The College Postseason Simulation 2020: D-I Nationals Prequarters (Men’s)

Minnesota and Oregon battled to double game point in the only tight game of the prequarter round.

The simulation engine used for this article was built by guest contributors Alex Trahey and Daniel Walton. This article would not have been possible without their effort and expertise. 

The college postseason is perhaps the most exciting set of events in ultimate. A plethora of teams come together with equal opportunity to reach the same championship. While favorites make up the primary ingredient of the dish, the upsets, double game points, and comebacks add the seasoning that makes for a flavorful and satisfying meal. There’s not quite another event like it in our sport.

We didn’t want to live in a world with no college postseason, so we sat down and asked, “How could the 2020 College Series have gone down?” We took the rankings algorithm, adjusted slightly to reflect our staff’s opinion of teams, and added a pinch of randomness that comes with life, and simulated how each and every regional event could play out. There were some creative liberties and constraints applied (see “Methodology”) before we sent our writers to imagine the sets of events that could have led to our simulation’s results.

Previously, we shared the top five finishers in both the D-I men’s and D-I women’s divisions from each regional championship, along with a narrative story of how things might have played out, and every game from every regional championship. We followed up with the pool play games of the D-I College Championships from both the women’s and men’s division.

With plenty of upsets to shuffle around pool play, we shift our attention to the prequarters matchups to kick off bracket play.

Methodology 

To simulate an ultimate game, we determined the outcome of successive points by flipping a weighted coin. One coin is used for when Team A starts the point on offense and a second coin (with a different weight) is used for when Team B starts the point on offense. If the coin comes up heads, Team A scores the point; if it comes up tails, Team B scores.

For simplicity, games were played hard to 15 points — no timed round constraints, no win by two.1 The probability of heads for each coin is determined by the power rating difference between the two teams. We created a model based on results from the 2019 college postseason — and some minor human input from our staff at the start of the process — to assume how likely a team is to win a game and what the expected score is based on their power rating differential with their opponent. We use this empirical relationship to translate power rating differential — teams’ power ratings are based on 2020 regular season results with some small adjustments given the shortened season — into probabilities for the weighted coins. This approach was used previously to simulate the outcome of the 2019 College Championships. For more background on how games are simulated, check out this article.

To simplify: using past postseason data, we calculated how likely a team is to win a game against an opponent with a different rating. Then we took this season’s data and rolled the dice to see which teams would win.

There are some additional elements to note:

  • BYU is included because we thought that’d be more interesting.
  • We tuned our model to account for how teams behave during blowouts, decreasing the likelihood of massive margins.
  • Writers did not influence the simulation’s results.
  • Power Rankings are from our final update of the regular season and do not reflect any simulated results since.

Minnesota Claws Past Oregon In Defensive Battle

In the most dramatic game of the prequarter round, no. 11 Minnesota was rewarded for finishing second in Pool B with a 3-1 record with a matchup against no. 6 Oregon. For their part, Ego could be equally annoyed with their plight, having also gone 3-1. But regardless of how they got there, both clubs knew they had a job to do if they wanted to keep their season going. In a turnover-heavy contest that became a war of attrition and included exchanged runs, Minnesota prevailed with some late breaks to knock off Oregon on double game point, 15-14.

It was clear that the teams were not on the same emotional level entering the game. Oregon seemed a bit disorganized, having just defeated Pittsburgh on double game point only to find that Pitt still owned Pool C and Ego finished in third. Meanwhile, Minnesota had just achieved an upset over Ohio State that made them one of the pool play success stories and seemed eager for more success, with a fired-up huddle. That energetic confidence was only stoked by the opening point, a one-possession break after a red zone reset error from Oregon. In something of a surprise, Oregon took a timeout before the second point even began.

But instead of balancing the scales, the extra 90 seconds seemed to only whip Minnesota’s defense into a fervor. Oscar Leinbach got a hand block on a swing, but needed help from Matt Sweeney to avoid a second-effort completion. Oregon missed an overzealous inside forehand and a crossfield blade that caught too much air. Cole Jurek, crossing over to the defense, forced a punt after clamping down on Will Lohre in the backfield. Minnesota piled up the breaks, stacking up four of them on their way to a 5-1 lead.

Oregon did finally break back, starting to win some of the tough points, which began extending to more and more possessions. After a hard-fought, two-possession hold to make it 5-2, Ego pressured the North Central side into a reset drop. Again, however, they were forced to punt, but this time, Lohre swooped in to collect it and keep possession. It wasn’t pretty, but it did convert into a break. Every point in the yellow-clad Northwest club’s break run included multiple turnovers, but they stormed back into a 6-5 lead.

With the game back on serve, the teams held through half, finding a modicum of offensive momentum. Every time it seemed like the game’s tempo was rising, the turnovers cropped up again. After a quick huck hold from Wystan Duhn to AJ Larson for Minnesota to make it 8-8, Oregon notched a four-possession hold of their own. They followed that with a two-possession break where Noah Coolman earned a block on the first and a goal on the second. Coolman had a fantastic game, one of the top defenders and a rare offensive bright spot for the Oregon D-line, even if his two goals and one assist don’t jump off the page.

