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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Denver

The Pioneers continue to knock on the door of their first title.

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

DENVER PIONEERS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 16-3 (6-0, Big East) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 84.21% 3
2013 Record 14-5 (6-1, ECAC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 73.68% 7
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 82.34% 3
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 71.48% 11
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +10.86% 11*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +8* 13*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 45.29 1
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 41.49 1
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +3.80 17*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 0* 32*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.36 20
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 32.02 40
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency +3.67 9*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency +20* 6*
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

Denver's offense was the Pioneers' most defining aspect of its fingerprint last season. Under Matt Brown's direction the Pios slaughtered opposing defenses, generating buckets at a laughable rate against all types of competition. Denver, though, wasn't simply a machine that ran through opponents on offense alone. Quietly, almost purposely, the Pios' two goalkeepers -- Jamie Faus and Ryan LaPlante -- steadied the team's defensive effort, turning in performances over the course of the year that marked the aggregate work of the goaltending tandem as one of the strongest and most relevant in all of Division I.

That's an odd concept to trust, especially considering the general line of thinking about utilizing a goalie rotation at college lacrosse's highest level of play. Teams that have gone down the two-keeper route have often received uneven results, yet Denver managed to find a way to not only bury conventional thought about alternating goalies but also excel in a construct where keepers were given 30 minutes per game to make an impact and not mitigate the ability of each half of the equation to succeed. There's something inherently special in that set of circumstances, and it becomes even more unique when one considers how much the Pioneers leaned on Faus and LaPlante to deliver and what the duo did in response to the team's request:

EAT 'EM UP
METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 38.23 11
Team Save Percentage 55.77% 7
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.18 53
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.69 45
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 58.15% 30
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 25.72% 11
Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 44.23% 7
Estimated Functional Defensive Opportunities Ratio 96.05% 65

Neither LaPlante nor Faus earned All-America honors last season, which is kind of a shame. Together the tandem were as productive as any goalkeeper situation in the nation (Denver didn't see a swarm of bogus opposing offenses throughout the season (the team's strength of schedule in the context of opposing offenses faced ranked 14th nationally)). Denver relied heavily on LaPlante and Faus to make stops on a per-possession basis and the two keepers were more than capable at meeting their agenda, doing so in a way that helped structure the Pios' defensive relevance while also showing strong individual achievement. It's easy for goaltenders to get lost in the shuffle -- especially when they share a supporting role behind headlining stars -- but Faus and LaPlante were big reasons for Denver's push to the national semifinals last season.

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

The Big East was a bit of a drag on Denver's overall strength of schedule last year. This doesn't impinge what the Pioneers accomplished in 2014, but it does color some of the conversation that surrounded Denver last spring. Including the NCAA Tournament the Pioneers played a schedule ranked 11th nationally in average opponent adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, a solid mark for a program that -- including the Big East Tournament -- played a league slate that finished under the 50 percent mark in the same metric.

YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS
METRIC VALUE RECORD
Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation (Overall) 58.46% 16-3
Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation (Big East) 47.41% 8-0
Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation (Nonconference) 66.49% 8-3
Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation (NCAA Tournament) 75.15% 2-1
Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation (Big East Tournament) 54.67% 2-0
Strength of Schedule: Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation (10 Best Opponents) 70.21% 7-3

At the sunset of Denver's campaign last year the Pioneers ended up having over half of its slate filled with incredibly powerful teams, but the narrative around the relative strength of the Big East seems to still dog Denver. Good teams are good teams (and the Pios were an exceptional team in 2014), but Denver did experience a deflated conference run last spring compared to its overall slate of opponents.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Folks are wasting their lives in Denver if they aren't losing their minds over the possibilities of what the Pioneers can do in 2015. The team will lose only about 20 percent of its starts from 2014 and only two of those departing starters -- Jeremy Noble and Teddy MacKenzie -- started in at least 17 games last season. Chris Hampton will return to anchor the team's faceoff play while Connor Cannizzaro -- a Maryland transfer -- will provide additional "umph" to an offense already loaded to the neck with talent. This is as ready as the Denver program has ever been, and the Pioneers have as strong a case as any team in the nation to start the 2015 season atop the charts.