The 2014 season is complete -- *single tear* -- and that means that it's time for College Crosse to highlight the best of Division I lacrosse this year. These awards and certificates of amazing human achievement will appear in four parts. The honors, however, are not redeemable for any form currency, mostly because macroeconomics is a lie.
Best Team Powered by Fun
Albany Great Danes
There was something really special about Albany this season, and the possibility that the Great Danes -- or any other team -- exactly duplicates the style and ability that Albany exuded in 2014 is somewhat suspect. Looking at the "Fun Factor" -- a simple tool that evaluates teams by competitiveness, willingness to play with pace, and offensive capability -- Albany finished the year ranked first nationally in the principle, far outpacing Duke and Denver (the second and third ranked teams, respectively, in the metric). Albany was the perfect form for making your brain leak out of your ears: No team matched the Danes' 74.44 possessions per 60 minutes of a play, a tempo that was controlled and hectic all at once; Albany's offense ranked second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, generating goals on more than 40 percent of their offensive opportunities; no team had a higher raw offensive shooting rate than the Great Danes, canning 37.81 percent of their shots and ruining the faces of opposing goalkeepers; and Albany finished the season ranked seventh in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, cementing the Danes in the upper tier of the national hierarchy.
This isn't solely about the Thompson Trio. This is about a team that wasn't afraid to play at maximum acceleration, was an offensive explosion, and was uniquely competitive compared to their peers. Albany had a stylistic profile -- on a macro level -- that was appealing in layered ways.
Air Force at VMI, March 2, 2014
VMI's 6-4 upset of Air Force in Lexington is easily this season's most ridiculous result. The Keydets' win is so far outside the realm of reality that any other arguments about the year’s biggest upset happen on an alternate timeline where Biff Tannen is running the show. VMI's odds were so long that not only was a victory against the Falcons unforeseen, but predicting a two-goal win would have likely resulted in being burned at the stake due to accusations of being a witch: LaxPower recognizes the Keydets as a nine-goal -- nine! -- underdog to Air Force and a log5 analysis gives VMI just a 5.84 percent chance of victory. Any other upset that you can think of -- Bryant-Syracuse, Canisius-Albany, etc. -- doesn't stand anywhere near the strength of the upset that the Keydets pulled against the Falcons.
Maybe this makes more sense: A team that was minus-87 in scoring margin on the season (losing its games by an average of six goals) beat a team that was plus-39 in scoring margin on the year (winning its games by an average of two goals). Or maybe this rams home the power of the upset: The second-worst team in the nation in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation (10.61 percent) beat a team that ranked 17th in the same metric (64.31 percent). Or how about this: In games against competition comparable to Air Force, VMI had an average margin of defeat of 12 goals (losing to St. Joseph's, Army, and Virginia).
There is absolutely no result this year that matches the insanity of Air Force-VMI.
Best Game -- Postseason
Albany-Notre Dame, May 17, 2014
Picking a winner here was tough. There were three games that stuck out as exceptional: The Syracuse-Duke semifinal game in the ACC Tournament (won at the last second on a Dylan Donahue bucket); the Drexel-Hofstra three-overtime final in the THUNDERDOME! Tournament; and the Albany-Notre Dame overtime game in the national quarterfinals at Hofstra. The circumstances of Danes-Irish ultimately pushed their game to the top of the list:
- The winner of the game would advance to the national semifinals, a lose-and-have-your-carcass-fed-to-wolves type of situation. There was incredible pressure to win between the two evenly matched teams, and the performances on the field met the expectations of what was necessary of the situation.
- Notre Dame rallied from a five-goal deficit early in the fourth quarter, scoring seven of the game's last eight goals in a 9:42 span to secure the victory. The Irish's implementation of a furious 10-man ride changed momentum and set the stage for a wild finish that included Matt Kavanagh scoring in the extra period and falling to his knees in celebration after the tally.
- It was the last time that the Thompson Trio would ever play together at Albany, and the unit responded with 12 points against one of the nation's better defensive teams.
- Outside of the game's definitive push at the end of regulation and through overtime, the teams threw massive haymakers at each other: Notre Dame opened the game on a four-goal run, Albany immediately responded with three straight goals, and the Great Danes strung together a six-goal burst that started midway through the third quarter, setting the stage for the Irish's season-defining rush. These are wild shifts in the volition of the game that gave the contest a unique feel.
- The atmosphere at Shuart Stadium that day was unmatched with 13,519 people in attendance. The building looked and felt electric, giving the match extra juice.
Albany-Notre Dame just seemed different than anything else during tournament season, and for that it takes high honors.