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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Richmond

Richmond has never not made the NCAA Tournament.

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

RICHMOND SPIDERS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 6-11 (2-3, Atlantic Sun) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 35.29% 51
2013 Record N/A N/A
2013 Winning Percentage N/A 54
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 35.66% 53
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation N/A N/A
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation N/A N/A
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation N/A N/A
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 27.67 53
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency N/A N/A
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency N/A N/A
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency N/A N/A
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 30.27 30
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency N/A N/A
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency N/A N/A
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency N/A N/A
Downloadable Team Profile (.pdf)

"ATTA BOY!" FACT

At the sunrise of the 2014 season, most folks with gigantic brains tabbed Jacksonville as the favorite to win the brand new Atlantic Sun and advance to their first NCAA Tournament. Richmond, a neophyte program that only emerged from the ooze of primordial existence this past spring, had different plans: The Spiders went 2-3 in regular season conference play (beating Furman and the Dolphins), and caught fire in the league's postseason tournament, drowning top-seeded Mercer by eight goals and holding on for an 8-7 victory against second-seeded High Point (a team that dispatched Richmond 11-7 in the regular season) in the championship game. This was the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament that a first-year program earned an invitation to The Big Barbeque and capped off an impressive inaugural run through Division I for Richmond, one where the program showed streaks of competitiveness (battling Virginia in their first game ever) while also showing an ability to pivot from tough losses (against Holy Cross and VMI) to find their purpose.

First-year programs don't always take advantage of opportunities that are ripe for the taking, but the Spiders did a notable job at making the most out of a season that many expected to turn almost entirely on program development and not the visceral thrill of victories. The fact that the only time that Richmond won back-to-back games was when the pressure to do so was at its apex (in the Atlantic Sun Tournament) is significant, but there is something about the Spiders' season that is even more special than that: Richmond felt like a program that carried itself with a volition that belied the parts that comprised the machine -- a true freshman (Mitch Goldberg) led the team in scoring; three other freshman -- Jackson Cabot, Ryan Dennis, and Brendan Hynes -- earned all-league honors; and only six upperclassmen dotted the team's roster (only 15 starts came from those upperclassmen (Alex Hatem accounted for 13) and Richmond had the second-highest percentage of freshman players on its roster (61.1 percent) in the nation).

The Spiders finished the year ahead of its first-year peers and did so with momentum and passion. As far as neophyte efforts go, Richmond did a solid job at achieving much of its potential -- if not exceeding it -- based on preseason expectations.

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

Richmond had a serious possession-generation issue last spring. This is nit-picky stuff for a program that has played only 17 games in their history, but the team's inability to create opportunities and/or manage its possession deficit impacted the Spiders' ability to compete at an even higher level last season. Here's a table that illustrates that thought a little bit:

POSSESSION STARVATION FOR A TEAM THAT NEEDED TO FEAST
METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin -5.03 61
Offensive Opportunities per 60 Minutes 30.49 49
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 27.67 53
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 56.05 64

Ignoring why Richmond played in large possession deficits, that table provides some important details about how the the Spiders' possession-generation issues hurt the team's overall competitiveness: Richmond ran with an offense that was highly inefficient -- partly due to the fact that the team was one of the worst in the nation at mitigating turnovers -- and needed volume to generate tallies; playing in circumstances that denied the Spiders' offense from the volume of offensive possessions it needed to make the scoreboard blink drove down the team's ability to run with consistent blood-soaked knuckles.

Here's an easy example of this concern: Assuming that the Spiders scored at the same rate as they did in 2014 (generating dingers on about 28 percent of their offensive opportunities) and yielded goals at the same rate as they did in 2014 (giving up tallies on about 30 percent of their defensive opportunities), the team's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value rises based on the following opportunity margin changes:

  • Playing at a two-possession deficit per 60 minutes of play: 40.43% (a one-win improvement in the team's expected record).
  • Playing at an even possession margin per 60 minutes of play: 43.44% (about the same improvement as the first permutation).
  • Playing at a two-possession advantage per 60 minutes of play: 46.50% (a two-win improvement in the team's expected record).

Possession margin matters, but it matters most for teams like Richmond that rely on an imbalance in possession margin -- both for offensive and defensive purposes -- in order to mute the impact of inefficiency. The Spiders' inability to eat into its monster possession deficit this season ultimately cost the team a little bit in actual winning percentage.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Demanding a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 may be somewhat aggressive (Bellarmine is entering the Southern Conference next spring and High Point, Mercer, and Jacksonville look well poised to raise hell in the league), but it would be surprising to see the Spiders take a major step back in the coming season. There are a lot of areas of improvement for Richmond (the Spiders are still low in the national hierarchy despite the team's participation in a May adventure this season), but there is a solid foundation from which Dan Chemotti can build a program of substance. Things look bright for Richmond, the only issue is how the team transitions toward 2015 given the team's relative success in 2014.