The 2015 season is complete -- *single tear* -- and that means that it's time for College Crosse to highlight the best of Division I lacrosse this year. These awards and certificates of amazing human achievement will appear in four parts. The honors, however, are not redeemable for any form currency, mostly because macroeconomics is a lie.
Harvard at Dartmouth, March 21, 2015
It may not stand as the most shocking result of the 2015 season, but Dartmouth's double overtime triumph against Harvard in Hanover -- the Crimson were ranked 15/16 in the two human polls at the time that the teams met -- is arguably the most intriguing upset of the year. Holding a win probability of less than 20 percent and facing the Crimson as a five-goal home underdog, the Green never trailed Harvard en route to a huge 12-11 victory against their Ivy League rivals, the win offering Brendan Callahan -- Dartmouth's new head coach -- his second moment of success as a Division I general.
The Crimson were barely more efficient than Dartmouth -- Harvard's estimated offensive efficiency value topped out at a third of the team's 33 estimated offensive opportunities; the Big Green were just below the 28 percent mark for the game's 67:39 -- but Dartmouth held an incredible plus-10 estimated possession margin, that advantage built through a 22-5 edge at the faceoff dot (the plus-17 margin on draws eased a disadvantage in defensive stops and riding rate). The degree to which the Green smashed Harvard in the mouth with possession margin bolstered Dartmouth's ability to hang with a superior team -- not an elite concern, but one that finished the year in a better position than the Big Green -- and collar a win where one infrequently existed.
Most Overachieving Team
Sacred Heart Pioneers
In only his second season in Fairfield as Sacred Heart's navigator, Jon Basti oversaw a pretty impressive effort from the Pioneers this spring. Despite an adjusted Pythagorean win expectation value of 26.38 percent (projecting a 3-10 record), a mark that ranked 62nd nationally, Sacred Heart cruised to a 6-7 record and just missed out on making a trip to the Northeast Conference Tournament, falling on a tiebreaker to Mount St. Mary's. The team's half-dozen triumphs in 2015 were either close victories earned in toss-up games or somewhat surprising upsets that bent in the Pioneers direction (log5 values are based on neutral site predictions):
|9-8 (W) (3OT)
It takes stones the size of boulders to gut out five victories of three goals or less in the same season, especially when those tight wins are coming against superior or equivalent opponents. The universe has a way of evening off over time, yet Sacred Heart extended its middle finger toward reality and blasted off down the highway on a Harley. Playing three wins above one's head is the kind of thing that promotes hope, but more importantly indicates an ability to turn what could have been an icky season into one that remains palatable from a wins and losses standpoint.
The ACC's position as Division I lacrosse's strongest league in 2015 took a boot to the face during the NCAA Tournament -- the league put only one of its five teams into Championship Weekend and none progressed to Memorial Day -- but that does not erode the overall power and interest that the ACC exhibited throughout the spring. The NCAA Tournament reflects the volatility inherent in a single elimination format, and it's the odds that each participant in The Show had prior to the opening whistle of The Big Barbeque -- Brian Coughlin calculated that three ACC teams (Syracuse, Notre Dame, and North Carolina) had between an 11 percent and 16 percent chance of taking home the gold medal, three of the four strongest probabilities in the entire field -- that illustrates conference vigor more than finite results in the competition.
LaxPower recently released its conference power ratings for 2015 and its study aligns with one built around the average adjusted Pythagorean win expectations of a particular league: The ACC was notably more powerful than its peers. There was tremendous value in the ACC over the course of the season -- the conference's performance in May notwithstanding -- and iterating the ACC against all other leagues promotes a reality in which the ACC is significantly removed from its competitors. That's a victory, but not the one that observers can easily reconcile given the stark contrast that the NCAA Tournament 's results offered. (Interestingly, the Big Ten finished the year in second behind the ACC in conference strength, both in LaxPower's study and in an adjusted Pythagorean win expectation environment. The difference between the two leagues is conspicuous, but it's not likely that Jim Delany cares much for math's input given the conference's 4-0 record against the ACC when the lacrosse season reached its apex.)