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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: The Look of a Champion

Traits are emerging that indicate championship quality.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Champions come in different flavors, but traits are emerging that indicate the qualities of those that take a victory lap on Memorial Monday. The qualities of national champions -- not taking into account principles like correlation -- have seemingly hinged upon the following:

  • Elite offenses: The last five national champions had offenses that ranked in the top 10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. With an ability to maximize offensive opportunities, these teams were generally nightmares for opposing defenses, generating tallies on an adjusted basis on more than 35 percent of their offensive opportunities. The building blocks to those high offensive efficiency values also rank among the nation's best: These teams were generally in the top 10 in raw offensive shooting percentage (Loyola in 2012 was an outlier); these teams were among the nation's best in sharing the ball and creating assisted scoring opportunities (offenses that act as a prism and feature a host of offensive weapons are problematic simply because they exist); and these teams rarely relied on extra-man opportunities to make the scoreboard blink.
  • Balanced performances or selfishness: National titlists since 2010 have either (a) exhibited balance between their offensive and defensive performances, or (b) generated such powerful possession margins that leakiness at the defensive end of the field is mitigated through volume reduction. Teams that achieve balance or relegate balance as unnecessary due to a selfish monopolization of possessions are best situated to win lots of games against any quality of competition.
  • Valuation of the bean: The last five national champions have generally been among the best in the nation at limiting turnovers. Combined with generally high clearing rates among four of the last five national champions (2010 Duke was the worst of the bunch in terms of clearing percentage), these teams are maximizing their offensive opportunities by both valuing possession and creating offensive opportunities that gestate as box-possessions. In short, national titlists have made the most of their offensive opportunities.
  • Battle-hardened: With the exception of Loyola in 2012, recent national champions have played schedules -- in totem -- that have ranked in the top 10 nationally in strength of schedule. Winston Churchill's quote is emblematic of these programs' march toward total victory: "If you're going through Hell, keep going."

Here's a chart that summarizes all of the various metrics considered:

The Look of a Champion 2010-2014

Click here to enlarge.

So, what does this mean for 2015 projection purposes? It's necessarily unclear -- teams change from season to season, and even those with a sense of consistency in the roster are subject to the travails that new opportunities present -- but if you put your money on a horse with (a) firepower, (b) a challenging road to May, and (c) either defensive balance to their offensive pop or circumstances that create possession advantages that hide defensive weaknesses, you'll probably ballpark the national titlist pretty easily.