College Soccer News annually asks several of our contributing writers and analysts their thoughts regarding the NCAA Tournament Field. The dialogue this year was again brisk and reflected the interest that each has in college soccer. The questions and response received pertaining to the 2012 Men’s NCAA Soccer Championship are provide below.
Were you surprised with any of the at-large teams selected?
Anthony - I was most surprised with the selection of South Florida. Not only were they given an invitation, but also a home game with a record of 8-5-4. Despite a ranking of twenty-six in the most recent RPI, South Florida did not make the Big East Red Division tournament. Also, they were completely out of the CSN top 30 National Poll picture. This must have been a very difficult decision for the committee. The fact that Florida Gulf Coast University qualified from the A-Sun probably helped South Florida out geographically, because they were the only two teams selected from Florida.
Ben - A couple teams surprised me, but especially South Florida. USF didn't even play well enough to make their conference tournament and therefore shouldn't be in the NCAA's. USF had a mediocre 2-3-3 Big East record and finished the year losing three of their last four. The committee obviously looked at the Bulls RPI which is a solid twenty-six, but seeing there resume I was very surprised to see them in the tournament. Another team I was amazed to see in the tourney was Michigan. The Wolverines had a decent RPI of twenty-seven but only went 1-5 against ranked opponents. Michigan won five of their last six and only lost their final game (Big Ten Final) which definitely helped their case to get in.
Dr. B. - The NCAA seems to stick to the RPI rankings that are produced, so they stay consistent to that formula whether we agree with it or not. I don’t believe South Florida should have received a bid. They failed to qualify as one of the top 10 teams for the Big East tournament and only recorded actual wins in 2 of their last 8 matches.
Barry - Yes, Michigan.
Bob - Not surprised as much this year as I been at times in the past. Becoming more familiar with the impact that the RPI has on the selection process by following the projections of the CSN Bracketologist has reduced the surprises. Regardless, South Florida and Michigan were the two at-large selections that I didn’t expect.
Bryan - South Florida was an unexpected selection. Geography likely impacted that.
Did any of the seeds surprise you?
Anthony - VCU’s number fourteen seed was quite a shocker. I am sure they would not have been all that dissatisfied just making the dance. It does speak volumes about the quality of play in the A-10 this year though with four teams making the tournament. VCU will meet the winner of Syracuse and Cornell, in a second round matchup that they should win at home.
Ben - The big surprise seed was definitely Akron being at #5. The Zips have only allowed one goal in their last fifteen games and was #2 on the RPI. I expected them to be a #3 overall seed but the board clearly didn't think so. Akron has a fortress at home with the AK Rowdies and should be fine for a couple rounds, but I feel they deserved a top four spot over the Huskies who didn't even make the Big East final.
Dr. B. - I believe the seeds are pretty fair. The teams selected have had good seasons, and have been playing well down the stretch, as evidenced by their finishes in the recent conference tournaments.
Barry - No
Bob - I thought that Akron should have been higher than the number five seed. The Zips deserved a top four seed. Akron was 17-1-2 with an RPI of two. Connecticut was awarded a number four seed with a 15-3-1 record and an RPI of seven. The impact of that is huge because it means that if Akron and number four seed Connecticut meet in the Elite Eight then Connecticut will host the game.
Bryan - I was a little surprised that VCU received one of the top sixteen seeds.
Where any teams omitted from the field that you thought should have received an invite?
Anthony - SIUE was probably at the edge of their seats yesterday as the selection show went on without calling their name. SIUE had an RPI of thirty-five, Rutgers was the only team with a better RPI at thirty-three that did not make the tournament. The committee does look for a signature win to help your resume, though, and SIUE did lack that. Losing than Creighton in both the MVC tournament, and in the regular season, was probably their best opportunity to pick up a big win.
Dr. B. - Again, I think it comes down to the way the RPI formula is currently constructed. I would have liked to see teams like SIU Edwardsville or Campbell (13 & 12 wins respectively) from different conferences get the opportunity to play. I also think UC Davis deserved a bid. They finished second in the always competitive Big West.
Barry - Yes, Santa Clara
Bob - I thought SIU Edwardsville with a 13-7-0 record and an RPI of thirty-five deserved an invite. Also I would have liked to see another team from the west coast in the field.
Bryan - SIUE is the team this year that has the best case to argue. When the selection committee goes eight deep in a conference as they did this year with the Big East then a case can be made that it would be better to give one of those spots to a top team in another conference.
What do you think is the toughest bracket to advance out of? (Identify the bracket by the top seed)
Anthony - The toughest bracket to advance out of features Maryland, Louisville, Wake Forest, and Marquette as the seeded teams. The Maryland bracket also features sleeper teams in Northwestern, Coastal Carolina, and SMU. The Terps will be chosen by most to advance out of this region, but it will be tougher than most think seeing that they will possibly face a Wake Forest team that upset them 4-2 only a few weeks ago. Also Louisville, will hope to make a return trip to the College Cup to avenge their 2010 defeat to Akron in the championship game.
