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 opinions varied. The quesitons and responses received are provided below.
Were you surprised with any of the at-large teams selected?
Doctor Bracketology – It's so tight that you're never surprised, but I didn't think a St. John's team that didn't make their conference tournament would get in. Stanford helped themselves with the big win over California on the final day.
Bryson – Not really. All teams warranted their at-large selection based on their schedule. What I am surprised about is Clemson being one of the last teams in based on their early dominance and eleven win season.
Chris – Northwestern, Wake Forest, and North Carolina. All three struggled for consistency this year, and while that is a sign of parity in college soccer it may have been better to see teams with slightly better win percentages than theirs competing.
Ben – I was a bit surprised Northwestern snuck in just due to the fact that I didn't think the committee would take five of the seven Big Ten schools and they were a bubble team.
Bob – Not really surprised by any of the at-large berths. St. John's was the one invite that I thought could have gone either way.
Did any of the sixteen seeds surprise you?
Doctor Bracketology – The biggest surprise was UMBC falling to the sixteen seed. They were sixth in the RPI at the start of the week and won two games (including a win over Hartford 4-0) yet dropped? 16-1-2 against opponents with a combined good record is also hard to ignore. Besides that, Wake Forest getting a seed was a bit surprising.
Bryson – Wake Forest earning a fourteen seed while UMBC earned a sixteen seed was a little surprising based on their record, however, UMBC's strength of schedule was nowhere near Wake's.
Chris – No
Bob – I thought Akron deserved a seed. Also I don't understand why UMBC received a number sixteen seed. Based on their RPI and their record they should have been awarded a higher seed. Seems inconsistent to me. I thought a number seven seed was maybe a little high for New Mexico but don't have a problem with it because the Lobos have been shortchanged in the past when it comes to seeding and are due a break.
Ben – Maryland's seed surprised me. The Terps only lost three games this year and won the ACC regular season and tournament title. They deserved a top four seed.
Bryan – Like others I was surprised to see UMBC drop all the way to a number sixteen seed. Seeding is so important because if you get one of the top four seeds you can play all of your games at home until the Final Four. It is not like the NCAA basketball tourney where games are played at central locations and no one plays on their home court. Non seeded teams have the challenge of playing on Thursday night in the first round and then having to travel to play on Sunday. Several teams have to travel for their first round game then if they win fly out to the west coast to play again on Sunday. That is an adventure but a big challenge.
John – I am a west coast guy but it surprised me that the ACC regular season and tournment winner Maryland did not receive one of the top four seeds. If Maryland and California end up facing each other the contest will be played on the west coast.
Were any teams omitted from the field that you thought should have received an invite?
Doctor Bracketology – There were so many teams fighting for limited bubble spots this year so its tough. UIC will feel like they shoud have gotten in with a 16-4-0 record. Furman and UAB are two other quality teams that did a lot this year and got left out.
Bryson – Furman and Gonzaga. Both teams had quality records and fairly impressive RPIs going into the final weekend of play and both teams just missed out.
Chris – I honestly thought UAB was in with a good chance of selection. They've had a pretty good year and were ranked highly in the national polls throughout the regular season.
Bob – UAB and UIC for sure. Both had really good seasons and deserved a berth. I guess both were hurt by the fact that there were, as always, a few upsets in conference tournaments that resulted in teams getting in that would otherwise not have made it. Saint Louis' RPI hurt them but I think you could make a solid case that they did enough to deserve a berth. Furman, Xavier, and N.C. State were among others that had to be close. All things considered, I thought the selection committee did a good job.
Matt – I thought Saint Louis deserved a berth. They were 14-5-2 overall with a 6-0-2 mark in regular seaosn A-10 play. UAB is the other team that comes to mind. They had a decent RPI and a good overall record.
Ben – I think the biggest snubs were Saint Louis and North Carolina State. The Billikens only had four losses on the year and narrowly lost the A-10 title game. They would have been a threat if they snunk in. North Carolina State had a solid year and a good RPI (38) but ultimately their exclusion from the ACC Tournament cost them.
