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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: VMI

The Keydets had the upset of the season.

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

VMI KEYDETS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 2-12 (1-4, Atlantic Sun) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 14.29% 63
2013 Record 1-12 (1-5, MAAC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 7.69% 61
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 10.61% 66
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 7.66% 63
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +2.95% 25*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +1* 27*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 18.29 67
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 19.15 63
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency -0.87 43*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 0* 31*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 34.62 54
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 38.57 61
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency +3.94 8*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency +9* 17*
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

The Keydets had the upset of the year, a 6-4 defeat of Air Force in Lexington in early March. A log5 analysis of the matchup -- assuming the game would happen today -- gives VMI just a 5.84 percent chance of victory; LaxPower has tabbed the result as the most stunning upset of the season, a game that should have been an almost nine-goal win for the Falcons. This outcome still doesn't make sense:

  • The Keydets trailed Air Force for less than two minutes in the game, falling behind 1-0 at the 13:08 mark of the first quarter and drawing even with the Falcons at the 11:12 mark of the opening period. This Air Force team went to the NCAA Tournament as champions of the ECAC. And VMI trailed them for less than two minutes.
  • VMI's offense, which allowed opponents to shoot 31.02 percent this season (58th nationally), held Air Force to 12.12 percent shooting. Air Force shot 28.51 percent on the year (30th nationally). Sorcery
  • Air Force's offense finished the year ranked 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring on almost 37 percent of their offensive opportunities; VMI's defense finished the year ranked 54th in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing goals on almost 35 percent of their defensive opportunities. Against the Falcons, the Keydets limited Air Force's offense to scoring on only about 13 percent of their offensive opportunities. This is the code that cracks the flat tax.

There is no explanation to this result and the only response is to stand up and start a slow clap. VMI had no business competing with Air Force, never mind dusting the Falcons. The upset of the year inured to the team seemingly least capable of turning circumstances in their favor. Yet, the Keydets gave the Falcons the dirty business.

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

VMI's offense was a school bus on fire that ran off the road into a nitroglycerin plant and plowed into a stack of dynamite that wasn't properly secured in the inventory warehouse. The Keydets ran with arguably the weakest offense in the nation, an impotent unit that didn't challenge opposing keepers while also eschewing efficiency as if it were the repugnant stink of Communism. The team's raw output in 2014 is illustrative of that -- VMI scored more than eight goals in a game only once (against Furman) and averaged only six buckets per game -- but the Keydets' tempo-free profile brings VMI's offensive struggles into greater focus: The team could not find any way to score.

THREAT LEVEL ADORABLE INFANT
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 18.29 67
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.84 67
Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity 0.49 67
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 21.48% 64
Raw Offensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 36.55% 67
Assist Ratio 42.53% 67
Assist Rate 7.68 67
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 53.11 57
Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 31.33 15
Opponent Save Percentage 63.45% 67

The Keydets had one player that took more than 20 shots that finished the year shooting at least 30 percent -- Mickey Hofmeister. Of the remaining six players that took at least 20 shots, their combined shooting percentage was 19.43 percent. In fact, those six non-Hofmeister offensive contributors committed more than twice as many turnovers (93) as they scored goals (41). The limitations of this offense were significant, especially considering that VMI faced a schedule ranked 59th nationally in adjusted opponent Pythagorean win expectation.

The result of all of this offensive sputtering was a team that struggled to meet its potential. Let's say that VMI's offense ranked as well as its defense (about 54th nationally). That means that the Keydets would have needed to score about 44 more goals on the same number of offensive possessions it generated last season (this would require that VMI shoot 32.35, which is probably unattainable for the Keydets even in a hypothetical environment). In those facts, VMI's expected winning percentage rises from 10.61 percent to 29.39 percent, a difference of about two-and-a-half expected wins. That's an important difference, especially considering that VMI has had at least four wins in a season just once in its last six campaigns.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Look: VMI is in the conversation for being the hardest job in the country. The situation in Lexington isn't like other places in Division I, and the program has lots to do in a myriad of areas to generate consistent competitiveness. It's difficult to climb out the crab bucket, and the Keydets have been at the bottom of the pail for ages. There is good news for VMI, though: The Southern Conference provides opportunity and a more manageable bucket to escape from. There's no shame in playing in a league that's filled with peer institutions that compete on the same plane. That's where VMI's hope lies: The Southern Conference's volition is one that VMI can reach.

This isn't backhanded in any way. Presumably, as the Southern Conference grows, so too will the Keydets. As programs create momentum for the league, all others will enjoy in that development. VMI needs that (and will eventually need to contribute to that cycle), and it should eventually pay dividends to a program that needs any kind of liquid capital it can get its hands on. And VMI has a chance -- even if it's slim -- to start making gains in 2015: Two important seniors -- Hofmeister and Rory Dillon -- have graduated, but (1) seven seniors will return to provide leadership and (2) 105 starts from the 2014 season are potentially available to Brian Anken in 2015. This isn't to imply that VMI will be good, but the Keydets could be a little better than they were in 2014. For VMI, that's all that matters at the moment: Structured development that creates a foundation to proceed.