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

All four favorites advance setting up a powerhouse semifinal 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, followed by prequarters that have us excited for some compelling quarters.

Many of the strongest teams are in prequarters, and there’s been some impressive play to get here. Time to settle who will be truly competing for a title.

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.

North Carolina Cruise to Seventh Straight Semi, Blasting Overmatched Minnesota

#1 North Carolina Darkside advance to their seventh consecutive national semifinal after dispatching Minnesota Grey Duck 15-9 this morning. Elijah Long led a bruising North Carolina defense with three assists, a goal, and three blocks, while the offense, spreading the scoring liberally between a rotation of 10 players, did not allow a break. It was a truly elite performance from the title favorites.

Minnesota struck first with an excellent set play. Wystan Duhn, after centering to Cash Barber, immediately pressed upline from the open side. Barber hit him with an immediate flip to the inside lane, and Duhn wasted no time launching a backhand for Cole Jurek, who had taken three steps under on the open side before peeling off and breaking deep. Suraj Madiraju, drawing the tough Jurek matchup, gave chase, but he had no chance to make a play. Darkside followed with a clean hold of their own.

That was the last time the game was close. Long and Andrew Li, bucking the general trend at the tournament of sagging and switching, knuckled down against the Grey Duck backfield. Duhn and Barber managed a few resets to one another, but against such relentlessly close defense, the stalls kept climbing. Eventually, Li positioned himself so that Barber had to deviate from a strike cut and try to get open on a long horizontal swing. Duhn’s OI forehand hung too long, giving Mukil Guruparan plenty of time to leave his assignment and eat up the pass.

Meanwhile, the downfield arm of the defense committed to taking away Jurek’s unders. Madiraju just stayed beneath him. Obviously, Jurek was going to catch another goal deep. But by the time he did, UNC had already put three breaks on the board, and Minnesota trailed 5-3. Grey Duck’s handlers started to crack under the weight of their potential elimination, trying passes to smaller windows in search of some way to get the jump on the UNC defense. Long made a brilliant chest-high bid to break up one of Barber’s arounds for Duhn in the red zone. His stand-still 60-yard forehand to Tommy Williams on the ensuing possession put an 8-4 lid on the first half.

The Minnesota defense, like UNC, stuck to matchup schemes for the most part, and they had their hands full. Playmakers like Daniel Meiland and Jurek, who, unsurprisingly given the stakes, crossed over regularly, are good enough to deaden the impact of a team’s best players. That is exactly what happened. Meiland hung with Anders Juengst in the lane, which nobody had been able to accomplish during pool play. Jurek is one of the only players in the division able to hang with Liam Searles-Bohs. And so for long stretches of the game, the Darkside offense simply did not run through Juengst and Searles-Bohs.

The bad news for Grey Duck was the depth of Darkside’s offensive playmakers. Matthew McKnight had assists on two hucks during a big first half. John McDonnell danced all over the red zone unimpeded on his way to scoring a pair of easy goals. Kai Marcus threw whatever he wanted, mostly to his team’s benefit. And late in the second half, with the game all but decided, Searles-Bohs still managed a deep connection with Juengst.

Jurek, one of the brightest stars at the tournament so far, finished with a block, three assists, and four goals. Still, one can’t help but think that he didn’t manage to do any damage for which UNC hadn’t already made allowances — he succeeded, but on his opponents’ terms rather than his own. Freshman Jonah Malenfant also played a nice game for Grey Duck; he was the only Minnesota cutter other than Jurek to get open downfield with any regularity.

North Carolina will face Washington in their semifinal tonight, where they will once again enter as heavy favorites. If there is any cause for concern for Darkside heading into the matchup, it is Searles-Bohs’ three huck turnovers in the quarterfinal. His accuracy also left him at times during the 2019 club campaign with Ring of Fire. His team must hope it was only a blip, as Washington’s deep, physical defense should be better prepared to handle the rest of the offense.

Washington Outclass Cal Poly SLO with Near Perfect First Half

In another stunning show of dominance, the Washington Sundodgers defeated Cal Poly SLO SLOCORE 15-7 and earned their spot in the final four.

As was the case in their prequarter on Friday, Washington burst out of the gates and all but clinched the game in the first half. The Sundodgers scored the first seven points of the game and took half 8-1. Dante Lopez-Escarez was the breakout star early in the game, shutting down SLO’s Calvin Brown in the backfield. Derek Mourad took the lead downfield, usually setting up on the SLO initiating cutter to stop the offense’s first look. Jack Brown was instrumental in slowing Conor Schofield and playing help defense on deep shots. Tony Venneri and Porter Jones played smart defense around the disc to clog reset looks and stagnate the SLO offense.  It was complete and total dominance from the most impressive defense at the tournament so far.

