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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Big East Outlook

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Denver is the known quantity. Otherwise, the league is wrapped in questions.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Plot

The Big East's issue isn't whether it holds a national title contender within its ranks. Rather, its issue is that it has a national title contender but uneven support behind its most prominent program. Denver is positioned well to carry the league's flag through the 2015 season as the Pioneers attempt to bag their first gold medal in program history, but there is a mess of unfocused reinforcements behind Denver: Villanova hasn't participated in an NCAA Tournament in three seasons and have been on the fringe of the top 20 in that same span of time; Georgetown is still trying to find its capacity under third-year head coach Kevin Warne; St. John's will return only about 31 percent of its starts from 2014; Marquette has shown well in its first two seasons of existence but is still developing as a viable entity; and Chris Gabrielli is attempting to pull Providence from the depths of competitiveness that the Friars have historically held.

All of that creates an odd dynamic in a league that didn't quite have the issue it's facing currently when Syracuse and Notre Dame were both in the league prior to departing for the ACC. The relevance of the Big East, at this point, turns less on what its best team can accomplish and more on what the rest of the league can do to support the strength of its most promising team.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED BIG EAST PROFILE: 2011-2014
METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value (Conference Strength) 50.81% 6
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Conference Strength) 5.50 6
Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Values (Internal Competitiveness) 0.1732 7
Average Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Internal Competitiveness) 7.50 7

THE BIG EAST: AVERAGE ADJUSTED PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION VALUES AND NATIONAL RANKING OF MEMBERS: 2011-2014
TEAM AVG. APYTH. WIN EXP. NT'L RANK AVG. APYTH. WIN EXP. RANK NT'L RANK
Denver 76.92% 4 7.00 4
Villanova 57.84% 24 23.75 22
St. John's 49.59% 33 33.00 32
Georgetown 45.33% 39 37.00 37
Providence 31.76% 52 48.00 50
Marquette N/A N/A N/A N/A

Denver

  • I think this illustrates just how much stronger Denver has been over its Big East peers over the last four years (this does not include Marquette as the Eagles only have two years of competition under their belts):

    THE BIG EAST: AVERAGE RANKINGS IN COMPUTER POLLS -- 2011-2014
    TEAM aPYTH RANK LAXPOWER RANK MASSEY RANK KRACH AVG. RANK
    Denver 7.00 5.75 7.00 5.50 6.31 1
    Villanova 23.75 19.75 20.00 20.25 20.94 2
    St. John's 33.00 29.25 29.25 29.25 30.19 3
    Georgetown 37.00 32.50 32.25 32.50 33.56 4
    Providence 48.00 48.00 48.50 49.25 48.44 5
    There isn't anything like the Pioneers currently in the league. Denver has been a solid top 10 team while the rest of the conference is attempting to find two other teams with reasonable arguments to hold a top 20 designation. This is what's difficult for the Pios: Almost 40 percent of the team's regular season dates are against Big East competition and over half of its pre-NCAA Tournament competition could come from the league. This can carry important effects on Denver's RPI rating and RPI strength of schedule rating, potentially weakening the team's profile when it comes to tournament seeding. The Pioneers need the rest of the league to catch up to them, even if the Big East offers a fairly direct path to a May adventure with a weak-ish membership pool.

Georgetown

  • The Hoyas were a possession-generating machine last season: Georgetown finished the year ranked fourth in possession margin per 60 minutes of play at +4.96, buoyed by Tyler Knarr's 65.81 faceoff percentage (Knarr took 99 percent of the Hoyas' draws last season and Georgetown, as an entity, earned around 41 percent of their offensive opportunities from faceoff victories). The large possession margin that the Hoyas enjoyed helped the team hide some ugly inefficiency from the offensive end of the field: Georgetown's adjusted offensive efficiency value last year ranked 61st nationally, a fact that further emboldens the notion that the Hoyas needed possession volume in order to make the scoreboard blink at a decent rate. With Knarr's graduation this past spring, the team's reliance on and ability to generate opportunities from the dot is in question. Gabe Mendola, a transfer from Harvard, appears poised to help the Hoyas with draws, but can he create enough opportunities to push Georgetown toward increased competitiveness if the Hoyas still have issues with filling up the net? A team generating an estimated 36 offensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play needs to be closer to 11 goals per game than nine, utilizing the team's pace and possession margin to their favor. The Hoyas' schedule is fairly unrelenting for a program still in development, and building an approach that maximizes the team's ability to compete stands as one of Georgetown's biggest concerns entering the season.

