NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 10/31/14 – (14) Washington State vs (2) UCLA

(14) Washington State vs (2) UCLA – 5:00 PM

Anyone handing the Pac-12 title to UCLA right now may want to hold up, as the Bruins face a trying trip to a pair of surging Washington schools. Up first is a Washington State side that held the Bruins to a scoreless draw the last time they met in Pullman in 2011. Considering neither of the clubs’ current managers was here then though, it’s not exactly an indicator of what will be on tap on Friday, other than the usual difficult time visitors have in Pullman. The Cougars are hoping to claim UCLA as their biggest victim on their resume, and a shock result here could have the Cougars in with a faint glimmer of a chance of a top two seed. The WSU offense was purring last weekend in the Rocky Mountains, bisecting the defenses of Colorado and Utah with beautiful diagonal runs and inch-perfect passes through backlines. Whether WSU will be able to replicate that against UCLA’s ironclad back four certainly remains to be seen. With three straight wins though, the Cougars have shaken off their midseason doldrums that saw them go without a win in three to push them down the Pac-12 table. But in a purple patch of form and clicking offensively, Steve Nugent’s side will be confident in their chances of turning over the defending national champs and securing one of the biggest wins in program history.

All they have to do is beat a UCLA program that has been stomping through the Pac-12. After a draw with Arizona State and three one-goal wins, the Bruins have been destroying their league brethren. The turning point may have been the comeback win against Stanford. Since, the Bruins have scored seventeen and conceded none in four matches. While they did some of that work against the Oregon schools, they also hammered two likely NCAA Tournament qualifiers in Cal and Arizona. Sam Mewis affirmed her credentials as the frontrunner for the Hermann Trophy with her display against Oregon last week, scoring two and setting up two more as her club destroyed the Ducks, 5-0. Even without the injured Darian Jenkins and the international duty tied Rosie White, the offense is still chewing up teams. With White likely to be back in some capacity this weekend, UCLA could get even stronger in attack. The defense will face a challenge in stopping WSU’s attack, but when has that ever stopped this Bruins club? It’s a weekend that’s going to push UCLA to its limit with a trip to Seattle to play another high-flying side in Washington coming up on Sunday, but there’s business to get done in Pullman on Friday. With Amanda Cromwell’s big game record, there’s little reason to fear any letdown ahead of this big Pac-12 battle.
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NCAA – AAC + America East Tournament Preview

AAC

Weighted Total Shot Ratio (MAX 2.00)

1.32 – (1) UCF
1.26 – (6) Cincinnati
1.24 – (3) South Florida
1.21 – (4) UConn
1.17 – (2) Memphis
0.93 – (8) Temple
0.88 – (5) Tulsa
0.79 – (7) East Carolina
0.57 – (9) SMU
0.52 – (10) Houston

Schedule (WTSR difference in parentheses by home side/higher seed)

AAC Tournament First Round (10/31)

(7) East Carolina (+0.27) vs (10) Houston – 2:00 PM
(8) Temple (+0.36) vs (9) SMU – 4:30 PM

AAC Tournament Quarterfinals (11/02)

(1) UCF vs TBA
(2) Memphis vs TBA
(3) South Florida (-0.02) vs (6) Cincinnati
(4) UConn (+0.33) vs (5) Tulsa

AAC Tournament Semi-Finals (11/07)

TBA vs TBA
TBA vs TBA

AAC Tournament Final (11/09)

TBA vs TBA

Quick Hits:

Who’s in and who’s out in terms of the NCAA Tournament? Well, UCF is definitely in, and UConn and South Florida are probably going to be able to just run out the clock thanks to some of the incompetence of some of their bubble rivals. Cincinnati is probably the bigger potential poison to the RPI, meaning South Florida will probably want to avoid an upset in the quarterfinals just to make sure. Memphis is probably going to be in for a nervous week if they can’t win the auto bid. Their RPI profile is shaky as hell with just a win against South Florida and draw with UConn helping their cause. They pretty much have to avoid the bad loss in the quarterfinal and may in fact need to get to the final…and even that might not be enough if Cincinnati beats South Florida. Memphis can’t get the prize of UCF before the final either, so it might be an auto bid or bust situation for the Tigers.
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NCAA – America East Tournament Preview

Weighted Total Shot Ratio (MAX 2.00)

1.26 – (3) New Hampshire
1.25 – (6) Binghamton
1.16 – (1) Hartford
0.96 – (5) Maine
0.94 – (2) UMBC
0.90 – (DNQ) Stony Brook
0.87 – (4) Albany
0.85 – (DNQ) Vermont
0.78 – (INE) UMass-Lowell

