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The Stakes: The NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament

Who's the favorite in the show? Which teams are the most likely to fall in the first round? Who got the sweetest draw? Who’s looking at the hardest path?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for The Big Barbeque! Everybody take off their pants and run through the streets to spread the good word!

We’re in that squishy period between bracket release and when the torch gets lit for the games, leaving lacrosse knuckleheads to analyze the bracket and make predictions that are sure to erupt into a blaze of fiery garbage by the close of Saturday evening. To try and gauge how this tournament will unfold and provide a little context to your bracket predictions, I ran a simulation of the tournament 20,000 times using a simple ratings system (SRS) (this is just a model that seeks to determine the relative strength of teams based on scores throughout the season). The simulation yielded some interesting results, namely: (1) Syracuse is arguably overseeded and is a candidate to bow out early; (2) Bracketing Albany and Maryland as potential quarterfinals opponents was an egregious error by the selection committee; (3) Don’t sleep on Duke or Loyola on the bottom half of the bracket as unseeded teams; (4) Denver, due to its relative power and its path, looks like a more than reasonable national title contender.

Here’s the result of the simulation. Home field advantage was applied for first round games. If you’d like additional detail on this was run, let me know. Some scattershot notes follow the simulation table.

(Click image to embiggen.)

Title Favorites: Albany and Maryland

The Danes and Terps are, at least according to an SRS analysis, the frontrunners to capture gold on Memorial Monday. The odds for Albany and Maryland — 4:1 and 6:1, respectively — do not look overpowering, but it’s important to remember that no favorite in the NCAA Tournament is going to approach a more-likely-than-not win probability. The era of the superteam is dead, and in its place is a landscape with relative favorites rather than almost-guarantees.

The odd wrinkle in this simulation, though, is that Albany and Maryland could meet in the quarterfinals. Let’s put this another way: One of the NCAA Tournament’s top two teams is guaranteed to depart depart before compasses are set to Foxboro. That’s one of the hidden residues of the bracket population 2017: An underseeded Albany team creates an unfairness to both the Danes and Terrapins, teams that could have been on a collision course for Memorial Day Weekend but will, potentially, settle the score in Newark, Delaware on the Sunday preceding college lacrosse’s biggest moment.

High Seed Trouble: Ohio State and Syracuse

Ohio State took a shot right to the mouth on Selection Sunday: Despite pulling the three-seed, the Buckeyes are paired with what SRS has determined to be a top-five team in Loyola, a ‘Hounds team that is streaking at the right time of the season and is more than ready to charge into the NCAA Tournament with one of the most dangerous players in Division I. Even if Ohio State gets past Loyola, however, the path does not relent for the Buckeyes: With Duke — in a toss-up game against the Blue Jays at Homewood in the first round — lurking as a potential quarterfinal combatant, Ohio State could draw another top-five team in the SRS ratings before the Buckeyes even sniff Foxboro. Congratulations on the seed, Ohio State! Your reward is a road littered with possible death.

As for the Orange, Syracuse’s ultimate title probability is low — the ninth-best odds on the board — and that is a function of two things: (1) Meeting Yale and potentially Penn State in the first two rounds, games in the neighborhood of toss-up contests, and (2) Earning a seed above its relative performance class. While Syracuse authored a resume that checked all the boxes that the selection committee needs to consider, the underlying nature of Syracuse’s performance as it relates to relative strength has been showing the Orange as a team residing more toward the rear of the top 10 than its front. Shuttling through two toss-up games — just an insane reality considering the number of one-goal games Syracuse has played in 2017 — is fighting the gravity of Earth while it spins out into the unknown of the universe. It ain’t easy for the Orange because the Orange have put themselves, with some help from the committee, in an uncomfortable position.

Unseeded Strength: Duke and Loyola

Like Maryland and Albany potentially punching earlier than the title bout, the bracket sets up for two of the strongest unseeded teams — Duke and Loyola — to possibly throw hands against each other in the quarterfinals. The Devils’ overall odds are better than those of the ‘Hounds — this is due to the fact that Duke would be favored against Loyola on a neutral field and Duke would stand as a favorite against the rest of that side of the bracket at Gillette Stadium — but both teams are situated, at least theoretically, to raise hell in games where the seeding doesn’t seem to align with a deeper knowledge of relative strength. Both should be trendy picks for a May push, even if both are brands with an identifiable quality. Hell, Patrick McEwen’s efficiency ratings have the Blue Devils in the national championship. Tread against both teams at your own risk.

Best Draw: Denver

There probably aren’t a lot of tournaments with the five-seed in the bracket has the third-best odds to win the whole damn thing. The Pios, though, are living that sweet life of being an outlier: Denver, thanks to an opening round date against Air Force and a manageable, if not explosive, date with Notre Dame in the quarterfinals (note: the SRS simulation does not consider Notre Dame’s injuries), have the highest probability of all the teams in the bracket to advance through to the semifinals. Things change once the semifinals come around, but the Pios still have the highest likelihood of advancing to Foxboro and, while there, would not need to face both Maryland and Albany to capture the highest prize as there is a high likelihood that those teams will play an elimination game the week prior. Denver is a good team and deserves a soft opening, but drawing Air Force — the third-worst team in the full field according to SRS — and having its side of the bracket built the way it was constructed allows the Pios a benefit that others would kill for.