Projecting National Championship Odds for Each of College Lacrosse's Top Teams

Kevin Boilard@@KevinBoilardCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2015

Duke is going for a third straight National Championship.
Duke is going for a third straight National Championship.Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 2015 college lacrosse season will soon get underway, and schedules, polls and preseason all-conference predictions are starting to leak onto the web.

That means it's time to take an early look at National Championship chances. Sixteen teams get a tournament bid in mid-May, four make it to the semifinals on Memorial Day weekend and only one is still standing that Monday.

Which team will reign supreme in Philadelphia this spring?

This article will project the odds to win it all for some of the country's best teams.

Duke Blue Devils (ACC)

2014 Record: 17-3, National Champions

Duke midfielder Myles Jones.
Duke midfielder Myles Jones.Rob Carr/Getty Images

Duke's 2015 season will be a quest for a third consecutive national title, a feat not accomplished since Bill Tierney's Princeton Tigers did it in the late 1990s.

Even without last year's standout seniors, such as Jordan Wolf (64 goals, 39 assists), Casey Carroll (49 ground balls, 22 caused turnovers) and face-off specialist Brendan Fowler (.590 win percentage), the Blue Devils are still college lacrosse's most dangerous team.

No offense operates at a rate quite as quick as John Danowski's Duke squad. The Blue Devils were the only team to record over 800 shots last season, peppering opposition goalies with its fast-paced assault. Myles Jones, a 6'4", 240-pound raw athlete in the midfield, should thrive in this offense in 2015. Attackman Deemer Class, however, is more likely to lead the team in scoring due to his precision around the net.

Jones and Class are juniors this season, so expect a monumental leap in production from both players. Look for Greg Pelton to get involved in place of Carroll on defense. Pelton, a Malvern Prep (PA) product, is the best freshman defenseman, according Inside Lacrosse (third overall).

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Odds: 4/1

Denver Pioneers (Big East)

2014 Record: 16-3, National Semifinalists

Denver has played on Championship Weekend three of the last four years, and 2015 could mark the season in which this team finally takes the next step. Contrary to their conference affiliation, yet true to their mascot, the Pioneers have become the only legitimate lacrosse power west of the Mississippi River.

Since switching schools from Princeton to Denver in 2010, head coach Bill Tierney has developed one one of the country's cleanest offenses. Last year, the Pioneers committed the fewest turnovers per game (11.6) of all Division I teams en route to a semifinals appearance. There, Denver was expelled from the tournament by the eventual champion, Duke Blue Devils, in a 15-12 loss.

The Pioneers are returning each of their top-three scorers from 2014, maintaining a formidable and balanced attack unit of senior Wesley Berg (48 goals, 20 assists), junior Jack Bobzien (42 goals, 21 assists) and sophomore Zach Miller (38 goals, 19 assists). The offensive trio will be key to Denver's success again in 2015.

Odds: 6/1

Notre Dame (ACC)

2014 Record: 12-6, National Runners-Up

Notre Dame attackman Matt Kavanagh.
Notre Dame attackman Matt Kavanagh.Rob Carr/Getty Images

Notre Dame didn't sweat its first season in the ACC. Although long-time head coach Kevin Corrigan and his Fighting Irish went 2-3 in regular-season conference play, they later pulled it together to win the ACC tournament with a 15-14 win over Syracuse, also a first-year member in 2014.

The Irish have some of the ripest individual talent in the country. Matt Kavanagh (42 goals, 33 assists) was the only sophomore with more than 70 points last season. The slippery attackman, who could be a candidate for the Tewaaraton Award come May, is complemented nicely by monstrous midfielder Sergio Perkovic, whose 6'4", 220-pound frame cranked out 30 goals a year ago.

For Notre Dame to close the gap on Duke in the conference, improved defensive play is a necessity. Although the Irish allowed an average of fewer than 10 goals per game last year, they must rediscover the dominance that delivered them a National Championship berth in 2010. A key component in this push will be the position battle between sophomore Shane Doss and senior Conor Kelly at goalie.

Odds: 15/1

Syracuse (ACC)

2014 Record: 11-5, National Tournament Participants

Syracuse suffered an early exit from the National Tournament after an unexpected, 10-9 loss to an unheralded Bryant team in the first round. The No. 2 seed in the tournament was a favorite to make to the finals after knocking off Duke and falling by just one to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament.

Few teams know resiliency like the Orange, though. A perennial contender, no school has claimed more National Championships since 1971 than Syracuse's 11. The Orange faithful can trust head coach John Desko, maybe the best lacrosse mind in the game, to wash away the sour taste left in their mouths after last season's premature ending.

'Cuse is returning its top-three scorers from 2014, including well-rounded senior attackman Kevin Rice (36 goals, 44 assists), but a lot of the Orange's success will depend upon the development of young prodigies. It's time for redshirt sophomore Jeff Desko, coach John's nephew, to carry the family legacy. Likewise but to a lesser degree, sophomore Dylan Maltz must fill the shoes of his recently graduated brother Derek.

Odds: 18/1

Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (Big Ten)

2014 Record: 11-5, National Quarterfinalists

Johns Hopkins' Dave Pietramala coaching the USA All-Stars.
Johns Hopkins' Dave Pietramala coaching the USA All-Stars.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Another historical powerhouse, Johns Hopkins could have what it takes to make a title push in 2015. Dave Pietramala is widely considered one of the best coaches in the sport, yet his Blue Jays have been in decline since they last won a National Championship back in 2007.

However, some changes are in store for Hopkins this spring. For the first time ever, the Jays will compete in a conference—the Big Ten—after decades of independence. Established in revenue-generating sports yet fledgling in lacrosse, the new Big Ten (Hopkins, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers) has the makings of a future ACC.

Helping Hopkins' cause is possibly the best freshman class in the country. The Jays reeled in three of Inside Lacrosse's top-10 Class of 2014 recruits, including top-ranked attackman Shack Stanwick of Boys' Latin (MD) and top-ranked midfielder Joel Tinney of Culver Military Academy (ID). Stanwick and Tinney are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 overall respectively.

Odds: 25/1

Other Teams With A Chance

Maryland Terrapins: A former ACC heavyweight, Maryland can take control of the new Big Ten if long-time rival Johns Hopkins doesn't get in the way. The biggest challenge for the Terrapins will be replacing goalie Niko Amato, who carried them to a 13-4 record and a semifinals appearance in the National Tournament.

North Carolina Tar Heels: UNC is solid at all positions, but few teams field as many defensive and specialist standouts. Sophomore defenseman Austin Pifani was named preseason All-ACC, as were goalie Kieran Burke, long-stick midfielder Ryan Kilpatrick and face-off specialist Stephen Kelly.

Loyola Maryland Greyhounds: Playing in the weaker Patriot League, Loyola's 13-6 loss to Albany in the first round of the National Tournament was only its second of the season. Was the Greyhounds' 2012 title—the school's first—just a flash in the pan or a sign of what's to come?

Cornell Big Red: A tough team that has taken over from Princeton as the dominant member of the Ivy League, Cornell will have a new head coach this season. Although Matt Kerwick served on an interim basis in 2014, the Big Red could be infused with new energy if he's able to implement some fresh ideas.

Virginia Cavaliers: Not exactly bottom feeders but certainly bringing up the rear in the ACC, Virginia needs to make up some ground in the national race. The Cavs are a well-coached team under Dom Starsia and led the country in ground balls per game a season ago (37.75).

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinBoilard

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