If you had asked me (or anyone) about halfway through the season if Detroit would be achieving something unprecedented this season, it certainly wouldn’t have been good achievements. The Titans were 0-fer in their first six games, and after the first 11 contests, the only victories had come against two of the nation’s true bottom-dwellers.
Then something happened: the team clicked. It may be overstating the corner that they turned to say this was the best overall season in UDM history. After all, the victories came by four (against one of the ten worst teams in the land), one, one, and negative-two (Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament) goals.
The Titans picked things up, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Let’s take a quick look at their statistical profile:
|Detroit Titans 2013|
|Faceoff Wins||159||Faceoff Wins||173|
|Offensive Efficiency||.257||Offensive Efficiency||.277|
That’s an existent but not significant improvement from the previous year. So, whereas the 2012 Titans did things well all year and fell just short, the 2013 edition managed to string together those good moments at the right time to reach the program’s first NCAA tournament berth.
What Went Well
UDM was something of a schizophrenic team this season (file under “Room for Improvement,” I guess), so things that were consistently good or consistently bad are few. However, there was quite a bit to like, even though Detroit was no statistical juggernaut.
If I were to tell you that a mediocre team was going to lose its best offensive player in the first few games of the year, then one of its key defensive player just a couple games later, you wouldn’t expect that team to be high-achieving late in the season, right? The Titans defied that when Shayne Adams was lost in game four and Nick Garippa in the seventh contest of the year. They managed to come together without two important pieces, and adding those pieces back to the mix next season could provide a further boost.
Horrible teams can win when it matters, and all is forgotten. The 2007 New York Giants barely snuck into the playoffs, but cemented their legacy by knocking off the previously undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. They repeated the feat just a few years later, though the 2007 Giants actually won their division with a worse record than the 2007 edition (and the Patriots weren’t nearly the formidable squad). Anyway, all that comes to this: Detroit lost a couple games (at least) they should have won in 2013. However, they did what it took to make the MAAC Championships – including a win on the final day of the regular season – and then won the thing to make the NCAA Tournament. A strong underdog effort against 2-seed Notre Dame was at least as impressive as the MAAC run, and gave UDM even more widespread recognition as a pretty good squad.
Defense has been Detroit’s calling card for the past few years under DC Chris Kolon, but 2013 started off a little rocky. The Titans weren’t causing turnovers at the rate they had in previous seasons, but turned things on about halfway through the year (and yes, strength of competition comes into play here, surely). For a team in what is effectively a mid-major conference, finishing No. 23 overall in adjusted defensive efficiency is more than alright.
Room for Improvement
The offense got better over the course of the year, but it never really approached “good,” either. Fortunately, the pieces are in place and the Titans will be entering their second year with the same coordinator – and the trajectory was clearly upward.
Several different players participated in a variety of roles. That’s partially on account of injuries (for the second straight year, UDM seemed to be snakebitten to a large degree), and next season, full health for the likes of Shayne Adams and Nick Garippa should settle things down a bit. Injuries are so often a freak occurrence, and having bad luck yet again doesn’t seem likely.
Faceoffs have been a bugaboo of the Titans’ team since I’ve been following, but this year saw a big stride in the right direction. Redshirt freshman Damien Hicks took a large proportion of the Titans’ faceoffs, and although he was barely over .500, that’s improvement. UDM on the whole was still well below average, winning just .479 of draws.
The Distant Future
There should be a pretty interesting identity shift in Detroit’s squad this season. The program is fully up and running with only full Division-1 recruits in the system. 2013 was the first year of that status, and 2014 should bring an additional comfort that comes with being used to that level of play.
The Titans are also losing a huge amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball (D Jamie Hebden, LSM Jordan Houtby, and G A.J. Levell key among them), and returning most of their primary offensive talent – including Shayne Adams’ re-arrival from injury that cost him almost all of last year. That means an identity shift wherein you might not see the pressing defensive scheme to generate turnovers, but rather a “safer” style. The team will go from relying heavily on defense to being more balanced with a pretty good offense.
UDM took a big step in making the NCAA tournament, and nearly beating the No. 2 seed in Notre Dame (and the Irish needed a bit of “luck” to get the win anyway). Going forward, they can build on that performance, but this will be a new type of team with new strengths. Still, the future is bright on 6 Mile and Livernois.