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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Harvard

All that talent in Cambridge is starting to coalesce.

Stephen Dunn

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

HARVARD CRIMSON
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 10-7 (5-1, Ivy) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 58.82% 23
2013 Record 6-8 (2-4, Ivy) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 42.86% 40
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 60.32% 25
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 51.06% 31
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +9.25% 14*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +6* 17*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 32.96 26
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.41 29
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +2.55 28*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +3* 27*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 28.86 25
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 29.49 26
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency +0.63 24*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency +1* 29*
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

Harvard beat Yale -- the Crimson's archenemy, a rivalry that transcends the playing field the results of which likely appear in various filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission -- twice in 2014, a feat that to some carries more weight than the team's progression to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2006 season. Prior to Harvard's meetings with the Elis last spring, the Crimson were a woeful 1-3 against the Bulldogs between 2010 and 2013 despite holding an even aggregate goal differential against their hated adversaries to the southwest.

What's especially interesting about Harvard's dual victories against Yale in 2014 was that the Crimson were never a favorite against the Elis: In both games, the Crimson either won as an underdog or yanked out a victory in a toss-up situation.

UGLYING HANDSOME DAN
OPPONENT RESULT LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF. MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY
at Yale 11-10 (W) -1 41%
Yale 10-9 (W) 0 51%

What's unique about these results -- other than various boardrooms consequently passing resolutions to denounce the existence of Yale due to the power that Harvard alums now yield in accordance with the team's back-to-back wins this past season -- is that they stand in contrast to the Crimson's season: Not considering Harvard's dates against Yale, the Crimson went 1-7 in games in which LaxPower predicted that Harvard was either an underdog or in a toss-up situation, holding an aggregate goal differential of -25 (a mark that reflects an average margin of defeat of over three goals per game). Yet, against a solid Bulldogs team, the Crimson erased their season-long trend of losing to superior competition or competition that was on their level.

That is the epitome of charging up for a distasteful opponent and uncorking performances that exceed the expected capacity of a team. Harvard had not been able to accomplish that in recent seasons against Yale, taking a boot to the face while the Elis stormed toward national prominence. In 2014, the Crimson earned a measure of revenge, earning retribution against their historic antagonist while pressing toward heights the program hadn't touched in almost a decade.

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

Let's look at those eight games referenced above: Outside of the team's dates with Yale, the Crimson went a dastardly 1-7 against competition in which it was an underdog or was in a toss-up situation according to LaxPower. For a team that went 10-7 on the season, failing to assert force against superior or comparable competition is somewhat concerning, especially considering that the team's 10 victories last spring came against competition with an average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value of 46.22 percent (that is significantly lower than the 56.96 percent value that the team maintained for its schedule in totem).

The details here are fairly gruesome:

UGLYING HANDSOME DAN
OPPONENT RESULT LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF. MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY
at Massachusetts 4-8 (L) 0 60%
at Albany 8-14 (L) -3 26%
at North Carolina 10-13 (L) -3 24%
at Duke 11-17 (L) -5 9%
at Cornell 14-9 (W) -2 35%
at Pennsylvania 7-8 (L) (OT) -1 37%
Pennsylvania 5-7 (L) 0 42%
at Notre Dame 5-13 (L) -3 16%

Again, that's a -25 aggregate goal differential with an average margin of defeat of over three goals. Granted, these were some of the best teams in the nation last season -- the average LaxPower ranking for these teams is ninth; the average Massey ranking for these teams is 10th -- but the Crimson weren't consistently level in these games, pulling out only one victory -- a surprising one -- and falling by fewer than three goals only two other times (both against the Quakers). That's not the profile of a team that definitively moved into the national elite last spring. Rather, it's the profile of a program that separated itself from the meaty middle of the nation and struggled against its best opponents, tasting defeat at a rate that exceeded the team's desire to find a new residence in an affluent neighborhood.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

All that talent that Chris Wojcik has stockpiled in Cambridge is starting to come together. Harvard has consistently found a place in Inside Lacrosse's annual recruiting rankings, pulling together hauls that have signaled a high potential for the program. The Crimson will feature only four seniors going into the 2015 season, but Harvard will return over 70 percent of its starts from last season. Those returnees include half of the team's top six point-generators from 2014 (including three of the top four), the core of the team's defense (Jake Gambitsky, Stephen Jahelka, and Robert Duvnjak), and a host of players -- Devin Dwyer, Will Walker, Deke Burns, Walker Kirby, etc. -- that earned a lot of time in 2014 as underclassmen and developed well into their roles while assuming a ton of responsibility.

The Ivy League remains a slaughterhouse, but the Crimson are as well positioned as any in the conference to earn the league's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament this coming spring.