(4) Marquette vs Princeton – 5:00 PM
Upset minded Princeton will try and keep their drive towards San Diego alive on Thursday evening as they aim for their second straight upset of a league champion from a major conference when they take on Marquette in Provo. The Tigers snatched a 2-1 victory over Big XII champions West Virginia last weekend behind a goal right after the beginning of each half, holding off a Mountaineer surge late to net the upset.
Thursday’s opponents didn’t have quite the challenge as Princeton did, repelling the threat of Illinois State with a fair amount of ease. The Big East champions kept Rachel Tejada in check with just one shot on goal to her name, while the Redbirds managed just three shots on goal in total for the evening. That’s a big point for the Golden Eagles, as there have been questions as to how they were going to hold up in the face of talented offenses after the slaughters against Duke and North Carolina earlier in the season. Granted, Illinois State’s a bit limited going forward, heavily reliant on Tejada, but it still reflected positive growth on Marquette’s part to be so solid against ISU.
They’ll get another challenge against Princeton though, and their dangerous duo of Jen Hoy and Lauren Lazo up front. Hoy ended up scoring the eventual game winner in the second half, while both looked threatening the whole evening for the Ivy League champs. Princeton also seems to have gotten a boost by the news that Lynessa McGee, who scored the club’s opener against WVU, appears to be fit enough to play some role on Thursday after coming off injured against the Mountaineers. Princeton will be hoping to tighten things up at the back in the second round as well. They may have conceded just once against WVU, but they also gave up twenty shots, with almost half being on goal.
Flirting with danger like that again against Marquette could be the death knell for Princeton’s postseason, considering the Big East champs were one of the nation’s highest scoring squads before the start of the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles probably don’t have as much star talent as WVU has up front, but Marquette’s generally made much better use of it through the course of the season.
The X-Factor that ultimately may decide this one is the altitude in Provo and the depth of the two teams. The Golden Eagles essentially went sixteen deep in their win over Illinois State, a convenience naturally afforded to them by jumping out to a 3-0 lead, but a nice one to have nonetheless. Princeton used just fourteen players and might have used less had McGee not gone out with injury. If the Tigers can claw their way to an early lead and force Marquette to chase the game, they could well run out with their second straight NCAA Tournament upset.
But the longer the game stays on level terms or if Marquette is able to take an early lead, the difference in strength in depth could become much more pronounced. I’d put my money on the Golden Eagles to move on to the Sweet Sixteen, but it’s far from a sure thing, with this one looking like one of the more competitive and compelling second round matchups this year, meaning don’t be shocked if Princeton is one step closer to San Diego come Friday morning.
Prediction: (4) Marquette 2 – 1 Princeton
(1) BYU vs Auburn – 8:00 PM
First tests passed, BYU and Auburn will meet with a berth in the Sweet Sixteen on the line in Provo on Thursday night. The home side got a tricky tie against Utah State in the opening round and coped reasonably well, easing past the Aggies by a score of 2-1. Opponents Auburn played the role of ultimate opportunists, jumping all over Washington early and holding on late to record a 2-1 win of their own to book their trip to this weekend’s regional.
Things are about to get demonstrably tougher for the Tigers this Thursday though, as they make their way into one of the hardest places to play in college soccer. At altitude and in front of consistently large crowds, Auburn will have its work cut out for it if they want to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history. The Tigers managed fine without leading scorer Tatiana Coleman against Washington but will be desperate for her return against BYU. Unlike Auburn’s contest against Washington, the Cougars don’t seem likely to be switched off at the beginning of this match, especially with the likelihood of a large and raucous crowd behind them. In a game that, knowing the nature of the two clubs involved, could get fast and physical, Coleman’s power and pace in the attack could be vital to an upset.
The Tigers, with or without Coleman in the lineup, have to come out roaring again here, as BYU has proven to be a club of great momentum this season. When the Cougars get rolling, they really start to roll, and an early goal for BYU could be disastrous for Auburn’s hopes. The absolute last thing the Tigers need is to be chasing a goal at altitude against a club that knows how to protect a lead.
While Coleman could get much of attention for Auburn, how they handle the center of the park will likely be key. Finding a way through the defensive midfield band of Cloee Colohan and Rachel Manning has been near impossible for anyone this season, while the Tigers will also have to be wary of central attacking midfielder Jessica Ringwood, who has made a habit of opportunistic offensive chances playing off of the strong forward play of Carlee Payne Holmoe at the top of the formation.
Given the combative nature of both sides, how this one is officiated could also dictate what kind of match we’ll be witness to on Thursday under the lights. While Auburn have done a great job in buckling down and cranking out fine results over the past month, BYU likely has too many weapons and too many intangibles pointed in their direction for a big upset.
Prediction: (1) BYU 2 – 0 Auburn