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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Bellarmine

The Knights strung together yet another solid season.

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

BELLARMINE KNIGHTS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 7-5 (0-4, ECAC) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 58.33% 24
2013 Record 7-7 (3-4, ECAC) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 50.00% 28
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 55.35% 27
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 56.92% 24
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -1.56% 38*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -3* 36*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 28.97 48
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 24.91 57
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +4.06 16*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +9* 20*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 26.50 10
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 22.96 2
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -3.53 51*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -8* 46*
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

Kevin Burns assumed control of the Bellarmine program in August of 2011 and all he has done in Kentucky -- a barren land of high-end college lacrosse, save for the existence of the Knights -- is turn Bellarmine into a legitimate lacrosse concern that is trending in the right direction. Prior to Burns' arrival in Louisville, the Knights were 36-50 between 2006 and 2011, a mark good for an average 6-8 record over six seasons of play under Jack McGetrick and Bart Sullivan. As the Knights' program navigator, Burns has amassed an 18-20 record, averaging a 6-7 record in the heart of Kentucky while elevating the strength of the program relative to the rest of the nation:

GROWING IN THE BLUEGRASS
SEASON LAXPOWER RANKING MASSEY RANKING KRACH RANKING ADJ. PYTHAG. WIN EXP. RANKING AVG. COMPUTER RANKING
2012 39 40 43 41 41
2013 28 30 29 24 28
2014 37 35 36 27 34

This isn't the growth trajectory of a program that is destined in the near future to upset the hierarchy of the hyper-elite, but it does reflect the development of an underappreciated program that exists on the fringe of the national consciousness. Under Burns the program has put two players -- Dillon Ward (2013) and Bobby Schmitt (2014) -- on the USILA All-America list and earned eight separate placements on various All-ECAC lists. The Knights have momentum, a volition that is somewhat unrecognized given the program's geographic location and the short amount of time that Bellarmine has played at college lacrosse's highest level.

It's difficult to say that the Knights have arrived, but there's a lot of evidence kicking around that Bellarmine has discovered its purpose and pursuit, building toward something sustainable despite its perceived limitations. There's no shame in finding a place in the heart of Division I lacrosse, and the Knights have established themselves as that kind of program. Bellarmine is more than a curiosity at this point; the Knights are arguably as prominent as some better-known programs that earn infinitely more ink due to their historic relevance.

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

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Like Caesar, Bellarmine ignored the warning of the soothsayer and suffered an assassination on March 15th. The victim wasn't the Knights' bodily person but rather its season: Falling to Michigan at home in overtime, Bellarmine's postseason hopes were murdered in brutal fashion. The loss -- a 10-11 decision -- was one that the Knights were not expected to suffer:

DUFF'D IT!
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF. MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY
Michigan 10-11 (OT) (L) 67.11% +2 66% (+1)

It's not that Bellarmine can't lose to Michigan. It's that Bellarmine can't lose to Michigan in that spot and in the circumstances in which the Knights ultimately lost. Bellarmine was 0-1 in ECAC play going into its date with the Wolverines with Ohio State and Fairfield still left on its conference slate, games in which the Knights were going to need to play well in order to compete and yank and upset. And yet, Bellarmine struggled out of the gate against Michigan, trailing at the half by a goal until the team seemed to gain control of the game midway through the final period, building a 10-8 lead against the Wolverines. From that point forward, though, things went sideways for the Knights:

  • Michigan scored two goals in quick succession to knot the game at 10 with 5:13 to play in regulation.
  • Bellarmine got nothing on its two possessions in regulation after the Wolverines tied the game, triggering four shots (one of which was saved) while committing two turnovers that killed both offensive opportunities (both were unforced).
  • The Knights never got an offensive opportunity in the overtime session, losing the opening faceoff of the extra period and yielding the game-winning goal 2:46 seconds later.

The loss built into a season in which Bellarmine went winless in conference play -- the team's third (and final) winless season in the ECAC -- with a -14 goal aggregate in the league, an average margin defeat of over three goals per game. A win against the Wolverines potentially changes the feeling around Bellarmine's final season in the now-dead ECAC and creates a different characterization of the program's membership in the conference. That feeling, though, was lost when Michigan surprisingly deflated Bellarmine's tires on the Knights' home field.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Bellarmine is moving toward a perfect conference fit in 2015: The Knights' membership in the Southern Conference next spring will provide an opportunity to throw hands with programs that fit within Bellarmine's geographic profile while also offering a preferred platform to the NCAA Tournament. The Knights will enter its new confederation in 2015 with the strength of a program capable of carrying a league flag, serving as a tent pole program that others can build around. Bellarmine isn't assured of an invitation to The Big Barbeque -- High Point, Jacksonville, Richmond, and Mercer are all capable of causing havoc in the league -- but the Knights are as established an entity as any in the conference. The foundation is there for the Knights to impose skull-crushings, it's a matter of whether Bellarmine can avoid craziness and continue its program momentum in its new reality.