Biased picks, cursory analysis, and shoddy predictions
Welcome to the third annual May Madness blog series, where we take a break from markets, factors, and any real quantitative research for a more casual look into college lacrosse. This year we are also introducing a confidence level for each pick. There is a fair amount of research out there indicating higher confidence does not lead to better accuracy. I’m sure that will be evident here.
Last year’s post mentioned the over-representation of the Ivy League, this year the ACC is in charge. There are only three teams from the conference (out of five), but they are all at-large bids. They do not have a conference tournament; thus they do not get an automatic qualifier (AQ). Those three teams, though, come in as the top three seeds. Interestingly, they each seem to have had the upper hand against one of the others and struggled with the third. Top-seed Duke beat University of Virginia twice but lost to Notre Dame. Second seed Notre Dame beat Duke but lost to UVA twice. So, UVA, at #3, beat #2 ND twice, but two of their three losses were to #1 Duke.
Very Basic, Mildly Informative Table
Each of the ACC teams boasts a Tewaaraton Finalist at the attack position. Each of those players can take over a game and are sure to have highlight reel plays. I’ve got them all going to the Final Four. I’m picking the Irish to take the crown and if they do it will be the first time in program history.
Confidence Level Scale: 1 = Low, 10 = High
Duke-Delaware*: Blue Devils vs. Blue Hens. Duke has been a force all year and I do not see an upset here. Delaware won their play-in game last year and went on to upset #2 Georgetown. I think the Blue Devils are going to make sure that does not happen again. Duke was left out of the playoff dance last year and is built to be playing in the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend. The wild card here could be Delaware’s defense neutralizing Duke’s attack. Delaware was #3 in scoring defense with 9.29 goals against per game. One of their defenders just went second overall in the Professional Lacrosse League (PLL) draft. Duke’s offense finished 4th with 15.33 goals per game.
Winner: Duke Confidence Level: 9
(*Note: This was completed after Delaware beat Marist in the play-in game, but I can assure you, I was going to pick Delaware)
Cornell-Michigan: Michigan did something that seemed inconceivable a year ago. UM beat reigning champs Maryland twice - once in the regular season, and again in the Big Ten conference title game to punch their first ticket to the NCAA postseason. It is great to see newer programs in the playoffs, especially schools in the traditional football strongholds. UM is big, outside geographic lacrosse hotbeds, has great facilities, and a top-ranked business school to boot. Overall, it is great for the growth of the sport. Unfortunately for UM, I think their momentum stops in the first round. Cornell is last year’s runner-up and is battle tested. One of the Big Red’s defenseman was just picked #1 overall in the PLL draft. They also have a Tewaaraton Finalist attackmen who lead Division 1 in goals per game (4.5).
Winner: Cornell Confidence Level: 8
Penn St.-Princeton: Princeton needed to win the Ivy League Championship to earn the AQ, otherwise they would have been passed over. They convincingly beat Yale in the Ivy Finals. Picking Penn St. here almost feels like an “upset” pick even though they are higher ranked. Penn St. lost to Michigan in their conference semi-final and Princeton seems to be on the uptrend. Penn St. does have a better strength-of-schedule and RPI according to Lacrosse Reference.
Winner: Penn St. Confidence Level: 3
Maryland-Army: I really was trying to find a way to pick Army here. As a native New Yorker, I want to route against Maryland. Plus, I love when the military academies do well. Those athletes go there for bigger reasons than to play a sport and the fact that Army, Navy, & Air Force are consistently competitive is one of the great things about college lacrosse. The Black Knights finished at #11 in the final media poll. Army’s defense is ranked #2 in goals against. Unfortunately (for me), I think Maryland gets the upper hand here.
Winner: Maryland Confidence Level: 6
Notre Dame-Utah: Utah is another first-time entrant. They are also the western-most team to ever make the tournament (DU was the previous “westernest” team). As mentioned above, I enjoy seeing new schools in new geographies make the tournament as it helps grow the game. Utah has only been a Division 1 program since 2019. Hats off to them. Unfortunately for the Utes, they earned a matchup with Notre Dame. The Irish were the biggest “snub” last year and have been playing with chip on their shoulder all season. They are focused and have the tools to go all the way.
Winner: ND Confidence Level: 10
Hopkins-Bryant: Johns Hopkins is back in the tournament after a two year absence. I think they get a win here too. That’s all I have to say about that.
Winner: JHU Confidence Level: 5
Georgetown-Yale: This was a tough one for me. Last year I picked Georgetown (then the #2 seed) to advance to the finals. They were upset in Round 1. Yale has been a very strong team over the past few years (Champs in 2018, Runner-up 2019). I think (hope) this year the Hoyas can get past the first round.
Winner: G’town Confidence Level: 3
Virginia-Richmond: "Battle of the Commonwealth." I don’t think it is being called that, but hey, why not? Richmond gets here by way of winning the Atlantic 10 Conference, but do not have any top 10 wins and a 36th ranked strength-of-schedule (SOS). Virginia is just too good: #1 scoring offense, an attackman that was #3 in goals per game (4.0) and a second round PLL draft pick.
Winner: UVA Confidence Level 10
Well, there you have it. No matter what I say here, the weekend is sure to provide for exciting games.