Ben - The toughest bracket to advance out of would have to be the Notre Dame bracket. That bracket consists of the Fighting Irish, obviously, along with contenders #16 Indiana, returning national champs North Carolina, 2011 Big East Champs St. Johns, the high-flying offense of Old Dominion, and a streaking St. Louis side. Any of those six teams could sneak through into the college cup semis, but it will be a battle. It's anyone's game.
Dr B. - I think they’re all tough! The Notre Dame bracket does stand out slightly though. In addition to the Irish you have the defending champions North Carolina, A10 champions St. Louis, Big Ten champions Michigan State, St. John’s, ODU, and a Xavier team that’s only lost twice all season.
Barry - The Akron Bracket. A Washington-Creighton second-round matchup will be tough. Jamie Clark knows Creighton, having coached there three years ago. Akron will have difficult time against either one of those teams in the third round.
Bob - The Akron Bracket. Look, there are four teams in that bracket, Akron, Creighton, New Mexico, and Connecticut that are legitimate contenders. Akron, New Mexico, and Connecticut are hungry teams who feel that they have something to prove and that makes them dangerous opponents.
Bryan - Hard to say but I guess I would pick the Notre Dame bracket. The Irish have a ton of momentum. North Carolina is very capable of wining it all again. St. John’s is always tough this time of the year.
Which coach stands out for leading his team to an NCAA Tourney berth in 2012?
Anthony - Not many people will be aware of the work Chaka Daley has put in during his first year at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines. He boasts a 10-9-1 record, and his team has caught fire coming down the stretch. Their strength of schedule led them to an RPI of twenty-seven. Michigan had a 4-14-1 record prior to Daley’s arrival in Ann Arbor, and lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament to Wisconsin. Daley takes an experienced side with him into the tournament, with the current seniors making a College Cup appearance in 2010. Daley has made the NCAA tournament five times out of the last seven seasons, his prior four coming with Providence College who struggled this seas with his departure.
Ben - The coach that clearly stands out is Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre. The Orangemen coaching staff was named the coaching staff of the year in the Big East and rightfully so. Syracuse came off a horrendous 3-12-1 campaign last season, but McIntyre has displayed his coaching abilities as Syracuse played outstanding all year boasting one of the best defenses in the country. They open up against a tough Cornell opponent on the road, but regardless of the result, what McIntyre has done is remarkable.
Dr. B. - Brian Weise has done a really good job at Georgetown leading them to a top 4 seed. Doug Hess at Drexel and Brian Ainscough at Northeastern have also had great seasons to earn home matches in the first round.
Barry - Terry Davila of Cal State Northridge
Bob - Ian McIntyre has done a great job at Syracuse. Also, don’t forget what Louis Bennett has accomplished at Marquette. The Golden Eagles are going dancing for the first time since 1997.
Bryan - Chase Brooks has Niagara dancing for the first time. Ali Kazemaini returns Cleveland State to the tourney for the first time since 1980 and don’t overlook what Doug Hill has accomplished at Air Force .
Which of the sixteen seeds is most likely to exit after one game?
Anthony - Tulsa is the most likely to exit after their first matchup. They will face the winner of South Florida, and FGCU. Expect the Bulls to take down FGCU quite handily at home, and to top Tulsa, a team that they beat earlier this season. Despite their tough stretch of games toward the end of the season, expect a well rested and hungry Bulls team to carve out a road back to the Elite Eight where they fell to Creighton just last season.
Ben - The top 16 seed to most likely exit the tourney in their first game would most likely be Wake Forest or VCU. Wake Forest will have to play the winner of Elon and Coastal Carolina who both carry deadly scorers who will be a handful for the Demon Deacons. I also see VCU having a tough time with either Syracuse or Cornell. Syracuse holds the 3rd best shutout percentage in the country while Cornell has the nation's top scorer in Daniel Haber.
Dr. B. - Any of them could, but I think Wake Forest, St. Louis, and VCU will need to be especially on upset alert.
Barry - Wake Forest
Bob - Number 14 seed VCU may have trouble with the winner of the Syracuse and Cornell match. If St. John’s gets past FDU they will be a tough matchup for number eight seed Saint Louis.
Bryan - Indiana may have a difficult time against the winner of the Kentucky and Xavier contest. Wake Forest will have to bring their A game to top the winner of the Elon and Coastal Carolina contest.
Are there any first round matches that you find particularly interesting?
Anthony - The most intriguing matchup of the first round has to be in Charlotte where the 49ers will look to repeat their Cinderella run against a very good UAB side. Charlotte failed to make the A-10 tournament final at the hands of VCU, and may struggle to get off to a good start against UAB. The two teams tied earlier in the year in Charlotte.
