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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: MAAC Outlook

The MAAC is the most fun you can have in the Metro Atlantic area (whatever that is).

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Plot

The results of the MAAC's championships since 2010 tell the story of one of the most unsettled leagues in the nation:

  • 2014 Champion: Siena (One-Seed). No upsets in the semifinals.
  • 2013 Champion: Detroit (Four-Seed). Two upsets in the semifinals.
  • 2012 Champion: Canisius (Three-Seed). One upset in the semifinals.
  • 2011 Champion: Siena (One-Seed). One upset in the semifinals.
  • 2010 Champion: Mount St. Mary's (Two-Seed). No upsets in the semifinals.

Things don't always go to plan in the MAAC, and that gives the league life despite the fact that the conference isn't necessarily swilling brandy with some of Division I's best. The MAAC is an improvised assault, an exploding mass of energy that is difficult to control.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED MAAC PROFILE: 2011-2014
METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value (Conference Strength) 37.55% 8
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Conference Strength) 8.50 8
Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Values (Internal Competitiveness) 0.1328 4
Average Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Internal Competitiveness) 3.25 3
THE MAAC: 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
Siena 55.23% 30 26.25 27
Marist 47.04% 36 35.75 35
Quinnipiac 39.26% 45 43.25 44
Detroit 36.70% 47 46.25 48
Canisius 29.48% 53 51.00 54
Manhattan 22.84% 57 55.75 57
Monmouth N/A N/A N/A N/A

Canisius

  • The middle of the MAAC is fluid and Canisius is positioned fairly well to take advantage of a destabilized situation. The Griffs finished 2014 ranked 46th in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, reflecting one of the strongest improvements in the metric among Division I programs, and have a ton of assets in place to potentially continue the program's development: Over 80 percent of Canisius' starts from 2014 return to Buffalo in 2015, a core of contributors that pushed the Griffins' maturation last season. Included in the team's returning performers are: (1) Canisius' all-MAAC honorees from last season (Tim Edwards, Adam Donner, Jeff Edwards, and Lewis Vaccaro); (2) all six of the team's top six point producers from 2014; (3) the team's primary options in the crease and at the face-off dot; and (4) 11 seniors hoping to lead the Griffs back to the NCAA Tournament (Canisius has made two appearances at The Big Barbeque -- 2008 and 2012, both due to winning the MAAC Tournament title). Canisius hasn't had an exemplary stretch of competitiveness over the last four seasons, but the Griffs have momentum and an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum they created in 2014. Canisius has great capacity to cause havoc in a league that finds itself in a degree of insanity each and every season.

Detroit

  • Turnovers are a brutal, cyanide-fueled way to go through life. The Titans have been abysmal over the last four seasons at controlling the way in which the team values the bean, but it was -- at least from 2011 through 2013 -- offset through a relentless desire to rip the bean from their opponent's grasp. In 2014, though, the Titans backed off on their takeaway strength and the end result was a gruesome turnover margin that ranked among the worst in the nation:
    DETROIT'S TURNOVER PROFILE: 2011-2014
    METRIC '14 VALUE '14 RANK '13 VALUE '13 RANK '12 VALUE '12 RANK '11 VALUE '11 RANK
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 54.99 61 57.78 59 57.62 58 61.40 58
    Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 41.94 53 55.49 1 56.93 1 59.11 2
    Turnover Margin -13.05 62 -2.29 37 -0.70 33 -2.29 38
    Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 25.50 52 29.77 60 27.32 42 31.42 53
    Unforced Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 19.96 61 27.56 2 29.39 3 29.64 9
    Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 21.98 31 27.93 7 27.53 4 29.48 7
    Opponent Caused Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 29.49 63 28.02 58 30.30 61 29.98 58
    Here's the issue for Detroit if the Titans continue to both give the ball away at an exceptionally high rate and fail to generate enough takeaways to close the team's turnover margin: An offense wrapped in inefficiency -- partly due to a high giveaway rate -- combined with an expected possession deficit creates violent circumstances in which the Titans need to lean on their defense to keep the team in games, even against inferior competition. Committing turnovers at a rate more than two times the team's adjusted offensive efficiency value (the rate at which the team scores) is not a recipe for success, and Detroit needs to clean up that area of play in 2015.

Manhattan

  • How many upset bullets do the Jaspers have in their ruin-our-opponent's-day gun? Manhattan just missed out to the MAAC Tournament last season, going 3-3 in league play but residing on the wrong side of the conference's postseason tiebreaker. It's those three wins that are potentially prologue for the Jaspers ahead of the 2015 season: Two of the team's wins -- at Marist and home to Detroit -- were upset situations featuring Manhattan collaring two one-goal wins against superior competition to keep the team in contention for a MAAC Tournament invitation. In a log5 environment, the Jaspers had a 25.99 percent chance of victory against the Red Foxes and a 32.55 percent chance of victory against the Titans, but the Jaspers were able to punch the universe directly in the face and earn two monster wins that gave Manhattan hope of a possible May adventure (the team's loss to Siena on the last day of the regular season sealed the Jaspers' fate). Manhattan's ceiling is below the meaty middle of the MAAC this coming spring, but a couple of upset victories could platform the Jaspers for another surprising shot at postseason participation.

