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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Looking for Fun

Which teams are established as the most watchable in the nation?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

What's "fun"? I don't know. The Big Bang Theory is the most popular show on television and I'd rather give myself a pedicure with a nuclear weapon than watch that show. People have different tastes, and what qualifies as "fun" for one person may make another person douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves aflame to make a point about what's "fun" and what isn't. Tastes in lacrosse teams create similar dissonance in what's "fun," and one person's preference -- defensive struggles, highly-organized and puppeteered play, my-son-plays-on-this-team-and-therefore-whatever-they-are-is-the-best-to-watch, etc. -- may significantly diverge from another person's framework for entertainment. Thus, what follows is merely my personal perspective on "fun" and trying to determine which teams are the most pleasant to experience. Your mileage may vary.

To assist in the determination of which teams are the most enjoyable in the nation, I came up with something called the "Fun Factor." The Fun Factor considers various items -- a team's competitiveness, a team's willingness to create and play lots of possessions in 60 minutes of play, and a team's ability to embarrass opposing goaltenders -- to quantify which teams are the most watchable in Division I. (A dumbed down version of the approach: High Tempo + Highly Competitive Play + Offensive Heat = Fun.) The Fun Factor isn't perfect, but it does a decent job at identifying teams that generate the kind of excitement that makes me want to use exclamation points. Looking toward 2015 to determine which teams are well positioned to create fun, I looked at Fun Factor ratings over the last four seasons and made my lacrosse calculator do some work. Here's how the top 10-ish shook out:

TOP 10 IN THE "FUN FACTOR": 2011-2014
TEAM '11-'14 AVG. FUN FACTOR VALUE N'TL RANK '11-'14 AVG. FUN FACTOR RANK NT'L RANK
Duke 5.75 1 4.75 2
Denver 5.54 2 4.50 1
Cornell 5.24 3 7.75 3
Albany 5.10 4 15.25 11
North Carolina 4.95 5 8.75 4
Syracuse 4.77 6 10.50 8
Virginia 4.68 7 10.25 7
Johns Hopkins 4.66 8 10.00 5
Maryland 4.62 9 10.00 5
Stony Brook 4.28 10 13.25 9
Loyola 4.19 11 14.75 10

Some brief notes on this:

  • Denver: The most consistent team in the top 10 of the Fun Factor scale has been the Pioneers. The standard deviation of Denver's Fun Factor ranking is 1.7321, the third lowest mark in all of Division I over the periods examined. A violent offense combined with an adjusted Pythagorean win expectation that has resided among the nation's best has solidified the Pios as one of the most fun teams in the nation on a year-to-year basis despite the fact that Denver isn't inclined to play nearly as many possessions per 60 minutes as Duke or Cornell. To think that Bill Tierney has needed only five seasons to cement Denver as one of the five most watchable teams in the country is almost insane, yet the Pioneers are clearly among the highest reaches of the nation's most exciting teams.
  • Albany: The Danes' position is the result of volatility: In 2011 and 2012 the Great Danes only earned average positions in the metric, but consecutive seasons as the number one team in the Fun Factor has propelled Albany into the upper reaches of the top 10. Interestingly, the Great Danes earned the highest principle value ever in 2014 in the Fun Factor scale, which further asserts the importance of Albany's season last year and what it meant for folks that fell in love with the Danes last spring.
  • The ACC: I write it every year, but the tune rarely changes: There's a reason that the ACC dominates television, and it's more than the simple fact that ESPN is flush with ACC inventory. Four of the league's five members are in the top 10 of the four-year Fun Factor analysis -- those teams averaging a 5.25 Fun Factor ranking -- and the fifth member is inside the top 15 (the Irish will likely come close to entering the top 10 after the 2015 season). The ACC has so much going for it that it's almost unfair to compare any other league to this death machine: It has the most league strength, it's as competitive from top-to-bottom as any conference in the country, and it has the most watchable programs in the nation.
  • League Fun Factor: Dovetailing the last bullet point, here's how Division I's 10 conferences look in this metric (the values are based on 2015 league constitutions and including only teams that played at the Division I level for all four examined periods):

    LEAGUE "FUN FACTOR" RANKINGS: 2011-2014
    LEAGUE '11-'14 AVG. FUN FACTOR VALUE N'TL RANK '11-'14 AVG. FUN FACTOR RANK NT'L RANK
    ACC 4.79 1 10.45 1
    America East 2.94 5 31.63 6
    Big East 3.09 4 28.25 4
    Big Ten 3.63 2 21.50 2
    THUNDERDOME! 2.79 7 31.88 7
    Ivy 3.18 3 26.39 3
    MAAC 2.11 9 39.54 9
    Northeast 2.15 8 38.14 8
    Patriot 2.82 6 30.66 5
    Southern 1.49 10 46.00 10