Schedule (WTSR difference in parentheses by home side/higher seed)

America East Tournament Quarterfinals – 10/30 (Higher Seed)

(3) New Hampshire (+0.01) vs (6) Binghamton – 7:00 PM
(4) Albany (-0.09) vs (5) Maine – 7:00 PM

America East Tournament Semi-Finals – 11/02 (Higher Seed)

(1) Hartford vs TBA
(2) UMBC vs TBA

America East Tournament Final – 11/09 (Higher Seed)

TBA vs TBA

Quick Hits:

Hartford’s made a habit of crumbling under pressure in conference tournaments before despite being odds on for a title and the league’s auto bid, and they may be only marginally favored to finally make that breakthrough by virtue of their home advantage throughout the America East Tournament. The Hawks are still rated as one of the three likely champions of the competition, but at the same time, without their home advantage gained by winning the league title, they probably wouldn’t be favored. The good news is the semi-final against the Albany/Maine winner looks to be the easier path, so Hartford probably should be able to step into the final with relative ease.
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NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 10/30/14 – (4) Texas A&M vs (38) Georgia

(4) Texas A&M vs (38) Georgia – 8:00 PM

Sixty seconds separated Texas A&M from a league title last Sunday, as they lead South Carolina 2-1 after goals each side of halftime. And then Stevi Parker hit the Aggies with a dramatic equalizer that was a sucker punch for the home side. Suddenly, the confetti throwing was pushed back one more match, as the Aggies have to beat Georgia on Thursday or count on already SEC Tournament eliminated Vanderbilt pulling off a miracle against Florida to bring more silverware to College Station. While the league title is a big enough prize on the table on Thursday, there’s also the added incentive of a #1 seed and getting to avoid any possible encounter with a smoldering Kentucky side before the final. There’s also the matter of fine tuning ahead of the NCAA Tournament, with a particular eye towards a defense that continues to leak goals. Shockingly for a title contender, Texas A&M has kept just one clean sheet in their past nine matches and has just two in ten league games. That’s a frightening statistic for a club with ambitions of a spot in the College Cup. While the Aggies should be able to bludgeon SEC opponents into submission for the next few weeks behind the back of their offense, defensive pratfalls are likely to be punished by top clubs in the business end of the NCAA Tournament next month. It will be particularly interesting to see if Shea Groom can get a second wind. The senior has zero goals and one assist in A&M’s past four matches after playing like a Hermann Trophy candidate for much of the season. If she’s on form, A&M can challenge just about anyone. If not, it’s difficult seeing the Aggies reach their potential in the postseason.

Their opponents are under massive pressure as the regular season comes to a close. For half the league season, Georgia looked like the best of the non-A&M/Florida teams in the SEC, winning four of their first five matches in the league. The club looks to be imploding now though, having won just one of their last four, that coming at home against a pitiful LSU team that has won one of their last twelve matches. Against three potential NCAA Tournament teams in Missouri, Alabama, and Kentucky, the Bulldogs have lost all three by 2-0 margins. The poor run of form has seen Georgia plummet from a near lock at the beginning of the month to the NCAA Tournament bubble in short order. They’re on the good side of the bubble right now with prior wins over UCF and South Carolina, but if they continue to drop, even those might not be enough. Even a draw in College Station on Thursday would relieve the pressure and lock up an at-large bid, but the odds are definitely stacked against the Bulldogs given the defense that has kept one clean sheet in their last six matches. A win, unlikely as it might seem on paper would mean that Georgia is guaranteed Monday off with a bye in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. Defeat and the wrong set of results could send Georgia plummeting all the way to tenth in the league. If Georgia does fall all the way down to the realm of the opening round game of the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs could be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives and head coach Steve Holeman for his coaching career in Athens on Monday in Orange Beach.
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NCAA – Weighted Total Shot Ratio – Week Seven

AAC

1.32 – UCF
1.26 – Cincinnati
1.24 – South Florida
1.21 – UConn
1.17 – Memphis
0.93 – Temple
0.88 – Tulsa
0.79 – East Carolina
0.57 – SMU
0.52 – Houston

ACC

1.64 – Florida State
1.50 – Virginia
1.31 – North Carolina
1.30 – Clemson
1.27 – Notre Dame
1.08 – Duke
1.02 – Virginia Tech
0.96 – Wake Forest
0.90 – Louisville
0.89 – Boston College
0.62 – Miami (FL)
0.52 – Pittsburgh
0.52 – Syracuse
0.49 – NC State
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NCAA – SoCon Tournament Preview