Even after earning the turn, the Washington D-line offense was a beauty to watch. Mourad, Venneri, and Jones kept the disc moving in the backfield, rarely holding it longer than five seconds. When their quick movement switched the angle of attack and deeper lanes opened up, Brown and co. gobbled up easy scores. In one sequence, Brown boxed out SLO’s Jake Thorne to block a punted huck, jogged to midfield as Jones and Mourad swung the disc to the opposite sideline, and turned on the jets when Venneri caught a swing in power position ready to launch. You can probably guess how this play ended.

With Washington shutting down their primary options, SLO continually turned to their second and third plans. Normally defensive players, KJ Koo, Justin Ting, and Thorne were brought over to the offense as SLO was forced to play its universe line early in the first half. SLO is clearly talented and well-coached, but for everything they tried, Washington had an answer. SLO ran different pull plays, moved players to new positions, and used their timeouts liberally. None of it worked in the first half. On top of that, every little mistake was magnified under their frustration and Washington’s ruthless effectiveness after a turn. As they had against Ohio State, Washington’s defenders did not give the SLO an inch of offense for free. Even when they could not get a block, the constant pressure forced SLO into drops and throwaways that SLO avoided throughout pool play.

With the game crumbling around them, SLO’s stars were reduced to playing hero-ball. When it worked, Brown’s individual brilliance was clear to every spectator. His daring and pinpoint throws were needed to escape the Sundodgers pressure. More often than not, though, his hucks sailed out the back of the end zone, and Washington was able to score two more breaks early in the second half to stretch their lead to nine. At this point, they led 13-4 and the Washington bench was able to close out the game.

Washington advances to its first semifinal in program history, fulfilling a prediction I made back in January. With the way they’ve looked so far in the bracket, Washington is sure to put up a tough fight against number one seed UNC and has a chance to make it all the way to the final.

Cal Poly SLO may have had a worse result on paper than their 2019 T-3rd finish, but should look back on this season proud to have made it this far. The team may not have admitted it, but this was a rebuilding year, as younger players stepped into the most important roles on the team. Led by its current sophomore class, SLO is primed to improve in 2021 — it would not be a surprise to see them back in the bracket next spring.

Colorado Earns Repeat Quarterfinal Victory Over Pittsburgh

Colorado Mamabird have knocked Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur out of the bracket to reach semifinals for the second consecutive year. Michael Ing and Will Hoffenkamp were excellent for Pitt, but their heroic play was not enough to overcome star performances from a half-dozen Mamabird players. The late Colorado charge was led by Mathieu Agee (4 goals, 1 block), Saeed Semrin (3 blocks), and Quinn Finer (3 assists, 1 block) on a D-line that got stronger as the game wore on.

Both teams stormed into the game with high intensity. Fittingly, the first half was a seesaw affair. Junior Kevin Tsui and sophomore Henry Ing — who has acquitted himself enormously well at his first College Nationals after missing out last spring with a torn ACL — connected for the game’s first break after Finer missed on a huck. Ing collected an open-side under and powered a flick out to space for Tsui, who made an exuberant bid to secure the disc. Not to be bullied, Colorado held on the next point via a pretty hammer from Conor Tabor to Alex Atkins. Tabor’s throws and Atkins’ versatility were strengths for the Colorado offense all game long. Agee then denied a deep shot to Hoffenkamp, setting up a Mamabird break to retake the lead.

It didn’t last long. Pittsburgh broke three more times in the first half as Michael Ing put on a show. He baited and ran down an Atkins huck in what has become a typical feat for him this season: standing five yards underneath the last cutter back before surging into the space for an easy (for him) block. Later in the half, he blew past Mamabird freshman Danny Landesman to get the inside lane on an under. Landesman paused for a moment in disbelief while Ing calmly found Harry McNamara for the fast-break goal. Pittsburgh took half at 8-7, up only one break, but with a larger share of that intangible measure we call momentum.

Colorado announced themselves in a big way to start the second half. Finer, who led the team in points played, made a huge layout to swat away a relatively simple pass from Leo Warren to Michael Ing on a fill from the front of the stack. It seemed like Warren is just used to that look being open. It’s hard to blame him: how many other athletes could challenge Ing for that space? A few passes later, Mamabird scored the equalizer.

