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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Patriot League Outlook

Please stand, cover your heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to Patriot League Lacrosse.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Plot

The Patriot League is two leagues smashed into one. It is the oddest collection of teams in Division I, and that's mostly attributable to the fact that the top of the league is so much stronger than the bottom of the conference. Over the last four seasons, Loyola's average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value (the best in the league) is 48.60 percent stronger than Lafayette's value in the same metric. Applying those values against a 14-game schedule, the Greyhounds are six wins stronger than the Leopards, a huge gulf in competitive quality. That difference isn't limited to the absolute top and bottom of the conference, though. Looking at the top four teams in the league over the last four seasons and the bottom four teams in the league over the same period, the top four teams in the Patriot League are expected to win just over two-thirds of their games and the bottom four teams in the conference are only expected to win about 38 percent of their games (and that includes Colgate's solid marks).

This is almost like the Two Americas thing that noted dirtbag John Edwards used to speak about, but it's existing in a lacrosse universe.

Exposition

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

TRUNCATED PATRIOT LEAGUE PROFILE: 2011-2014
METRIC VALUE N'TL RANK
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value (Conference Strength) 52.54% 5
Four-Year Average Conference Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Conference Strength) 4.75 5
Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Values (Internal Competitiveness) 0.2059 10
Average Standard Deviation of League Members' Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation Value Rank (Internal Competitiveness) 8.75 10
THE PATRIOT LEAGUE: 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
Loyola 74.32% 7 9.00 7
Lehigh 68.83% 12 13.25 12
Bucknell 65.88% 15 17.00 14
Army 64.64% 16 17.50 16
Colgate 56.24% 27 26.00 25
Navy 45.17% 40 38.25 40
Holy Cross 25.73% 55 53.25 55
Lafayette 25.72% 56 53.50 56
Boston University N/A N/A N/A N/A

Army

  • Army is a lot of things, but one of the things that the Black Knights are the best at is playing their style and forcing opponents into their death trap. Over the last four years the Cadets have been impressively dedicated to their approach to game management and have rarely deviated from their ability to dictate the volition of a game:
    I WILL CRUSH YOU!
    METRIC '14 VALUE '14 RANK '13 VALUE '13 RANK '12 VALUE '12 RANK
    Pace 61.19 54 67.07 26 67.79 15
    Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin +0.43 33 +1.36 22 +0.80 22
    Estimated Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio 36.04% 13 40.00% 29 34.41% 4
    Estimated Lost Functional Defensive Opportunities Ratio 44.62% 14 45.32% 9 39.25% 46
    Estimated Lost Functional Opportunities Margin Ratio +8.57% 4 +5.32% 14 +4.84% 17
    Turnover Margin (per 100 Opportunities) +7.61 8 +7.48 10 +4.74 17
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 25.85 8 25.40 10 27.22 18
    That's the profile of a team that's leading with a highly efficient defense and is highly cognizant of the value of ball security, realizing the benefit of opponents committing a greater degree of mistakes that ultimately tips the balance of game -- at least theoretically -- in the favor of the Black Knights. This is a controlled style, one that eliminates a possession advantage because there's such an increased focus around mitigating circumstances that can elevate failure rate. Army is a web of terror for opponents because the Cadets rarely move from their success points. Opponents just don't play Army, they also play the facts and circumstances that Army creates.

Boston University

  • The Terriers were the spectrum opposite of Army last season, a fact that isn't all that surprising given that Boston University met its genesis last year and was learning how to act like a Division I team:
    I WILL GET CRUSHED!
    METRIC 2014 VALUE 2014 RANK
    Pace 62.43 46
    Opportunities per 60 Minutes Margin -1.14 46
    Estimated Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio 56.03% 67
    Estimated Lost Functional Defensive Opportunities Ratio 42.32% 24
    Estimated Lost Functional Opportunities Margin Ratio -13.72% 65
    Turnover Margin -16.60 65
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 35.81 58
    Here's something scary to consider: The team's turnover rate in 2014 was two and a half times greater than the team's adjusted offensive efficiency value. Look: These are the kinds of things that you worry about when thinking about programs that have an established place in the Division I hierarchy. The Terriers are still new to this whole deal, and as long as Boston University progresses as a rate consistent with its peers, there's nothing really worth freaking out about.

