clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2015 College Lacrosse Preview: ACC Outlook

The nation's best league will look to keep its dominance going in 2015 after losing a charter member to the Big Ten.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Plot

The ACC is a crushing destroyer of souls. The league -- a sociopathic experiment in lacrosse power set loose to terrorize the nation -- has dominated Division I lacrosse over the past 30 years, sending at least one of its current five members to the national championship in 26 of the last 30 NCAA Tournaments, corralling titles in 19 of those events. The national final has featured two current ACC schools throwing hands against each other six times in the last three decades, with three of the last five Memorial Mondays pitting two current ACC programs in a deathmatch for gold. Even though the league lost a major asset in Maryland in the offseason, the five-team ACC remains the most decorated and capable conference in the country, smashing skulls on its path to occupying a tier of the national hierarchy to which it maintains no peer.


Underlying background information -- team and league storylines -- that structures the plot.

Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value (Conference Strength) 73.98% 1
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Conference Strength) 1.00 1
Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Values (Internal Competitiveness) 0.0589 1
Average Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Internal Competitiveness) 1.00 1

Duke 76.53% 5 7.00 4
Notre Dame 75.65% 6 8.00 6
North Carolina 73.56% 8 9.25 8
Virginia 72.19% 9 11.00 10
Syracuse 71.99% 10 9.50 9


  • The Devils are as hot as any program in the nation. Duke has made eight consecutive Championship Weekend appearances, winning three titles in that span while compiling a 128-32 record (averaging a 16-4 finish) against a schedule that has averaged a rank of sixth nationally in LaxPower's system. John Danowski has created a force in an era of leveraged competitiveness, yet 2015 stands as a somewhat unique situation for Division I's most novel head coach: Duke will need to replace its entire close defense from last season, its primary faceoff specialist, an active and productive long-stick midfielder, and just over 43 percent of the team's points from last spring (that value includes Jordan Wolf's 103 points and steadying presence, speed, and importance within Duke's offensive approach). The Blue Devils will look different than they did a season ago, putting players into new and increased roles, potentially featuring a midfield-oriented offense with Deemer Class and Myles Jones leading the team's efforts to make the scoreboard blink. Danowski has stockpiled a cache of talent and the team still maintains a high ceiling entering the sunrise of the season, but the Devils may perform notably stronger later in the season compared to where Duke may start the year.

North Carolina

  • One of the quiet storylines for the Heels this season is the return of Stephen Kelly to buoy the team's faceoff play. Kelly, a sophomore that is returning after undergoing wrist surgery last spring to repair a broken right wrist, played eight games in 2014 and held a 74-121 mark at the dot (61.16 percent), taking only seven fewer attempts at the "X" than R.G. Keenan while winning 22 more draws than Keenan. The loss of Kelly last season likely held a degree of relevance to the Heels' overall possession profile last year: North Carolina finished the season ranked 40th in possession margin per 60 minutes of play and the team ranked 40th in faceoff percentage at 48.40 percent. The new rules put in place this coming spring around faceoff play may impact Kelly, but the mere presence of Kelly at maximum health should provide the Tar Heels with a boost in an area of concern that the program felt last year after he was shut down.

Notre Dame

  • The Irish have built a reputation as a defensive nightmare under Gerry Byrne, but Notre Dame is slowing developing into an offensive machine that complements its incorporated murder concern on the defensive end of the field: In 2012, the Irish ranked 33rd in adjusted offensive efficiency, shooting a woeful 26.90 percent on a raw basis (48th nationally); in 2013, the team's offensive efficiency value improved to 25th nationally due, in part, to an increased shooting eye (the team ranked 32nd in raw offensive shooting rate at 27.13 percent); and in 2014, the team took a major step forward on offense, ranking eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency and ninth in raw offensive shooting rate at 31.93 percent. Notre Dame's offense -- thanks to major contributions from quarterback Matt Kavanagh, midfield bulldozer Sergio Perkovic, and attackman-assassin John Scioscia -- established a position among the nation's elite, and the team is positioned well to continue its assault on the nation: Four of the team's top five point generators from last season return in 2015, that quartet accounting for over 55 percent of the Irish's total points in 2014, registering over 53 percent of the team's total shots, and holding responsibility for over 60 percent of the team's total helpers. Notre Dame has the kind of balanced firepower on each of its 55-yard halves of the field to compete with any team in the nation.


