(21) Michigan vs (35) Wisconsin (Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinal) – 7:30 PM
Michigan will try to get back on the winning track and back in the hunt for a national seed in one of Wednesday’s most tantalizing games as they take on sixth-seeded Wisconsin. The Wolverines saw some valuable momentum slip through their fingers against Illinois last weekend, as Greg Ryan’s side coughed up a 2-0 lead, conceding an equalizer with six minutes to play before going down in extra time. It marked the club’s third straight game without a win, not a positive trend going into the postseason, even if a draw against Penn State was included in that stretch. The Wolverines had been on a roll up until then, having won four in a row with an unbeaten string of ten games in their wake. Most worrying perhaps is the defenses sudden freefall. Going into the Ohio State game, Michigan had given up just six goals all season. Since then? Seven goals conceded in three matches. It’s a dangerous trend that most be broken if this team harbors hopes of collecting multiple postseason wins. Wisconsin was in dire straits after the halfway point of the league season, having won just one of six league games. The Badgers looked to be flirting with the bubble after a bright start but turned things around late. Four straight wins in the league eased their bubble fears considerably, though a loss to Iowa on the last day of the regular season could prove costly in the end if the Badgers harbored hopes of hosting a first round game in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers probably need at least one win to have a shot at that, but Michigan’s not going to be an easy mark by any means. The regular season meeting between the two clubs was a decidedly one-sided affair, with Nkem Ezurike running riot for the Wolverines en route to a 3-0 win for her side in Madison. The Badger defense has been nowhere near as effective as in prior years, which is obviously a worry heading into the postseason. One thing’s for sure: If the Badgers don’t do a better job against the big Canadian Ezurike, their stay in Bloomington will be a short one.
(49) Minnesota vs (47) Illinois (Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinal) – 10:30 AM
Anyone up for a game bright and early on Wednesday will be witness to a case of “win or go home” in all likelihood in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals. Both of these sides are perilously close to elimination heading into their big showdown, with a loss likely to be fatal to either’s NCAA Tournament hopes. The Golden Gophers are in the far more dire situation, coming into this one with a dearth of quality results to their name. Minnesota’s best win this year thus far is over Wisconsin, which is going to be a problem if they’re on the bubble given some results of other potential rivals. The maddening part of it all for the Golden Gophers is how close they’ve been to getting the big win they so desperately need. One goal losses to Florida State, San Diego State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State tell quite the tale of a club so close, yet so far from a breakthrough this season. They get another shot this season in the Big Ten Tournament but may need multiple wins to keep their hopes alive. Illinois are in a bit better shape thanks to wins over Ohio State and Michigan, but that won’t count for much if the Illini fall outside the bubble zone. While a defeat here won’t guarantee such a calamity, it would most definitely be bad for their odds of making it back to the Big Dance. Victory should be enough to propel them up the hierarchy enough to make that return trip to the NCAA Tournament a reality. Illinois will have to do much, much better than in the regular season meeting between these clubs. In that game, Taylor Uhl ran roughshod over the Illinois defense, finishing with two goals and an assist in the 3-0 hammering. The Golden Gophers also did a good job shutting down their opposite number’s attack, holding Illinois to just three shots on goal. With the likes of Uhl and Vanessa DiBernardo of Illinois on display, goals could be the order of the day in this crucial Big Ten Tournament match.
(13) Tennessee vs (50) Auburn (SEC Tournament Quarterfinal) – 3:30 PM
Simple equation for Auburn as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned: Win = In (probably), Lose = Out (probably). While that discounts the unlikely event of a penalty shootout, the result would still probably work out in Auburn’s favor, as the Tigers are desperately in need of a big win this week in Orange Beach. Karen Hoppa’s side won the auto bid last year in a stunning run to the tournament title, but her club will need to complete the Great Escape as in most other years if they want to head back to the NCAA Tournament. Chance after chance for a standout win has passed them by, with the win against Texas Tech earlier in the year their best victory at the moment. That may not do it, meaning the Tigers are on a mission for a big win on Wednesday afternoon. Opponents Tennessee would like to leave the Beach on a winning note for entirely different reasons. The Lady Vols have sewn up a spot in the NCAA Tournament a while ago, but the club would like to put a cherry on top with a high national seed. While their odds of a national seed look decent enough, they probably need to win the auto bid to stand a chance at making a late run for one of the coveted top two seeds come Selection Monday. Big wins may be needed, as the club has one win over an uRPI Top 30 club going into this week, the upset over Texas A&M. While that’s a fine win, it may not be enough to get UT a national seed should they lose this match on Wednesday. In the regular season, the Lady Vols squeaked out a 1-0 win thanks to a masterful free kick from Kylie Bono at the hour mark. The UT defense all but suffocated the Auburn attack, including holding primary weapon Tatiana Coleman without a shot on goal. While the UT attack didn’t exactly blow their opponents away, keep in mind Hannah Wilkinson and Caroline Brown were still working their way back to full match fitness after injury struggles. Both are now back in the first XI, and it’s no coincidence that UT enters Orange Beach as one of the league’s form teams. If they can maintain that form, they could well left the club’s first major trophy since 2008 on these very shores. Auburn will hope for their NCAA Tournament ambitions’ sake they can slow the Lady Vols down in the traditionally tricky 3/6 game on Wednesday afternoon.
(26) Kentucky vs (31) Missouri (SEC Tournament Quarterfinal) – 8:30 PM
The almost always exciting 4/5 matchup in the SEC Tournament will be a battle between two clubs who appear to be headed in different directions as the postseason begins this week. The Wildcats pipped their opponents to fourth in the league with five straight wins to close out conference play, all the more remarkable since they were coming off a turgid stretch of one win in six. On the other hand, Missouri come into the SEC Tournament in dire form, having dropped four out of their last four, with their one win in that stretch coming against a disappointing Alabama side, with even that win flattering the Tigers by some accounts. Those results have seen Kentucky not just leapfrog Missouri in the SEC table but also in the RPI. While neither figure to earn a national seed, the Wildcats have the more credible chance if they can string together a few wins in Orange Beach. For Mizzou, it might be more about damage limitation at the moment. Another defeat could see them slip towards potentially being forced on the road for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, which was probably unthinkable a month ago. If their regular season meeting was any indication, Wednesday’s showdown could be an instant classic. Down a goal for nearly an hour, Kentucky equalized late through Arin Gilliland before hitting the post a few minutes later. A disallowed winner for Kentucky as hotly disputed, and the Tigers would go on to win it in extra time through star forward Alyssa Diggs. Diggs’ offense will be critical for the Tigers in this one, but the defense will be firmly in the crosshairs against UK. Mizzou has conceded ten goals in their past five games, including four defeats where they gave up multiple goals. That’s a sure ticket to an early postseason exit, and a Kentucky lineup featuring the likes of Arin Gilliland, Kelli Hubly, and Courtney Raetzman will be keen to take advantage of any defensive slips Missouri might make. The Wildcats have only been shutout once all season and hope to continue to keep the offense churning in this matchup. While neither came into the week as hot favorites for silverware in Orange Beach, the winner here could be a sneaky pick for glory on Sunday given how well each club has played at times this year.