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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Examining Conference Attributes

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What league looks the strongest? What league looks to have the best race?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

To create an analysis that illustrates the prism of attractiveness that Division I's conferences offer, three questions need to be asked:

  1. Which leagues look the strongest going into 2015?
  2. Which leagues are likely to maintain a consistent level of strength?
  3. Which leagues look to have the tightest races going into 2015?

Those questions comprise the foundation for describing the landscape of college lacrosse's 10 conferences. To generate answers to those questions, though, an analysis must start with the recent past and shoehorn material into a contemporary context. Accordingly, all of these questions are contextualized as if the conferences were performing under their 2015 constitution. (In other words, regardless of a league's actual membership in a particular season, all seasons are analyzed as if the league membership was the roster for the 2015 season.) The end result is an analysis that shows league potential for the coming spring as if the conferences always existed in the form that they will take in 2015.

Which leagues look the strongest going into 2015?

This analysis is fairly straightforward: Using team adjusted Pythagorean win expectation values from 2011 through 2014, conference adjusted Pythagorean win expectations -- for the same periods -- are determined. Unsurprisingly, the ACC comes out on top but a newcomer -- the Big Ten -- asserts a position in the same neighborhood as one of college lacrosse's most decorated leagues (conferences are listed alphabetically):

"LEAGUE STRENGTH": AVERAGE CONFERENCE ADJUSTED PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION VALUES AND RANKING: 2011-2014
LEAGUE '11-'14 AVG. APYTH. RANK '11-'14 AVG. APYTH. RANK RANK
ACC 73.98% 1 1.00 1
America East 45.39% 7 6.75 7
Big East 50.81% 6 5.50 6
Big Ten 60.40% 2 3.00 2
THUNDERDOME! 56.30% 4 3.75 4
Ivy 59.56% 3 3.25 3
MAAC 37.55% 8 8.50 8
Northeast 37.47% 9 8.50 8
Patriot 52.54% 5 4.75 5
Southern 28.69% 10 10.00 10

Four conferences maintain average conference Pythagorean win expectation values north of 50.00 percent in the periods examined: ACC, Big Ten, Ivy, and THUNDERDOME! It's THUNDERDOME!'s continued relevance in the league strength table that is especially interesting: Of the four conferences that have been on the positive side of expected skull-crushings, THUNDERDOME! is the only league that (a) doesn't house a national champion, and (b) failed to put at least two teams into the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four seasons. THUNDERDOME! is in rare and elevated company, a fact that underscores the power of the nation's most dangerous and violent league.

Which leagues are likely to maintain a consistent level of strength?

This analysis can be misleading. The focus here is on the standard deviation of a league's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation over the periods examined in the analysis. The lower the standard deviation value, the more consistent the league's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value. The results:

"POWER STABILITY": STANDARD DEVIATION OF "LEAGUE STRENGTH" VALUES AND RANKING: 2011-2014
LEAGUE '11-'14 STDEV APYTH. RANK '11-'14 STDEV APYTH. RANK RANK
ACC 0.0311 5 0.0000 1
America East 0.0404 8 0.5000 3
Big East 0.0155 2 0.5774 4
Big Ten 0.0408 9 1.4142 9
THUNDERDOME! 0.0380 7 0.9574 7
Ivy 0.0237 3 0.9574 7
MAAC 0.0278 4 0.5774 4
Northeast 0.0118 1 0.5774 4
Patriot 0.0501 10 2.2174 10
Southern 0.0320 6 0.0000 1

There are two interesting aspects to this table:

  • The Northeast Conference exhibits straight-line consistency in the league's strength and compounds that situation by consistently holding one of the lower conference ranking positions in Division I. The NEC isn't set to lose ground to the rest of the nation, but it's also not emanating a lot of growth. With programs like Hobart, Bryant, Robert Morris, and a host of others lined with potential dotting the league's roster, reveling in volatility may be a good thing for the league: The Northeast Conference desires power instability, at least if it brings the league to a heightened position in the national hierarchy.
  • The Patriot League is in a potentially impossible to understand set of circumstances. The conference's "league strength" ranking -- remember: this are based on the conference's 2015 constitution -- bounces around in the following order: sixth, second, fourth, and seventh. The league would likely hope to smooth out its edges, and two things probably need to occur for the Patriot League to experience a reality of greater stability: (1) Boston University getting up to speed, and (2) the middle of the conference -- any combination of Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Navy, and Army -- dialing back the erratic behavior. A league as volatile as the Patriot League is fun, but when it's combined with a mediocre "league strength" ranking position, it reflects a conference in relative discomfort.

Which leagues look to have the tightest races going into 2015?

This is the money question: Which leagues have the most balance from top to bottom? Paying attention to conferences that feature two elite teams and four struggling teams isn't as fun as focusing on leagues with six teams that are all evenly matched and willing to bash each other's brains in. This is what makes conference races exciting and league tournaments valuable. The ACC tops the chart, but there's much more to the table than that:

"INTERNAL COMPETITIVENESS": STANDARD DEVIATION OF LEAGUE MEMBERS' ADJUSTED PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION VALUES AND RANKING: 2011-2014
LEAGUE STDEVA APYTH. RANK AVG. STDEVA APYTH. RANK RANK
ACC 0.0589 1 1.00 1
America East 0.1328 3 3.25 3
Big East 0.1732 7 7.50 7
Big Ten 0.1968 9 7.50 7
THUNDERDOME! 0.1055 2 2.75 2
Ivy 0.1485 5 6.00 5
MAAC 0.1328 4 3.25 3
Northeast 0.1909 8 7.75 9
Patriot 0.2059 10 8.75 10
Southern 0.1649 6 7.25 6

Points of interest:

  • THUNDERDOME! has your heart (voluntarily or through the Kano move in Mortal Kombat). There is little wiggle room in the combat pit that is the league, a fiery inferno of death and pain and horrors that chase the souls of its inhabitants. The addition of Fairfield to the conference in 2015 only makes the league tougher to survive. Don't ever, ever change, THUNDERDOME!
  • Don't sleep on the America East or the MAAC. While Albany and Stony Brook have traded opportunities to uncork beatings on the America East over the last four seasons, the rest of the league is tightly bunched around itself. Massachusetts-Lowell's presence will erode the league's position in the table, but the rest of the league is still a balanced nightmare of leveraged competitiveness. As for the MAAC -- the league's five-way mess of members that finished their conference campaigns with identical 3-3 records last season is peak MAAC nonsense. Embrace it.