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2014 College Lacrosse Preview: Who Can You Trust to Excel?

There are no guarantees that successful teams will stay that way, but these teams have been the best since 2010.

Drew Hallowell

Trying to determine which teams will excel in a coming season usually starts with a simple question: "Who was good in recent years?" That's a reasonable place to begin an analysis, but simply looking at wins and losses and tournament inclusion/progression necessarily misses important aspects of determining just how good a team's prior performance was. There are all kinds of wrinkles involved in determining how good a team was in a prior year (or years), and static flashpoints -- like wins and losses and tournament inclusion/progression -- often misses esoteric aspects inherently involved in answering that straightforward question.

To begin this analysis, utilization of the Pythagorean win expectation is necessary. The Pythagorean win expectation measures a team's generation of wins based on its production on the field, using adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies as the benchmarks for determining how many wins a team should create. It's purely based on performance, and provides a solid illustration as to which teams have been the strongest over the last four seasons. Averaging these values, the following ten teams held the highest Pythagorean win expectation percentages since 2010:

Cornell 73.87% 1
Duke 72.91% 2
Maryland 72.29% 3
Syracuse 71.97% 4
Notre Dame 71.68% 5
Virginia 71.06% 6
Princeton 68.79% 7
Johns Hopkins 68.77% 8
North Carolina 67.79% 9
Denver 67.15% 10

The next five (in order): Loyola (65.12%); Bucknell (64.89%); Hofstra (62.52%); Ohio State (61.76%); and Stony Brook (59.50%).

With limited exception, it's hard to argue that those 10 teams haven't been the strongest programs in the nation since 2010. Seven of those 10 teams have made a trip to Championship Weekend since 2010 (Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and North Carolina are the only programs that haven't participated in the Final Four in at least one of the last four seasons), three of the last four national titlists are in the table (and Loyola is just on the fringe), and every championship game participant in the last four years -- save for the Greyhounds -- comes from those 10 schools.

The analysis, however, doesn't stop there. While these programs have high average Pythagorean win expectation values, how consistent have these teams been in maintaining their level of win generation? This sounds like a job for standard deviation and his sidekick -- variance:

Johns Hopkins 0.0240 2 0.0006 2
Maryland 0.0265 3 0.0007 3
Notre Dame 0.0522 18 0.0027 18
Princeton 0.0565 21 0.0032 21
Denver 0.0677 27 0.0046 27
Duke 0.0688 29 0.0047 29
Syracuse 0.0739 33 0.0055 33
Cornell 0.0771 34 0.0059 34
Virginia 0.0795 35 0.0063 35
North Carolina 0.0240 45 0.0120 45

So, what are these tables showing us?

  • There's enough evidence here to say that it is highly likely that Hopkins will be expected to win somewhere around 68 percent of its games (that's about a 10-win season for the Jays). Johns Hopkins has pretty much sat on that value for the last four seasons and haven't deviated much from it. I'd feel confident that Hopkins will hit its marks (but arguably not exceed them).
  • In any other season you'd likely have Maryland as a legitimate national title contender based on the information detailed above, but with a huge offensive overhaul taking place in College Park, simply assuming that the Terrapins will continue their skull-crushing exercises may be in error.
  • Notre Dame is a lacrosse metronome. They have been one of the most trustworthy elite teams in the nation since 2010.
  • If you were looking solely at data, North Carolina wouldn't be a trendy pick for a victory lap on Memorial Monday this coming May. This may have been part of the reason why the Tar Heels didn't get the heat they deserved in 2013 -- the program's checked history and variance in hanging with the nation's hyper-elite created skepticism. I feel strongly positive about Carolina this spring, but there is some concern given the team's performance history.
  • Princeton's continued performance trends in light of what Cornell became in the Ivy League with Rob Pannell is an undersold story and arguably the reason that the Tigers are a dark horse national championship contender this year. There is a consistency of excellence out of Princeton even when it was overshadowed by their rivals from Ithaca.
  • Cornell has arguably had the best program in the country over the last four seasons, but the team's relative variance in expected winning percentage, roster turnover, and a huge coaching change makes the Big Red one of the most interesting teams considered in this piece (and the most unlikely to continue to hold its high position in the Division I lacrosse hierarchy).
  • The parallels between Duke and Syracuse should not be lost on anyone. Relatively high trust factor but full of explosive power.