The Ivy League, in the shadow of the ACC, has quietly sat as the nation's second best conference over the last four seasons. (The Big Ten projects to be stronger than the Ivy League was had the Big Ten existed in the form it will take in 2015, but whatever.) The conference's average position in four major math-oriented systems -- LaxPower, Massey, KRACH, and adjusted Pythagorean win expectation -- is 2.19, trailing only the robotic death machine that John Swofford has assembled. While this is impressive for a seven-member conference that operates a little differently than Division I's nine other leagues, there is something missing from the Ivy League's solid performance since 2011 -- tournament success. The Ivy League put three teams into the national tournament last season and none progressed past the first round. The conference put two teams into the 2013 event and Cornell -- one of the strongest teams in the nation -- bowed out in the national semifinals. Two teams -- Yale and Princeton -- made the 2012 tournament but both exited the event in the first round. And in 2011, Cornell and Pennsylvania embarked on a May adventure with the Red leading the way with a quarterfinals departure.
Despite its stature as one of the best leagues in Division I, the absence of postseason success has seemingly caused the conference's reputation to deteriorate. A strong showing from the Ivy League in May is just what the conference needs to reinvigorate its value.
Underlying background information -- team and league storylines -- that structures the plot.
|Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value (Conference Strength)||59.56%||3|
|Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Conference Strength)||3.25||3|
|Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Values (Internal Competitiveness)||0.1485||5|
|Average Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Internal Competitiveness)||6.00||5|
|TEAM||AVG. APYTH. WIN EXP.||NT'L RANK||AVG. APYTH. WIN EXP. RANK||NT'L RANK|
- Jack Kelly is one of Brown's priceless jewels. The junior keeper was a machine last season for the Bruno, solidifying his position as the Bears' primary stopper and a major component to the team's defensive approach. Despite seeing a high volume of shots per defensive opportunity (Brown ranked 58th nationally in shots per defensive opportunity and 53rd nationally in shots on goal per defensive opportunity), Bruno got from its keepers -- this is essentially Kelly's values given the fact that Kelly played over 86 percent of Brown's minutes last season -- performances that generated the 12th best team save percentage in the nation and the sixth highest mark in saves per 100 defensive opportunities. This is a massive, almost suffocating amount of reliance put on Kelly to make stops and Kelly was able to meet expectations with a 54.70 save percentage, a value that ranked 13th nationally among keepers. With Brown's goalkeeping responsibilities localized directly around Kelly's face in 2015, another superior effort from the cage could press the Bears forward in important ways.
- New coaches aren't miracle workers. Programs that hire a new head coach are usually in tough spots, trying to find some heat where only the barren cold has previously existed. There are exceptions to that scenario -- Cornell dumping Ben DeLuca prior to the 2014 season is a great example -- but, for the most part, a new coach is generally inheriting a difficult situation and attempting to find the potential that lies within the program. Looking at the last two seasons of head coaching turnover, the eight programs that have hired a new program navigator have averaged a 1.8 position drop in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation rank. There are, of course, other factors that impact a team's performance from season to season (graduation of contributors, etc.), but the general principle holds: New coaches haven't totally changed the volition of a program in their first seasons. There is, however, one notable exception to the general trend: Providence rose 14 positions in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation rank between 2012 and Chris Gabrielli's first season in 2013. The Friars were massive overachievers in 2013 and fell back in 2014, but Gabrielli's first season in Friartown was still an outlier that at least illustrates that a new head coach's first season isn't always "more of the same." Can Brendan Callahan follow in Gabrielli's footsteps or will his program development take a more traditional path?
- Cornell returns around 80 percent of its starts from 2014, including its top five point producers from last season (all of which started 16 games in 2014). The Red aren't getting a lot of heat as a top five team in the preseason -- the USILA coaches poll slotted Cornell 10th; Face-Off Yearbook has the Red eighth; Lacrosse Magazine has Cornell 10th -- but the Big Red may have that kind of capacity in 2015: The team ranked ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency last spring, 18th in adjusted defensive efficiency, and were -- in the overall -- 10th in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation. There isn't a feel that Cornell is positioned for a static campaign following last year, and that's mostly attributable to the fact that six of the team's big returning contributors -- Matt Donovan, Dan Lintner, Connor Buczek (a legitimate Tewaaraton candidate), John Hogan, John Edmonds, Jordan Stevens, etc. -- are all upperclassmen, providing leadership and experience for a program that seemingly has a core of established contributors each and every season (the Red have 14 seniors listed on their roster). Cornell has been among the strongest programs in the nation over the last four years and is platformed to deliver serious damage to its opposition this season.
