The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Team: Ohio State
Important People: Greg Dutton (G); Jesse King (M); Turner Evans (A); Carter Brown (A); Joe Meurer (D); Robby Haus (D); Gordie Koerber (A)
Formerly Important People: Logan Schuss (A); Trey Wilkes (FOGO); Dominique Alexander (M); Dan Wertz (M); Kevin Mack (SSDM)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 8; Coaches: 3
2013 Record: 13-4 (5-2, ECAC)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
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It's hard to meet expectations, especially for a program that has a checkered tradition in Division I lacrosse. Ohio State has made only four trips to the NCAA Tournament -- all since 2003 -- and have progressed to the national quarterfinals only twice (in 2008 and 2013). Following a season in which the Buckeyes were arguably overseeded in The Big Barbecue and closer to a top 15 team rather than the front end of the top five, pressure to duplicate the team's 2013 effort is growing. This has created two issues:
- For a program that has not experienced the crushing demands of expectations (appropriate expectations and misguided ones), are Nick Myers and Associates, Ltd. in a focused position to attack reality and exist in this suffocating environment?
- Did Ohio State create a reality that is substantial enough to assume that it will exist in a similar form in 2014?
A Thousand White Doves
Ohio State is poised to transition well from arguably its most successful season ever. The losses of The Silver Gleaming Death Machine (Schuss) and Alexander are substantial (these two cats are defining figures in the Buckeyes' development as a nationally-relevant program), but Myers is working with chunks of talent that drove Ohio State's success in 2013:
- The close defense returns intact, a solid unit that wasn't flashy but still comprised the core of a defensive unit that finished last year ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Haus, just a sophomore and ripe for growth after an impressive freshman campaign, earned all-ECAC honors in 2013; his line mates -- Imbordino and Meurer -- are seniors that have competed against some of the best offenses in the nation over their careers are have the experience and ability to form a potentially limitless degree of pain for the opposition.
- Greg Dutton returns for his final tour in the crease for the Buckeyes. The keeper has quietly put together a solid career in Columbus, ably backstopping Ohio State the last three seasons. His save percentage dipped a shade from 2012 to 2013, but he was also under the heaviest fire of his career in 2013 and still managed to finish above 52 percent. Dutton doesn't have to be a top 10 goalie in 2014 for Ohio State to find success; he simply needs to lead with his experience and remain consistent on a game-in and game-out basis, allowing his field defense to make life manageable for him.
- All of those offensive pups that had been orbiting Schuss are now put in a headlining role, and they look ready to power slide and make the crowd roar: All but two -- Schuss and Alexander -- of the team's double-digit point-generators return from a season ago; that returning core accounted for 56.84 percent of Ohio State's goals in 2013, 49.18 percent of the Buckeyes' assists, 53.85 percent of the team's total points, and accounted for 44.85 percent of Ohio State's shots (shooting 37.37 percent as a group, more than four percent better than the Buckeyes as a whole in 2013). Adding Koerber, a Denver transfer that put up 24 points on 20 goals and four assists last year for the Pioneers in his freshman campaign, further strengthens Ohio State's offensive assets. Now, the disappearance of Schuss is going to have an impact on how the Buckeyes generate offense, but there is, at a minimum, sustainable value returning to Columbus that is positioned to wreak havoc given their historic production.
- When viewed in totem, production balance appears relevant. This is what makes the Buckeyes an interesting team entering 2014: Ohio State looks capable at both ends of the field; the team may not need to rely on a particular facet of play to drive its success. This is the modus operandi of teams that act as tough outs.
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: The strength of the ECAC, entering the NCAA Tournament in a seeded position and a double-digit win total in tow; grabs a handful of huge out-of-conference wins without the appearance of regular season brain farts against inferior opponents; Jesse King assumes the position of offensive force, a solid incumbent to the throne at which Schuss sat.
The Moon: ECAC champions and an NCAA Tournament invitation, the program's first back-to-back trip to The Big Barbecue since 2004; Greg Dutton fills his senior season with big stops, alleviating the extra pressure put on the Buckeyes defense due to the graduation of faceoff animal Wilkes; offense takes time to find its function early in the season but sits in a nice groove through March and April.
Six Feet Under: The graduation of Schuss and Alexander are too much to overcome, their leadership void left unfilled and Ohio State struggles to find an offensive identity; the defense regresses due to extra pressure to create stops and keep the scoreboard in a manageable position; the team is mired in a sticky league situation, looking -- at times -- no better or worse than Fairfield or Air Force; the NCAA Tournament is far from a certainty.