Marquette

  • Could the Eagles quietly run an efficient and dangerous offense in 2015? The team's goals per game average from 2014 -- 9.25, 43rd nationally -- does not indicate that it's a possibility, but when you examine the team's goal generation on a per possession basis, the Eagles were among the nation's stronger teams at making the scoreboard blink last spring: Marquette ranked 23rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, bagging buckets on around a third of their offensive opportunities (the team's pace ranked 59th nationally at just under 60 possessions per 60 minutes of play). The team will return three of its top five point generators from last year, waving goodbye to Tyler Melnyk -- the team's primary catalyst -- and Bryan Badolato -- one of the team's best shooters -- as Kyle Whitlow, Conor Gately, and Ryan McNamara -- a trio that accounted for almost 40 percent of Marquette's points last season -- assume more responsibility to make things happen for the Eagles this season. There is potential here for the Eagles to finish in the top half of the nation in offensive power, even with the turnover that the team experienced. And considering the issues that the team had on the defensive end last season, a vibrant and capable offense may ultimately dictate where the team's ceiling is in 2015.

Providence

  • The Friars were one of the most underachieving teams in the nation last season, having an almost 10 percent difference between the team's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value (36.63 percent) and its actual winning percentage (26.67 percent). That gap implied that Providence underachieved by about one win last season -- the Friars projected as a 5-10 team instead of a 4-11 one -- and there are four instances in which the team's failure to finish the drill ultimately denied Providence of a win it was entitled to: One-goal losses to Sacred Heart, Brown, Bryant, and Marquette sunk the Friars last spring with the defeat at the hands of the Pioneers serving as the most brutal as Providence was in a toss-up situation with Sacred Heart. Programs that have historically struggled tend to leave victories on the table and underperform to expectations, and Chris Gabrielli is still in the difficult situation of smoothing out the Friars' edges. With 13 seniors from last year's team now departed, Providence will -- once again -- look to establishing a foundation for which future teams can excel. That's ultimately the biggest point of interest for the Friars in 2015 -- evolving into Gabrielli's vision while starting to do the things that nationally average programs complete on a yearly basis.

St. John's

  • The Johnnies lost more than offensive strength in the offseason, but it's the team's turnover at the offensive end of the field that is most striking about the Red Storm heading into the coming spring. St. John's needs to replace its entire starting attack -- Kieran McArdle, Colin Keegan, and Kevin Cernuto -- and Ryan Fitzgerald from the midfield, a quartet that served as the team's four highest point generators and the central contributors to an offense that finished the 2014 season ranked 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency. This isn't just a body count issue for the Johnnies; this departed foursome was the primary combustion for the team's offensive output last spring:

    ST. JOHN'S OFFENSE: PERCENTAGE OF OFFENSE ATTRIBUTABLE TO DEPARTED "TOP FOUR"
    PLAYER GOALS ASSISTS POINTS SHOTS SHOT %
    Kieran McArdle 40 40 80 112 35.71%
    Colin Keegan 34 8 42 80 42.50%
    Kevin Cernuto 30 11 41 116 25.86%
    Ryan Fitzgerald 22 11 33 78 28.21%
    TEAM 160 93 253 532 30.08%
    STARTING ATTACK % 65.00% 63.44% 64.43% 57.89%
    TOP FOUR % 78.75% 75.27% 77.47% 72.56%
    The Johnnies need to replace three-quarters of their offense from last year. Numerous players -- notably, Stefan Diachenko and James Bonanno -- will assume greater responsibility in 2015 compared to their roles in prior seasons, potentially creating circumstances conducive to growing pains. The Red Storm will have a different look this year if only because almost the entirety of its offense disappeared on graduation day last spring.

Villanova

  • The Wildcats have assembled a brutal schedule going into the season. Eliminating Marquette from the team's schedule analysis, Villanova will (1) play eight teams -- Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Drexel, Pennsylvania, Lehigh, Maryland, Fairfield, and Denver -- that have a higher four-year average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value and rank compared to the Wildcats' value and rank in the same metrics, (2) play a nonconference slate that features teams with an average four-year Pythagorean win expectation value of 64.35 percent and rank of around 16th nationally (notably higher than Villanova's value and rank in the same metrics), and (3) play an overall schedule that features teams with an average four-year Pythagorean win expectation value of 59.88 percent and a rank of around 22nd nationally (a value and rank in line with the Wildcats' production over the last four years). Villanova is creating a massive challenge for themselves again this coming spring, and the Wildcats' slate could force Villanova into the unique position of having a season stronger than their overall record indicates given the heightened difficulty of attempting to navigate the Wildcats' path to May.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Villanova at Denver -- April 3

  • GAME II: Marquette at Villanova -- March 28

  • GAME III: Marquette at Georgetown -- March 21

  • GAME IV: St. John's at Georgetown -- April 25

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

It's Denver and then [brain explodes]:

PREDICTED BIG EAST ORDER OF FINISH: 2015
RANK TEAM
1. Denver
2. Villanova
3. Marquette
4. St. John's
5. Georgetown
6. Providence

There are probably four tiers in the Big East going into 2015: Tier I: Denver, the decided favorite to run through the conference and earn the league's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament; Tier II: Villanova and Marquette, notably trailing the Pioneers and somewhat close to Tier III; Tier III: St. John's and Georgetown, a set of interchangeable teams, looking for inclusion in the Big East Tournament; and Tier IV: Providence, still trying to find the good feelings that the program exhibited in 2013.