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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Sacred Heart

Jon Basti's first season in Fairfield wasn't too shabby.

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

SACRED HEART PIONEERS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 6-9 (4-2, NEC) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 40.00% 43
2013 Record 3-11 (3-2, NEC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 26.67% 53
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 35.59% 54
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 40.76% 40
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -5.17% 46*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -13* 57*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 32.97 24
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 29.78 37
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +3.19 23*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +13* 12*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 36.23 60
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 35.44 54
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -0.79 31*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -3* 37*
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

Sacred Heart's offense was something that I like to call "Pony Car Offense." The engineering of the thing is impressive in lots of ways (power, etc.) but it also falls short in a host of categories (control, visual beauty, etc.). In function, these kinds of offenses are machines that make lots of noise and combustion, but don't necessarily create the entire package for a perfect visceral experience: There are lots of shots, lots of sharing, but the efficiency in the results lacks full resolution. This table may help illustrate the thought:

MUSTANG SALLY
METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 32.97 24
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.22 7
Shots on Goal per Offensive Opportunity 0.70 13
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 57.19% 45
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 27.69% 37
Raw Offensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 48.41% 41
Assist Rate 20.67 15
Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 36.00 46
Opponent Save Percentage 51.59% 32

There is no argument against the Pioneers having a fun offense to play in. You gun the engine because there are no red lights to stop shot attempts, and you're encouraged to race knuckleheads in the straight by both challenging opposing goalkeepers and uncontrollably unleashing the power under the hood. There's even an appreciation club for the vigor, a willingness to share the wealth among similarly-minded people. There's strength in this, even if it is somewhat unrefined. There is an identifiable connection to this kind of offense, mashing the accelerator and letting a totally unnecessary V8 rumble for miles.

It just looks cool and is fun to experience, even if it is inadequate in many ways compared to sophisticated supercars.

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

Coach Finstock from the noted documentary Teen Wolf had three rules that he lived by: (1) Never get less than 12 hours sleep; (2) Never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and (3) Never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. It was his belief -- and he earned a Doctor of Philosophy from Yale University -- that if you stuck to that, everything else would be cream cheese.

Those are important rules to life. For lacrosse, though, their application is a little sticky. What I do know, though, is that if you commit turnovers while also playing in a gigantic possession margin deficit, you're not going to be cream cheese. In fact, that's like getting five hours of sleep before using a card game as a rouse to get with a lady that used to be a man named Tulsa. It's that bad:

SACRED HEART FAILED COACH FINSTOCK
METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin -4.86 58
Offensive Opportunities per 60 Minutes of Play 29.93 54
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 50.89 52
Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 26.00 56
Opponent Caused Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 24.89 53

If you struggle to generate offensive opportunities in a game and are operating in a significant possession deficit, turning the ball over isn't exactly something that's helping. In fact, it's like acquiring weapons-grade plutonium and playing "Does it taste like burning?" It will taste like burning and you will die. This is science. It is a true fact that exists. Exacerbating an already difficult situation -- possession starvation -- with heroically bad decision-making -- committing and contributing to giveaways -- ultimately creates increasingly difficult situations to remain competitive. If the Pioneers hadn't played a schedule ranked 62nd nationally in overall strength, these performance points could have seriously eroded the team's six-win campaign.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Sacred Heart transitioned from 2013 to 2014 pretty well under Jon Basti. The Pioneers' record improved over 2013, even if the team's performance on the field -- based on adjusted Pythagorean win expectation -- did regress in Basti's first season in Fairfield. There is, however, nothing particularly interesting about either of those facts. What's most interesting is that Basti's staff was able to maintain much of the Pioneers' performance efficiency (especially offensively) without significant deviations. Bridging from what once was to what something will become can be fraught with issues, but Sacred Heart's profile -- outside of the massive drop in expected Pythagorean win expectation -- illustrates pockets of solid contribution that did not lag -- or was improved -- compared to 2013. It doesn't take much to start to get frighteningly competitive in the Northeast Conference, and continuing to build what Basti envisions could position the Pioneers well not necessarily for 2015 but rather 2016 and beyond.