2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Final Four Stategories

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

An overview of Championship Weekend. M&T Bank Stadium should have some great shows in store.

Championship Weekend is set: Duke and Denver will challenge each other in the first semifinal at M&T Bank Stadium while Notre Dame and Maryland will meet for the third time -- the season series is tied at 1-1 -- in the second game of the national semifinals. A solid argument can be made that these four teams are squarely within the top five in the nation, strong and balanced units with a combined record of 55-13 (80.88 percent). (When you eliminate games played between these four teams, the combined record of the field is 49-7 (87.50 percent).) The team that comes out of Baltimore with a title -- Duke is looking for its third overall and second in a row; Maryland is seeking its first since 1975; and Notre Dame and Denver are pursuing their first championships ever -- is going to earn it.

To get your face ready for hot, barely legal lacrosse action (Goals! Goals! Goals!), I turned on various genius machines to set the scene for the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Here's how things shake out in various ways.

The log5 Machine Says . . .

log5 is a straightforward way of determining a team's probability for success against another team. The calculation -- for this exercise -- is based off a team's adjusted Pythagorean win expectation. It's fair to assume that anything between 55-45 is a toss-up game while probabilities outside of that spread feature a favorite and an underdog. This is how things look for the quarterfinals:

log5 PROBABILITIES: NCAA LACROSSE TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS GAMES
GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG GAME FAVORITE UNDERDOG
(5) Denver v. (1) Duke Denver // 53.25% Duke // 46.75% (7) Maryland v. (6) Notre Dame Maryland // 56.23% Notre Dame // 43.77%

Some brief notes:

  • I ran this calculation a number of ways in a log5 environment. Depending on how you adjust for strength of schedule and opponents played, the only game that truly varied was Denver-Duke. The differences in the methodologies, though, didn't really make Duke a favorite -- this was a toss-up game in whatever form the calculation took (I ran it three different ways). Regardless of the chosen form -- "Choose the form of the Destructor!" -- the Denver-Duke semifinal appears to be without a definitive favorite and is a toss-up scenario, although it's really hard to look at what the Devils have done this year and through their late season push and think that Duke isn't a favorite against whatever stands in front of the team in Baltimore. It's okay that the computing machine may be wrong -- it's not perfect: it has guessed about 84 percent of Division I games correctly (allowing a three-goal margin for toss-up games) but has been somewhat softer on predicting Duke victories (the individual record for Duke games is 83.33 percent) -- but it still struggles to see Duke as a decided favorite against an undervalued Pioneers team. That game is super close.
  • Which team has the best chance to win the national championship in a log5 environment? This is how things look at the moment:
    log5 PROBABILITIES: CHANCES TO WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
    RANK TEAM ODDS RANK TEAM ODDS
    1. Denver 30.76% 2. Maryland 26.10%
    3. Duke 25.51% 4. Notre Dame 17.64%
    Denver, Duke, and Maryland each have stronger than a one in four chance to take a victory lap on Memorial Monday while Notre Dame lags behind the bulk of the field. Duke's odds would be higher if the Devils didn't have to play the Pioneers in the semifinals. This table isn't to imply that the eventual national champion is guaranteed to come out of the Denver-Duke semifinal (although there are decent odds that it does): Maryland would serve as a toss-up opponent for either the Pios or Devils on Memorial Monday. Take this for what it is -- one iteration of a handful of ways that the analysis could be run. What ultimately matters here is that the Irish have the hardest road to travel while Denver, Duke, and Maryland are all basically in the same position to hoist gold at the end of the tournament.

The Fun Factor Machine Says . . .

If you have plans this weekend that don't involve lacrosse (I'm not sure what other plans you'd make that would trump watching these games, other than attending your own funeral), here are the games ranked by something called the "Fun Factor" -- 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 GAMES
RANK GAME FUN FACTOR RANK GAME FUN FACTOR
1. (5) Denver v. (1) Duke 6.57 2. (7) Maryland v. (6) Notre Dame 4.26

Some brief notes:

  • Watch all of these games, jerk.
  • I think a lot of people were quietly hoping for a Duke-Denver rematch in the national semifinals if North Carolina-Duke could not come to fruition. These are two highly-explosive teams with maniacal offenses that make their money in different ways: The Pios are pragmatic and efficient, playing at a pace that ranks 61st nationally; the Devils are free-wheeling and a prism of pain, playing at a pace that ranks 11th nationally. Underlying all of this is that two of the best coaching minds in the game -- John Danowski and Bill Tierney -- are going to create the structure in which the game unfolds. This is an elite-caliber tournament game, one that ranks third -- behind Albany-Loyola and Albany-Notre Dame -- on the "Fun Factor" scale so far during The Big Barbeque. If you miss this one you should be shot out of a cannon.
  • Out of the 16 games so far this tournament, Maryland-Notre Dame ranks 10th on the "Fun Factor" scale. That isn't to imply that this game doesn't have indicia of excitement; rather, it's that the Terps' style and the way that Maryland suffocates games deflates the game's overall score (and Notre Dame can't do enough on its own to raise the value). There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but Maryland-Notre Dame should lack much of the sizzle that Denver-Duke is likely to provide.

The Efficiency Machine Says . . .

TEAM RANKINGS: ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY, ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY, AND ADJUSTED PYTHAGOREAN WIN EXPECTATION
RANK TEAM ADJ. OFF. EFF. NT'L RANK RANK TEAM ADJ. DEF. EFF. NT'L RANK RANK TEAM ADJ. PYTH. WIN EXP. % NT'L RANK
1. Denver 44.99 1. 1. Maryland 26.32 9. 1. Denver 83.62% 1.
2. Duke 39.90 3. 2. Notre Dame 26.83 11. 2. Duke 81.76% 4.
3. Notre Dame 38.24 8. 3. Denver 27.61 12. 3. Maryland 80.62% 5.
4. Maryland 35.38 16. 4. Duke 27.98 17. 4. Notre Dame 76.41% 6.

Some brief notes:

  • Again: Individual team rankings can vary from model to model, and it turns on how strength of schedule is weighted. It's no huge deal. Focus more on the rates at which teams score and prevent opponents from scoring. That's the important thing.
  • The strength of Denver-Duke is the offenses that will burn things to the ground and then douse the ashes in gasoline and burn them some more. This is a laser death ray game, one where elite individual offensive talents will have the opportunity to aim massive weapons at each other and continually pull the trigger. This is a goalie's nightmare and a fan's dream.
  • Maryland-Notre Dame may turn on whether the Terps can muster enough offense against the Irish's defense to tilt the tide. These are comparable defensive teams, but the Irish hold a slight edge in the making-the-scoreboard-blink department. Charlie Raffa's work at the dot combined with Maryland's defense getting stops could provide the Terps with the possession volume that the team needs to gain an advantage in the scoresheet.
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