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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Massachusetts

The Minutemen lost five of their last six games in 2014.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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

MASSACHUSETTS MINUTEMEN
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 7-6 (1-4, THUNDERDOME!) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 53.85% 28
2013 Record 7-8 (2-4, THUNDERDOME!) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 46.67% 34
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 51.43% 30
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 56.15% 26
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -4.72% 45*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -4* 40*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 34.17 18
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.52 27
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +3.65 19*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +9* 20*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 33.91 50
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 30.12 28
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -3.79 53*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -20* 56*
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

Massachusetts didn't have smell of a team that was going to explode out of the gates at the start of the 2014 season: Finishing 2013 with a 7-8 record and an adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value that ranked 26th nationally, the Minutemen were a fringe top 20 team, one that needed to find momentum after moving toward the middle of the competition spectrum following a monster effort in 2012. There were aspects of the team that provided promise -- Connor Mooney, Matt Whippen, and Grant Whiteway were known quantities, Zach Oliveri had heat going into his redshirt sophomore season in Amherst, Ryan Izzo and Joe Calvello had experience, and Greg Cannella continually has one of the toughest teams in the nation -- but the Minutemen were still existing on the periphery of the national consciousness.

Then Massachusetts started hammering skulls into dust as soon as the opening whistle on the season was blown:

. . . NOBODY WAS BIGGER THAN ME
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF.
Army 6-5 (W) 32.67% -2
Ohio State 12-11 (OT) (W) 37.28% 0
Harvard 8-4 (W) 41.06% 0
Brown 15-2 (W) 54.72% 0
Albany 10-25 (L) 24.98% -3
Providence 16-11 (W) 64.71% +3
Penn State 8-6 (W) 37.01% -2

That's a hell of a hot start, going 6-1 in the team's first seven games in circumstances in which the team was -- for the most part -- either an underdog or in a toss-up scenario. The only opponent that Massachusetts met in this stretch in which the Minutemen were a favorite was against Providence, and Massachusetts delivered a strong victory in that game. This is the epitome of playing over your head and causing havoc without a care given toward potential consequence.

Look: This was the more difficult half of Massachusetts' schedule and the team succeeded in significant ways in that part of the slate. The average opponent adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value over these seven games was 59.52 percent, and yet Massachusetts -- a team the finished the year only expected to win 51.43 percent of its contests -- held an average margin of victory in these games of two goals with an aggregate goal differential of +11. The Minutemen didn't eek out victories against the best competition it faced; rather, Massachusetts kind of mashed the accelerator and used pure combustion to earn victories.

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

Prior to the team's loss to Fairfield in Connecticut on March 18, 2014, the Minutemen had ascended to 11th in both the coaches and media polls, riding its hot start to the edge of the country's elite. That early season push, however, wasn't indicative of the team Massachusetts would become in the last half of its season: The Minutemen ran out of steam in significant ways down the stretch in 2014, losing five of its last six games and failed to make the THUNDERDOME! Tournament. The team's average margin of defeat in that stretch was three goals, putting in performances that led to an aggregate goal differential of -18 in the stretch (the average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value of those six opponents was 53.39 percent).

The freefall that Massachusetts experienced over its last half-dozen games last spring wasn't ugly simply because it halted the momentum that the Minutemen built over its first seven games. Rather, the team's decline at the most important part of the year was gruesome because Massachusetts was built to avoid such losses but underperformed against competition it was capable of defeating or otherwise playing to a closer margin:

. . . THAT'S WHEN I KNEW I HIT ROCK BOTTOM
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF.
Fairfield 5-11 (L) 33.14% -2
Hartford 12-6 (W) 58.85% +3
Towson 5-6 (L) 60.16% +2
Drexel 9-13 (L) 40.11% -2
Hofstra 6-11 (L) 40.99% 0
Delaware 7-15 (L) 54.57% 0

Whatever universal capital that Massachusetts built at the sunrise of the 2014 season -- thanks to the team's efforts noted in the "Atta Boy! Fact" section -- was blown before the team entered its final six dates on its competition calendar. Falling to Towson as a favorite is brutal, but it’s even tougher to accept given that the game was played at Garber Field. Taking an eight-goal beating from Delaware in a toss-up game is even worse,especially considering that result kept the Minutemen out of postseason play. Massachusetts could have had so much more this past spring, but the way the team closed crushed any hopes of having a super fun pizza party.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Massachusetts returns 71.54 percent of its starts from the 2014 season, players that should provide a solid foundation for the Minutemen to push into 2015 with purpose and volition. Among the returnees for Massachusetts next spring are Oliveri, the team's anchor in the cage, and five of the team's top seven double-digit point-generators from a season ago (including three of the top four). The team will need to replace Joe Calvello at the dot and James Fahey and Aaron Madaisky on the defensive end of the field, but there is material to work with that littered the roster last season. A return to the upper reaches of the national hierarchy may be aggressive for Massachusetts going into 2015, but thumping fools in THUNDERDOME! while finding a place in the top 20 isn't out of the question. Finding consistency on a game-by-game basis may ultimately dictate the team's ceiling next year.