Not sure whether the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament gods planned it this way, but the big difference between the Denver and Annapolis regionals comes down to pedigree.
In Denver, you have four teams who have great tournament resumes but haven't been able to fill out that last line with "NCAA champion." Although they have been great in the regular season and have made long tournament runs, they've never brought that trophy home.
That could change this year. Notre Dame is the overall No. 1 seed. Albany is the most exciting team in the tournament, and it has the best player. Denver, which battled with the Fighting Irish for the No. 1 ranking for much of the early season, and Ohio State are two of the hottest teams in the country right now.
In Annapolis, you have the blue bloods and some of the biggest names in the sport: Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina and Syracuse. For years, you could almost pencil them in for the final four before the season started.
It should be an incredible weekend, with one doubleheader in Denver on Saturday and another in Annapolis on Sunday.
Here's a look at each game, with a win meaning a trip to Philadelphia next weekend for the NCAA semifinals:
Albany vs. Notre Dame, Saturday at 3 p.m., ESPNU
Albany has won nine straight games, including a 19-10 demolition of Cornell in the first round. The Great Danes never have made it to Championship Weekend. They have a transcendent player in Lyle Thompson, who has captivated the sport, and fans are pulling for Cinderella. Thompson is like Wayne Gretzky, Chris Paul and Lionel Messi, with the mind and poise of Joe Montana, all rolled into one. The NCAA's record holder for career points orchestrates the nation's leading offense, but Albany isn't a one-man show.
Scott Marr's squad has three 50-goal scorers in Thompson, Connor Fields and Seth Oakes. Midfielders Tim Cox, John Maloney, Matt Garziano, Adam Osika and Matt Bertram run the field as old-school two-way contributors. The midfield defense is excellent, and I respect the work of defender Mike Russell. Can the other close defenders hold up? Blaze "Big Game" Riorden was outstanding against Cornell, making 19 saves and scoring a goal. Faceoffs are Albany's Achilles' heel.
Notre Dame beat Albany, 14-13, in the 2014 quarterfinals after trailing by five goals late in the game. It was the game of the year, an instant classic.
The Irish, who never have won an NCAA title, are balanced. Matt Kavanagh is their catalyst. The lefty is clutch. Running mate Connor Doyle has been on fire. Fleet-footed midfielders Nick Ossello and Jack Near set the tempo and strike in transition. Defender Matt Landis draws the assignment of guarding Thompson. Landis might be the country's best cover man, but no one is capable of stopping Thompson alone, so Notre Dame must double- and triple-team him. Goalie Shane Doss looked shaky in the first-round 12-10 win over Towson.
Ohio State vs. Denver, Saturday at 5:30 p.m., ESPNU
The Pioneers are rolling, winners of 10 straight after a 13-11 loss to Ohio State on March 14. Coach Bill Tierney is seeking his seventh NCAA title and first at Denver. His squad represents 17 states and Canada. The offense is ultraefficient, relying on dazzling ball and player movement. Sean and Connor Cannizzaro (Maryland), Wesley Berg, Eric Adamson, Tyler Pace and Zach Miller all fit the system. Denver doesn't take outside shots; it works for backside feeds and slam dunks at the crease.
Faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste leads the country in winning percentage and will duel with the Buckeyes' Chris May, who's a worthy adversary. Denver has a stronger defense than in years past with Christian Burgdorf and Carson Cannon. Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium gives the Pioneers a de facto home game.
Ohio State bounced defending national champion Duke from the tournament Saturday, 16-11. The program is moving in the right direction for coach Nick Myers. The Buckeyes run a similar offense to Denver's, relying on picks and rubs to create dodging lanes. They are patient and potent, with Jesse King and David Planning providing the punch. The defense is excellent off the ground with Robbie Haus and Evan Mulchrone. Goalie Tom Carey made 15 saves against Duke.
Johns Hopkins vs. Syracuse, Sunday at noon, ESPN2
These titans have combined to win 20 NCAA titles. Syracuse won the regular-season meeting, 13-10, after trailing early. The Orange has an attack few can slow. Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue and Randy Staats are a treat to watch. They are smart, crafty, unselfish and always on the hunt. Midfielders Hakeem Lecky, Henry Schoonmaker and Nicky Galasso present unique challenges. Reserve midfielder Jordan Evans exploded for five goals in the first tournament game against Marist. Ben Williams' faceoff domination has been a difference maker. It's hard for me to see Hopkins holding this group below 12 goals.
What gives them a chance is an Orange defense that hasn't played well off the ball this spring and might struggle against Hopkins' pick-and-roll game behind the goal. Hopkins can make Syracuse pay for ball watching and poor communication. Just ask Virginia.
The Blue Jays are suddenly flying high, winners of six straight after opening the year 4-6. Team defense and goaltending were to blame for the slow start. Hopkins has cleaned up its self-inflicted errors, and goalie Eric Schneider now has confidence. Rebound control will be critical Sunday, as the Orange's vultures will be ready to snatch opportunities around the net.
Captain Mike Pellegrino sparks a dangerous transition offense for the Jays, who are lethal on quick restarts. Hopkins' offense is clicking. Wells Stanwick is finishing his college career in fine form; Ryan Brown is the nation's best shooter; and midfielders Joel Tinney, John Crawley and Connor Reed are dodging with fresh legs.
Goals should not be in short supply.
Maryland vs. North Carolina, Sunday at 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
Maryland is 4-2 over its past six games, with all four wins by one goal. The Terps are sputtering toward the finish line but have a defense and goalie capable of beating anyone. Defenders Casey Ikeda, Matt Dunn, Matt Neufeldt and Isaiah Davis-Allen have Maryland's unit ranked No. 1 nationally. The offense is pedestrian, so the Terps prefer to play a slow-down, low-possession style. I was impressed with playmakers Bryan Cole, Joe LoCascio and Matt Rambo in their 8-7 win over Yale on Saturday. Maryland will rely on body punches, toughness and a disciplined approach.
The Tar Heels are trying to erase 22 years of history by securing their first trip to Championship Weekend since 1993. They also will be looking for revenge against a Maryland team that beat them, 10-8, on March 21.
Coach Joe Breschi has a high-scoring roster brimming with speed and quickness. The attacking trio of Jimmy Bitter, Joey Sankey and Luke Goldstock are a coverage nightmare. Carolina has four dangerous transitional midfielders in Jake Matthai, Tate Jozokos, Brett Bedard and Drew Hays, who push the ball in early offense. The defense, however, didn't look buttoned up in a 19-12 in over Colgate on Sunday.
Dictating tempo — Carolina prefers fast; Maryland, slow — will go a long way toward determining a winner. Maryland wants a game in single digits, while the Tar Heels prefer a final score in the teens.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes about lacrosse for The Baltimore Sun.