NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Final Four Stategories

Jim Rogash

Who are the favorites this Memorial Day Weekend? Which games look like the most fun?

This is it: Championship Weekend is on the horizon. The biggest event that college lacrosse has to offer features four of the strongest teams in the nation, each with unique styles and histories. The storylines dominating the event are varied and will develop as the week progresses, but at this moment only two things matter: (1) Which teams are the favorites this weekend; and (2) Which games look to have the most excitement.

There are three ways to address those two issues, and none involve determinations around which head coaches look most like a frazzled Ben Franklin. Here's how things shake out in those various methods.

THE LOG5 MACHINE SAYS. . . .

log5 is a straightforward way of determining a team's probability for success against another team or in a tournament setting. The calculation -- for this exercise -- is based off a team's Pythagorean win expectation. The log5 machine went 2-2 in the quarterfinals and is 8-4 overall. (Denver pulled a true upset over Carolina after rallying from an early 6-0 deficit (the Pioneers entered the game with only a 38 percent chance of victory); Duke-Notre Dame was essentially a "push" game with the Irish holding a 55 percent chance of victory entering the contest. For an explanation of why the computing machine went 6-2 in the first round, this is your heat.) This is how things look for the national semifinals:

log5 PROBABILITIES: NCAA LACROSSE TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG
(4) Denver // (1) Syracuse Syracuse (56.94%) Denver (43.06%) Cornell // (7) Duke Cornell (71.86%) Duke (28.14%)

As for win probabilities for the various Memorial Monday permutations:

log5 PROBABILITIES: NCAA LACROSSE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP PERMUTATIONS
GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG
(7) Duke // (4) Denver Denver (54.01%) Duke (45.99%) Cornell // (1) Syracuse Cornell (62.18%) Syracuse (37.82%)
(7) Duke // (1) Syracuse Syracuse (60.83%) Duke (39.17%) Cornell // (4) Denver Cornell (68.50%) Denver (31.50%)

Now, the big question: Which team will enter Lincoln Financial Field as the favorite to win it all, eating the last set of ribs offered in The Big Barbecue? It should come as little surprise, based on the team's last two efforts in the NCAA Tournament this year, that Cornell is the favorite:

log5 PROBABILITIES: PROBABILITY OF WINNING THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
RANK TEAM PROBABILITY
1. Cornell 46.63%
2. (1) Syracuse 25.22%
3. (4) Denver 16.29%
4. (7) Duke 11.85%

Some brief notes:

  • Remember: The log5 analysis doesn't factor in things like possession margin or other game-altering factors that could ultimately drive the outcome (injuries, suspensions, etc.). Brian Coughlin publishes a prognostication that does factor in things like pace and possession margin on Inside Lacrosse usually a day or two before tournament games are played, so you should keep an eye out for that. Notably, Chase Carraro's work at the dot for Denver likely draws the Pioneers closer to Syracuse when possession margin considerations are included in a log5 analysis.
  • Duke holds the longest odds to win the title this season, and its preferred path to take a Memorial Monday victory lap -- drawing and defeating Denver in the final -- has only a 5.57 percent chance of happening. (If the Devils were to draw and defeat Syracuse in the final, Duke would look at its pre-Championship Weekend odds of that happening -- 6.28 percent -- and smack it in the face.) That . . . that isn't the impetus for selling your house, taking the proceeds to Las Vegas and betting it all on the Blue Devils to win the national championship, and then buying an even bigger house with the winnings. Denver is in a similar position to the Blue Devils: The Pioneers' preferred path to the national championship involves meeting Duke in the title game, but Denver has only a 6.54 percent chance of all of those things falling into place (a 9.75 percent chance of drawing Cornell and defeating the Red in the title game exists for the Pioneers). So, while Duke and Denver both hold championship probabilities that are above single digits, their paths to titles aren't all that likely (at this very second).
  • If you want to see a competitively balanced national title game that features Cornell, an all-Central New York championship game better be in your plans. Big Ass Pork Plates from Dinosaur BBQ for everyone if that happens. There's a 25.44 percent chance that the Big Red draw and defeat the Orange in the national championship game; there's a 15.48 percent chance that the Orange get Cornell in the final and win. Both, obviously, are favored to advance to Memorial Monday.

THE FUN FACTOR MACHINE SAYS. . . .

You're probably going to get dragged to some jerkwad's picnic at some point this weekend. I hate picnics that jerkwads host because they want to talk to you about their stupid job or their stupid kids or something and not let you watch really important lacrosse games. If you're in a pinch this weekend and need to strike a balance between functioning like a social human being and being an isolated lacrosse nutjob, here are how the games (and their various permutations) rate on the "Fun Factor" scale -- a simple determination that considers the competitiveness between the two teams, the projected pace of the game, and the offensive capabilities of each team:

FUN FACTOR: NCAA LACROSSE TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
RANK GAME FUN FACTOR RANK GAME FUN FACTOR
1. Cornell // (7) Duke 5.5590 2. (4) Denver // (1) Syracuse 4.8651

Here are the ratings for the various championship game permutations:

FUN FACTOR: NCAA LACROSSE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP PERMUTATIONS
RANK GAME FUN FACTOR RANK GAME FUN FACTOR
1. Cornell // (1) Syracuse 5.7002 3. (7) Duke // (1) Syracuse 4.7784
2. Cornell // (4) Denver 5.6458 4. (7) Duke // (4) Denver 4.7240

Some brief notes:

  • Anything involving Cornell this season has been fun, and a title game that features the Big Red -- regardless of the opponent -- will rate high in the scale. Also: This may be the first time in the history of history that anyone has prayed for two Central New York things to provide "fun." Central New York is grey skies and interminable highways; neither of those two things -- along -- are "fun."

THE EFFICIENCY MACHINE SAYS. . . .

TEAM RANKINGS: ADJUSTED EFFICIENCY MARGIN AND PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION
TEAM ADJ. EFF. MARGIN OVERALL RANK PTYH. WIN % OVERALL RANK
Cornell 15.51 1. 82.75% 1.
Syracuse 10.37 3. 74.47% 3.
Denver 9.38 5. 68.81% 10.
Duke 6.97 11. 65.26% 14.

Some brief notes:

  • I think Earth is starting to realize that Cornell is disgustingly good. Syracuse has been steadily making up ground on the Red all season -- and hold a head-to-head regular season victory over Cornell -- but the Red are still the computing machine's favorite team this year. Now, this doesn't mean that Cornell is bulletproof (in fact, North Carolina -- ranked second in both adjusted efficiency margin and Pythagorean win expectation -- went down in the quarterfinals to Denver); rather, it's just that Cornell looks like it's wearing the fanciest dress at college lacrosse's debutante ball. Behind Cornell and Syracuse fall Denver and Duke (likely in that order), but as the 2013 college lacrosse season has shown, outcomes are all about execution and matchups. Denver and Duke are both capable of summiting the mountain.

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