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The Stakes: NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Championship Weekend

Last weekend was a bloodbath. How does this weekend look?

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images


Using the incredible power of a lacrosse computer to analyze hundreds of college lacrosse games played in 2017, the machine that will eventually overthrow the human race in a bloody and dispassionate uprising has determined the likelihood of how Championship Weekend will shake out. An SRS model was used to form the forecast. These predictions are guaranteed to be right, unless they turn out to be smoldering garbage.


After going 7-1 in the first round, exceeding a projected 5-3 record, the universe dropped its pants and farted directly on the lacrosse computing machine. Going 1-3 in the quarterfinals (the expected record was 2-2 with three games expected to have final margins of a goal or less), the SRS model is now 8-4 for the NCAA Tournament (performing a shade above its expectation, notably dealing with a high number of toss-up games projected last week and the three occurring in the first round).

That’s not bad (I’m not the only one dealing with this), but there is one big problem: The blowouts in the quarterfinals — unexpected and delirious even by the standards of the most-ardent homers and have-to-be-rights — have destroyed any semblance of getting a nice fit to goal margin projections based on the 500+ games played in the regular season (and the whole basis of the model’s strength). Thanks, Maryland, Denver, and Ohio State — you screwed the pooch by living your best lives.

(This is where I would normally write something about a spectrum of expected outcomes and how these isolated bloodbaths shouldn’t be your guide to building expectations, but it’s not worth it because, again, nobody will care.)


The NCAA Tournament isn’t designed to determine the “best team.” It’s built to crown a titlist in the most efficient and direct way possible — plop 18 teams into a bracket and let the spin of Earth determine a champion, regardless of whether the gold medalist makes any damn sense. If this was about finding the “best team,” the NCAA lacrosse season would either (a) last for months and months, bleeding into subliminal consciousness until one team — after hundreds of games and millions of lost lives — emerged as having a profile of unassailable strength, or (b) take on a tournament format that supports something other than a truncated single-elimination death march. The NCAA Tournament is built and manufactured for excitement and fun — even if this particular tournament has been a dirge of unrelenting brain-beatings — and if you accept that, the futile effort of trying to retrofit playoff results to some kind of synthesized understanding of college lacrosse’s hierarchy of relative strength will leave your being and evaporate into the atmosphere of “This is the dumbest topic for an endless internet fight.”

So, don’t worry if this weekend goes sideways or if you feel like your brain and heart believe in a truth — or at least a perceived truth — that stands in opposition to what lacrosse computing machines or necktied experts think: Embrace the weird, even your own, and shine on like the world’s largest diamond. Here’s why: At least one lacrosse computing machine thinks that three teams — Maryland, Denver, and Ohio State — have reasonably similar title probabilities (and Towson isn’t an out-and-out dead stick).

Poking around the internet machine, LaxPower has assigned similar title probabilities as the SRS model and an (admitted brief) log5 experiment with Patrick McEwen’s adjusted Pythagorean ratings generate similar probabilities as illustrated in the table. The consensus, at least based on these efforts, is that Maryland and Denver have virtually parallel odds — making the semifinal throwdown between the Terps and Pios even more dynamic, if that’s possible — with Ohio State a notch behind (mostly because the Buckeyes look like they have an advantage over Tigers when it comes to relative strength, but stand in the shadow of both Maryland and Denver in these analyses).

This is a tightly packed field, one that has the potential — hope? — to deliver hot fire for an event that desperately needs some juice at this stage of the tournament. All of the above is within a margin of goal error (probably disastrously so), and, really, a Towson championship wouldn’t exactly wreck my mind in a way that would leave me craving White Castle. This is good; college lacrosse wrapped with anticipation and the possibility of weird or unique things dictating outcomes in balanced games is the new wonderful, something that the NCAA Tournament lacked for, say, the first 30 or so years of its existence.