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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: Notre Dame's "Consistency"

A look at the Irish's defense and its burgeoning desire to create pace.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Lacrosse Magazine interviewed a host of opposing coaches to get their feel on the nation's best teams. Using a quote from those coaches, we're building out context to a specific thought.

The quote:

"Notre Dame is Notre Dame. They're very consistent. They don't change a lot from year to year. What I notice is a commitment to transition. They're less of the halfcourt team they've always been. They still play tremendous defense."

Let's start with the last piece of that quote: Notre Dame has one of the best defensive profiles of any program in the nation. Gerry Byrne has established the Irish as a defensive soul-eater, curb-stomping opponents on a year-in and year-out basis. While Notre Dame was somewhat shaky in 2014 on the defensive end of the field, the team's defensive production last season only looks uneven due to the complete insanity that the team exhibited in the three years building into last spring:

NOTRE DAME'S HYPER ELITE DEFENSE: 2011-2014
METRIC '11 NT'L RANK '12 NT'L RANK '13 NT'L RANK '14 NT'L RANK
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 2 1 3 7
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 21 37 4 12
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 14 20 5 14
Ratio of Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 13 6 21 26
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 2 1 19 41
Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 3 1 25 47
Defensive Assist Rate 2 8 15 17
Opponent Turnovers Per 100 Defensive Opportunities 19 5 12 14
Team Save Percentage 3 1 25 47
Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 4 28 2 1

The Irish have lost Stephen O'Hara and Brian Buglione from last year's system, but Matt Landis and Garrett Epple are still available to Notre Dame to balance the field defense while Connor Kelly holds the potential to build off of a late surge in 2014 to give the Irish a presence in the net that was somewhat lacking at times last season. The Irish lose seemingly irreplaceable bodies every offseason from its defense yet the unit continually ranks among the most capable in the whole of the NCAA.

What's especially unique about this iteration of Notre Dame's defense is that the Irish will not need to rely on its defense to win the team games. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Notre Dame's offensive ceiling required the Irish's defense to suffocate opponents at a rate that permitted the team's sputtering offense to put just enough on the scoreboard to make good things happen. With a violently competent offense set to complement the team's defense, even a slight deviation from the team's defensive tradition would still provide adequate balance for Notre Dame to make another appearance at Championship Weekend.

As for the team's commitment to transition:

NOTRE DAME'S PACE PROFILE: 2011-2014
YEAR PACE NT'L RANK
2011 60.57 53
2012 59.49 58
2013 64.83 42
2014 65.35 26

Forget about the strategic aspects associated with Notre Dame's desire to increase pace in recent seasons and focus on the visceral aspects of choosing to press the red button: Notre Dame was expected to win north of 75 percent of their games in both 2011 and 2014, but the team ranked just 20th in the Fun Factor scale -- a measurement that attempts to define the watchability of a team -- in 2011 and ranked eighth in the metric in 2014. Notre Dame was simply more interesting to look at last season compared to the early part of the decade.