Eight teams that were noticeably missing from the 2011 NCAA Tournament field. Can they play their way back into the NCAA Tournament field in 2012?
Notre Dame – Oh where have you gone Joe Lapira? Some thought Duke transfer Ryan Finley would give the Notre Dame offense a huge boost last year but it didn’t play out that way. Notre Dame was 9-5-4 overall in 2011. Not bad but as they say close doesn’t count except in horseshoes and grenade throwing. The 2011 campaign was the first season since Bobby Clark came to South Bend in 2001 that the Irish didn’t have at least ten wins and Notre Dame’s streak of ten consecutive NCAA appearances came to a halt. Notre Dame was 1-2-4 in seven overtime games. They played flat on occasion and their inability to come up with the big play when needed in the close matches hampered their win total.
A solid nucleus will return in 2012 including Ryan Finley (7g, 2a) up-top and midfielder Harrison Shipp (5g, 2a). It’s highly likely that Clark will make the adjustments needed for the Irish to up their win total and return to the NCAA Tourney field in 2012.
California – The Golden Bears were absent from the NCAA Tourney field in 2011 for only the second time in the past ten years. California entered the 2011 season with a ton of momentum derived from the 2010 season in which they were 14-2-4 overall with a run to the Elite Eight. However a look under the hood showed that the Golden Bears entered the 2011 season with significant rebuilding to do due to graduation. California’s season subsequently unraveled like a cheap suit in 2011 as they finished the year with a 3-9-5 overall record and a disappointing 0-7-2 mark in Pac-12 play.
The good news is that the Golden Bears were a very young team in 2011. Since just about everyone returns it stands to reason that the experience that the California players gained last year will enable them to field a more competitive side in 2012. Returning players include First Team All-Pac 12 defender Steve Birnbaum, Second Team All-Pac 12 midfielder Tony Salciccia (2g, 1a), forward John Fitzpatrick (5g, 1a), and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year midfielder Seth Casiple (1g, 6a). However, significant improvement must occur on both sides of the ball in order for the Golden Bears to move from a three win campaign to a season with sufficient wins to earn an invite to the NCAA Tourney.
Michigan – The Wolverines went from a team that was 17-5-3 overall and earned the program’s first trip to the Final Four in 2010 to a team that was 5-14-1 in 2011. Michigan entered the 2011 season without the services of forward Justin Meram (17g, 8a) due to graduation and All-American forward Soony Saad (19g, 5a) who elected to go professional after his freshman. Add in the loss of midfielder Harmody Saad (6g, 7a) and you have a team that was without players who accounted for forty-two of the fifty-three goals the Maize and Blue put into the back of the net in 2010. It became clear that Michigan had no answer for filling the void on the offensive side of the ball when they began the season with four straight losses. With the exception of a 4-1 loss to Indiana the Wolverines played everyone close and they had a signature 1-0 win over Akron but the difference between the 2010 team and the 2011 team was like night and day.
Almost everyone is eligible to return for Michigan. The most glaring departure is that of Michigan head coach Steve Burns who resigned at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Burns was the Wolverine head coach for twelve years and did an excellent job of building the program from the ground up. He clearly played a key role in putting Michigan on the college soccer map. Chaka Daley, who has been the head coach at his alma mater Providence College for twelve years, will take over the reigns of a program that will be back in the NCAA Tourney field in the future but it may take a year or so for the Wolverines to catch back up.
Saint Louis – The good news is that the Billikens have earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament a record forty-six times. The bad news is that the 2010 and 2011 seasons were not among one of those forty-six times. Saint Louis didn’t receive an invite in 2010 when they finished with a 9-7-3 overall record and a 5-3-1 mark in A-10 play. They were also left out in 2011 with a 6-10-1 overall record and a 4-5-0 mark in league play which was not good enough to punch a ticket into the six team A-10 Tourney . Not exactly the kind of outcome that the good soccer folks in the St. Louis area are accustomed to. The fact that Saint Louis hosted the 2011A-10 Tourney at Robert R. Hermann Stadium didn’t make matters any easier.
On the positive side of the ledger second year head coach Mike McGinty fielded a young team in 2011 that included seven underclassmen and five freshman in the starting lineup. Forward Robbie Kristo (6g, 2a), midfielders Raymond Lee (4g, 1a), Kingsley Bryce (2g, 1a), and William Hidalgo (2g, 3a) and defender Anthony Manning were among the newcomers who gained valuable playing time that should bode well for the program in the future. Look for Saint Louis to pick up more wins in 2012 and to return to the six team A-10 field but an invite to the NCAA Tourney may not be in the cards for another year or two.
