College Soccer News annually asks several of its contributing writers and analysts their thoughts regarding the NCAA Tournament. The focus this year was on the Round of Sixteen and as always the dialogue was brisk and opinions varied. The questions and responses received are provided below.
What are your thoughts in general regarding the NCAA Tourney to date?
Ben – So far the tournament has been one of the best in memory. There have been plenty of upsets, close games, and late game dramatics. Can't get much better than that.
Dr. Bracketology – It's been exciting, as always. Some may say the hardest thing is to just get into the tournament. All the teams that participate ceretainly prove they're worthy. Seeing fourteen of the sixteen second round games decided by one goal or less really speaks to how hard it is to advance.
Colin – One thing has become very apparent thus far in the NCAA Tournament, any team can beat any team on a given day. The parity in college soccer makes all match-ups in the Sweet Sixteen difficult to predict.
Bob – If success in the NCAA Tournament is your measuring stick then the Atlantic Coast Conference has again established that it is the premier conference in men's soccer with six teams in the Sweet Sixteen but it's pretty impressive that the Big East also has four teams in the round of sixteen.
John – I understand that some of you might say its due to the geographical aspect of the selection process and the match-up criteria but I like the east-west balance in the Sweet Sixteen with UCLA, California, and Washington from the Pac-12 and UC Irvine from the Big West Conference still standing tall. With California and UCLA facing each other one is going to drop out but I think there is a good chance that you could see three west coast teams in the Elite Eight.
Matt – The NCAA Tourney is always great and I have enjoyed seeing many of the contests this year but I hope that we will eventually get to the point that there is a live video stream or telecast of all of the games. Maybe that's wishful thinking but I would imagine that there are a lot of people who would agree with me on this and it would be great for college soccer.
Bryan – I was glad to see programs like UNCW and Oregon State make the field this year but I want to change the focus by saying who would have thought at the beginning of the year that Connecticut, New Mexico, Marquette and UC Santa Barbara would be absent?
Which of the outcomes so far has surprised you the most?
Ben – The biggest surprise for me was definitely the UMBC win over Maryland. There were so many elements that made this a huge upset: the Terps were on an eleven game unbeaten streak going into the game, the game was at Ludwig Field, and Sascho Cirovski's teams always perform well in the tournament.
Dr. Bracketology – I think the most impressive run is UMBC's. They're the only team still alive that's gone on the road twice – and to defeat Maryland in College Park is impressive. They're a senior driven team though that's been in the NCAA Tournament consistently so maybe that experience is showing. U.C. Irvine knocking off Stanford was a surprise as well. I thought the Cardinal were hot and ready to make a run.
Bob – Well, wihout a doubt the UMBC win over Maryland stands out. I also think it's ironic that the Retrievers got a lot more attention during regular season play last year than this year yet this year's team is the first in the history of the program to advance this far in the NCAA Tourney.
John – I want to mention Xavier over Indiana. I think that was the first time in history that Xavier had ever defeated Indiana and the fact that it happened in Bloomington shows that Xavier has a lot of mettle.
Matt – I was a little surprised that North Carolina topped Charlotte. The Tar Heels had played on Thursday and I thought Charlotte would wear them down as the game progressed. That was a match-up that you normally would expect to see later down the road in the tournament. The UC Irvine win over Stanford was also a huge surprise and one could also make the case that this was a match-up that should have occured later down the road.
Bryan – Like everyone else UMBC over Wake Forest and Maryland, and UC Irvine over Stanford were the biggest surprises to me. I would not classify it as a surprise but I thought Virginia would have a tougher time with UNCW than they did.
Benson – I will add the SIU Edwardsville win over Northwestern on the road. SIUE improved as the season progressed but with a 7-8-4 record entering the tourney I was surprised that they were able to beat Northwestern out of the Big Ten.
Which head coach or coaches in the tourney stand out to you for what their teams have accomplished this year?
Ben – There has to be credit given to Carlos Somoano and UNC. The team seems to be playing with a chip on their shoulder winning 6-0 in their first round game with James Madison and beating a very good Charlotte team on the road. With the College Cup being in Cary, I wouldn't bet against the Tar Heels.
Dr. Bracketology – Andy Fleming continues to do great things with Xavier. They even got off to a slower start early this season but he's proving they're a top team. Ian McIntyre at Syracuse has taken that program to new heights with a fantastic season, and I think Damon Rensing sometimes gets overlooked for the job he does at Michigan State. They've achieved a high seed again this season and consistently produce quality wins over big teams home and away.
Bob – It seems like there are more coaches that standout this year than in past seasons. Pete Caringi, Jr. would be at or near the top of my list for taking the UMBC Retreivers much further this year than anyone thought they would go. Ian McIntyre has been outstanding for the turnaround that he has orchestrated at Syracuse. The future looks bright for the Orange under McIntyre. Damon Rensing took the Spartans to the Elite Eight last year and appears to have a good chance of duplicating that plus more this year. Michigan State keeps on winning under Rensing's direction.
John – Chris Volk at UC Irvine. Granted he was an assistant coach at UC Irvine for seventeen seasons and was familiar with the program before taking over the head coaching job this year but he did it without any noticeable transition aches or pains. The Anteaters are having a banner season.
Matt – Hold that Tiger. Don't overlook Mike Noonan at Clemson. He inherited a program that was in shambles and in just his fourth season at the helm of the program the Tigers won the ACC Championship and secured a number seven seed in the NCAA Tournament andf are back in the Sweet Sixteen with a real chance of advancing further.
