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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Notre Dame

The Irish progressed all the way to the national final last season.

Rob Carr

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

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 12-6 (2-3, ACC) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 66.67% 15
2013 Record 11-5 (4-2, Big East) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 68.75% 16
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 76.55% 6
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 69.69% 16
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +6.86% 18*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +10* 11*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 37.56 8
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.78 25
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +6.78 3*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +17* 7*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 25.81 7
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 23.18 3
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -2.63 47*
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

At 6-5 with the ACC Tournament looming and a regular season meeting with Army remaining on the team's schedule, Notre Dame was in a tough spot: Fall to Maryland -- which had just put a hurting on the Irish at Arlotta Stadium -- in PPL Park and Notre Dame would need to beat the Black Knights one week later to assure the Irish of a .500 record, the absolute minimum requirement for NCAA Tournament consideration. Notre Dame wasn't on life support, but the Irish were in a position where they needed to resuscitate their season at the most complex time of the year, throwing hands with teams that were reaching their potential and playing their best ball of the season. This wasn't an impossible situation for Notre Dame to overcome, yet it was unclear -- based on the strength of the team's remaining opponents -- whether the Irish could find some combustion.

As it turns out, not only were the Irish able to accelerate reality in their favor, but Notre Dame would become one of the nation's toughest and most unique teams in the nation, transitioning from a wounded carnivore to an apex predator. The push from Notre Dame over its final seven games of 2014 -- a stretch in which the Irish went 6-1 and made an appearance in the national championship game -- was impressive and significant, confirmation of the Irish's residence among Division I's elite programs. Beating the teams that Notre Dame did in this rush was the exacerbating factor that ultimately illustrates just how maniacal the Irish became when the weather started to turn:

"DEAD" IS RELATIVE
OPPONENT RESULT OPP. MASSEY RANK OPP. LAXPOWER RANK MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY LAXPOWER PRED. GOAL DIFF.
v. Maryland 6-5 (W) 4 3 57% 0
v. Syracuse 15-14 (W) 5 9 60% +1
Army 18-17 (W) 25 20 88% +4
Harvard 13-5 (W) 16 14 84% +3
v. Albany 14-13 (OT) (W) 9 7 59% 0
v. Maryland 11-6 (W) 4 3 57% 0
v. Duke 9-11 (L) 1 1 38% -1

Seven games against six of the best teams in the country, two of which were at home and the rest were at neutral site locations where the Irish were forced to travel from the heart of the country to points east. Notre Dame is a new money lacrosse program but they finished their 2014 campaign like a program that had weathered dozens of financial crises. This is the stuff that exceptional programs are made from.

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

Notre Dame has established itself as a defensive nightmare under Gerry Byrne, adopting a suffocating approach that has strangled the life out of the nation's best offenses over the last few years. Oddly, though, the Irish struggled with man-down postures in 2014, running with one of the nation's worst conversion rates despite not playing in negative personnel imbalance situations at a degree that far exceeded the national average:

MAN DOWN FOR WHAT?
METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
Man-Down Postures per 100 Defensive Opportunities 10.07 25
Man-Down Posture Conversion Rate 42.37% 57
Man-Down Posture Reliance 14.53% 52
Penalties per 100 Opportunities 5.60 28

This wasn't a gruesome wart for the Irish, but it does stand out uniquely given Notre Dame's overall defensive profile. Special situations don't always diverge from balanced situations, but for the Irish the team notably struggled at getting their man-down units off the field without yielding a goal (it should be noted that Notre Dame played a schedule ranked first nationally in opposing offenses faced). The point of importance here is the confluence of the team's conversion rate and the rate at which opponents relied on the personnel imbalance to make the scoreboard blink. Opponents leaned on the Irish playing in man-down situations to generate tallies and were efficient at making that happen. From an execution standpoint, the Irish's man-down defense was an open wound for the team last season (even if the team wasn't in man-down postures at a frighteningly high rate).

THE DISTANT FUTURE

2015 could be the season for the Irish: Matt Kavanagh, Conor Doyle, Sergio Perkovic, and Jim Marlatt return to form the core of the team's offense (that quartet accounted for over 53 percent of the team's total goals last season, over 55 percent of the team's total points, and over 53 percent of the team's total shots); Conor Kelly is back to anchor the cage for Notre Dame; and Matt Landis and Garrett Epple are poised to carry on the program's hyper-productive field defense tradition. Assets are in place, and those assets have shown value in the past. The Irish should be in the mix this coming spring.