Bucknell

  • The Bison lost three major assets from 2014 -- Todd Heritage, Peter Burke, and Jackson Place -- but the team still returns 75 percent of its starts from last season, an odd year for Bucknell that stands out as the worst the program has experienced over the last four seasons. And that's really the story of the Bison entering 2015: With all of the returning contributors that The Herd have and despite the team's projected issues at the faceoff dot, is Bucknell the top 20 team that the program has been since 2011? Looking at the Bison's rankings in four math-oriented set of ratings (KRACH, Massey, LaxPower, and adjusted Pythagorean win expectation), Bucknell has averaged a top 20 position over the last four seasons, and that includes the Bison's disastrous campaign last spring (if you throw out 2014 and consider just 2011 through 2013, the Bison have averaged a top 15 position)). The Bison are a dark horse this year, but Frank Fedorjaka's history in Lewisburg has positioned Bucknell more as a nationally-relevant team than one that exists on the fringe of the nation's consciousness. If the team's offense -- which is loaded with potential and experience -- can take a step forward to complement the team's defense in a meaningful way (the Bison ranked 44th in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2014), the Bison could shock the country by doing exactly what it has done in the recent past -- being a top 20 team.

Colgate

  • The universe has a way of making sure things go according to the universe's plan -- which, incidentally, results in robots rising up and murdering all of their human masters at some point in the near future -- and Colgate may not like what the universe has in store for the Raiders in 2015. Colgate gutted out four wins last season that saw the Raiders as the competitive equal to their opponent:
    COLGATE'S GREAT ESCAPES: 2014
    OPPONENT RESULT LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFFERENTIAL log5
    Bucknell 9-8 (W) 0 45.35%
    at Binghamton 10-9 (W) 0 54.27%
    at Navy 10-7 (W) 0 52.39%
    v. Bucknell 10-9 (2OT) (W) 0 45.35%
    The Raiders were projected -- based on the team's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value -- to earn an 8-8 record last season, but some serious stones in tight games against similar competition helped the team walk from 2014 with a 9-7 record. With programs of similar quality dotting Colgate's schedule in 2015, it will be interesting to monitor how the Raiders perform in toss-up games and whether the universe get its revenge against an overachieving team from a season ago.

Holy Cross

  • I'll leave this right here and back away slowly:
    POISON: HOLY CROSS' 2014 DEFENSIVE PROFILE
    METRIC VALUE RANK
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 42.81 67
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.30 64
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.75 63
    Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 57.99% 28
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 32.27% 64
    Raw Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 55.65% 66
    Defensive Assist Rate 25.73 67
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 33.40 35
    Team Save Percentage 44.35% 66
    Strength of Schedule 30.39 46
    Judd Lattimore is an offensive guy, but the first order of business for the new Holy Cross head coach is fixing whatever the Crusaders were on the defensive end of the field last spring. If Holy Cross wasn't the worst defensive team in the nation they were close to it, and there are very few areas -- from a statistical standpoint -- where the Crusaders can feel good about what was accomplished last season. Holy Cross has a hard ceiling with little room to maneuver if the team remains one of the weakest defensive sides in the nation.

Lafayette

  • Looking back at 2014, the Leopards had an offensive performance that never seemed to get out of its own way. The team topped the 10-goal mark only once (in the season opener against Stony Brook), and the team's struggles to put up double-digit buckets has less to do with the team's pace -- Lafayette ranked 49th nationally in possessions per 60 minutes -- and more to do with an inability to efficiently generate goals. On an adjusted basis, the Leopards scored on only 21.14 percent of their offensive opportunities, a mark that ranked 65th nationally. To put that value in perspective, Lafayette would have needed to play 47 offensive opportunities in a game in order to put 10 tallies on the scoreboard based on the teams averaged adjusted offensive efficiency value. 47. Averaging only 28.71 offensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play (a value that ranked 60th in Division I in 2014), the Leopards weren't close to breaching a generally-recognized threshold of offensive competence. The team's possession deficit factored into Lafayette's inability to make the scoreboard blink -- the Leopards played at about a five-possession deficit per 60 minutes of play in 2014 -- but even if Lafayette was at an even possession margin with their opponents the team's overall offensive efficiency still would have left the Leopards in a deep hole: Lafayette would have averaged a four-goal loss against its 2014 competition instead of a five-goal loss. Any offensive improvement that the Leopards can show in 2015 will change the team's overall volition.

