For as possessed as Massachusetts was at the sunrise of the 2014 season, the Minutemen were inversely erratic at the end of last spring. Prior to the team's loss to Fairfield in Connecticut on March 18, 2014, the Minutemen had ascended to 11th in both the coaches and media polls, riding its hot start to the edge of the country's elite. That early season push, however, wasn't indicative of the team Massachusetts would become in the last half of its season: The Minutemen ran out of steam in significant ways down the stretch in 2014, losing five of its last six games and failed to make the THUNDERDOME! Tournament. The team's average margin of defeat in that stretch was three goals, putting in performances that led to an aggregate goal differential of -18 in the stretch (the average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value of those six opponents was 53.39 percent).
The chance to erase the memories of an uneven 2014 campaign starts with managing the team's 2015 slate. Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
THE LAW OF THUNDERDOME!
March 21: at Hofstra; March 28: at Towson; April 4: Fairfield; April 18: Drexel; April 24: Delaware
In the last 10 seasons, the top seed in the THUNDERDOME! Tournament has walked away from the league's postseason massacre with the championship trophy only twice (in 2006 and 2012). (As many fourth- and third-seeded teams have earned the league's ultimate prize as top-seeded teams over the same period.) Moreover, on only four occasions in the last 10 seasons have the top two seeds in the THUNDERDOME! Tournament contested for the league's title in the championship death match. The residue of this is straightforward: Simply getting into the THUNDERDOME! Tournament is arguably as important as earning a high seed. Anything can -- and does -- happen in Division I's most complex and volatile postseason tournament, and the key for Massachusetts -- which missed out on the vicious murderfest in 2014 -- is finding a way to pluck an invitation to the show.
That push for the Minutemen, though, is going to be difficult: Massachusetts begins its conference slate on the road against two solid opponents (the Minutemen are a combined 1-3 against the Pride and Tigers over the last two seasons with an average goal differential of -2.25) and follows those games up with two tough home games against Drexel and Fairfield. There likely isn't a backdoor to the league's postseason this coming spring, and the Minutemen will need to come correct right out of the gate -- in a span of less than a month -- against the conference's strongest teams.
March 7: at Albany; March 10: Quinnipiac; March 14: Penn State
This early March stretch doesn't appear impossible, but there's some latent difficulty hiding in this three-game push. The dates occur within a week, which obviously implies the possibility of fatigue. But it’s the nature of each of the games that creates a sense of "What if?": Albany is likely going to try and run Massachusetts ragged, a tough way to enter a compressed week of games; Quinnipiac is a likely victory for Minutemen, but it sits between a circled date against the Great Danes and a big name in Penn State; and Penn State has the talent, coaching, and physical brutishness to make any bruises -- physical and mental -- that Massachusetts suffered going into their meeting with the Nittany Lions show in unique ways.
0 to 1,000,000 Miles Per Hour in Half a Second
February 7: Army; February 14: at North Carolina; February 21: at Harvard
That's a hell of a way to kick things off: Opening with trying to deal with John Glesener in what could be miserable early-February conditions; then a trip to North Carolina to run with what is likely a top-five Tar Heels team with a deep bench; and then closing the month with a Crimson team that has the potential to play better than a year ago when Harvard won a share of the Ivy League regular season title. These are the good times, people.