The lead changed hands four times in the second half, both teams gritting through their offensive foibles. Oregon seemed intent on just adjusting matchups and tweaking their match defense, while Minnesota ran out a variety of looks, rarely opting to play it straight. Grey Duck found brief success with a box-and-one that forced Oregon to try to work without star handler Ted Sither. A switch-heavy matchup variation was another one of Grey Duck’s most effective tools, helping them earn a break to make it 12-11. They pulled it back out at 13-13. Sither tried getting behind the defense to the deep space, but the huck came too late and didn’t give him a chance at it, allowing Grey Duck to go up 14-13. Some give-and-go work authored by Xander Cuizon Tice gave Oregon their best hold of the day, evening the game at 14-14.

The defensive duel was headed towards an ill-fitting end, as Grey Duck worked 50 yards hitting break throws and uncontested unders. But Lukas Ambrose managed to wriggle in front of an upline cut, yielding a red zone block. Ego’s cheers hadn’t yet subsided as he scrambled to pick up the disc, dished for a give-and-go, but it was knocked away by Duhn. Minnesota slowly picked up on the short field and put together a composed 11-throw red zone possession, with George Muller finding room on the break side to get a backhand from Cash Barber to send Minnesota to the quarterfinals.

Scorching Defense Leads Washington in Thorough Win Over Ohio State

The University of Washington Sundodgers soundly defeated Ohio State Leadbelly and is looking again like the team that crushed its opponents on Friday (point differential +14) rather than the team that got upset by Pittsburgh on Saturday morning. These teams met in a prequarter last season, with Ohio State pulling out the win. Washington avenged that loss in a dominant win this time around.

Like it has all season, Washington’s defense came to play. In this game, the offense clicked just as well. The Sundodgers jumped out to a 6-1 lead on the strength of their physical matchup play and heads-up switching. Derek Mourad blanketed Sion Agami, and rookie Jack Brown, playing as a last-back, gobbled up punted hucks with ease.

Brown’s block against Eric Coglianese on the first point of the game will likely end up on the season-long highlight reel, and might even earn SportsCenter Top 10 honors. He began to follow his mark to the break side, but noticed a huck going up along the opposite sideline. Despite starting out of position, he snuck in front of Coglianese, nicking the disc with a shoulder-height horizontal bid at the last minute, sending the disc out of bounds while avoiding body contact with Coglianese. As if their alert poaching and help defense were not enough, Washington’s defense simply put pressure on Ohio State, whose cutters couldn’t move an inch of grass without earning it.

Washington can trot out two pretty distinct defensive lines, but after the turn, it was almost always Mourad and Tony Venneri who played keep away long enough to find open lanes to score. Their efficiency after a turn was impressive, as the D-line offense only turned the disc over once.

Ohio State used their timeouts to settle down and adjusted by moving Axel Agami over to the offense to ease the burden on Zach Braun, who had taken on the bulk of the throwing responsibility for Leadbelly. Ohio State only went into half down 8-4, but their chances of a comeback looked slim.

In the second half, the Washington offense was too hard to stop. Ohio State did not have a matchup for Lucas Chen, as he buzzed around under space with ease. Having learned from their mistakes against Pittsburgh, Manny Eckert and Sam Cook controlled the offense against poaching and zone looks; aside from the occasional blade, the Sundodger offense was content to take its time working up the field, wearing out the thin Ohio State lines.

Ohio State got an early break back when one of Eckert’s hucks fell out of bounds and Sion Agami answered back with a sixty-yard strike of his own, but Washington kept their lead intact by breaking back at their next opportunity. Every time Ohio State seemed prepared to mount a comeback, Washington had an answer, and Washington held out for a 15-11 victory.

Washington moves on to face Cal Poly SLO in the quarterfinal. Washington has already defeated SLO twice this season: the Santa Barbara Invite final and the Presidents’ Day Invite semifinal. SLO did win their most recent matchup (the third place game at the Stanford Invite in March) and earned a bye to the quarterfinal round, so this game is sure to be exciting.

Ohio State ends their season earlier than last and in disappointing fashion, winning just one game before being eliminated in Milwaukee. But they will take solace in being the first team in program history to make Nationals in back-to-back years. Both Agami brothers and a host of role players return next season as Leadbelly looks to continue to grow their program.

Strong Start from Colorado Overcomes Michigan

Colorado Mamabird dispatched Michigan MagnUM easily 15-10 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. Junior Saeed Semrin led the Colorado defense, flustering MagnUM all game and putting together one of Mamabird’s most impressive victories this season.

Colorado entered the game with momentum, dispatching UConn and Carleton CUT earlier on Saturday. Michigan, meanwhile, was coming off a loss to UNC and qualified for the bracket on point differential despite a head-to-head loss to Brown, who finished one spot below in the pool.

Colorado jumped out of the gates and locked up the game in the first half. After a MagnUM hold, Mamabird rattled off a 6-0 run and closed out the first half with another break when Alex Atkins smartly peeled off his matchup and laid out to poach a crossfield throw. With an 8-2 lead, coach Bob Krier opened up his bench, and Colorado got to show off their depth while resting their high-minute players ahead of their quarterfinal.