Loyola University Maryland – The Greyhounds from the MAAC earned NCAA Tournament berths in 2007, 2008, and 2009 while also making their presence known on the national scene. However the Greyhounds have been absent from the NCAA Tourney field for the past two seasons as the grip that they once had on the MAAC when the likes of forward Jamie Darvill, defender Tenant McVea, and goalkeeper Milos Kocic were on campus has diminished. In 2010 Loyola fell to Saint Peter’s in the semi-finals of the MAAC Tournament to finish with a 9-7-2 overall record. In 2011 the Greyhounds were upset by Manhattan in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament and finished with a 10-6-2 overall record.
Loyola will return nine starters in 2012 including All-MAAC First Team members defender Gerwyn Jones and forward Stephen Dooley (6g, 4a) and All-MAAC Second Team selections midfielder Geaton Caltabiano (7g, 4a) and defender Jamie Libby. The Greyhounds have had twenty-seven ten wins seasons in the past thirty-one years. An impressive statistic but a ten win season without an NCAA Tourney berth will be a disappointment for Loyola in 2012. All things considered Mark Mettrick’s Greyhounds should return to the dance floor in 2012 but Fairfield and Iona among others may have something to say about that.
Tulsa – The Golden Hurricane’s string of four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (2007-2010) came to a halt in 2011 with a 5-12-0 overall record that included an uncharacteristically subpar 1-7-0 mark in Conference USA play. Tulsa had twelve wins overall in 2010, fifteen wins in 2009, sixteen wins in 2008, and fifteen wins in 2007.
The Golden Hurricane also didn’t earn a spot in the six team CUSA Tournament in 2011 for the first time since the 2004 season. Their absence from the CUSA Tournament was likely made even more painful due to the fact that the conference tourney was hosted by Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane are known for their productivity on the offensive side of the ball but in 2011 they had trouble finishing the opportunities that came their way in the final third. Tulsa scored a total of twenty-two goals in 2011which is about half the total number of goals they normally put in the back of the net in a single season. Factor in that Tulsa allowed a total of thirty-two goals in 2011 which is more than they normally allow and you get the picture.
This is a program that has a history of wreaking havoc in CUSA play winning both the regular season and tournament championships in 2007, 2008, and 2009 but things began to slip in 2010 when the Golden Hurricane dropped to sixth place in the regular season CUSA standings and just barely earned a spot in the conference tourney field with a 3-3-2 mark in league play.
Tulsa mentor Tom McIntosh knows what it takes to prevail at the highest level of competition and has a good eye for talent. Eight starters return including midfielder Tony Rocha (1g, 5a) who was named the 2011 CUSA Freshman of the Year and midfielder Omar Mata (4g, 4a) who was an All-CUSA Second Team selection. This is a program that will bounce back but the timeline is linked to significant improvement on both sides of the ball.
Ohio State – The Buckeyes finished the 2011 season with a 10-7-2 overall record and a 4-2-0 mark in Big Ten play which was good for the number two seed in the Big Ten conference tournament. Normally a ten win season and four wins in Big Ten play would be sufficient to earn Ohio State an at-large invite but that was not the case in 2011. A loss to Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and a down year in general in the Big Ten that contributed to the Buckeyes not so impressive RPI of 54 didn’t help and the end result was that Ohio State’s streak of four consecutive NCAA Tourney appearances that began back in 2007 when the Buckeyes advanced to the national championship match ended at four.
Ohio State will enter the 2012 season with some big shoes to fill including those previously filled by goalkeeper Matt Lampson and defender David Tiemstra. However it is more likely than not that the Big Ten Conference will have a better year overall in 2012 and that the lads from Columbus under the direction of John Bluem will play their way back into the NCAA Tourney field and begin a new streak in 2012. Retuning players include forward Chris Hegngi (9g, 0a) who was the 2011Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and midfielder Austin McAnena (3g. 2a) as well as forward Kenny Cunningham and Brady Wahl who had impressive freshman seasons.
Harvard – The Crimson earned NCAA Tournament berths from 2006 through 2009 during which time they were a force in the Ivy League and made their presence known on the national scene. With help from Brown and Dartmouth among others, the Ivy League gained a lot of credibility during that span. Harvard peeked in 2009 when they were 14-4-1 overall, earned a top ten ranking, and advanced to the third round in NCAA Tourney play.
In 2010 the Crimson was 5-7-5 overall with a 2-3-2 mark in the Ancient Eight. In 2011 they dropped to 2-12-3 overall with a 0-6-1 mark in Ivy League play. Whether Harvard can rebound and begin putting the number of wins on the board that they did back in the day when All-American forward Andre Akpan, midfielder Michael Fucito, and defender Kwaku Nyamekye were on the pitch remains to be seen. Crimson head coach Carl Junot who had an outstanding collegiate career as a player at Furman before entering the coaching ranks definitely has his work cut out for him.