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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Lehigh

The Hawks did well in a year of transition.

Streeter Lecka

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

LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 13-5 (6-2, Patriot) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 72.22% 9
2013 Record 12-5 (6-0, Patriot) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 70.59% 12
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 71.25% 9
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 72.63% 9
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -1.38% 36*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 0* 29*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 32.16 28
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 35.17 11
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -3.01 54*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -17* 52*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 25.80 6
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 26.07 15
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency +0.27 29*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency +9* 17*
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

Lehigh is building a tradition of defensive excellence in Bethlehem. The Hawks finished 2014 ranked in the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and that mark was not achieved solely because Matt Poillon is a soul-eater between the pipes. Importantly, Lehigh was one of the best turnover-generating teams in the nation in 2014, dispossessing opponents at a rate that stood at the top of the nation and contributed to the second strongest opponent turnover rate in Division I lacrosse:

WHAT'S MINE IS MINE; WHAT'S YOURS IS MINE
METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 53.43 2
Unforced Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 22.08 45
Team Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 31.35 1
Turnover Margin +7.48 10

So, why was this valuable to the Hawks last season? That question can spit out a myriad of answers, but these are a few that seem reasonable given Lehigh's statistical profile:

  • The Mountain Hawks were solid in possession margin last season, averaging a 3.61 advantage per 60 minutes of play (this ranked ninth nationally). Every turnover that Lehigh caused and opponents committed were one less opportunity for Lehigh's opponents to try and pepper the cage, making the team's possession margin that much more difficult to overcome. Possession starvation combined with possession erasing is an explosive recipe.
  • Poillon was a beast last season despite limping around with a torn labrum in his hip. If opponents were able to actually get through a possession without being dispossessed, Poillon was there to anchor the team's defense with his 57.65 save percentage. It's nice to have a stopper that, you know, stops things.
  • Only an estimated 52 percent of Lehigh's functional defensive opportunities -- opportunities that breached the box -- didn't end with a turnover. That value ranks fifth nationally. In other words, of the 29 defensive opportunities that Lehigh generally played in a 60 minute game, almost 13 ended with an opponent turnover. That leaves only 16 defensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play that (1) the Mountain Hawks had to get some kind of other defensive stop, or (2) an opponent could score. 16! That shrinks the game to manageable chunks of competitiveness.

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

Lehigh missed out on the NCAA Tournament in 2014, breaking the Mountain Hawks' two-year streak of making an appearance in The Big Barbeque. Lehigh's exclusion wasn't unreasonable: The Hawks' RPI ranking was 29th nationally and the team's weighted RPI strength of schedule value ranked just 30th in Division I. The metrics weren't in Lehigh's favor last spring, but the Mountain Hawks can't point a finger at numbers to assign blame for the program's lost chance to throw hands with the best teams in the nation. Rather, Lehigh let some massive opportunities slip past them throughout the course of the 2014 season, dates that could have drastically changed the Hawks' volition toward a May adventure.

Against teams with an adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value north of 60 percent (essentially the top 25 teams in the nation), Lehigh went a dreadful 1-5, beating only Army in the Patriot League semifinals. The team's average margin of defeat in those games was just north of four goals, a significant contrast to the seven-goal average margin of victory that the Mountain Hawks held against all other opponents (Lehigh went 12-0 against that class of competition). Exacerbating the issues Lehigh faced while throwing hands with the best teams that it met last spring was the fact that the Mountain Hawks weren't dramatically inferior to its best opponents:

IT DIDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY
OPPONENT RESULT MASSEY WIN % LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF.
Loyola 7-14 (L) 37% -1
at Yale 2-10 (L) 38% -1
at Army 5-6 (L) 46% 0
at Princeton 9-10 (L) 40% -1
v. Army 12-11 (W) 55% 0
at Loyola 7-16 (L) 20% -3

These are some ugly-ish odds, but these still aren't dates where the Hawks are considered chum in the water (save for the team's Patriot League final meeting with Loyola). Lehigh only put together three solid efforts against these five teams despite the fact that the final margin on the scoreboard was not expected to bloat the way that it did. If the Hawks are able to challenge in a handful of these games and win, Lehigh's season looks much different than the way that it actually ended.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

There isn't a ton of chatter about Lehigh right now, but that could change once the season meets its sunrise. The Hawks return a stunning 83.89 percent of its starts from last year. The loss of Ty Souders is a notable departure for Lehigh going into 2015, but otherwise the Mountain Hawks are pulling back virtually every other asset that the team leaned on for value last year. Even more unbelievable than the percentage of the team's returning starters last season is the class of those starters: Every single returnee is at least a junior and eight of the 14 are seniors. A return to the NCAA Tournament is certainly possible for the Hawks.