Making predictions can be a very dangerous game, especially when trying to determine the fates of the 48 teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Now the bracket has been finalised, for a bit of fun I thought I might put forward my full predictions before play gets underway on campuses across the country on Thursday.
I don’t expect to be right on everything, but hope to offer some explanation into my choices, especially those that are perhaps a little surprising.
Let’s go, starting with the first round.
First Round (Thursday, November 21)
Elon over Clemson
UConn over Quinnipiac
Akron over Indiana
Delaware over St. John’s
Providence over Penn
North Carolina over South Florida
Coastal Carolina over East Tennessee State
Bradley over Northwestern
Milwaukee over Wisconsin
Navy over VCU
Louisville over Denver
Drexel over Old Dominion
William & Mary over George Mason
St. Francis Brooklyn over Penn State
Loyola Marymount over Sanford
Creighton over Seattle
Looking down the list, the first result that may grab you is that Indiana’s defence of their 2012 national championship will end in Akron. Despite their Big Ten title, the Hoosiers have had problems with consistency this year and I think they will lose to a very talented Zips team.
The game between Elon and Clemson at the very top should be one of the best matchups of the round, although I would expect the Phoenix to prevail given their formidable home record and recent Southern Conference tournament victory.
Looking down the list, I’m also backing Louisville to get past Denver despite their poorer record in the regular season, while I have a sneaking suspicion that William & Mary will be keen to rediscover the form that took them past two #1 teams in the regular season.
The Creighton Blue Jays are one of my sleeper teams for this year’s NCAA Tournament, and I expect them to have few problems getting past newcomer Seattle, while the other "first trip to the NCAA Tourney team" Quinnipiac will fall in Connecticut.
That leads us into the second round, where the big guns join tournament play.
Second Round (Sunday, November 24)
UCLA over Elon
UMBC over UConn
Akron over Marquette
Delaware over Virginia
Maryland over Providence
UC Irvine over North Carolina
Coasta Carolina over Charlotte
California over Bradley
Notre Dame over Milwaukee
Wake Forest over Navy
Louisville over Michigan State
Georgetown over Drexel
New Mexico over William & Mary
UC Santa Barbara over St. Francis Brooklyn
Cal State Northridge over Loyola Marymount
Washington over Creighton
A few bracket-busters here, especially in UCLA’s section of the bracket. I have a good feeling about Akron, who I think will continue their progress in the NCAA Tournament by beating Marquette. I also back Delaware over Virginia, as while the Cavaliers reached the ACC tournament final they struggled at other times during the season.
Looking down the list, I also think Coastal Carolina will overcome Charlotte and Louisville will also progress over Michigan State. Both the Chanticleers and the Cardinals have talented rosters this year, so I can see them doing well.
Otherwise, I don’t predict many other surprises, as I think the seeded teams will largely live up to expectations. I’d love to see Creighton overcome Washington, but I think the Huskies will be too strong.
Third Round (Sunday, December 1)
UCLA over UMBC
Akron over Delaware
Maryland over UC Irvine
California over Coastal Carolina
Notre Dame over Wake Forest
Georgetown over Louisville
UC Santa Barbara over New Mexico
Washington over Cal State Northridge
Things are getting serious now as the NCAA Tournament enters December, and I think that the top teams in the country will show their class over their fellow seeded teams.
Sadly for UMBC, the journey ends here against UCLA. The Retrievers were incredibly hard-done by in only earning the #16 seed from the Tournament committee, so are forced to face the top-ranked Bruins. I think Jorge Salcedo’s men will take some stopping this year, so they progress over UMBC.
I still have a funny feeling about Akron, and think they’ll progress through this round over Delaware. Both were bracket-busters in the last round, but I think given that the Zips’ Head Coach Jared Embick has been such a key part of their national runs in the past, Akron will be victorious again.
Elsewhere, I’m backing Maryland and California to come through two difficult matches, but I think both teams have more than enough to do so over UC Irvine and Coastal Carolina.
Moving across the bracket, I think Notre Dame will live up to their #3 seed and dispose of Wake Forest, while Louisville’s great run will come to an end at the hands of Georgetown’s exciting youngsters.
I think something of a surprise will happen between New Mexico and UC Santa Barbara, with the Gauchos victorious over the Lobos. I have a feeling that Santa Barbara are peaking at just the right time, and will be a force in the latter stages.
Finally, I have Washington victorious over Cal State Northridge, despite the Matadors possessing a superb forward line.
Now, onto the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinals (Friday and Saturday,December 6 or 7)
UCLA over Akron
Maryland over California
Notre Dame over Georgetown
UC Santa Barbara over Washington
I think Akron’s great run in the NCAA Tournament will come to an end in the quarterfinals at the hands of top seed UCLA. It’s unfortunate for the Zips, but the Bruins will have too much for them.
Next up, I’m backing Maryland to beat California and advance to the Final Four. The Terrapins lost to the Golden Bears right back at the beginning of the regular season, but I think that Maryland will be especially keen to avenge that defeat at this key stage of the postseason.
Notre Dame’s run will continue too, as I think they will beat Georgetown in what is likely to be a close encounter. However, the Hoyas’ youngsters will definitely be a force in the coming years if they can keep their roster largely intact.
Finally, I think the #2 seed Washington will be fall at the hands of UC Santa Barbara. I genuinely think that Gauchos will be energised at this stage, especially after the extra rest from losing in the semifinals of the Big West tournament. Gauchos Head Coach Tim VomSteeg has been in this position before, and will know exactly how to prepare his players for this game.
Semifinals (Friday, December 13)
UCLA over Maryland
Notre Damev over UC Santa Barbara
Onto the semifinals we go, and if these four teams make it to PPL Park for the College Cup it will be a mouth-watering set of fixtures.
First up, I think that UCLA will once again live up to their top seed and get past Maryland. The Bruins have a very exciting roster this year, and while the Terps also have a strong set of players, UCLA are top seeds for a reason.
I think it will be a very close game indeed, given the attacking talents of both teams, and may even need the dreaded penalty shootout to separate them.
The other semifinal will be similar close, and I have Notre Dame as winners over UC Santa Barbara. The Fighting Irish enjoyed a good regular season against some tough opponents, and that coupled with what I predict will be a winning run through a tough bracket will see them to the final.
Final (Sunday, December 15)
UCLA over Notre Dame
Just two teams remain, as the College Cup and NCAA Tournament concludes on December 15 at PPL Park with my predicted final between UCLA and Notre Dame.
These teams faced each other way back on August 30 in their regular season opener, in a game that finished tied 0-0 but was largely dominated by the Fighting Irish.
This game promises to be similar close, and I think that the Bruins will be victorious. UCLA have a very exciting roster of players, and I think that they will have just enough for their first national title since 2002.
Also, I think Harrison Shipp will take the NCAA Tournament MVP crown, in what will be a superb end to a very successful college career.
That’s how I see this year’s NCAA Tournament going. It promises to be an exciting time in men’s college soccer, starting Thursday with the first round matches.
As I said before, offering predictions can be a very dangerous game, but I’m confident in my selections and excited for the start of postseason play. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Chris Teale is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @chris_teale.