Weighted Total Shot Ratio (MAX 2.00)

(2) Furman – 1.41
(3) Mercer – 1.35
(1) Samford – 1.30
(6) Western Carolina – 1.30
(4) East Tennessee State – 1.13
(5) UNC Greensboro – 1.09
(7) Wofford – 1.05
(9) The Citadel – 0.80
(10) Chattanooga – 0.43
(8) VMI – 0.37

Schedule (WTSR difference in parentheses by home side/higher seed)

SoCon Tournament First Round – 10/29 (Higher Seed)

(7) Wofford (+0.62) vs (10) Chattanooga – 7:00 PM

(8) VMI (-0.43) vs (9) The Citadel – 3:00 PM

SoCon Tournament Quarterfinals – 11/01 (Higher Seed)

(1) Samford vs TBA

(4) East Tennessee State (+0.04) vs (5) UNC Greensboro – 5:30 PM

SoCon Tournament Quarterfinals – 11/02 (Higher Seed)

(2) Furman vs TBA

(3) Mercer (+0.05) vs (6) Western Carolina

SoCon Tournament Semi-Finals – 11/07 (Cullowhee, NC)

TBA vs TBA

TBA vs TBA

SoCon Tournament Final – 11/09 (Cullowhee, NC)

TBA vs TBA

Quick Hits:

As you might expect with a league decided on the final day, it’s a pretty tight race atop the WTSR ratings for the SoCon.  Preseason favorite Furman may have been pipped to the title by Samford, but it’s the Paladins who are favored by the computers.  Furman already beat Samford once this season as well and enter having won five in a row, so they are definitely in form.  League champs Samford are only ranked as the #3 team in the WTSR rankings, but they have the easier path to the title at any rate and are still a major threat to win the auto bid to go along with their league title.
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NCAA – Bubble Watch Proper – Week Five

AAC

Lock – UCF, UConn
Bubble – South Florida, Memphis

Sometimes, all it takes is winning while everything else burns down around you. And so it is for UCF and UConn, who both locked themselves into the field with wins as clubs elsewhere struggled. UCF can probably lock up a seed with a few wins in the AAC Tournament, while UConn will want to try and solidify its chances for a home match in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by first beating Tulsa in the AAC Tournament quarterfinals. South Florida’s really close thanks to four straight wins, and victory over Cincinnati in the quarterfinals should be enough. In any event, they may be high enough in the RPI to avoid the bubble, even in defeat. Memphis is the league’s swing team, despite a second place league finish. They aren’t going to get much help from the quarterfinal matchup, so the Tigers might have to get to the final if teams around them don’t start imploding.

Atlantic 10

Lock – La Salle

At #21 in the RPI, La Salle’s sitting pretty but needs to take care of business against RPI killers Duquesne and Saint Bonaventure. Despite the lack of big results, it’s going to be hard to ignore an RPI that high if they finish out a perfect league season. If not? Stay tuned to this space.

ACC

Lock – North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech
Bubble – Clemson, Boston College, Duke

North Carolina and Florida State are battling for a #1 seed, Virginia and Notre Dame are battling for a #2, and Virginia Tech is probably just trying to lock up a home game in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Clemson’s lower in the RPI but probably has the better resume at this point, and for all intents and purposes, they should be a lock too. Boston College and Duke are the teams under pressure. BC really needs to help their cause with a result against Notre Dame in the regular season finale. Duke has to get at least a point against Florida State to finish at the .500 cutline. And even then, they have to hope that’s enough to get them onto the bubble. If they do, add that to a win at West Virginia, and the Blue Devils would basically be a lock.
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NCAA – Bracket Projections v6.0

National Seeds

#1 Seeds

1 – North Carolina – ACC
2 – UCLA – Pac-12*
3 – Stanford – Pac-12
4 – Penn State – Big Ten*

#2 Seeds

5 – Florida – SEC
6 – Florida State – ACC*
7 – West Virginia – Big XII*
8 – Texas A&M – SEC*

#3 Seeds

9 – Notre Dame – ACC
10 – Virginia – ACC
11 – Texas Tech – Big XII
12 – Washington – Pac-12

#4 Seeds

13 – South Carolina – SEC
14 – Pepperdine – WCC
15 – Wisconsin – Big Ten
16 – UCF – AAC*
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NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 10/26/14 – (4) Texas A&M vs (11) South Carolina

