There's no perfect way to approach constructing a set of preseason rankings. (My most fervent detractors would argue that I have only found terrible ways to construct a set of preseason rankings.) The method that I've used this year is the same that I've employed over the last three years: (1) Write down as many teams as I can think of that are likely in the conversation for inclusion -- somewhere! -- in a top 20 ballot; (2) Segregate teams into five-position buckets/tiers (1-5, 6-10, etc.) to create a framework for team positioning; (3) Within each bucket/tier move teams around into positions that look reasonable relative to other teams in the specific bucket/tier; and (4) Smooth out the edges of each bucket/tier by readdressing the positions at the far reaches of buckets/tiers that neighbor each other.
As a result, I'm less worried whether TEAM A is properly ranked 12th and TEAM B is properly ranked 15th; I'm mostly concerned whether TEAM A and TEAM B are properly in that 11-15 range and that a reasonable arguments exist as to their bucket/tier positioning. That's probably a little different approach than most people take, but it's a more manageable method than crippling, stress-induced one-position worries. Ultimately, we're all guessing when it comes to preseason rankings, even if it is educated guessing, and trying to structure this in a way that permits a broader approach to addressing team competitiveness maintains a workable model. Keep this in mind as you slowly build rage when reading through the rankings and commit to writing the angriest email ever penned.
With that out of the way, here's what my preseason ballot looks like:
Some brief notes about the top 20:
- Also Considered: The list of teams that were considered for inclusion feels deeper than it has been in previous seasons. This is likely attributable to the softness that emanates from the last nine positions on the run. In no particular order, the following teams were also considered for a spot in the tally: Pennsylvania, Penn State, Towson, Hofstra, St. Joseph's, Bucknell, and Massachusetts. There's a fairly decent probability that one or more of these teams will appear in the top 20 at some point in 2015, not only because those seven teams have the potential to do some work, but also because volatility has a way of creating craters in the back 10 positions of any poll. These teams have positives and negatives, but there are two common reasons for why one of these teams didn't make the top 20: (1) There was notable turnover in returning starters from the prior season; or (2) The team was returning a notable chunk of returning starters from 2014 but the team needs to make up ground -- from a performance standpoint -- to reside in the top 29 percent of Division I lacrosse.
- Regrets?: Too High: Maryland. The Terps have been one of college lacrosse's best and most consistent teams over the last four seasons and that's why they're in the top 10, but it's hard to ignore some questions about Maryland: What will the offense look like without Mike Chanenchuk? What's Matt Rambo's situation? Will the team get consistent play out of the crease following Niko Amato's graduation? What's the impact of Connor Cannizzaro's transfer out of College Park and Dylan Maltz's transfer in? Yet, there is still a solid core of contributors available to John Tillman, which is why the Terps earned the ranking they got. Too Low: Duke. Look: The Devils lost over 55 percent of their starts from last spring, including their entire close defense (and none of that even considers the losses of Brendan Fowler and Luke Duprey). That's a lot of turnover, even if John Danowski has the cupboard stocked with talent. Duke has the potential to grow into a rock-solid top five team as the season progresses, but the Devils have some questions to answer at the sunrise of the season.
- Et Cetera:
- I have no idea what to think about Albany. The Great Danes have the best player in the country in Lyle Thompson, but the team still lost around 57 percent of its starts from last year -- including Ty and Miles Thompson, two starting defensemen from the team's last game against Notre Dame, and the team's primary long stick midfielder -- and 44 percent of the team's total points from last spring. Albany may fall more in the 16-20 range this season, but splitting the difference between that tier and where the Danes finished 2014 seemed like a fair way to assess Albany prior to the start of the season. A close eye will remain on the Danes as the year unfolds, though.
- I feel pretty good about the first 11 positions. The last nine positions are a burning fuse tracing its way toward a cache of dynamite. That's the hardest part of the rankings to understand and project, and anyone that asserts otherwise is probably lying.
- If I had to break this ballot into tiers based on comfort: Tier I -- 1-4 (deep and strong; no questions that make me want to hide under the bed); Tier II -- 5-10 (lots of potential but some value concerns relating to development or filling holes); Tier III -- 11-15: (need to see the picture but I like the painters); Tier IV -- 16-20 (lots of unknowns; relying on potential, recent history, and thoughts about returning contributors; teams populating these positions on various individual's rankings likely features high variability; very little comfort around where these teams will go in 2015 ).
- I'm assuming that most folks are going to have Pennsylvania in their top 20 to start the year. I'm just not seeing the Quakers as a top 20 lock at the start of the year: Penn lost around 56 percent of its starts from last season, a year in which the Quakers were a team that sat around the 10 to 15 mark at the end of last spring. Included in those loses are Zack Losco, Brian Feeney, Danny Feeney, Maxx Meyer, Reid Tudor, and Alex Blonsky. The Quakers have the potential to perform like a top 20 team as the season progresses, but I'm not sold that Pennsylvania is there right this very second.
- Fairfield, Army, and Drexel are prime examples of the bucket/tier approach to ranking teams: A reasonable argument exists that the teams could change places with each other and I wouldn't want to drown someone in a vat of acid if they made those arguments. On Fairfield: I love the volume of offense returning to Connecticut's Gold Coast this spring and those offensive contributors have the potential to improve on the team's top 15 offense -- as ranked in adjusted offensive efficiency -- from a year ago, but there are concerns about what kind of defense the Stags will roll with in 2015. I think Fairfield is a little undervalued going into the coming season given the fact that the Stags just missed out on the NCAA Tournament last year after failing to close on Air Force in the ECAC Tournament final. As for Drexel, the Dragons lost about 50 percent of its starts last season, including five players -- Ben McIntosh, Nick Trizano, Jared Boudreau, Matt Dusek, and Tyler Houchins -- that started at least 17 games. Included in that core of now-departed contributors is 55 percent of the team's points last season and 54 percent of the team's shots, the most notable loss of contribution being McIntosh's expired eligibility. With respect to the Black Knights, the team will return about 67 percent of its starters from last season including a healthy Sam Somers in net, Alex Daly at the dot, and four of the team's top five point-generators from last season (including almost 77 percent of the team's total points from 2014). The loss of Pat Hart and John Burk is problematic for the Cadets as the team's field defense is an area of concern going into the coming season, but with a Tewaaraton candidate steadying the team's offensive assault and solid assets dotting the roster, there is enough kicking around West Point to see Army as residing somewhere in that last bucket/tier of top 20 teams.
- Here's the deal with Princeton: Around 82 percent of the team's starts from 2014 return and the Tigers were stronger than their 7-6 record from last season implies (Princeton ranked 19th in the Massey ratings last season, 16th in the LaxPower ratings, 18th in KRACH, and 21st in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation). Tom Schreiber has departed which leaves a massive hole for the Tigers to fill and there are still questions about Princeton's goalkeeping situation, but Princeton was on the cusp last season and while the team will look different in 2015, the Tigers aren't in a horrible spot.
The comments are yours if you have anything to add or want to unleash your preseason top 20.