- Arguably the most promising aspect of the Crimson's team in the upcoming season is Harvard's defense. The Crimson finished 2014 ranked 24th in adjusted defensive efficiency, but the team will: (1) return its starting goalkeeper (Jake Gambitsky) from 2014, a cat that found a way to come up with some big stops at key moments last spring; (2) return the core of its close defense in Robert Duvnjak and Stephen Jahelka; (3) return active and productive poles in Jack Breit and Brian Fischer; and (4) a third defenseman (Walter Kirby) that corralled 16 groundballs last year in 17 games and was the number 27 recruit in the class of 2016 by Inside Lacrosse. If Harvard is able to possession-starve their opposition -- a somewhat unclear possibility given the transfer of Gabe Mendola -- the Crimson could strangle opponents throughout the year. All the talent that Chris Wojcik has been stockpiling in Cambridge is beginning to meet its moment, and the team's defense in 2015 may reflect the kinetic energy that Harvard has been hoping to produce the last few seasons. There is room for the Crimson to develop on the defensive end, but Harvard could make a case as the Ivy League's toughest defensive team at the close of the season.
- The Quakers have been a top 20 team over the last four seasons and Mike Murphy deserves buckets of credit for turning Pennsylvania into a national threat under his guidance, but Pennsylvania has major holes to fill in 2015. The most glaring voids appear at the defensive end of the field, an area in which the Quakers have excelled in recent years: Gone from the Quakers' roster are Brian Feeney (G), Reid Tudor (D), Maxx Meyer (D), Alex Blonsky (LSM), the core of a defense that leaves only Matt McMahon (D) and Kevin McDonough (LSM) as frequent contributors to the team's defensive effort last season (a performance that merited the Quakers the second best adjusted defensive efficiency value in the nation). It's one thing to replace a goalkeeper; it's a different kind of transition to replace a goalkeeper, two-thirds of your close defense, and a long-stick midfielder. It takes time to develop a defensive identity when replacing four vital parts, developing role responsibility and the attributes necessary to execute at a high level. What Penn has been as a defensive entity is going to look much different in 2015, and the team could feel the effects of that at the sunrise of the season.
- Tom Schreiber was one of the best midfielders that Princeton has run out onto the field in the Tigers' tradition-filled history and his absence will -- in some way -- be felt in New Jersey in 2015. Schreiber was responsible for around a third of Princeton's goals last season, a value that is beyond bonkers considering the fact that the Tigers finished 2014 ranked seventh nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. The action that Schreiber created through the midfield was sublime -- his ability to shoot and pass on the run left defenses in the unenviable position of hoping that Schreiber would make a mistake in order to generate a stop and Schreiber's mere presence opened up opportunities for the Tigers' other offensive contributors. Schreiber wasn't Princeton's offense last season, but he was the focal point of it, and the Tigers will necessarily adopt a different kind of look in 2015 without Schreiber's services available to the program. Softening the team's transition from Schreiberfest to Somethingelsepalooza are four of the team's top five point producers from 2014, a mix of attackmen and midfielders that accounted for over 60 percent of the team's total points last spring. Schreiber's graduation is a pain for the Tigers to address, but it also isn't an impossible issue to overcome.
- Does Andy Shay have some kind of cheat sheet for getting to and advancing in the Ivy League Tournament. The Elis have not missed one conference postseason event -- Cornell is the only other Ivy League program that can make that statement -- and the Bulldogs won the 2012 and 2013 iterations of the Ivy League Tournament. The Elis have been soft in the Ivy League Tournament when the Elis haven't earned the conference's big trophy, bowing out in the semifinals in 2010, 2011, and 2014, but Yale still has a weird ability to create odd May adventures: In 2013, the Elis were in toss-up games against Penn and Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament and won both games by an average of 3.5 goals per game; in 2012, Yale was an underdog to Princeton and were in a toss-up scenario with Cornell and won both postseason games by an average of six goals per game; and in 2010, the Elis were the fifth best team in the Ivy League in LaxPower's ratings and made the Ivy League Tournament. Basically, three out of the last five years have featured Yale doing crazy stuff to either create a situation that shouldn't exist or explode a situation that should have been much tighter. Keep doing you, Bulldogs.
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: Cornell at Harvard -- April 4
GAME II: Yale at Princeton -- March 21
GAME III: Yale at Harvard -- April 25
GAME IV: Princeton at Cornell -- April 25
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
Cornell has dominated the Ivy League regular season over the last 10 seasons, compiling a stunning 52-8 record in that span, a full 12 wins clear of the second most successful team in the conference in that time (Princeton). The Red have a leg up on the rest of the league entering 2015, and that advantage kind of creates the most intriguing aspect of the Ivy League this season: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Pennsylvania are all positioned fairly well to undercut each team's planned IPO and create a degree of havoc in the conference. The race at the top of the league may not look all that appetizing, but the race within the middle of the conference is doused in hot sauce. Brown is probably a cut below that four-team tier and Dartmouth clearly has work to do under Callahan, but the league -- in the overall -- is healthy from a competitiveness standpoint.