  • Syracuse's defense was pretty average last season against a brutally difficult slate of opposing offenses: The team ranked 32nd in adjusted defensive efficiency and the team's schedule ranked second nationally in opposing offenses faced. The team's performance in the defensive end isn't indicative of what Lelan Rogers has brought to the Orange since joining the program after the conclusion of the 2007 season, and Syracuse's defensive profile is not one that the Orange hope to duplicate in 2015:

    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 30.64 32
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.14 38
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.68 44
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 59.77% 49
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 30.21% 54
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 50.54% 52
    Defensive Assist Rate 19.12 47
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 33.64 33
    Team Save Percentage 49.46% 52
    The team's ceiling this coming spring is likely influenced in significant ways by the Orange's defensive development from 2014 to 2015. A goalie battle is currently underway between Bobby Wardwell and Warren Hill, an interesting positional fight that must stabilize an uneven situation between the pipes that Syracuse has experienced. Regardless of what comes out of that feud, though, Syracuse needs to find a way to balance the team's offensive explosiveness with a defense capable of efficiently creating stops.


  • A team doesn't need a first team All-American in the net to win the national title. (In fact, the USILA first team All-America goalkeeper has not won a national title in the same year in which he earned high honors since Tillman Johnson copped a gold medal in 2003 with Virginia.) A hyper competitive team does, however, need something positive from the crease, and the Cavaliers have struggled to find consistent goalkeeping over the last two seasons:

    METRIC '13 VALUE '13 RANK '14 VALUE '14 RANK
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.50 57 27.15 66
    Team Save Percentage 48.03% 51 47.02% 61
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.95 6 0.95 4
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.57 9 0.58 8
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 60.08% 40 60.87% 57
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 31.23% 53 32.25% 62
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 51.97% 51 52.98% 61
    Some combination of Dan Marino, Will Railey, Matt Barrett, and Rhody Heller -- all but Railey earned time for Virginia last season (Railey is a true freshman in 2015 and was listed as the number seven incoming goalie by Inside Lacrosse for the Class of 2014) with Barrett starting all 16 of the Cavs' dates last year -- will assume the responsibility of fixing what has been a ceiling-limiter for the program in recent seasons.


Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: North Carolina at Notre Dame -- April 18

  • GAME II: Syracuse at Notre Dame -- March 28

  • GAME III: Virginia at Duke -- April 12

  • GAME IV: Syracuse at North Carolina -- April 11


Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

The difference between the best team in the ACC and the "worst" team in the conference is slim: The allure of the league isn't just that it's populated with programs that create the most energy in Division I, it's also that the race in the ACC is tighter than any other at college lacrosse's highest level of play. It stands alone -- even considering the maniacal nature of THUNDERDOME! -- as Division I's special snowflake. Thus, there's an inherent ridiculousness in projecting what the league's final order of finish will look like: Reasonable arguments exist that the bottom of the table could reside at the top at the end of April, if only because the ACC is so power-packed that any result is a feasible one. 2014 was a great example of this phenomenon: Wrapped in questions as to whether the Irish would even qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame proceeded to lock up its first ACC Tournament championship in its first season in the conference and rode that tide all the way to the national championship game. There just isn't a league -- not only in lacrosse, but in any college sport -- that manufactures insanity the way that the ACC does on the lacrosse field.

1. Notre Dame
2. North Carolina
3. Syracuse
4. Duke
5. Virginia