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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Northeast Conference Outlook

There's more to the NEC in 2015 than Bryant's existence.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Plot

The problem that the Northeast Conference has faced in prior seasons is that the league was recognized as having one or two decent teams but the league, in the overall, was populated with a host of programs that weren't all that competitive. This led to many ignoring what the NEC was offering as a lacrosse product given the cemented conclusions that seemed to characterize the conference. The league's relevance in 2015, however, may change in important ways: (1) There is a legitimate race at the top of the league that will draw attention to the conference; (2) The middle of the conference is tight and should create a hectic atmosphere around which programs advance to the Northeast Conference Tournament; and (3) The rise of the profiles of "mid-major" programs resulting from postseason performances should cast some extra light on the NEC's concern.

The Northeast Conference was formed, in part, to provide access to the NCAA Tournament for programs traditionally seen as afterthoughts. The league may get more than that in 2015 given its special circumstances.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED NEC PROFILE: 2011-2014
METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value (Conference Strength) 37.47% 9
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) 0.1909 8
Average Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Internal Competitiveness) 7.75 9
THE NEC: 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
Bryant 59.33% 22 24.00 23
Robert Morris 51.98% 31 30.75 31
Hobart 40.06% 44 43.00 43
Sacred Heart 36.47% 48 46.50 49
Mount St. Mary's 36.26% 49 44.50 46
St. Joseph's 28.57% 54 48.25 51
Wagner 9.63% 60 58.25 59

Bryant

  • Kevin Massa will enter his final season in Smithfield this coming spring. This is probably a welcome development for every program that has had to deal with the faceoff specialist's special brand of curb-stomping: In Massa's three seasons as a Bulldog, he has finished no lower than third nationally in individual faceoff percentage (in his junior and sophomore campaigns he finished at the top of the Division I). Massa has been a destructive force at the dot and Bryant has benefited in important ways from Massa's dominance on draws:
    BRYANT'S POSSESSION PROFILE: 2012-2014
    METRIC '12 VALUE '12 RANK '13 VALUE '13 RANK '14 VALUE '14 RANK
    Team Faceoff Percentage 63.99% 2 72.77% 1 67.84% 1
    Percentage of Offensive Opportunities from Faceoff Victories 40.03% 11 44.04% 3 42.54% 8
    Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +5.35 2 +7.61 1 +5.24 3
    Bryant's average ranking in adjusted offensive efficiency over the last three seasons has been 42nd nationally with the team not entering the top 30 in the country in the metric in any of the last three years. The Bulldogs have needed its possession margin in order to generate the kind of offensive volume necessary to mitigate the team's issues in efficiently canning the bean, and with such a high proportion of Bryant's offensive opportunities inuring from Massa's faceoff victories, the team's offense has received a true benefit from its extra Massa-produced possessions. Illustrating this principle is the following example: Assuming Bryant drew at 50 percent last season and maintained the same adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency values, the Bulldogs' adjusted Pythagorean win expectation would only rank 28th nationally, a nine position drop from the team's actual 2014 output. Basically, Massa was worth two wins over an average faceoff man to Bryant last spring. That's crazy.

Hobart

  • Here's the bad news for the Statesmen: The team has lost its top two point producers from last season (Jake McHenry and Cam Stone). Here's the good news for the Statesmen: Other than McHenry and Stone, the team returns the rest of its double-digit point producers from 2014, including Alex Love. (Frank Brown also returns for the Statesmen in 2014 after basically missing the entire 2014 season.) While there is volume in returning offensive contributors that balanced Hobart's offense last season (Matt Opsahl, Zach Reed, Taylor Vanderbeek, Cooper Stefaniak, Brendan Saylor, and Love accounted for 61 percent of the team's total points in 2014), there is a lurking issue for the Statesmen: Hobart was one of the least efficient offensive teams in the nation last year, generating buckets on an adjusted basis on less than 30 percent of their offensive opportunities (the team's mark in the metric ranked 52nd nationally). That kind of offensive efficiency combined with a deep possession margin deficit -- the team ranked 53rd nationally in 2014 in opportunities per 60 minutes margin (-3.48) -- could limit the talent ceiling that the team has on the offensive end of the field. The Statesmen are poised to pivot from their difficult offensive situation in 2013, but there is still the issue of how much Hobart will improve in this particular area of play.

Mount St. Mary's

  • The Mountaineers were among the five worst teams in the nation in 2014 and part of the reason that The Mount cratered last season was that the program graduated its top 10 point producers after the 2013 season. Not part of its top 10 point producers; the entire group of players that constituted the team's top 10 point producers in 2013. It was a massive amount of turnover for the Mountaineers to overcome and Mount St. Mary's was unable to survive: The team ranked dead last in adjusted offensive efficiency, held a raw shooting rate that ranked 65th nationally, and the team turned the ball over at a rate that ranked 65th nationally. It was a brutal offensive showing for the Mountaineers last spring with the team's top four point generators in 2014 combining for one start and nine points prior to last season. It's going to take time for Mount St. Mary's to build its offensive competence and The Mount will likely struggle to achieve its apex point in 2015 given the lengths the program must go to repair its situation at the offensive end of the field. Until the Mountaineers are in a position to generate goals at a decent rate, the team's struggles in corralling wins are likely to follow.