What do you think is the toughest bracket to advance out of? (identiy the bracket by the top seed)
Doctor Bracketology – It all depends how strong you feel the west is! Washington's region features quality seeds with New Mexico, C.S. Northridge, and Santa Barbara. Then, on the other side, UCLA's region is loaded with programs that possess national championship pedigree – UCLA, Connecticut, Akron, Indiana, St. John's and Virginia.
Bryson – The Notre Dame bracket appears to be the toughest. With perennial soccer powers such as Louisville, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Georgetown all in the same bracket, it will not be an easy one to advance from.
Chris – Washington
Bob – This is a tough choice this year but I would have to go with the UCLA bracket. Connecticut, Clemson, Akron and St. John's are all capable of making a deep run and those aren't the seeded teams. Marquette has a ton of momentum, Virgina is very good and experienced. UMBC is for real and they are going to be a tough side for anyone to face and then there is UCLA.
Ben – The toughest bracket is the UCLA bracket. This quarter of the bracket contains four solid seeded teams, led by UCLA (1), and unseeded teams led by the likes of UConn, Akron, Indiana, St. John's etc.
Matt – All are pretty tough. One thing I can say is that with UCLA, Washington, and California among the top four seeds, the road to the Final Four will go through the west coast this year. From top to bottom I guess I would say that the UCLA bracket will be a little tougher than any other to advance out of.
Which coach stands out for leading his team to an NCAA Tourney berth in 2013?
Doctor Bracketology – Always a lot of deserving candidates. Dave Brandt at Navy deserves mention for what he has accomplished in his time at Navy and where he took the program this year.
Bryson – Jamie Clark looks poised to carry his team all the way to the final pending a potential semifinal match-up against his father, Bobby Clark.
Chris – Todd Yeagley at Indiana. The Hoosiers have had a very inconsistent year as defending national champions, but for them to pull through the way they did to win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the NCAA Tournament was superb.
Bob – Peter Fewing at Seattle and Eric Da Costa at Quinnipiac. This is the first time both those schools have gotten into the tourney. I believe Seattle is just in its second year of play at the Division I level. You have to be impressed with what Dave Brandt has accomplished at Navy returning the program to the tourney for the first time in many years. Also Craig Stewart at Providence. The Friars have had a great season after struggling last year.
Ben – Coach Hennesey from the University of Delaware is due credit. He turned this last year's four win Blue Hens squad to a fourteen win team that is hosting a first round game.
Bryan – It's no surprise that Akron is in the tourney but I think its worth mentioning that Jared Embick has really done a great job in his first year at the helm of the program at Akron. Don't overlook Darren Powell who has Elon in the tourney for the third consecutive season. Also I'd like to mention Bobby Muuss and the successful season they are having at Denver.
Matt – Mike Noonan has done a great job at Clemson. He has the Tigers back on track. Also Kris Kelderman at Milwaukee has the Panthers back in the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2005. They have had an awesome season that began with a season opening win over Marquette.
John – Jamie Clark said his goal at Washington was for the program to compete for the national title. His team is definitely doing that. You have to respect what Kevin Grimes has accomplished at California this year. The Golden Bears are very capable of winning it all. Also Jorge Salcedo at UCLA deserves recognition. He often does not get the credit he deserves because the expectations at Westwood are so high.
Which of the sixteen seeds is most likely to exit after one game?
Doctor Bracketology – I think five seeds will lose but the ones who should be on highest alert would be Marquette and Michigan State.
Bryson – Michigan State. Louisville is no pushover and should be able to give them a quality match.
Chris – I have to say Michigan State's game against either Louisville or Denver will be a very tough one. Both are powerhouses of college soccer, and will fancy their chance of knocking out the number eleven seed.
Bob – I realize this may not be a popular choice but I believe that UC Santa Barbara could have a difficult time with Penn State and although Charlotte topped Coastal Carolina in regular season play, I think that if Coastal gets past ETSU that Charlotte could have a tough match with the Chanticleers.
