NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 08/29/14 – UCLA vs North Carolina (UPDATING)

Previews for the seven other top games coming throughout the day.

UCLA vs North Carolina – 10:00 PM

For once, the monster doesn’t wear Carolina blue. After a weekend in which they gave up just one off-target shot against Maryland and UC Irvine while capitalizing ruthlessly on opposition mistakes, UCLA has more than justified their standing as overwhelming favorites to add a second star to their shirt this season. Taylor Smith and Darian Jenkins have both shown strides leading the line for the Bruins, while midfielder Annie Alvarado has stepped in almost seamlessly for the departed Jenna Richmond. Midfielder Sam Mewis has been in transcendent form through two matches and could finally be making The Leap to superstar level that has been expected for so long. The defense has been better than expected, if that’s possible, but faces their sternest test yet against an athletic and aggressive North Carolina attack fronted by Summer Green. UCLA’s last win against UNC in the NCAA Tournament was their first ever over the Tar Heels, who had won six of nine previous meetings by multiple goals. But those were different times, and UCLA will want to further validate their status as national title favorites with a convincing victory in Westwood on Friday night.

North Carolina seemingly answered many questions about their veracity on Sunday with a convincing performance against Ohio State last Sunday, though their dominance wasn’t really reflected on the scoreline. It spoke volumes that after a crushing extra time loss to Stanford the club could come right back and take out an OSU team that had themselves taken a smash and grab 1-0 win against Duke on Friday. It’s plainly obvious that much of the club’s offense is going to run through Summer Green, though getting her in amongst the goals sooner rather than later would likely ease many concerns about the offense. Joanna Boyles and Megan Buckingham, the latter off the bench, also were strong against OSU and will need to have an impact in all likelihood for UNC to stand a chance. The defense did well to render Ohio State’s attack mostly inert last Sunday but face a much more difficult challenge on Friday. One wonders if Anson Dorrance will opt for the 4-2-3-1 from the start given the opponent and the setting or keep the faith with the 3-4-3 at the beginning of the match. Regardless of tactics, if the Heels emerge with a win, they’ll immediately put themselves back amongst the national title contenders after just a week and a half of the new season.

Penn State vs UConn – 5:30 PM

There was no letdown for Penn State last Sunday after their huge Friday win over West Virginia that should have shown the masses the Nittany Lions’ potential within the college WoSo hierarchy. PSU, of course, knew that consistency also elucidates these types of things as well, and the Big Ten title favorites looked no worse in a 2-0 win over ACC side Syracuse on Sunday. While the rookies inspired much of the attack on Friday, Erica Walsh’s side was able to lean heavily on veteran Mallory Weber, who netted both goals for the club, as well as Raquel Rodriguez, who assisted on the second goal which all but wrapped it up for the Nittany Lions. Additionally, the defense was resplendent against the Orange, holding the ACC club to one shot on goal and zero corner kicks, rendering New Zealand youth international striker Stephanie Skilton a spectator for much of the match. Rachel Hill of UConn will present a big challenge on Friday, but one that could be handled if the defense is on its game. A win here, and all eyes will turn towards Durham next weekend, where PSU takes on Duke and North Carolina, matchups which could have big seeding ramifications down the line.

It’s less about seeds and more about just making sure their name is in the draw for opponents UConn, who have made a solid start to the new season. Wins over Hofstra and Navy weren’t exactly givens, but the Huskies edged both sides out at home to go into this one still unbeaten. Hill netted goals in both of the club’s wins last weekend, though the goal against Hofstra was from the penalty spot. Against Navy, Samantha McGuire came off the bench and scored the winner, completing a UConn comeback, while rookie Danielle Gottwik also impressed in the Navy win. While the Huskies’ defense wasn’t quite overrun by their mid-major opposition last weekend, they hardly were a fortress either, which could be problematic against PSU. In the long run, the match at former Big East rival Syracuse on Labor Day is probably more important in the big picture, but getting any type of result on Friday would be a huge boost for NCAA Tournament hopes.

