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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Independents Outlook

Two teams will roam the wilderness as ronin this spring.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Plot

This sequence in Ronin -- Have you seen Ronin? No? Stop using the Internet and go watch it now! De Niro! Sean Bean! Jean Reno! A Skarsgard! Other People I Currently Forget! -- is particularly relevant to this season's Division I independents:

[looking at Jean-Pierre's model]
Jean-Pierre: The 47 ronin. Do you know it?
[Sam shakes his head]
Jean-Pierre: 47 samurai, whose master was betrayed and killed by another lord. They became ronin -- masterless samurai -- disgraced by another man's treachery. For three years they plotted, pretending to be thieves, mercenaries, even madmen -- that I didn't have time to do -- and then one night they struck, slipping into the castle of their lord's betrayer and killing him.
Sam: Nice. I like that. My kind of job.
Jean-Pierre: There's something more. All 47 of them committed seppuku -- ritual suicide -- in the courtyard of the castle.
Sam: Well, that I don't like so much.

Exposition

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

THE INDEPENDENTS: 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
Air Force 55.80% 29 27.00 30
NJIT N/A N/A N/A N/A

Air Force

  • The Falcons ran through the 2014 season with one of the strongest offenses in the nation, finishing the year ranked 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency while ringing up 11 double-digit goal outputs despite playing at a pace that ranked 52nd nationally. Air Force was a hidden force of defense-abusing might a season ago, but the team's volition on the offensive end may regress in 2015: The Falcons need to replace four of the team's top six point producers from last season, a quartet that made 64 combined starts last season with three of the four starting at least 16 of Air Force's 17 games. That foursome was not merely the trigger to the Falcons' offensive blast. Rather, Mike Crampton, Tommy McKee, Kyle Cassady, and Erik Smith was the blueprint, operator, ammunition, and laser-guided vision for the Falcons death machine: The quartet accounted for about two-thirds of Air Force's goals, over half of the team's helpers, over 60 percent of the team's points, and about 60 percent of the team's shots while shooting around 32 percent as a group (the Falcons, in the overall, shot 28.51 percent in 2014). Only two players returning to Air Force's roster in 2015 -- Christopher Allen and Keith Dreyer -- took more than 17 shots for Air Force in 2014, those two cats accounting for less than 20 percent of the Falcons' buckets while taking only 22 percent of Air Force's shots (shooting only 24.05 percent as a duo). Dreyer's ability to distribute is an important aspect to the team's returning offensive capabilities, but the Falcons will have an almost entirely new flavor to their offensive offering in 2015 with the departures of so many established and well-oiled assets.

NJIT

  • It's hard out there for a new program:
    FIRST-YEAR PROGRAM STRENGTH: 2011-2014
    YEAR TEAM LAXPOWER RANKING KRACH RANKING aPyth. RANKING RECORD*
    2014 Boston University 58 61 60 2-12
    Furman 65 64 63 1-12
    Monmouth 63 67 62 0-13
    Richmond 56 59 53 6-11
    2013 High Point 60 56 60 3-12
    Marquette 52 42 55 5-8
    2012 Michigan 58 59 59 1-13
    2011 Mercer 61 61 61 0-11
    AVERAGE 59/65 59/65 59/65 2-12
    *Includes games against Division I competition only.

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Air Force v. Bellarmine -- April 4

  • GAME II: Air Force at High Point -- March 21

  • GAME III: Massachusetts-Lowell at NJIT -- March 7

  • GAME IV: Monmouth at NJIT -- March 17

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

It's a league that isn't a league, and the prospects of the non-league to put a non-league champion into the NCAA Tournament is pretty slim. NJIT is playing a truncated schedule this season and the Highlanders are focused more on becoming a thing than making an appearance at the thing. Air Force, while making a surprising showing at The Big Barbeque last season, doesn't appear to have the kind of ceiling the program had last year with the departures of Crampton, McKee, Cassady, and Smith. The Falcons are in a tough transitional spot, and even if Air Force is able to overcome its losses, the team's strength of schedule and presumed RPI outlook isn't so hot with a deflated slate of opponents.