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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Seats of Power

Which programs have been the strongest -- and most consistent -- over the last four seasons?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Division I's 10 strongest programs over the last four seasons account for 38 of the 44 national titles that the NCAA has sponsored since 1971, have made a combined 144 Championship Weekend appearances (constituting over 80 percent of the Final Four's total participants), claim 28 of the 32 seeded positions in the last four NCAA Tournaments, and have pushed a team to the national championship in each of the last four seasons. The hyper elite rules with a despotic fist and fears democracy like a child fears the dentist. This group of programs -- constituting the top 15 percent of Division I lacrosse -- pulls power into its orbit and rarely relents in its desire to crush skulls for personal gain. This is where the national hierarchy meets it apex.

To determine which programs have been the strongest over the last four seasons -- a cohort of years that illustrates the potential for face-smashing in 2015 -- a straightforward analysis is necessary: Examining adjusted Pythagorean win expectations over time, a group of programs were identified that maintained the nation's highest average in the metric. (Adjusted Pythagorean win expectation merely measures a team's generation of expected winning percentage based on its production on the field, utilizing adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency values as the benchmarks for determining how many wins a team should create.) From that group, data was organized to address (1) which programs have been the strongest since 2011 and, (2) which of the identified programs have consistently mauled the competition on a year-to-year basis. These are the results.

THE NATION'S 10 STRONGEST PROGRAMS

None of this should make blood leak out of your ears, but the ordering of the list may be somewhat surprising:

DIVISION I'S 10 STRONGEST PROGRAMS: 2011-2014
TEAM AVG. APYTH. NT'L RANK AVG. APYTH. RANK NT'L RANK
Maryland 77.87% 1 5.00 1
Johns Hopkins 77.56% 2 5.00 1
Cornell 76.95% 3 6.25 3
Denver 76.92% 4 7.00 4
Duke 76.53% 5 7.00 4
Notre Dame 75.65% 6 8.00 6
Loyola 74.32% 7 9.00 7
North Carolina 73.65% 8 9.25 8
Virginia 72.19% 9 11.00 10
Syracuse 71.99% 10 9.50 9

The next five (in order): Yale (69.09% (13.00)); Lehigh (68.83% (13.25)); Princeton (68.33% (14.75)); Ohio State (66.53% (17.00)); and Bucknell (65.88% (17.00)).

The difference between the top of the table -- Maryland's impressive rate averages an expected 10-3 regular season record over the last four years -- and the bottom of the table -- Syracuse's expected winning percentage averages an expected 10-4 regular season record -- is small: In a log5 environment, the Terps would be a small favorite (about a 57 percent chance of victory, just outside the sweet spot for "toss up" games) over the Orange. That fact is important: There was a time when residing among the 10 strongest programs in the country didn't necessarily mean that there was leveraged competition between all programs asserting status in that realm. Rather, the purest strength at the top of the best 10 was arguably significantly stronger than the back end of the crew. The best teams in the nation are still expected to win a ridiculous number of games (and have done so), but there is muted segregation among the already delineated group of teams.

Some further notes on this table:

  • The top four teams on the table have combined for seven Championship Weekend appearances and two trips to Memorial Monday over the last four years but have not earned a national title in that stretch. The universe is weird.
  • No team was in the top five in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation in each of the last four seasons. Two teams -- Johns Hopkins and Maryland -- were in the top eight in each of the last four years (no other team finished in the top 10 in each of the last four seasons). Neither team has corralled a national title in the last four years and the Blue Jays haven't even been able to progress to Championship Weekend. This is further indicia that there is leveraged competition among the nation's 10 strongest programs.
  • Duke's back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 illustrate that expecting to win a certain rate of games ultimately matters less than actually winning a certain rate of games. Interestingly, though, the Devils are 27-16 (62.79 percent) against the nation's 10 best programs since 2011 and hold a losing record against only two teams -- Maryland (2-6) and Denver (2-3), programs with a higher expected rate of success than Duke (the Blue Devils are 1-0 against both Hopkins and Cornell over the last four seasons). The team's 16 losses against the nation's 10 best programs constitute 84 percent of Duke's losses since 2011.

THE CONSISTENCY OF THE NATION'S 10 STRONGEST PROGRAMS

Curb-stomping fools is fun, but doing it consistently -- exacting precision in one's effort to rearrange someone's face with a boot -- is almost more important in the overall context of identifying the nation's strongest programs. Here's how that analysis shakes out:

DIVISION I'S 10 STRONGEST PROGRAMS -- DEVIATION AND VARIANCE OF EXPECTATION: (2011-2014)
TEAM STDEV APYTH. NT'L RANK VAR APYTH. NT'L RANK
Maryland 0.0040 1 0.0000 1
Johns Hopkins 0.0160 2 0.0003 2
Duke 0.0365 10 0.0013 10
Notre Dame 0.0451 14 0.0020 14
Denver 0.0456 15 0.0021 15
Virginia 0.0553 18 0.0031 18
Cornell 0.0661 27 0.0044 27
North Carolina 0.0763 30 0.0058 30
Syracuse 0.0866 36 0.0075 36
Loyola 0.1226 54 0.0150 54

Some notes on this table:

  • Maryland was on a collision course with a national championship between 2011 and 2014 and it never materialized for the Terrapins. The Terps were consistently at the top of the nation through the examined period and ultimately could not turn its success into a gold medal.
  • Syracuse is as insane as its supporters: The Orange's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value ranked first in 2011, moved to 19th in 2012, jumped up to seventh in 2013, and pivoted back to 11th in 2014. The Orange have alternated seasons expecting to win around three-quarters of their games with efforts expected to produce victories in about two-thirds of their competition dates. Among the nation's hyper elite programs, the Orange arguably have the oddest profile of any team -- there's no trend in Syracuse's existence except for its somewhat smooth oscillation.
  • Johns Hopkins is a metronome. It'll be interesting to see what the Jays' performance -- both expected and actual -- looks like in 2015 with a different kind of schedule staring the program in the face. Banking on 10 regular season wins from the Blue Jays was easy in the last four seasons, but in a new league with a repopulated schedule, will the team's positions in these metrics change significantly?