efficiency (which is starting to look like the biggest flashpoint in all of this). We'll see how this shakes out.

We'll see how this all shakes out this season, but if you're looking to make a killing in Vegas, my guess is that you should watch these measures like someone that really needs to pay attention to things so that they can make money.