(4) Texas A&M vs (11) South Carolina – 5:00 PM

Texas A&M enters their penultimate match of the regular season with the opportunity to clinch at least a share of the regular season title with a win against visiting South Carolina on Sunday afternoon. With just one blemish on their league record, the Aggies have taken full advantage of Florida’s nightmare last weekend to take full control of the league title race. The Aggies have home advantage these last two matches, but there’s no way it’ll be a walk in the park considering South Carolina is battling for a high national seed, while Georgia is trying to avert a late season collapse off the bubble. A&M hasn’t had a problem with the Gamecocks since joining the SEC, winning all three meetings, including last season’s in the SEC Tournament. For form, the Aggies are are smoking, with five straight wins since their only league loss to Florida. Arkansas was probably a little trickier than expected, but the Aggies still managed the breakthrough in the second half through Janae Cousineau and Annie Kunz before frustratingly getting pegged back for one goal late by Arkansas after a corner kick. Keeping it tight on set pieces is going to be a key for A&M, as South Carolina has traditionally been a monster from dead ball situations. From open play, Texas A&M hasn’t been shutout in any match besides the Florida defeat, and have scored multiple goals in the last five wins. But though A&M will fancy shootouts with anyone given their offense, the club’s defense has been leaking goals all league season. They have just two clean sheets in SEC play, and one of those was against Mississippi State. In a match that could be balanced on a razor’s edge, tightening that defense up might be the difference between victory and defeat.

After a superb home weekend that saw them beat Florida and Ole Miss, South Carolina reverted to their inconsistent ways on Friday, slumping to a disappointing draw against Vanderbilt. The dropped points could prove immensely costly in the long-term, as SC currently sits in seventh in the league, out of position for a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Odds to go all the way in Orange Beach obviously drop like a stone without said bye, so the Gamecocks will be under pressure to climb the league ladder in the final week. Raina Johnson gave Carolina a 1-0 lead against Vandy, but the club, uncharacteristically, let it slip late and couldn’t find a winner despite a statistical advantage in many categories. It only underlined the club’s woes on the road in the league. Since winning the opener at Auburn, the Gamecocks have gone 0-1-2 away from home in SEC matches, and the club hasn’t faced any of the top teams on the road. Mississippi State at home in the regular season finale should be a gimme. But that alone might not be enough to ensure the club isn’t playing on Monday in Orange Beach, so anything the club can get against Texas A&M would be a huge boost. That’s easier said than done against the streaking Aggies though.

Other Matches to Watch

(20) Virginia Tech vs (9) Virginia – 5:00 PM
(41) Arizona State vs (1) Stanford – 4:00 PM
(25) Arizona vs (19) Cal – 4:00 PM
(44) Utah vs (15) Washington State – 3:00 PM
(35) Georgia vs (28) Kentucky – 6:00 PM
(7) West Virginia vs (57) Oklahoma – 1:00 PM
(52) Colorado vs (13) Washington – 3:00 PM
(60) Minnesota vs (22) Rutgers – 2:00 PM
(40) Auburn vs (45) Alabama – 4:00 PM
(49) San Diego vs (58) Santa Clara – 4:00 PM
(59) Buffalo vs (56) Miami (OH) – 12:00 PM

“A Dream Come True” – ACF Torino’s Diana Barrera plays in the CONCACAF tournament

Guatemala National Team player Diana Barrera on the pitch at her former high school in Kensington, MD.

Guatemala National Team player Diana Barrera on the pitch at her former high school in Kensington, MD.

One of the great joys of following lower-level women’s soccer as I do is when a player you’ve known breaks through to a much higher level: Watching Ali Krieger go from a promising teenager in an exhibition match with what’s left of the professional Washington Freedom to the W-League Freedom to one of the best defenders on the planet. Keeping up with Lori Lindsey for years as she toiled in the shadows as captain of the Washington Freedom Reserves, eventually breaking through to get national team callups and become a key player for her WPS team. Seeing Becky Sauerbrunn go from playing for the Reserves to likewise becoming one of the best defenders in the world.

And this year there’s Diana Barrera. I’ve known her for some time as a forward for the Maryland Capitols/ACF Torino of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, a team I’ve followed for the last three years. (You can find an interview I did with her in 2012 on YouTube here.) Last Monday, though, she took to the field at RFK for World Cup qualifying as part of the Guatemalan national team.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” she said when asked what it felt like. “I’m usually the one in the stands cheering for DC United. But to be able to walk underground, go into the locker rooms…. ["Where Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy have been," I offer.] Yep, they’ve all been there. And even after our game walking past the United States, it was another good feeling. It was awesome.”
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