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.
Important People: Wes Berg (A); Eric Adamson (A/M); Jeremy Noble (M); Carson Cannon (D); Jack Bobzien (A); Ryan LaPlante/Jamie Faus (G)
Formerly Important People: Eric Law (A); Cam Flint (M); Chase Carraro (M/FOGO); Kyle Hercher (D); Gordie Koerber (A); Colin Scott (A)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 4; Coaches: 6
2013 Record: 14-5 (6-1, ECAC)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
* * * * *
The offense is in a period of transition, but it's not a standard-issue transition. There are layers to what the Pioneers are dealing with on the offensive end of the field going into 2014 that makes the transition unique. The established narrative is the losses of Law, Flint, and Koerber from Denver's roster: Law was a tank for the Pios in 2013, just crushing through enemy territory and crumbling the seemingly indestructible with a consistent level of damage-inducing force; Flint was a dynamic midfield option, running past any and all defenders, drawing attention, and having an ability to finish and distribute due to the attention that he drew with his dodging power; and Koerber was being groomed to become an elite finisher, finding a position in the starting lineup and ramming home 20 tallies in just his freshman campaign. Those aren't assets that are easily replicated, and they were the rods that produced the energy that was Denver's nuclear offense a season ago. But their departures -- for different reasons -- don't exist in a vacuum with respect to the development that the Pioneers face entering the coming spring; rather, it's the departure of those three offensive juggernauts combined with the graduation of Carraro that is fear-inducing. Carraro was a possession-generating robot sent from outer space to both provide Denver's offensive showcase tons of opportunities to embarrass the competition and to serve as a threat to create unsettled scoring opportunities right off of the draw. This layered transition -- finding consistency in the absence of three tremendous offensive players and also adopting an approach that doesn't include the value that Carraro provides -- is what is most concerning about the Pios as 2014 looms on the horizon.
A Thousand White Doves
Denver has what 62 other teams don't: Bill Tierney and Matt Brown prowling the sidelines. Tierney has seen it all in his career as a coach: He turned a dormant Princeton program into a hyper-elite soul-crunching monster with few peers, navigating that program through yearly graduations and still keeping the Tigers high on in college lacrosse hierarchy; he has taken a Denver program that was just scratching the surface of its potential under Jamie Munro (this isn't to say that Munro didn't do a good job at Denver; the cat did, after all, oversee the program's transition to Division I play and create a competitive foundation for Tierney to build upon) and escalated the Pioneers to the heights of college lacrosse, pushing a western outpost into Championship Weekend and the edge of maximum achievement; and Tierney is a strategic savant, the architect of defensive methodologies that still confound the opposition. As for Brown, there arguably isn't a better coach out of timeouts and his understanding and implementation of a prism offense has elevated the Pioneers above many of their peers. With both Tierney and Brown molding a strong returning roster (there is still elite talent in Denver, and the trio of Berg, Noble, and Bobzien is going to melt some faces), the Pioneers will be as prepared as any team in the nation. Coaching -- in terms of creating production -- is, at once, both overrated and underrated. But when elite coaching meets 1,000-decibel talent (and the Pioneers could have both if player development comes along this fall), good things usually follow.
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Runs through the Big East in their first tour through the league, earning the conference's auto-bid and flexing its muscles in the NCAA Tournament; stone-cold focus pushes the Pioneers toward Championship Weekend, supported by a defense that takes a step forward from an uneven effort in 2013; Berg scores all the goals and goals are renamed "Wesley's"; the Faus/LaPlante goaltending situation never causes a problem and shatters preconceptions about keeper rotations.
The Moon: A cable network is started that just features Tierney barking out motivation to you 24 hours a day. He never blinks. As a direct result, America pays off its debt to China in three weeks.
Six Feet Under: Offense is good but doesn't have the opportunity to play with huge possession margins in its favor, making the Pioneers scrap and claw for everything; the Big East proves difficult, seeing Denver fall to St. John's and Villanova, creating a difficult seeding situation in the league tournament; the NCAA Tournament is a dicey proposition; the Pioneers aren't quite as leveraged as they were a season ago and it hampers the team's scoring ability.