Marist

  • The Red Foxes exist in the shadow that Siena casts, but Keegan Wilkinson has done a solid job in Poughkeepsie since taking over for Scott Nelson in 2012. As one of the youngest head coaches in Division I lacrosse, Wilkinson has led the Red Foxes to a 22-21 overall record and an 11-7 record in the MAAC regular season, guiding Marist to three consecutive MAAC Tournament appearances including a trip to the final in 2014. The most important aspect of Wilkinson's impact on Marist's program in his relatively short tenure is that the Red Foxes are playing like the second best program in the MAAC: In a LaxPower analysis, Marist ranks as the 41st most powerful program in the country over the last three seasons (trailing only Siena in its league), a 12-position improvement over the team's 10-year performance profile in the same study (Marist ranks 53rd nationally in a 10-year analysis, trailing Siena and Quinnipiac among MAAC teams). The Red Foxes are positioned better than the team has been over the course of the last decade, finding residence in the bottom of the second third of the nation, an impressive position for a program that has earned only one NCAA Tournament invitation in the team's history. Returning all but one starter that saw action in the team's final game in 2014, the Red Foxes could continue the team's climb up the national hierarchy.

Monmouth

  • I'm just going to leave this here and back away slowly:
    MONMOUTH'S TRUNCATED OFFENSIVE PROFILE: 2014
    METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
    Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 22.10 64
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.23 5
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Offensive Opportunity 48.97% 67
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 18.22% 67
    Raw Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 37.21% 66
    Offensive Assist Rate 10.06 64
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 55.87 62
    Opponent Saves per 100 Offensive Opportunities 37.71 59
    Opponent Save Percentage 62.79% 66
    It takes time to build a Panzer tank and the Hawks have a lot of offensive work to accomplish in 2015 to erase some ugly memories from 2014. Combining a disastrous possession margin per 60 minutes of play -- over six possessions per game -- with this flavor of offensive efficiency yields an amplified and ugly offensive regime. Monmouth's development on the offensive end of the field is a defining aspect of the team's ceiling in the coming season.

Quinnipiac

  • Gill Conners -- now an assistant at Brown -- quietly steadied the Bobcats' defense last season. Playing around 88 percent of the Bobcats' minutes last season, Conners was the biggest factor in the team's insane saves per 100 defensive opportunities value (a mark that ranked fourth nationally) and the Bobcats' bonkers team save percentage (a mark that ranked 10th nationally (Conners individual save percentage -- 57.58 percent -- ranked sixth nationally)). Quinnipiac put a lot of responsibility on Conners to make stops in 2014 and the former keeper answered with 171 stops on 297 shots on goal (19 teams -- not players, teams -- yielded fewer defensive shots on goal than Conners saw on his own (that's almost 30 percent of Division I teams)). Even with Conners' superhuman efforts in the crease for The Q the Bobcats could only muster an adjusted defensive efficiency value that ranked 45th nationally. What will the Bobcats do without Conners to elevate the team's defensive play in 2015? The MAAC has some offensive pop, and with a question in the cage for the 'Cats, can Quinnipiac find a way to generate defensive efficiency without Conners' services?

Siena

  • The Saints return four offensive players that earned all-MAAC honors last season -- Richie Hurley, Conor Prunty, Jordan Barlow and Nate Barry -- and that quartet comprised two-thirds of the team's top six point producers in 2014, accounting for around 65 percent of the team's points from last season. This core of contributors will create the team's offensive combustion in 2015, but the team is seeking a cleaner kind of energy from its primary offensive cogs: Siena ranked only 49th in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2014, holding a raw offensive shooting rate of only 25.33 percent (49th nationally) while opponents held a 55.30 save percentage (48th nationally) against the Saints. Siena didn't meet an imposing slate of opposing defenses last season, and there is some pressure on a solid group of weapons to maximize the team's offensive potential in 2015 against a similar schedule of opponents. There is balance within this quartet of midfield and attack options, offering the opportunity to act as an offensive prism and making the scoreboard blink in unique ways. The only issue is whether the Saints can smooth out their offensive edges enough to make an increase in efficiency a reality.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Detroit at Marist -- April 4

  • GAME II: Canisius at Detroit -- April 25

  • GAME III: Marist at Canisius -- March 21

  • GAME IV: Quinnipiac at Canisius -- April 11

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Famous last words usually start with "I believe the MAAC will look like. . . ." Siena is the favorite heading into the season given the program's position within the league and relative to the national landscape. Then it gets tricky: Marist, Canisius, and Detroit form a clump of "Who the hell knows?" Quinnipiac occupies its own position below that trio of teams, but is not impossibly far from making a move into that grouping. Manhattan follows the Bobcats, and the Hawks will hunt their first win in program history as the conference's weakest team. All of that, of course, will likely mean nothing once MAAC play starts given the historic tightness of the conference's internal race.

PREDICTED MAAC ORDER OF FINISH: 2015
RANK TEAM
1. Siena
2. Marist
3. Canisius
4. Detroit
5. Quinnipiac
6. Manhattan
7. Monmouth