Ben - In my opinion, the best first round match up is between Cornell and Syracuse for the reasons previously stated. A game which involves one of the top defensive teams in the country and the NCAA's top scorer is definitely one to keep an eye on. Syracuse has only given up more than two goals in a single game twice this season while, Cornell is averaging 2.44 goals per game.
Dr. B. - I think there are some really interesting local match-ups. Syracuse v Cornell is a central NY battle of contrasting styles. BC has to travel to Northeastern, and Xavier vs. Kentucky will be tough to predict.
Barry - Air Force and Washington. Both teams play solid defense. Goals will be hard to come by in this match.
Bob - Elon and Coastal Carolina will feature two of the top goal scorers in the country in Chris Thomas (23g, 5a) and Ashton Bennett (15g, 9a). Syracuse and Cornell will be a dandy.
Bryan - Air Force and Washington should be very interesting. Boston College and Northeastern should also be a very competitive match.
Could you mention two or three individual players that you think we might want to keep an eye on due to the impact that they could have during the tournament.
Anthony - Ryan Finley of Notre Dame will be the most exciting player to keep an eye on in the NCAA tournament. He is coming off a twenty goal regular season, and most recently, notched a brace against Georgetown in the Big East final. Can Cornell’s Daniel Haber, and Elon’s Chris Thomas prove their historic regular season’s when it matters most? Haber is averaging 2.69 goals per game for Cornell, while Thomas is coming in with a 2.43 goals per game average.
Ben - Some the players to watch in the tournament all come from the top teams. Ryan Finley - The Notre Dame striker is second in the country with twenty total goals in twenty games. Interesting fact about this is that Finley has yet to start a game for the Fighting Irish. If the big man can continue his recent play for the Big East final, then Finley will make Notre Dame even more dangerous in route to the final four.
Dr. B. - Goal scorers are usually the difference at this time of the year. Ryan Finlay at Notre Dame, Chris Thomas from Elon, and Ashton Bennett at Coastal Carolina are three, of many, who could be the difference in their team making a deep run.
Barry - Midfielder Ryan Hollingshead of UCLA; goalkeeper David Meves of Akron; UConn forward Mamadou Diouf. John Stertzer of Maryland.
Bob - New Mexico forward Devon Sandoval, Georgetown forward Steve Neumann, Akron midfielder Scott Caldwell, Cornell forward Daniel Haber, UCLA midfielder Ryan Hollingshead
Bryan - Once again I have to ask where is the love for the guys on the defensive side of the ball? North Carolina goalkeeper senior Scott Goodwin is a difference maker. Ditto that for Connecticut’s sophomore netminder Andre Blake and lets not overlook David Meves who holds the NCAA career record for shutouts and has made a few big saves during his tenure to date at Akron. No team can advance far in the NCAA tourney without a solid goalkeeper.
Who are your sleeper teams?
Anthony - Michigan is my boldest prediction to be a sleeper team this season. Once they get past Niagara at home, they will head back to Akron where they lost only 1-0 earlier this season. The Wolverines will look to spoil Akron’s going away party for Caleb Porter, and I predict they will do just that, even if it takes 110 minutes plus penalties. As I said, a well rested South Florida team could surprise many people this season making it back to the Elite Eight. My final sleeper pick is Louisville. Although a number ten seed, I predict them to go very deep into the tournament.
Ben - A sleeper team would have to be the Virginia Cavaliers. The young team experienced an up and down season, much due to their strength of schedule. They still stand at #15 in the RPI and have the capability to be Lafayette and beat New Mexico. They have some big wins this season and were unlucky not to beat UNC in the ACC semis. Don't sleep on the Cavs, because with an attack led by senior Will Bates (11g,1a) and a talented group of young talent, Virginia is a tough team to beat.
Dr. B. - I think Syracuse, Cal St. Northridge, and Elon could all surprise some people and advance further than expected.
Barry - Washington, Northwestern
Bob - Xavier, St. John’s, Washington
Bryan - Michigan State. The Spartans are peaking at the right time. Cornell could surprise.
Who are your picks for the Final Four?
Anthony - Notre Dame, Connecticut, UCLA, Maryland
Ben - My picks for the final four are Notre Dame, Akron, UCLA, and Maryland. I was iffy on a couple games including a possible UCLA vs. Georgetown quarterfinals, but eventually went with the Bruins. In the final I have Akron beating Maryland. These two teams have consistently been the best teams all year and I think their class will show. Both are possession oriented squads and have come in on a roll (especially Akron). I believe this is Akron's year and they will play their heart out, knowing very well every games could be Caleb Porter's last.
Dr. B. - I think we’ll see Notre Dame, Akron, UCLA, and Maryland playing for the national championship.
Barry - Notre Dame, Akron, UCLA, Maryland
Bob - North Carolina, Akron, Georgetown, Maryland.
Bryan - Notre Dame, New Mexico, UCLA, Maryland. The Lobos are on a mission.