The key to creating program momentum isn't limited to increasing wins from season to season. Rather, program acceleration turns -- in large part -- on the incidence (or lack thereof) of tangible improvement from year to year, showing notable growth in execution and performance as seasons bleed from one into another. Isolated excellence does not necessarily indicate a change in program volition; it's sustained performance development over a series of campaigns that ultimately determines which programs are moving in a positive direction and are potentially on the verge of establishing residence in a new competitive tier of Division I lacrosse.
To determine which teams have created the most forward momentum going into 2015, I looked at adjusted Pythagorean win expectation changes from 2012 to 2014. (Adjusted Pythagorean win expectation measures a team's expected win percentage -- not actual win percentage -- based on a team's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies.) I charted movement in various metrics and highlighted eight teams that have experienced the most dramatic improvement in average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation change over the three periods (in both rank and value). Here are the results (the table is ordered alphabetically):
|TEAM||'14 APYTH. (RNK)||'13 APYTH. (RNK)||'12 APYTH. (RNK)||APYTH. CHANGE: '12-'14 (RNK)||RNK CHANGE: '12-'14 (RNK)||AVG. APYTH. CHANGE: '12-'14 (RNK)||AVG. APYTH. RNK CHANGE: '12-'14 (RNK)|
|Albany||76.10% (7)||67.23% (17)||42.46% (39)||+33.64% (2)||+32 (1)||+16.82% (2)||+16.00 (1)|
|Bellarmine||55.39% (27)||56.92% (24)||40.40% (41)||+14.99% (9)||+14 (7)||+7.49% (9)||+7.00 (7)|
|Michigan||37.84% (46)||16.35% (59)||19.54% (59)||+18.29% (7)||+13 (8)||+9.15% (7)||+6.50 (8)|
|North Carolina||82.78% (2)||76.87% (4)||67.16% (17)||+15.62% (8)||+15 (6)||+7.81% (8)||+7.50 (6)|
|Pennsylvania||68.88% (13)||71.37% (12)||45.47% (36)||+23.41% (4)||+23 (3)||+11.71% (4)||+11.50 (3)|
|Quinnipiac||44.23% (39)||40.15% (42)||24.61% (55)||+19.63% (6)||+16 (5)||+9.81% (6)||+8.00 (5)|
|Rutgers||55.83% (26)||39.07% (45)||29.51% (49)||+26.31% (3)||+23 (3)||+13.16% (3)||+11.50 (3)|
|St. Joseph's||62.40% (22)||19.67% (58)||25.14% (54)||+37.26% (1)||+32 (1)||+18.63% (1)||+16.00 (1)|
Here are some thoughts on selected teams:
- St. Joseph's: The optimism emanating from Hawk Hill is legitimate. The Hawks have been the most improved team in the nation over the last three years on a blended basis and the program will return -- based on an available 2015 roster -- over 90 percent of its starts from a season ago. While St. Joe's experienced a notable jump in improvement from 2013 to 2014 after languishing in the gutter from 2012 to 2013, the potential fear that the improvement stands as an outlier is mitigated by the fact that the Hawks will return a sizeable number of contributors that almost pushed the team into the NCAA Tournament as the Northeast Conference's automatic qualifier. Taylor Wray has things pointed in the right direction for a program that is a mere three seasons removed from a winless campaign.
- Rutgers: Brian Brecht moved to Rutgers from Siena for the start of the 2012 season and all he has done is turn a program that hung around the bottom third of the country in Jim Stagnitta's final seasons to one that is quietly approaching the top third of the nation in strength. The Scarlet Knights, not unlike St. Joseph's, surged between 2013 and 2014 after holding steady in their position between 2012 and 2013, but there is a notable difference between the two schools entering the coming spring: The Knights will return only around 40 percent of their starts from 2014, including the loss of five players -- Scott Klimchak, Anthony Terranova, Brian Goss, Nick Contino, and Andrew Parrilla -- that started all 16 games for Rutgers last season. Important assets remain -- three of the team's top six scorers still bunk on the banks (constituting over half of the team's point generation from 2014); the team's two goalkeepers from last season are still on the roster; and Joe Nardella is still available to eat souls at the faceoff dot -- but how Brecht harnesses the tailwind he's created in New Jersey will ultimately dictate whether Rutgers can maintain the momentum it has created.
- North Carolina: There's nowhere to go for the Tar Heels: It's Championship Weekend or crash the car in the lake and collect the insurance money. Carolina has ascended to the highest heights of Division I lacrosse over the last three seasons and has everything in place -- including 80 percent of the team's starts from a season ago -- to finally summit the mountain for the first time since 1993. There is no more push that the 'Heels can receive; Carolina is where it needs to be and all that's left for the program after a long build is making final delivery.
- Albany: The Great Danes have been on a steady climb over the last few seasons but face a similar issue to that of Rutgers: Having waved goodbye to 57 percent of its starts from last season (including 44 percent of the team's total points from last spring), Albany is both riding a wave of good feelings while simultaneous facing a situation in which a host of contributors that pressed that momentum are no longer available to help Albany in its pursuit of lacrosse domination. There's little room for the Danes to continue to climb, but that's less of a concern for Albany than mitigating any kind of notable slide from the position the program reached in 2014.
- Michigan: It's starting to happen. The growth has been slow, but things are starting to coalesce in Ann Arbor. It'll be very interesting to see what the Wolverines can accomplish in 2015 with another class of talent filtering into the program.