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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Mercer

The Bears are quietly getting things done in the unknown Georgia landscape.

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

MERCER BEARS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 7-7 (4-1, Atlantic Sun) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 50.00% 33
2013 Record 4-8 (Independent) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 33.33% 48
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 27.14% 57
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 27.84% 54
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -0.70% 34*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -2* 33*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 28.81 50
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 26.42 50
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +2.39 30*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 0* 31*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 41.93 66
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 37.19 60
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -4.74 55*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -2* 35*
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

No team in the country overachieved more -- based on the difference between actual winning percentage and adjusted Pythagorean win expectation -- than the Bears in 2014. None. This often creates a sense of cognitive dissonance -- folks generally think of overachievement in the context of "I thought they were going to be terrible before the season and they didn't poop their pants!" -- but from a more analytical perspective, Mercer's pure production on the field did not mirror the team's 7-7 record. In fact, the Bears' adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value anticipated a 4-10 record from Mercer; instead, the Bears pulled together three wins that didn't appear likely based on the team's on-field output (save for, you know, output measured solely by the numbers blinking on the scoreboard). Two of the unexpected victories are clear to see:

"'SPOSED TO!" IS FOR NERDS!"
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5
Richmond 11-7 (W) 40.20%
High Point 10-9 (W) 29.86%

The third unanticipated victory -- again, based on the Bears' Pythagorean win expectation value -- comes from a pool of games that includes overperformance and underperformance based on anticipated outcomes in the model (it really isn't all that important to tease all of that out).

This overachievement from Mercer in 2014 is notable in two ways: (1) It barely outpaced the nation's leader in overachievement in 2013 (Jacksonville), marking a big season of taking-care-of-business-when-business-is-rough; and (2) It exceed the value of overachievement that the Bears experienced in 2013, growing a 5.49 percent overachievement value -- about a one-win overachievement -- into a monster season of earning unexpected victories. Whether in the proper context or not, Mercer's proclivity for earning extra wins marks a growth pattern that could signal that the Bears -- under Kyle Hannan's direction -- are not necessarily overachieving but rather moving in the right direction (or it could mean that Mercer is ready for the universe to realign, evaporating victories as a form of course correction).

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

Look: Mercer has existed at the Division I level for a total of four seasons and just finished their second season under the program's second head coach. Strength of schedule matters less to the Bears' reality than developing a foundation for which the program can succeed down the line. However, it's hard to ignore the fact that Mercer played the nation's worst schedule in 2014 based on average opponent adjusted Pythagorean expectation, playing only one team -- Air Force, a 19-6 loss -- expected to win at least half of their games. The team's mandatory dates against Atlantic Sun opponents obviously decreases Mercer's overall schedule strength and the Bears' location and relative freshness to the highest level of college lacrosse makes getting solid nonconference games difficult, but examining Mercer's position on the Division I landscape and their record this past spring does require acknowledgement that the Bears' did not play an especially brutal slate in 2014.

The honest truth is this: Mercer earned five wins this season against teams expected to win less than a quarter of their games. These victories illustrate that the Bears have the capacity to handle weak teams, but it does take some of the shine off of Mercer's .500 record:

"IMPRESSIVE" IS CONTEXTUAL
OPPONENT RESULT OPPONENT ADJ. PYTH. %
Boston University 17-6 (W) 22.72%
VMI 8-3 (W) 10.61%
Lafayette 9-8 (OT) (W) 12.65%
Wagner 16-5 (W) 13.22%
Furman 9-8 (OT) (W) 13.77%

It's great that the Bears won these games -- and this should serve as an analogue to the overachievement that Mercer experienced last year, especially the two overtime wins against Lafayette and Furman -- but it's hard to ignore that five of Mercer's wins came from some of the weakest teams in the nation.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Hannan seems to be moving Mercer in the right direction: The Bears are in the correct league to succeed; the program has conference-level talent -- especially young talent like Chris Baxa, Timmy Geran, Mike Nugent, and Colin Massa -- that is worthy of league honors; and resources are in place that should permit Mercer to achieve its goals as the seasons pass. The Bears lose 10 seniors going into 2015, but the program returns 100 out of 140 (71.43 percent) starts from last spring. There is decent momentum in Macon, and it's just a matter of what the Bears make of it that will define their Southern Conference existence next year.