The handler dominance of Raymond Lu and Eli Weaver that Michigan showed in pool play was effectively wiped out by timely lane sags and the strong marking fundamentals of Mamabird defenders. Michigan’s offense was stagnant and reduced to tight inside throws and hero-ball hucks. For a team that more often than not wins the energy battle, MagnUM looked stunned and dejected at halftime, struggling to find the necessary adjustments that could turn the game around.

Michigan held out of half and searched for a spark when Cian Johnson emphatically skied two Mamabird defenders to close the gap to 9-5. Colorado wouldn’t give in though, and the teams only exchanged another pair of breaks the rest of the way.

Down 14-9, Michigan put out their universe line in hopes of a potentially legendary comeback. They earned one break back when Theo Shapinsky picked up a rare Colorado throwaway and found Jared Schwallie streaking deep from the backfield, but the ensuing pull went out of bounds early in its flight path and never came back in. Colorado got the disc around the far brick mark and set up a Quinn Finer-Conor Tabor-Danny Landesman dominator to punch in the clinching hold.

As has been the case in the past, the stage seemed too big for Michigan’s rising stars, who could not replicate their success from earlier this season. MagnUM peaked too soon, winning Florida Warm Up back in February and coasting through the Great Lakes region. By the time Nationals rolled around, they had run out of steam. Making the bracket at Nationals and going deep in regular season tournaments will provide valuable experience for a sophomore class that competed against itself to win Ultiworld’s Breakout Player of the Year and could grow into a more permanent fixture at national events over the next few years.

Colorado moves on to face Pool C winner Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur in the quarterfinal and looks as dangerous as any team not named UNC. Pitt will be looking for revenge after Colorado sent them packing in quarterfinals in 2019.

UMass’s Offensive Brilliance Outguns Carleton

A fateful elimination game between Carleton and Massachusetts, who both infamously failed to qualify for Nationals in 2019, stood as the gate between the two programs and quarterfinals. Both had struggled against higher seeds in pool play and their 2-2 records meant they were only a few points away from missing the bracket altogether. But a stellar offensive performance from UMass allowed them to capitalize on Carleton mistakes to run away in the second half for the 15-11 victory.

In the first half, it was actually Carleton’s offense that was the finer of the pair in what was a very clean 15 points of ultimate. CUT managed the first break of the half and the last break to close the half, scoring on two of the five defensive possessions they had. The two teams split just eight first-half turnovers, four of which came on the half’s final point. An overthrown swing on the third point became a Luke Webb goal for the first break, giving Carleton a 2-1 lead. UMass got back to even after a same-third huck from Ben Preiss tailed out of bounds despite Harry Wolf Landau’s valiant effort. A pair of turnovers in quick succession marred the offensive stats with the game at 7-7, but Ethan Bloodworth’s diving hammer catch saved possession for Carleton and got them into the red zone, where they punched it in to break for half.

The second half was much like the first, with offenses skillfully swatting away pesky defenders with crisp throws, except for one key difference: CUT’s offense regressed as their completion percentage dropped. There didn’t appear to be a significant overhaul for the ZooDisc defense — their coaching staff stated that they shifted both marking and downfield positioning to try to tamp down Carleton’s lanes — but rather just a dulling of what had been a sharp Carleton attack. Dillon Lanier threw almost directly into an under poach as if he hadn’t even considered if the defender might be present. Jared Kannel had a huck fake pop out his hand. Joe White rifled a backhand to a streaking, but double-covered, Stan Birdsong. And that was just the first five points of the second half, the first two of which went on the board as UMass breaks.

With Carleton out of sorts, UMass pounced. After a smooth hold piloted by Jake Radack for an 11-10 lead, Tannor Johnson stayed on for successive defensive points. Luke Webb had done an admirable job fighting with Johnson during UMass’s offensive points, but the Massachusetts stars had been able to grind out possessions from the backfield. Johnson had more room to roam when on the D-line, and broke free after a CUT turnover for an expedient break for 12-10. On the next possession, after a block by Jared Scheinberg, Johnson lifted a scoober across the field and immediately ejected deep. His defender called for the switch, but nobody answered and Johnson took it to the house for 13-10. From there, it was simple holds for both teams, with UMass’s confidence burning bright as they added a final break to win 15-11.

  1. Keith Raynor
    Keith Raynor

    Keith Raynor is a Senior Editor and the Business Development Manager at Ultiworld. He co-hosts our Deep Look podcast and does play-by-play and color commentary. He coaches UConn Rise, the college's women's team. You can reach him by email (keith@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@FullFieldHammer).

  2. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years, but now spends his time playing pickup and coaching de Toledo High School in Los Angeles. You can reach him through e-mail (rubin.alex14@gmail.com) or Twitter (@arubes14 or @dthsultimate).

  3. Daniel Prentice
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    Daniel Prentice is a Senior Staff Writer at Ultiworld. Daniel is a product of the Tallahassee ultimate community and has been writing for Ultiworld since 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @danielprent and email him at daniel.prentice@ultiworld.com.

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