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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: UMBC

The Retrievers' defensive woes continue.

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

UMBC RETRIEVERS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 8-7 (3-2, America East) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 53.33% 31
2013 Record 7-8 (3-2, MAAC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 46.67% 34
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 48.31% 33
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 43.25% 37
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +5.06% 21*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +4* 21*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 35.76 13
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.24 31
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +5.53 5*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +18* 6*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 38.70 64
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 33.58 47
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -5.12 57*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -14* 54*
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

Generating possession is only half the battle. It's what you do with those possessions that matters. UMBC was a powerful +2.85 possessions per 60 minutes stronger than their opponents in 2014 -- thanks, in part, to Phil Poe going a maniacal 229-153 at the dot last spring -- but it was the Retrievers' treatment of their offensive opportunities that was especially notable: UMBC strongly valued the bean and crushed their opponents' souls with efficient goal-scoring.

This sounds like a job for . . . a table!

IT'S NOT JUST POSSESSION; IT'S THE NATURE OF THE POSSESSION
METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +2.85 13
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 35.76 13
Estimated Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio 93.71% 18
Estimated Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio 36.80% 15

UMBC's high adjusted offensive efficiency value -- scoring on over a third of their offensive opportunities on an adjusted basis -- is heavily influenced by the fact that the team was exemplary at not committing box turnovers (the team's shooting percentage -- 31.66 percent, 10th nationally -- also carried significant impact on the value). Maximizing offensive opportunities through a mitigation of giveaways, especially box turnovers, allows a team to attack with impunity. The value of those Poe-generated possessions through face-offs wins changes when the Retrievers are able to assault the opposition and efficiently generate buckets. Without that efficiency, UMBC is leaning on Poe to create possessions in order to generate mere volume, a more difficult way to make the scoreboard blink and remain competitive (especially with a leaky defense at the other end of the field). The Retrievers' possession margin mattered in 2014, but it matters in the context of UMBC's offense eating faces and carrying the team to victories.

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

When will UMBC's defense improve? We're mere minutes -- in the context of the Earth's existence -- away from the robot apocalypse and the Retrievers are woefully underprepared to stake a claim to ownership of the planet if their defensive performance over the last few seasons is any indication of UMBC's preparedness for the potential end of human life. This trend -- one that has held strong for the better part of this decade -- is a dangerous one, especially considering where offensive lacrosse is going and the volition that it has maintained. UMBC, quite simply, has been a dastardly defensive team, one with little mitigation:

IS EVERYTHING ON FIRE?
YEAR ADJ. DEF. EFF. NT'L RANK IS EVERYTHING ON FIRE?
2010 32nd No
2011 53rd Yes, run
2012 52nd Yes, flee
2013 47th Sort of, find shelter
2014 64th Yes, you're dead
Five-Year Average 50th Yes, I hope you have insurance

The Retrievers have consistently -- almost daring the universe the try and reverse its tendencies -- been abysmal at efficiently ending defensive opportunities, dragging an anchor of a defense to a 30-39 record over the last half-decade of lacrosse (with an average finish of 6-8). This is a gruesome defensive profile and tradition, one that desperately necessitates development not only because UMBC can't -- theoretically -- mute its defensive issues through possession margin dominance for the infinite future, but also because playing with a stronger defense would make the Retrievers a stronger team (duh).

Let's use the team's 2014 profile as an example of this principle. Running various permutations that impact only the team's defensive efficiency -- leaving everything else static and adjusting only the rate at which UMBC yielded tallies on a per-possession basis -- it becomes clear that the Retrievers' ceiling becomes much higher if its defense plays with a hardcore desire to crush skulls:

OFFENSE-DEFENSE BALANCE MATTERS
PERMUTATION ADJ. PTYH. WIN EXP. EXPECTED RECORD
I: Defense ranks 44th in adjusted defensive efficiency 60.12% (25th) 9-6
II: Defense ranks 33rd in adjusted defensive efficiency 65.43% (17th) 10-5
III: Defense ranks 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency 70.29% (11th) 11-4
IV: Defense ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency 75.07% (9th) 11-4

That's friggin' bonkers. The jump from the team's current Pythagorean win expectation -- 48.31 percent (an expected 7-8 record)-- to its value if the team ranks 44th in adjusted defensive efficiency -- requiring the team to yield 26 fewer goals (about five goals per 100 defensive opportunities) during the season -- is staggering. That's an increase of two expected wins, a non-negligible amount that only asks the Retrievers to yield two fewer goals per 60 minutes of play. People can talk about possession margin and shooting rate and anything else that they want when it comes to UMBC but one thing ultimately matters for the Retrievers: The team's defense limted the heights to which the team could reach.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

It's superficial and simple and straightforward, but it may hold water: (1) Poe has graduated and UMBC will need to find offensive possessions outside of Poe bending reality in his favor (the Retrievers earned 48.48 percent of their offensive opportunities from face-offs wins in 2014, the second highest mark in the nation); (2) The team's defense has to improve, regardless of whether the team finds new ways to dominate possession margin (UMBC does return a host of defensive contributors from last season, primed for development and growth); and (3) Matt Gregoire's shoes will need filling, a cat that finished his redshirt senior campaign third in the country in goals per game. There's work to be done going into 2015.