Lehigh

  • It's not just that the Mountain Hawks return their top seven point producers from 2014 -- a septet that accounted for around 77 percent of the team's total points last season -- or that those seven offensive weapons made a combined 93 starts last season and 151 combined starts for Lehigh in their collective careers. It's that all seven are upperclassmen and earned important experience, forming a core of leadership and production that can reasonably elevate the team's offensive performance from last season -- the team ranked 28th in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2014 -- to heights that reside among the strongest in the nation while simultaneously complementing a defense that once again has top 10 potential in adjusted efficiency. The Hawks were very strong last season but lacked the kind of offense-defense balance that is a hallmark of top 10 teams. 2015, though, looks a little different for Lehigh in that context, potentially riding a further developed offense to a status that the team has approached in recent seasons but never fully realized.

Loyola

  • The Greyhounds have tons of offensive weapons dotting the roster -- Nikko Pontrello, Zach Herreweyers, Brian Sherlock, Tyler Albrecht, Romar Dennis, etc. -- but there's one big thing that Loyola doesn't have this season: Justin Ward. (This is, of course, with recognition of what Dave Metzbower meant to Loyola as the team's offensive coordinator last year.) Ward was the team's pivot point for the last two seasons, steadying the team's offense as an initiator and omnipresent field presence. About a third of Loyola's goals were attributable to Ward in 2014 and while only about 10 percent of the Greyhounds' shots on goal were localized to Ward's crosse, over 40 percent of the team's helpers originated in Ward's stick. That's a lot of production and ball-carrying responsibility for the team to replace, and it is exacerbated by the fact that Brian Schultz, Kevin Ryan, and Matt Sawyer have also departed Charles Street for the exciting adventures of real life. It takes time to build a new reality when the painter of the still life is no longer around to approach the canvas, and Loyola may feel that at the sunrise of the coming season.

Navy

  • The Midshipmen may be staring at an ugly season at the offensive end of the field. Finishing 2014 ranked 35th in adjusted offensive efficiency, Navy lost four of its top seven point producers, a quartet that accounted for over half of the team's points last season, took about half of the team's shots, and were responsible for just over half of the team's total tallies. The three returning major offensive contributors from last season -- T.J. Hanzsche, Gabe Voumard, and Patrick Keena -- all played in at least 12 games last season with all but one earning at least 10 starts, but they will assume a greater role in the Mids' offense in 2015 compared to what they were asked to do in 2014. Only about 30 percent of the team's shots were centralized to this group in 2014 (the trio shot a dreadful 25.49 percent) and only about 30 percent of the team's points were attributable to this group (Hanzsche was the most productive player in this group of returning contributors, taking responsibility for about 19 percent of Navy's goals last season). A step back on the offensive end is more likely than a step forward for the Midshipmen, even if Hanzsche and Voumard have all-Patriot League potential (Voumard earned first team honors last season).

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Lehigh at Loyola -- February 28

  • GAME II: Army at Lehigh -- March 21

  • GAME III: Army at Bucknell -- March 28

  • GAME IV: Bucknell at Lehigh -- March 7

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

There look like four tiers in the Patriot League entering 2015: Tier IV: Boston University, Lafayette, and Holy Cross, the league's three weakest teams in relatively interchangeable positions within the tier; Tier III: Navy, closer to Tier II than Tier IV, a team with potential but areas of concern that may relegate the team to playing in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals; Tier II: Lehigh, Army, Bucknell, and Colgate, a crazy tough second tier in the conference's hierarchy that could end up featuring all four teams within the nation's top 20 at some point (but probably not at the same time); and Tier I: Loyola, a cut above Tier II but not as distanced from the second tier as the Greyhounds were in 2014.

PREDICTED PATRIOT LEAGUE ORDER OF FINISH: 2015
RANK TEAM
1. Loyola
2. Lehigh
3. Army
4. Bucknell
5. Colgate
6. Navy
7. Boston University
8. Lafayette
9. Holy Cross