South Carolina vs Boston University – 6:30 PM

Friday’s matchup in Columbia may not be one for the neutrals, if last year’s soporific scoreless draw in Boston is any indication. Both of these clubs are known for their unforgiving defenses, though BU has actually conceded a goal in each of their two matches thus far. It has not been such for South Carolina, though you’d also have to say their competition level thus far hasn’t been resoundingly great either. They all count the same though, and SC will be confident of two results here that would make them perfect going into the most meaningful derby against Clemson in a while. There really haven’t been any questions answered about the offense though, other than the fact that Taylor Leach is a very potent threat on set pieces. Savannah McCaskill looked potent up top against Samford, but old standard Raina Johnson netted the winner. BU’s defense should provide the perfect test at this point of the season, and being able to solve that puzzle would go a long way in increasing confidence in the Gamecock attack going forward.

Boston University have been the comeback queens of the season thus far, winning both of their games against stiff opponents despite falling behind in both. The opener against La Salle was definitely the more dramatic of the victories, the club netting the winner with seven seconds remaining in normal time before Jenna Fisher struck. Against Boston College, the club more than gave up its fair share of chances against their more fancied city rivals but made their chances count with two second half goals again to finally down their derby foe. Jenna Fisher already looks like the next great attacker here with two fine showings thus far but will have a tough way through the Gamecock defense. More to the point, BU will need to tighten their defense up and stop conceding first. Coming back against South Carolina is never an easy task, especially on the road. The win against BC should give the Terriers a lot of clout going into Selection Monday, but a further win against South Carolina on the road could well see BU finish the non-conference season before league play unbeaten.

Tennessee vs BYU – 7:00 PM

Will the real Tennessee stand up? The Lady Vols were one of the stories of opening night when they absolutely throttled Wisconsin-Milwaukee, getting a brace from Hannah Wilkinson to help destroy the Panthers. It set up a mouthwatering match against Wisconsin on Sunday, but UT came out second best, going down in a 2-1 defeat after extra time. The result was less of a concern than how the loss happened. The Lady Vols’ attack, which had looked so effective against UWM instead had just two shots on goal against Wisconsin, while Wilkinson’s offense dried up, the New Zealander not putting either of her two efforts on goal. Quite frankly, UT is going to go as Wilkinson does, so too many more repeats of Sunday is going to equal a disappointing season for the Knoxville side. Fortunately for the home side, BYU’s defense is probably going to be a bit more pliable than Wisconsin’s. UT still managed to limit Wisconsin to three shots on goal in defeat Sunday, including limiting Cara Walls to zero shots on goal, so they’ll fancy their chances against BYU’s line of good but not great attackers. If UT dares hope of a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, this is the type of match they have to win. Anything else, and the Lady Vol faithful will be fearful of a repeat of last season and a shaky non-conference record come league play’s beginning.

BYU’s endured a stuttering start to the new campaign, going through two draws to open up the new year. A trip to Fullerton to play Big West contenders Cal State Fullerton ended in a 1-1 stalemate, while a Monday encounter with Washington State ended scoreless, somehow, despite both sides having their chances to emerge victorious. Niki Fernandes and Ashley Hatch made their presence felt most against WSU Monday, though neither could find the net, while Fernandes seemed to struggle with a slight ankle knock throughout. Keeping Fernandes, perhaps the one player of refined attacking quality here now, healthy is going to be crucial to the club’s bottom line come the end of the season. At the same time though, the defense is going to have to do a much better job than they did against the Pac-12 side. They may have kept a clean sheet, but if they give up some of the chances they did against WSU, they’ll likely be taught some very harsh lessons in Knoxville. A result would be big on Friday, especially ahead of a trip back West and what’s likely to be a bloodbath on Monday against Baylor.

