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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Rutgers

Brian Brecht may have Rutgers on the precipice of breaking through.

Kevin Jairaj-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

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 8-8 (3-3, Big East) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 50.00% 33
2013 Record 2-13 (0-6, Big East) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 13.33% 60
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 55.79% 26
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 39.07% 45
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +16.72% 6*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +19* 4*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 33.56 21
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 26.17 51
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +7.39 3*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +30* 2*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 33.05 43
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 32.12 41
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -0.93 32*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -1* 32*
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

The Scarlet Knights were one of the most improved teams in the nation between 2013 and 2014. It felt like it was just a matter of time before Brian Brecht was able to implement some sorcery in Piscataway, building out the Rutgers program much like he did in Loudonville with Siena. This past spring may have been the tipping point for the Knights after going a combined 8-22 in 2012 and 2013 (and just 1-11 in Big East play).

The growth that Rutgers exuded throughout the 2014 wasn't limited to merely increasing the team's overall win-loss record. The Scarlet Knights were -- in terms of overall strength as a lacrosse concern -- significantly better last spring than they were in 2013:

MOMENTUM
TEAM LAXPOWER '13 P.R. RANK LAXPOWER '14 P.R. RANK LAXPOWER P.R. RANK CHANGE LAXPOWER P.R. RANK CHANGE NT'L RANK '13 ADJ. PYTH. WIN EXP. RANK '14 ADJ. PYTH. WIN EXP. RANK ADJ. PYTH. WIN EXP.RANK CHANGE ADJ. PYTH. WIN EXP.RANK CHANGE NT'L RANK
Rutgers 44 27 +17 2 45 26 +19 4

From the depths of Division I lacrosse to the meaty middle of the nation, Rutgers found viability in just one season. That's impressive, especially considering how much the team struggled at both ends of the field in 2013. If this growth is difficult to grasp, maybe these two facts will help illustrate the level of maturation the Scarlet Knights exhibited between 2013 and 2014:

  • In 2013, Rutgers finished the year -25 in aggregate scoring margin with an average margin of defeat of two goals. In 2014, Rutgers finished the year +15 in aggregate scoring margin with an average margin of victory of almost a goal.
  • In 2013, Rutgers finished the year -20 in aggregate scoring margin in regular season Big East play with an average margin of defeat of three goals. In 2014, Rutgers finished the year +2 in aggregate scoring margin in regular season Big East play with an average margin of victory of a third of a goal.
  • The team's strength of schedule between the two seasons was comparable: The team's LaxPower strength of schedule in 2014 ranked 31st and the Knights' strength of schedule in the same measure in 2013 ranked 33rd; the team's average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation strength of schedule in 2014 ranked 34 and the Knights' strength of schedule in the same measure in 2013 ranked 28th.

Rutgers still has work to do to return the program to the level it was at when it made back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2003 and 2014, but Brecht has -- at least based on the team's hyper-recent progression -- started to get the Knights into a position to rediscover the program's potential.

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

The Scarlet Knights weren't all that good against the best competition that it faced last season. Against three opponents ranked in the top 12 of adjusted Pythagorean win expectation and in LaxPower's ratings, Rutgers took a boot squarely to the face:

SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF. MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY
at Virginia 12-19 (L) 36.18% -3 23% (-3)
at Denver 11-17 (L) 21.33% -6 7% (-7)
at Duke 8-17 (L) 22.13% -7 7% (-7)
v. Denver 7-14 (L) 21.33% -5 7% (-7)

That's an aggregate goal differential of -29 with an average margin defeat of over seven goals. Granted, these are some of the strongest teams in the nation, but the Scarlet Knights were well behind the kind of performances that the Cavaliers, Pioneers, and Blue Devils were capable of putting together. These results highlight the gap that Rutgers is facing as it attempts to develop into a dangerous program, and until the Knights start to consistently shove some of the nation's better teams around the yard, Rutgers will remain an interesting club with various limitations. In short, you can't breach the threshold of the elite until you start consistently trading blows with the nation's best.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

If the Big Ten was a thing in 2014, the league would have ranked second nationally in overall strength as measured by its membership's average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation. Unfortunately for Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights weren't at the top of the conference's table in terms of overall power:

RUTGERS' GREAT NEW WONDERFUL?
TEAM '14 LAXPOWER RANK '14 MASSEY RANK '14 KRACH RANK '14 ADJ. PYTH. RANK AVERAGE
Maryland 3 4 3 5 3.75
Johns Hopkins 8 7 9 8 8.00
Penn State 15 15 19 18 16.75
Ohio State 21 30 30 19 25.00
Rutgers 27 31 34 26 29.50
Michigan 49 50 41 48 47.00

Now, Rutgers isn't stepping into the death machine that is the ACC, but if 2014 results are predictive of 2015 strength, the Scarlet Knights are lagging behind some of the Big Ten's best teams. There is, naturally, ebb and flow within a conference, but Rutgers still has ground to make up if it hopes to legitimately compete for the Big Ten's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament.