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Which Teams Overachieved and Underachieved in 2013?

Are teams really what their record says they are?


Bill Parcells -- legendary NFL crank and, at least according to how New York professional yapper/snoozer Mike Francesca, one of the best coaches ever -- has a pretty famous quote: "You are what your record says you are." This is partially true and it's partially nonsense -- the goal for any team is to win games, and if you're not winning games you're underachieving; however, the superficial nature of a record (the blunt existence of "win" and "loss") provides zero context as to how a team put that record together. A team's underlying performance is often more indicative of whether a team is underachieving or overachieving. That performance often provides the context necessary to determine whether a team is hitting, missing, or outpacing its marks.

A great way to make this determination is by looking at a team's Pythagorean win expectation and comparing it to that team's actual winning percentage. Pythagorean win expectation is an estimation of a team's winning percentage based on the rate at which a team scores goals and the rate at which a team allows tallies. The difference between the two is often characterized as "luck," but that term makes me want to smash my face against the wall. Instead, I prefer "overachieving" and "underachieving" (teams should, after all, control their circumstances). To calculate a team's Pythagorean win expectation, I used adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies as the factors in the formula.

As expected, Division I lacrosse partly followed Parcells' affirmation of reality, but also proved that the curmudgeon wasn't espousing a universal truth: 30.16 percent of Division I lacrosse teams finished with exactly the number of wins that their performance expected them to generate; 80.95 percent of the cohort finished with a win total that was within one win -- in either direction -- of what their performance dictated as a win expectation; 12.70 percent of Division I was two wins off in either direction; and just 6.35 percent of teams playing at college lacrosse's highest level were three wins off of what their performance entailed. Basically, most of the country earned records concomitant with their performance, essentially meeting their potential; about 20 percent of the country overachieved or underachieved. It's that 20 percent of the nation -- 12 teams -- that are the most interesting in all of Division I.

Here's a table that highlights the top five teams that exceeded and fell behind expectations. For a full illustration of Division I, download this handy Microsoft Excel file (if that doesn't work, here's a .pdf of the report).

Jacksonville 13 8 64.54% 36.18% 5 +3 +25.36% Navy 13 3 23.08% 33.98% 4 -1 -10.91%
Marist 14 10 71.43% 49.15% 7 +3 +22.28% Michigan 14 1 7.14% 19.03% 3 -2 -11.89%
Drexel 15 11 73.33% 52.96% 8 +3 +20.37% Virginia 15 7 46.67% 61.65% 9 -2 -14.98%
Ohio State 17 13 76.47% 62.71% 11 +2 +13.76% Dartmouth 14 3 21.43% 36.91% 5 -2 -15.48%
Albany 18 13 72.22% 60.14% 11 +2 +12.08% Rutgers 15 2 13.33% 31.53% 5 -3 -18.19%

Some brief thoughts:

  • Virginia is a great example of a team that wants to smack Bill Parcells for opening his mouth and letting pseudo-garbage come out. The Cavaliers were arguably among the top 20 teams in the country this season and played that way for much of the year. Their problem? They couldn't seem to finish games: Virginia outplayed Syracuse for much of their game in the Carrier Dome but fell in overtime and Cornell and Ohio State clipped the Cavaliers late, each earning one-goal victories over Virginia. If a ball bounces a different way or if Virginia gets an extra stop or two, the Cavaliers are a 9-6 type of team instead of 7-8 one. The Cavaliers underachieved partly due to the fact that it was unable to pull out three games that it was in a position to win. That's rough stuff.
  • It's not surprising to see Jacksonville and Marist as the two teams with the highest rate of overachievement this season. The MAAC is a crazy place, a Petri dish for win-generation. What's most notable about the Red Foxes' and Dolphins' placement is what happened to each team in the MAAC Tournament: The teams entered the league postseason as the top and seconded seeded teams; neither advanced to the NCAA Tournament as the league's representative. Based on both teams' overachievement this year, their setbacks in the MAAC Tournament aren't particularly shocking (although Marist losing to Detroit in the semifinals is still pretty damn bonkers).
  • This wasn't intended, but it's not the most fun day to be a Navy fan: First, Navy ranks as one of the most prominent teams in the nation to regress from its 2012 performance; now, the Midshipmen are identified as an underachiever, leaving at least a win on the table (the 8-9 overtime loss to Georgetown? the 7-8 loss to Towson? the 9-10 loss to Fairfield?). Keep on keepin' on, Midshipmen.
  • Drexel and Albany are interesting teams. The Dragons were partially invincible this season (which isn't a thing), pulling off late comeback after late comeback, building itself into a top 20-type of team with only wit and guile as its tools to avoid death (and a defense ranked 48th in adjusted defensive efficiency). Albany managed to get to 13 wins despite dragging a defense ranked 38th in the nation with it. These were flawed teams -- Drexel more than Albany -- but had a certain something (for the Dragons, determination; for the Great Danes, The Thompson Trio destroying faces) that allowed each to best its overall expectation. Finding a way to win and kicking the universe in the crotch is cool, and Drexel and Albany did that almost as well as any team in the nation this season.
  • Look: Michigan just completed its second season of Division I play. Where it ranks in this entire thing doesn't matter.