Notre Dame vs Texas Tech – 7:30 PM

Notre Dame made a successful start to the Theresa Romagnolo era with two solid wins last weekend, first taking down Big Ten side Illinois before knocking out Oakland on Sunday in a more perfunctory match. Some of the questions about where the offense is going to come from got answered by goals from rookie Taylor Klawunder, returnee Anna Gilbertson, and the ever tantalizing Lauren Bohaboy, who was mostly silent against Illinois but netted twice against OU on Sunday. Morgan Andrews already has three assists on the season and looks to be in prime form to prove whoever may have doubted her wrong in 2014. The questions may now shift back towards defense, where the club faces a more well rounded Texas Tech side on Friday night. Janine Beckie may not have as many goals as Illinois’ Jannelle Flaws, but she also has a better supporting cast, meaning UND probably won’t be able to focus on just one player. Regardless, if Notre Dame has College Cup aspirations, the games this weekend against TTU and USC should be wins on their ledger, setting up a potentially colossal showdown against Stanford next Sunday in Palo Alto.

Texas Tech are largely a mystery coming into this one, through no fault of their own. The Red Raiders had their opener against New Mexico last Friday cancelled for obvious reasons, and a 5-0 win over Oral Roberts last Sunday was little more than a glorified sparring session considering the talent disparity in the competing programs. TTU put up thirty-one shots but just twelve on frame, though five, of course, did go in the back of the net. Janine Beckie had a trio of those shots on goal, as did Caity Heap, with both scoring once. The big star though was Alli Murphy, who tallied up four assists, with a few of those coming off of set pieces. While the Red Raiders are dangerous in open play, hitting an ACC side like Notre Dame on set pieces is a reasonable path to victory on Friday night. Tom Stone’s side probably has aspirations towards a national seed, but that involves getting a marquee win or two out of conference. This is probably the biggest name on the ledger, so even coming away with a draw would be a positive result for the Big XII contenders.

West Virginia vs Duke – 7:30 PM

It wasn’t quite a “save our season” situation for West Virginia last Sunday, but they certainly spared their blushes with a late comeback from two goals down against Missouri a few days after having been humbled by Penn State. Despite the comeback win, the alarm bells have to be ringing for head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown after conceding five goals on opening weekend. WVU’s backline was supposed to be a strength this year with all of last year’s starters back, but the club also needed a new starting goalkeeper, potentially one complication to the defense as a whole clicking. If anything, at least the offense was able to get going, with Kelsie Maloney scoring and adding assists on the other two goals, while Kate Schwindel netted a brace. Kailey Utley also had three shots on goal and an assist, and the club may need more of the same if the defense continues to struggle. A volatile but inconsistent Duke attack could press the WVU defense again, and an improved performance would certainly ease fears, even with the non-conference schedule easing up after this.

Duke enters this one with perhaps a twinge of desperation having gone 0-2-0 last week while having not scored a single goal. They were very hard done by against Ohio State, peppering the OSU goal all match but losing a 1-0 smash and grab decision to the Big Ten contenders. It was very much the opposite on Sunday against a Stanford side that put the Blue Devils through their paces with plaintive ease. Duke didn’t manage a shot on goal against the Pac-12 side, a most unexpected development after Friday’s promising display. While the defense has been less of an issue than perhaps expected, the offense needs to get firing, especially against an WVU side that showed a soft underbelly defensively on opening weekend. An 0-3-0 start would be a painful reality for Duke but isn’t out of the question if the attack continues to sputter. There’s just too much talent for that to continue though, and you wouldn’t put it past Duke to knock a few past a WVU side that still has the capacity to do the same in Morgantown on Friday night.

Illinois vs Arizona State – 8:00 PM

Two explosive offenses should be on display on Friday night in Champaign, though they’ll be hard pressed to top last year’s encounter, one of the games of the season, a 4-3 extra time win for Arizona State. The Illini return Jannelle Flaws but little else offensively from last season, and it showed as they put just two shots on goal in the defeat to Notre Dame last weekend. At the same time, the club did net two goals in a 2-0 win against Louisville last Sunday, including one from Flaws, but again, they put just three shots on goal. The club is being efficient with the chances they do get, but they really need to start putting more shots on target. At least the defense looked relatively competent in the clean sheet against Louisville after last season’s constant calamities. The club seems to be edging towards a rotation system in goal, with Michelle Denley and Claire Wheatley splitting time against the Cardinals. These are the types of matches that are probably going to make or break NCAA Tournament hopes for the home side, so a win would be priceless for their hopes in November.