Robert Morris

  • Like a handful of other NEC programs, Robert Morris is hoping to pivot from a season in which the Colonials played in a monster possession deficit (the team ranked 65th in possession margin per 60 minutes of play in 2014) while also trying to keep pace with opponents with an inefficient offense (Bobby Mo ranked 51st in adjusted offensive efficiency last spring). If the Colonials can either increase in possession capacity -- this may come through an increase in faceoff proficiency; the team ranked 62nd nationally in faceoff percentage in 2014 -- or increase the team's offensive production and otherwise maintain the team's attributes from last season, Robert Morris could become a trendy item in the Northeast Conference:
    PERMUTATIONS OF ROBERT MORRIS' COMPETITIVENESS -- BASED ON 2014 PERFORMANCE
    PERMUTATION APYTH. % EXPECTED RECORD
    I: Robert Morris draws at 50%; all other factors remain static 42.99% 6-8
    II. Robert Morris increases adj. off. eff. to national average; all other factors remain static 40.93% 6-8
    II. Robert Morris draws at 50% and increases adj. off. eff. to national average; all other factors remain static 49.27% 7-7
    CONTROL 35.01% 5-9

Sacred Heart

  • "Hey, you wanna see a dead body?" That's not a totally accurate thought, but the Pioneers do have some offensive turnover to think about: Sacred Heart has lost its top four point producers from 2014, a quartet that accounted for about 64 percent of the team's total points, almost 69 percent of the team's total helpers, and about 46 percent of the team's total shots. Including in that core of departed contributors are Alex Miller and Cody Marquis, cats that accounted for around a third of Sacred Heart's total offensive output, an attack-midfield duo that created dynamicism in an offense that finished 2014 ranked 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Pios have assets in place to transition into 2015 -- Brian Masi, Alex Dodge, and Bryce Jerk played in all 15 of Sacred Heart's games last season and accounted for a third of the team's shots -- but the team has lost its starting attack and its primary, action-oriented midfielder. Balance issues may exist for the Pioneers in 2015 (both internally on offense and relative to its defensive posture) and that could create issues in a tight league table.

St. Joseph's

  • Hawk Hill may have a lot to celebrate in 2015: Around 86 percent of St. Joseph's starts from last season return to Philadelphia for a run at the Northeast Conference title in 2015 and a potential trip to the NCAA Tournament (an appearance in lacrosse biggest moment would mark a first for the program). The Hawks were the most improved team in the nation last season and were nationally relevant: Within four math-oriented ranking measures, St. Joseph's average position was 28.5. The Hawks were thisclose last season and if St. Joe's didn't spit the bit at the least optimal time against Hobart in the NEC Tournament semifinals, the Hawks may have a different level of heat on them in the preseason. The team may have the best depth in offensive talent in the league with Ryan McGee, Pat Swanick, Michael Rastivo, and Mike Dougherty, a quartet that accounted for 57 percent of the team's points last season while steadying an offense that finished 2014 ranked 19th in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Hawks are on the cusp of accomplishing important things in 2015 if the program can continue the momentum it created last season. St. Joe's won't sneak up on anybody, and maybe that's a good thing -- this team, with the volume of experience it has at its disposal, may become even more dangerous with swagger and confidence.

Wagner

  • After a season of collecting two wins in the same year for the first time since 2005, another season of underdoggin' is approaching in the Seahawks' windshield. Yet, Wagner could bag five kills in 2015, equaling the number of victories Wagner claimed between 2010 and 2014. Lafayette, Monmouth, Massachusetts-Lowell, VMI, and NJIT are all reasonable opportunities for the Seahawks to earn a Gatorade bath for Matt Poskay. These aren't "gimmie games" for Wagner -- nothing is easy on Staten Island, including coming to realization that you're stuck on Staten Island -- but they are chances for the Seahawks to taste the sweet nectar of winning. It feels somewhat unfulfilling to think about Wagner's upcoming campaign as one that turns on the potential of conquering teams that will probably have their faces rearranged by other teams, but the Seahawks' potential -- not just in 2015 but two years from now -- turns on how Wagner relates to peer programs attempting to climb from the depths of Division I.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: St. Joseph's at Bryant -- March 28

  • GAME II: Hobart at Sacred Heart -- April 4

  • GAME III: Hobart at Robert Morris -- March 28

  • GAME IV: Robert Morris at Sacred Heart -- March 21

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

There look to be three general tiers in the Northeast Conference this coming season: Tier I: Bryant and St. Joe's, maddeningly close to each other and both highly capable of winning both the league's regular season and postseason crowns; Tier II: Hobart, Sacred Heart, and Robert Morris, all three teams locked in a fight for a bid to the NEC Tournament and a chance to pull off what the Statesmen accomplished last season on Hawk Hill; and Tier III: Mount St. Mary's and Wagner, the Mountaineers in a better position than the Seahawks but still a distance from competing with the middle of the league.

PREDICTED NEC ORDER OF FINISH: 2015
RANK TEAM
1. Bryant
2. St. Joseph's
3. Hobart
4. Robert Morris
5. Sacred Heart
6. Mount St. Mary's
7. Wagner