Ben – UMBC, the sixteen seed is most likely to exit in their first game. They will most likely play a UConn Huskies side, which only dropped two games this year, and has the postseason coaching of Ray Reid.
Bryan – A West Coast Conference team has surprised everyone for the past two seasons with deep runs in the tourney. St Mary's in 2011 and San Diego in 2012. If Loyola Marymount out of the WCC can get past Stanford they could cause problems for Cal State Northridge. Ditto that for Stanford from the Pac-12 if they get past Loyola Marymount.
Matt – Michigan State will have a tough time matching up with Louisville if the Cardinals are able to advance past Denver. Wake Forest could have a difficult time with either Navy or VCU. VCU has been up and down but they look to match up well with Wake Forest.
John – Assuming Connecticut does not falter as they have in past years, I believe the Huskies will be a tough match-up for UMBC. Despite the success they have enjoyed this year, the Retrievers could be one and done. Louisville is always a tough tourney team. I also believe the winner of the Stanford and LMU contest will give Cal State Northridge a run for their money.
Are there any first round matches that you find particularly interesting?
Doctor Bracketology – South Florida vs. North Carolina and Indiana vs. Akron stand out as big name schools. I think Clemson vs. Elon will also be a great one.
Bryson – Elon vs. Clemson. Both teams are quality sides, but Clemson has played a much tougher schedule. Although Elon received hosting duties, don't look for Clemson to be a pushover. Also, ETSU vs. Coastal Carolina. ETSU is known for playing up to the level of their opponents. Even though their conference schedule is not as strong as Coastal's, ETSU played a tough non-conference schedule that should bode well for them in this match.
Chris – I'm particularly interested to see how debutants Quinipiac and Seattle University do, and it'll be exciting to chart their progress. I 'm also keen to see what happens between St. Francis Brooklyn and Penn State, especially with the Teriers celebrating a Northeast Conference title and the Nittany Lions coming off a loss in the Big Ten semifinals.
Bob – Indiana vs. Akron because it will be interesting to see if the Hoosiers can keep the momentum alive that they had going for them in the Big Ten Tourney. Navy vs. VCU due to the fact that the success the Mids have enjoyed this year makes them the feel good team of the year. It will be exciting to see what they do in the tourney. VCU has been a roller coaster team with an up and down season but they are a very talented side. The Rams played a killer non-conference schedule that should have them well prepared.
Ben – By far the best first round matchup is the Indiana vs. Akron game. This colossal of a first round game features two of the last three national champions, a solid Zip side and a hot Hoosiers squad. Another game to watch is the Delaware vs. St. John's contest. It features a a Blue Hens high flying offense (44 goals) against a streaking Red Storm squad which has only given up fourteen goals on the year.
Bryan – Milwaukee vs. Wisconsin. No prisioners will be taken in this one. Both teams are on a mission. Clemson and Elon are two very evenly matched teams.
John – Loyola Marymount vs. Stanford. Both teams are fired up about being in the tourney. There is no clear favorite in this one. Both teams have the potential to make a run but only one is going to have the opportunity to do so.
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?
Bryson – Wake's Sean Okoli and Maryland's Patrick Mullins could be difference makers for their teams. If those players do not play well, their teams may have a rough time.
Chris – One to definitely look out for is Patrick Mullins over at Maryland. He was named the ACC Tournament MVP, and after a stellar college career will look to go out with a bang before he likely enters the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
Ben – Three players to watch are simply three of the best players in the country: Georgetown's Steve Neumann (10g, 6a), Notre Dame's Harrison Shipp (9g, 8a), and Maryland's Patrick Mullins (14g, 7a). All three seniors have been the catalysts of their team's attack and will need to continue to play well if their squads want a chance of reaching the College Cup.