Bryan – Andy Fleming at Xavier. Fleming entered the 2014 season with a lot of rebuilding to do. Has anyone done a better job this year than Fleming in merging together the individual talents of his team? When Fleming took over the head coaching job at Xavier in 2010 he indicated he had a plan in mind to build the program into a contender. No one thought that he would have the success at Xavier that he has had. Fleming is Mr. November in terms of getting his teams to peak at the right time of the year. They may even be playing in December this year.
Benson – I can't believe one of you has not already named Craig Stewart at Providence. The Friars won the Big East Tournament and they have advanced to the Sweet Sixgteen for the first time in the history of the program. Stewart is just in his third season as the Friar head coach. Also I want to mention Elmar Bolowith at Creighton. The Bluejays have more than exceeded expectations this year.
Which of the Sweet Sixteen contests do you find particularly interesting?
Ben – The best game is definitely Syracuse vs. Georgetown. You get the country's best defense (Syracuse) led by All-American goalkeeping candidate Alex Bono (0,49 GAA) against one of the most electrifying attacks (Georgetown) led by junior Brandon Allen (11g, 3a). This game could really go either way. I may give a slight advantage to Georgetown because they're home.
Dr. Bracketology – Michigan State vs. Washington will be an interesting west coast against midwest battle. Syracuse travels to Georgetown in a rematch of a Sweet Sixteen game from two years ago that went to pk's. California and UCLA meet for a third time this season and last but not least can Clemson protect it's home field and it's high seed against a perennial contender like UNC?
Bob – It honestly is hard to single out a game or two because all of them are great match-ups. I particularly like Syracuse and Georgetown because it is one of those "something has to give" matches that can go either way. Also Xavier and Creighton since the two teams tied when they played in the regular season but that one was played in Cincinnati and this one will be in Omaha.
John – California has had UCLA's number this year but it is hard to beat anyone three times in one seaosn plus the Golden Bears lost three straight before getting past SIUE 1-0 in the second round. UCLA has the potential to win it all but if they are not on their game a California team with a very determined senior class leading the way could pull off the upset. Also Washington at Michigan State is one of those matches that is hard to get a handle on so it should be really good.
Matt – North Carolina and Clemson. Both teams have really been playing well recently. I can tell you from experience that it is hard to go to Historic Riggs Field and come out on top. No prisioners will be taken in this one.
Bryan – I like Syracuse and Georgetown. I am interested in seeing whether the Orange defense can contain a very potent Georgetown attack.
Benson – UMBC vs. Louisville. Can UMBC keep alive what has been a magical run so far? Are they still hungry? Louisville has been up and down at times this year so let's see which Louisville team shows up.
Could you mention a player or two in the Sweet Sixteen that you think is likely to have a big impact on the tournament?
Ben – Some players to look at would be Leo Stolz (UCLA) and Cristian Roldan (Washington). Both are two of the country's best playmakers and their teams will only go as far as they take them. Roldan played well against Furman and Stolz, with two goals already in this tournament looks determined to win the national title.
Bob – Leo Stolz is the first who comes to mind. Clearly he has the ability to take control of a game. Notre Dame's Patrick Hodan is another prime timer who will likely have a huge impact on how far the Irish advance.
John – I think sophomore forward Mason Robertson has the potential to be a difference maker for Washington. Midfielder Eduardo Calzada is the key to the UC Irvine offense.
Matt – Jay Chapman is vital to Michigan State and an impact guy. Cameron Iwasa at UC Irvine is someone to keep an eye on as well as Ricardo Velazco who is a key element in Louisville's attack.
Bryan – Defense wins championshiops but as usual no love from the rest of you for defenders so I am going to mention the entire Syracuse backline led by Skylar Thomas and goalkeeper Alex Bono, Washington goalkeeper Spencer Richey, Notre Dame goalkeeper Patrick Wall, UCLA keeper Earl Edwards, Jr., Michigan State goalkeeper Zach Bennet and Georgetown back Joshua Yaro. All are potential impact players.
Benson – I want to add forwards Andy Craven at UNC and Brandon Allen and Alex Muyl from Georgetown as guys who fall into the category of difference makers. Also midfielder Will Walker from Xavier who is a big play guy. For balance I will add in sophomore back Michael Amick from UCLA who is a rock solid defender.
Who are your picks to advance to the College Cup (Final Four)?
Ben – I'll take Notre Dame vs. Louisville and Washington vs. UCLA in the semi-finals. I think the final ends up being Notre Dame vs. Washington, a match-up of the Clarks. Washington takes the national title on the back of sophomore phenom, Cristian Roldan.
Dr. Bracketology – You could probably say all sixteen teams remaining are capable but at the end of the day I think it will be Syracuse, Creighton, Michigan State and UCLA.
Colin – Notre Dame, Louisville, Washington, UCLA. I then have UCLA winning the national championship. The Bruins have lots of talent and depth and that makes them a very difficult team to beat.
Bob – Georgetown, Creighton, Michigan State, UCLA
John – Notre Dame, Louisville, Washington, UCLA
Matt – Notre Dame, Creighton, Providence, UCLA
Bryan – Syracuse, Xavier, Michigan State, UCLA
Benson – Notre Dame, Creighton, Michigan State, Clemson