I don't pay a ton of attention to where teams are ranked in the coaches and media polls throughout the year. The only time that it's a real concern to me is when I publish the weekly "Acrosse the Lacrosse Polls" piece on this Internet computing page, and that's merely an exercise in attempting to identify which teams are being overvalued, undervalued, and not valued at all. The polls, however, often create the context for how we identify "dark horses" and "surprise" teams: Upwardly mobile teams in each tally give all of us sociopaths a tangible means to define which teams are performing above expectations (expectations that are developed through hive mind or groupthink in an amorphous reality). It's why we all looked at Loyola last year, a team that wasn't included in either human poll in the 2012 preseason, and wondered what the hell was happening on Charles Street and if it could possibly continue through May. (It did. I have the DVR recording as proof. As you know, we've always been at war with Eastasia.)
This phenomenon -- a team outpacing the groupthink that dominates the preseason -- always happens in Division I lacrosse, although the degrees to which this occurs is rarely as drastic as what the 'Hounds did last year to all of our head melons. With the game continuing to develop a deeper pool of talented teams capable of redefining the caste system that once ruled Division I play, surprise teams are more numerous than they've been in the past (and much more competitive). So, what teams should we all keep an eye on in 2012 as potentially making pre-spring prognosticators look like knuckleheads? Here are four teams, broken out by what their potential ceilings may be.
Note: I am aware that there is a strong likelihood that I will regret the entirety of this piece come late-April. They are aggressive in nature, but isn't a true surprise supposed to be, you know, surprising? Them's the breaks.
FINAL FOUR DARKHORSE: Ohio State
I know what you're thinking: Suxa has been nosing through the medicine cabinet again. Here's the thing: I think that any of these 13 teams have a decent shot at making Championship Weekend in May -- Loyola, Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, North Carolina, Colgate, Lehigh, Cornell, Denver, Virginia, Princeton, and Syracuse. (There's obviously a sliding scale at play here, duh.) If I'm looking for a true surprise team to take a trip to Philadelphia -- one with issues that is currently off of most people's radars -- the Buckeyes are the first team that pop out to me as potentially dangerous. (I had Nick Myers' club ranked 16th in my pre-fall rankings, and I'm not sure that's changing much.) Ohio State will need to replace major pieces of the defense -- Keenan Ochwat, Joe Bonanni, and Matt Kawamoto -- but Greg Dutton returns to man the net and the offense, led by The Silver Gleaming Death Machine (Logan Schuss), should be markedly improved with the continued development of Dominique Alexander, Jesse King, and Turner Evans. The Buckeyes were right around the top 15 in the country last season in efficiency production and if the defense can find itself, this team has potential in the ECAC and for national recognition.
TOP 10 DARKHORSE: St. John's
This is a bit of stretch -- like all of these suggestions -- but hear me out: The schedule isn't overly oppressive, the attack is strong, and the defense is in a good position to help out the second best goalie in the Big East. That smells like the Johnnies could find a place in the top 10, doesn't it? I'm not sure that the Red Storm get here -- the team only ranked 35th in the nation in adjusted efficiency margin last year, which would make this leap among the greatest in the last four years in terms of teams moving to the top of the country -- but the potential isn't imaginary: Kevin Cernuto, Kieran McArdle, Dillon Ayers, and Jeff Lowman are All-America candidates, and Jason Miller has the program moving with solid momentum. The Johnnies can play with anybody and a few more winning streaks in 2013 (instead of trading wins and losses over their last nine games in 2012) could put St. John's in elite territory.
TOP 15 DARKHORSE: Navy
The Midshipmen were one of the most improved teams in the country last season despite finishing the year with only a 6-6 record (this was actually below the team's Pythagorean expectation, which was right around 60 percent in 2012). Replacing RJ Wickham in net and two close defensemen are two areas of concern that may limit Navy's ceiling in 2013, but Rick Sowell has a nice history of success in his prior stops (not to mention the turnaround that he helped push last season in Annapolis) and has at his disposal one of the better attack duos in the country in Sam Jones and Tucker Hull. The tough slate that the Mids will need to play -- due in part to the necessary Patriot League dates -- may impact Navy's overall record, but this is a team that still has top 20 potential in terms of actual performance and production.
TOP 20 DARKHORSE: Georgetown
I feel like I've written more about the Hoyas in the last few months than any other team, and I'm not really sure how that happened (maybe I really have been nosing through the medicine cabinet?). The Hoyas were a mere 7-6 last year and could have been worse (Georgetown's Pythagorean expectation was only about 47 percent, a marked that ranked 33rd in the country). Kevin Warne is whipping tail on The Hilltop and his defensive acumen should bolster what was already a decent defensive unit (the Hoyas finished 2012 ranked 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency) that returns a host of returning parts and some interesting new pieces. If Georgetown can get something -- anything! -- out of what was an anemic offense a year ago, the Hoyas are going to be in good shape; the attack trio of Travis Comeau, Zac Guy, and Brian Casey are ultimately going to dictate just how much the scoreboard blinks this season. There is a lot of potential here for Warne's crew to move from the middle of the country to the top third.
Who do you guys think will make big moves and surprise this spring? Leave your thoughts in the comments.