Bob – Anyone who saw the semifinal match last year between Georgetown and Maryland is aware of Steve Neumann's ability to take over an NCAA tourney match. That was a great game. Harrison Shipp has been making good things happen at Notre Dame all year. Ditto that for Patrick Mullins at Maryland. Midfielder Leo Stolz is the catalyst at UCLA. Others to keep in mind are Zach Bolden (10g, 9a) at Denver, Pedro Ribeiro at Coastal Carolina, Joey Calistri (12g, 4a) at Northwestern, Laurie Bell (13g, 4a) at Milwaukee, and Sagi Lev-Ari (16g, 6a) at Cal State Northridge.
Bryan – I am going to mention more than three because every year I am the only one who gives any love to the guys on the defensive side of the ball. Defenders Steve Birnbaum at California, Kyle Venter at New Mexico, Joseph Greenspan at Navy, Boyd Okwuonu at North Carolina, Axel Sjoberg at Marquette, Taylor Peay at Washington, A.J. Cochran at Wisconsin, Marco Franco at U.C. Irvine and Bryan Gallego at Akron are all impact players. Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake is among others who comes to mind.
Matt – Midfielder Thomas McNamara (7g, 8a) has been a difference maker at Clemson. Forward C. Nortey is huge at Marquette. Midfielder Enrique Cardenas has been making big plays all season at U.C. Irvine. ODU's Tim Hopkinson (10g, 4a) is a playmaker.
John – I would like to add forward Pete Caringi III (12g, 3a) from UMBC, midfielder Aodhan Quinn and forward Reinaldo Brenes from Akron, forward Achille Campion from UC Santa Barbara, and New Mexico midfielder Michael Calderon (6g, 3a) to the list of players who have the potential to be difference makers in the tourney.
Who are your sleeper teams?
Doctor Bracketology – The draw is hard for cinderella teams with so many facing a long trip out west. Look for Delaware and Providence to be two teams capable of advancing further than they're supposed to though.
Bryson – Wake Forest and Louisville. I see both of these teams making the quarters of their bracket and either could advance to the next round.
Chris – Creighton is one of my sleeper teams. They were ranked highly in the national polls but lost some matches late in the regular season, but could still cause some problems. And it may sound strange, but I have Indiana down as a team who could cause some shocks. They had a diffiuclt regular season but did brilliantly to win the Big Ten Title, and Todd Yeagley knows how to prepare his players for the big tournaments. Having last year's national chamilon as a sleeper is an odd choice perhaps, but after a tough 2013 that'swhere I've got them.
Ben – My sleeper team is the Stanford Cardinal, led by Zach Batteer (8g, 3a), Jordan Morris (6g, 7a) and Aaron Kovar (2g, 5a). I believe Jeremy Gunn's side will make it a few rounds deep.
Bob – Coastal Carolina has a multi-dimensional attack and they are very solid on the defensive side of the ball. The Chanticleers have played a very competitive non-conference schedule and are very capable of making a deep run. Louisville is always a danagerous opponent in the tourney. St. John's has been flying under the radar recently but they are always a difficult opponent particularly this time of the year.
Matt – Offensive productivity has hampered North Carolina this year but this is a team that has the potential to get hot and make a run. William and Mary has some impressive wins so they are among my sleeper teams. If the Tribe is on they are a tough out.
John – Creighton. It has been a long time since Elmar Bolowich has not been on the sidelines at the Final Four. It looks like that string will come to an end this year but Creighton is my sleeper. Creighton has a ton of NCAA Tourney experience and could surprise. Don't count Elmar and Jays out of it just yet.
Who are your picks for the Final Four?
Doctor Bracketology – UCLA, Georgetown, Maryland, Washington
Bryson – UCLA, Wake Forest, Maryland, Washington
Chris – UCLA, Notre Dame, Maryland, UC Santa Barbara
Bob – Marquette, Georgetown, Maryland, Washington
Matt – UCLA, Georgetown, Charlotte, Washington
Bryan – Virginia, Notre Dame, Maryland, Washington
John – UCLA, Notre Dame, California, Washington