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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Cornell

Matt Kerwick had a solid run in his first season in the big chair in Ithaca.

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

CORNELL BIG RED
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 11-5 (5-1, Ivy) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 68.75% 11
2013 Record 14-4 (6-0, Ivy) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 77.78% 2
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 70.92% 10
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 82.87% 1
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -11.95% 57*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -9* 52*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 37.23 9
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 39.42 4
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -2.19 50*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -5* 41*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.17 18
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 24.53 5
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -3.64 53*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -13* 53*
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

Cornell was facing a potentially difficult situation going into the 2014 season: The graduations of Rob Pannell, Steve Mock, Max Van Bourgondien, and Connor English robbed the Red of 57 percent of the team's total goals from 2013, almost 60 percent of the team's total points from 2013, and over 55 percent of Cornell's total shots from that year. The Big Red were in transition, refocusing the team's offensive responsibilities around four players -- Connor Buczek, Matt Donovan, Dan Lintner, and John Hogan -- that held varying degrees of pop and importance to Cornell's offensive efforts in their careers (in 2013, that quartet accounted for around 31 percent of the team's total goals, 27 percent of Cornell's total points, and about 31 percent of the Red's total shots). This was a new offensive core with talent and potential, but one that was stepping out of the shadow that established stars cast during their tenures in Ithaca.

As it turns out, all the worries about whether Cornell could shatter opposing defenses without the presence of Pannell and Associates Destruction Corporation, Ltd. was unfounded: The Red remained an assaultive offensive force in 2014 with its new cast of featured players, standing among the nation's most efficient offensive concerns:

WHAT, ME WORRY?
METRIC 2013 VALUE 2013 NT'L RANK 2014 VALUE 2014 NT'L RANK
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 39.42 4 37.23 9
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.19 10 1.16 25
Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity 0.67 19 0.70 12
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 56.79% 48 60.44% 19
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 32.07% 9 32.03% 8
Raw Offensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 56.47% 3 52.99% 10
Offensive Assist Rate 20.20 15 20.73 14
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 38.95 10 41.82 20
Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 29.36 6 32.91 28
Opponent Save Percentage 43.53% 3 47.01% 10

There are noted deviations from the team's machine in 2013, but 2014 was far from a poor offensive season for Cornell. Teams would kill for this kind of transition after losing one of the best offensive players that has taken run in the contemporary iteration of the game, and Cornell -- with relative ease -- found ways to keep the scoreboard blinking at a high rate despite the hole that Pannell left on the team's roster.

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

Cornell played two seasons last year: The first season featured the Red running through a relatively easy nine games and collecting nine victories; the second season featured a significantly increased strength of schedule and a 2-5 record. This doesn't imply that that Cornell was a fraud or that the Big Red hoodwinked the nation. Rather, it's just that Cornell's schedule was oddly structured and its results reflected -- in part -- an imbalance in the kind of teams that the Big Red were seeing at various points of the season. Here's a breakdown that digs a little into the two seasons that Cornell played:

TWO SEASONS IN ONE
PORTION OF SCHEDULE S.O.S.: AVG. PYTH. WIN EXP. RECORD OPP. WITH >60% PYTH. WIN. EXP.
First 9 Games 48.52% 9-0 Virginia (W); Yale (W); Pennsylvania (W)
Last 7 Games 63.66% 2-5 Harvard (L); Syracuse (L); Princeton (W); Pennsylvania (L); Maryland (L)

Again: This isn't to imply that Cornell was bamboozling us all early in the year. The team, in the overall, went 4-4 against opponents expected to win more than 60 percent of their games (in function, the Red went .500 against teams ranked in the top 25 of Pythagorean win expectation). Instead, it illustrates that the Red arguably weren't as good as their unblemished record to start the season and weren't as weak as their record in their final seven games implies.

What's left, then, is a residual question of "What happened?" That's difficult to answer at a macro level. The universe tends to even things out, and the Red seemed to be a victim of that last season:

  • In the Red's first nine games it faced three opponents expected to win more than 60 percent of their games. These were all toss-up games for Cornell and the Big Red went 3-0 in those games.
  • In the Red's last seven games it played in two toss-up games against opponents expected win more than 60 percent of their games. Cornell went 0-2 in those games.
  • The Red escaped with a one-goal victory against Michigan in the early part of its schedule, a team it was expected to crush. In its last seven games it dropped opportunities against Harvard and Hofstra, teams the Big Red were expected to defeat (although not nearly as badly as the Wolverines).
Life is weird.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Cornell has the potential to be very dangerous in 2015. The team returns 80 percent -- !!!!!!!! -- of its starts last season, including its top five point-generators from 2014 (all of which started 16 games last year). What's especially scary about this volume of returning contributors is that seven of the players -- Donovan, Lintner, Buczek, Hogan, John Edmonds, Jordan Stevens, and Brennan Donville -- are upperclassmen, providing leadership and experience for a program that seemingly has a core of established contributors each and every season (in total, the Red are listing 14 seniors on their roster). Matt Kerwick likely has another team on his hands with NCAA Tournament designs.