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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Ohio State

It never quite came together for Ohio State last spring.

Jared Wickerham

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

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 6-8 (3-1, ECAC) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 33.33% 52
2013 Record 13-4 (5-2, ECAC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 76.47% 3
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 63.93% 20
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 70.08% 15
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -6.15% 48*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -5* 43*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.66 36
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 34.38 14
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -3.72 57*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -21* 58*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 25.06 3
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.29 20
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency +3.23 12*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency +17* 8*
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

After clearing at a shade above 88 percent in 2013, the Buckeyes doubled down on their focus to matriculate the ball from end to end in 2014, finishing the year ranked third in clearing percentage at 91.84 percent. That improvement -- in a vacuum -- is important given the value of a clear (it creates an offensive opportunity while also signaling the close of a defensive opportunity), but in the context of what the Buckeyes were last spring, the team's increased rate of successful clears held greater meaning than the simple transitioning of offensive-defensive circumstances. To wit:

  • Ohio State was thirsty for possession all season. Finishing the year ranked 42nd nationally in opportunities per 60 minutes margin (-0.84), the Buckeyes needed all the functional opportunities they could get their hands on to try and mitigate the possession deficits the team was playing within. Simply having the opportunity to score meant something to Ohio State given the relative infrequency the team possessed the bean compared to its opponents.
  • Ohio State suffered from a fairly inefficient offense last spring, ranking just 36th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. The graduations of Logan Schuss -- The Sliver Gleaming Death Machine -- and Dominique Alexander had a non-negligible impact on the Buckeyes in 2014, forcing players like Jesse King and others to assume different levels of responsibility that they hadn't been running with in the past. The team's ability to generate a high rate of functional offensive possessions in the box through successful clears allowed the Buckeyes' offense to work in situations conducive to scoring (even if the team struggled to efficiently find twine, partly due to the fact that Ohio State's offense struggled to control turnovers while on the offensive end of the field).
  • Ohio State relied on its clearing game to generate offensive opportunities. 57.65 percent of the Buckeyes' offensive opportunities were earned through clearing postures, a rate that ranked 23rd in Division I. On an estimated basis, the team's ability -- and volume of offensive opportunities earned through clearing postures -- to successfully breach the box with a clear helped the Buckeyes to a rate of functional offensive opportunities that top 95 percent (third nationally). Again: Ohio State's offense necessitated these opportunities in order to make the scoreboard blink; the team's ability to consistently complete its clears kept the Buckeyes in a position to compete.

Clearing matters, and Ohio State was a unique test case in examining its impact -- from a high level -- on a team that excelled in the metric.

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

It's not always fair to look at numbers and come to a broad conclusion about a team, but in the interest of doing something potentially ridiculous simply because it creates an interesting point, here we go: The Buckeyes were the most underachieving -- or, in another context, unlucky -- team in the country in 2014. The difference between Ohio State's expected winning percentage and the team's actually winning percentage -- 21.07 percent -- was the widest gap in the wrong direction in Division I. That difference illustrated the Buckeyes as a 9-5 team rather than the 6-8 one that existed in reality. This is a brutal, unforgiving metric, but it does have a foundation in the universe that considers both actual and expected things:

". . . AND THAT'S WHEN I FOUND OUT THAT I FATHERED A WILD BOAR"
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF.
v. Massachusetts 11-12 (L) (OT) 62.74% 52% 0
Penn State 8-11 (L) 49.73% 37% 0
Air Force 7-14 (L) 48.06% 49% +1

Those are three losses that could have reasonably been three wins, opportunities melted into liquid and thrown into a gutter on the side of the road. (There are a handful of other games that could have been highlighted, but these three stuck out for whatever reason.) Division I lacrosse is as balanced as it has ever been, and failing to hammer home victories when they're available can throw a season sideways in a violent recalibration of truth (whatever that is).

THE DISTANT FUTURE

The Buckeyes will return 76 percent of its starts from last season, a solid core from which Nick Myers can build a foundation in 2015. Among those returning starts are the team's top eight point-generators from 2014, a group that accounted for over 87 percent of Ohio State's total points from last spring. Where Ohio State will need to find momentum is on the defensive end of the field: Scott Spencer and Greg Dutton are no longer available to anchor the team's effort in the crease and Joe Meurer and Dominic Imbordino will no longer patrol the defensive box with an eye toward eating the souls of the opposition. There's top 20 potential in Columbus going into 2015, but the team's ceiling turns on how the offense coalesces after a year of discovering itself and whether the Buckeyes can build around Robby Haus on the back end, continuing the program's recently strong defensive tradition.