The next point saw another huge layout block. This time it was Semrin launching himself ahead of Marcel Oliart. While Colorado didn’t manage to score on that point, their defense had fully ignited. Mamabird held (Tabor-to-Landesman) on an uneventful point, and then they broke to take a 10-9 lead after Agee skied Will Helenski for another big Colorado block. In retrospect, that point was Pittsburgh’s undoing. Ing succeeded more often than not in getting free of Finer, but the effort seemed to take so much out of him that he was less of a factor on defense. Meanwhile, Semrin, Agee, and Calvin Stoughton took most of the looks away from Pitt’s cutters. Pressed for good options, En Sabah Nur settled for poor ones, with predictably uneven results.

Colorado closed out the game on two breaks, both of them after unforced errors by Pittsburgh. It was a disappointing collapse for the Program, who understandably entered the tournament with high hopes in spite of their relatively low seed.

In the end, it was Mamabird’s greater store of energy that won the day. The defense found a howling second wind. Just as crucially, the offense never fell to pieces in the face of what was often a staunch Pittsburgh resistance, particularly in the first half. They’ll need a repeat in tonight’s semifinal as they square off against an equally resilient BYU.

BYU Undaunted by Nationals Pressure, Knock Off Massachusetts on Double Game Point

Brigham Young CHI pulled off a dramatic, late comeback to win 15-14 over Massachusetts Zoodisc, extending their first-ever Nationals appearance into their first-ever semifinals appearance.

UMass continued their sparkling offensive form from their prequarter victory of Carleton into the first half, while BYU really struggled to find easy offensive holds. UMass took full advantage of the gulf in offensive efficiencies and jumped out to a two break, 6-3 lead.

It was a stark contrast to the matchup between the two sides earlier in the season at Florida Warm Up, when UMass struggled mightily to punch in breaks despite having far more opportunities to do so than BYU. But this time around Eddie Scott and Eugene L’Heureux were able to dink and dunk UMass’ D-line down the field after BYU’s usually unforced turnovers.

The break chances slowed later in the first half, though, as BYU began to find their rhythm offensively. They got one of the breaks back to make it a 7-6 deficit when Devon Terry got the better of Tannor Johnson deep and Taylor Barton hucked to Joe Merrill for an easy D-line goal. The CHI break was the first real stumble from Zoodisc, but a huck from Jake Radack to Johnson for 8-6 ensured that UMass held onto their lead at the half.

UMass used the intermission to quickly bury the blip and were focused to start the second half. Holds were traded to 10-8 in UMass’ favor as BYU again found it difficult to slow down Johnson. The Callahan finalist scored both of Zoodisc’s goals to start the second half, bringing his tally in the game to five. He was then pulled over to the D-line for the first time in the second half and scored his fourth straight goal on a huck from L’Heureux after Braden Eberhard got stalled out for the BYU turnover.

Now up 11-8 and cruising on offense, UMass was in a great position to advance to their first semifinal appearance since 2017. But after BYU responded with a clean hold, CHI then decided to play their universe line for the rest of their D-points. Merrill and Kerr got pulled over, Kerr laid out for a massive block underneath, and then connected with Merrill for the break to make it 11-10.

Holds were traded to 12-11 when BYU used one of its two remaining timeouts. Still having both timeouts so late in the game felt critical for BYU as they began to play the same players every point. They broke again after the breather, this time thanks to a Jacob Miller block and a Barton to Kerr connection for the score. For the first time since 0-0, the game was tied.

The UMass offense that had been so impressive for the first three-quarters of the game didn’t look rattled, they just weren’t getting the same separation from the BYU defenders they had earlier in the game. Pulling a couple of their O-line stars onto the defense seemed to make a big difference for CHI, but they also did a better job of providing Terry with help over the top on Johnson. BYU was able to force UMass into longer possessions and eventually got either a block or an error from UMass.

The break that gave BYU their first lead came off of one of those errors. After both sides exchanged a couple of turns on the sloppiest point of the game, Johnson got a little casual on an under and dropped his attempt to make the clap catch. A quick forehand from Barton to Terry from midfield made it 14-13 BYU.

Johnson was determined to atone for his error that contributed to BYU taking the lead and went every other on the following point, eventually hitting Jared Scheinberg for the score to force double game point.

As with so many of BYU’s double game points this season, though, it was over in a flash. Eberhard got the centering pass and immediately aired one out to Kerr flying deep. The pass hit its intended target in stride and BYU erupted into celebration as they kept the dream of their first-ever Nationals appearance alive for at least one more round.

On the other side, it feels like the end of an era for Massachusetts. Entering the College Championships as the no.1 seed back in 2016 and stocked with elite talent in every class, it had appeared at the time that Zoodisc were poised for an extended title-window. Instead, they managed just a single semifinals appearance over the past five years. With the graduation of the inimitable Johnson, it could be quite some time before they are challenging for that honor again.

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

  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
    Avatar

    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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