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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Virginia

The Cavaliers wandered back into the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

You spent the better part of four months meticulously dissecting the 2014 college lacrosse season. You shouldn't stop now because cold turkey is a bad way to go through life, man. College Crosse is providing decompression snapshots of all 67 teams and their 2014 campaigns, mostly because everything needs a proper burial.

VITAL SIGNS

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 10-6 (1-4, ACC) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 62.50% 22
2013 Record 7-8 (0-3, ACC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 46.67% 34
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 69.03% 12
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 66.71% 18
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +2.32% 27*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +6* 18*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 36.29 12
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 32.67 17
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +3.62 18*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +5* 25*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.55 21
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 27.35 17
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -1.20 38*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -4* 38*
Downloadable Team Profile (.pdf)

*These ranking values consider only the programs that competed in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Accordingly, Boston University, Furman, Monmouth, and Richmond are not considered.

"ATTA BOY!" FACT

The little things aren't necessarily the reasons teams win or lose. The little things, though, build into the bigger things that dictate whether teams are successful or unsuccessful. These are foundational blocks to overall efficiency, and efficiency is a significant factor in a team's expected performance (and there's no measure that correlates better to winning percentage than expected winning percentage). Despite Virginia's contrasting records in 2013 and 2014, the Cavaliers have carved out a niche as a program dedicated to valuing the bean (at least in two metrics that illustrate ball-valuation).

Looking specifically at Virginia's performance in both turnover rate and run-of-play groundball rate, no team in the nation has been stronger than the 'Hoos at limiting giveaways and corralling loose balls:

THERE ARE NO SMALL ROLES
METRIC '13 VALUE '13 RANK '14 VALUE '14 RANK
Team Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 33.92 1
32.33 1
Unforced Team Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 19.43 9
18.59 6
Opponent Caused Team Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 14.49 2
13.74 2
Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 48.02 16
47.25 23
Unforced Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 22.03 38
20.96 56
Team Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 25.99 13
26.29 9
Turnover Margin +14.10 1
+14.92 1
Team Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Opportunities 36.01 1
34.01 3
Opponent Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Opportunities 26.44 21
23.49 9
Run-of-Play Groundball Margin +9.57 1
+10.52 1

Those are ridiculous values for Virginia. Considering the pace that the Cavs have played with the last two seasons -- the 'Hoos ranked second nationally in possessions per 60 minutes in 2014 (73.34); Virginia was fourth in the same measure in 2013 (72.87) -- it's incredibly impressive to see Virginia as both a high-ranking team in terms of giveaways and also in terms of smashing their opponents in both groundball and turnover margin. The Colombian-grade quality of Virginia’s performance in these metrics extends beyond isolated giveaway/takeaway/possession concerns: These margins and values have helped support an offense ranked around the top 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency in both 2013 and 2014 and a defense ranked around 20th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency in the same periods.

Again, there's nothing sexy about this, but it does illustrate maintenance of quality control that builds into larger principles of competitiveness. Against opponents that were capable of causing Virginia problems in these areas -- the Cavaliers' strength of schedule (as determined through average opponent Pythagorean win expectation) ranked third nationally in both 2013 and 2014 -- the 'Hoos kept their poise and created circumstances that were conducive to larger performance points tied to success.

"YOU'RE GROUNDED UNTIL YOU QUALIFY FOR THE AARP!" FACT

Virginia still hasn't figure out its goaltending situation:

THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH!
METRIC '13 VALUE '13 RANK '14 VALUE '14 RANK
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.50 57
27.15 66
Team Save Percentage 48.03% 51
47.02% 61
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.95 6
0.95 4
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.57 9
0.58 8
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 60.08% 40
60.87% 57
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 31.23% 53
32.25% 62
Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 51.97% 51
52.98% 61

Goaltending doesn't exist in a vacuum -- a field defense has a major impact on the type and quality of shots that a keeper is asked to turn away -- but these are icky rates for an ACC team. The Cavaliers leaned almost exclusively on Matt Barrettt -- a then-freshman -- to try and cure the team's goaltending issues and the keeper responded with a 46.7 save percentage and 21 fewer saves than goals allowed. A team doesn't need a first team All-American in the cage to win, but dragging an anchor between the pipes can create all kinds of problems for a defense and a team as a whole.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Virginia is in a solid spot going into 2015. The Cavs will lose Mark Cockerton, Rob Emery, and Scott McWilliams, but there are loads of options waiting to assume greater responsibility next spring: James Pannell, Owen Van Arsdale, and Ryan Lukacovic are available at attack; the midfield has options with Ryan Tucker, Greg Coholan, and Zed Williams; and the defense will have some familiar faces in Greg Danseglio, Barrett, Tanner Scales, and Tanner Ottenbreit. In totem, around 70 percent of the team's starts from 2014 return for 2015, and those contributors should help pace the 'Hoos in a season where Virginia will attempt to recapture their historic position in the national hierarchy.