Arizona State themselves also rebounded well from a disappointing Friday result on opening weekend, namely a commanding win over Hawaii after needing two goals in the final thirty minutes to come back against Texas in the opener. The defense is obviously a big worry considering Flaws is the best striker ASU’s faced thus far by a mile and that the club gave up two each to Texas and Hawaii. If anything though, the club can look to a potential new star in Aly Moon, who scored three goals and added an assist as ASU overpowered Hawaii. It was probably a relief for Kevin Boyd and the Sun Devils, with leading attacker Cali Farquharson sidelined with a foot injury after the Texas match. That’s obviously a worry in the long-term, but if Moon can keep scoring, the Sun Devils might not slip too much offensively. Offensively. The defense still has many questions to answer, and Flaws could haunt them if they can’t lift their level of play on Friday night.

Oklahoma vs Florida – 8:00 PM

Cancel the funeral in Norman, because Oklahoma isn’t quite six feet under yet. The Sooners showed some of their improvement last weekend in a shock win over Oklahoma State before a creditable draw against Pac-12 side Utah on Sunday. Neither performance offensively was exactly scintillating, but given the club’s murderous non-conference schedule, results, however they may come, are wholly appreciated by the Sooners. Still, OU’s going to have to do better than three shots a goal a game if they’re to have some long-term success this year, although exceeding that total against a stern Florida defense might take some doing. In that vein, the club’s defense will have a serious role to play with the Gators coming to town. A clean sheet against OSU and conceding just one to Utah was a positive step, but neither of those sides had anything approaching the might of Savannah Jordan up top. Obviously, getting even a draw would be a huge step forward for Matt Potter’s side and could be a priceless piece of the puzzle if OU’s in range for an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid come November.

Florida sunk their teeth into Miami (FL) and South Florida in Gainesville last week, taking in home two multiple goal victories against opposition that you figured would be get beaten by such a margin on paper. UF basically made Miami (FL) look like a mid-major on Friday, flexing their depth to give Jillian Graff a run out in the starting lineup. She repaid Becky Burleigh with two goals, while Savannah Jordan came off the bench and added another. Sunday was more of a battle against South Florida, but Annie Speese came up trumps twice in the final thirty minutes, netting a brace in the 2-0 win. The defense wasn’t seriously tested in either match, and you wonder whether OU will have the weapons to do any better on Friday. At the same time though, it’s this Florida side’s first foray away from home this year, and OU will likely be coming in on a high after last weekend’s success. UF has to be aiming for a high national seed come the NCAA Tournament, and a slip-up here would do some damage to that cause.

Oklahoma State vs Florida State – 8:00 PM

Oklahoma State perhaps aren’t in full crisis mode, getting striker Courtney Dike back should help in that regard, but still, the warning signs are there after opening weekend losses to Oklahoma and Arkansas, two clubs the Cowgirls likely fancied beating at the beginning of the season given all they had returning. It’s probably a bit concerning that the offense managed just one goal in their first two games, but it’s also hard to make definitive judgments until Dike is reintegrated into the starting lineup. At any rate, it’ll be interesting to see how Dike combines with Madison Mercado, who impressed and scored against Arkansas last Sunday. There are questions over the defense though, which has already conceded four goals in two matches. For a side typically known for their suffocating defense, that’s a big red flag after just one weekend. Florida State’s high powered attack far outstrips anything OSU’s faced thus far as well, and the Cowgirls’ defense is going to have to take a quantum leap forward to get a result on Friday. Or on Sunday against Florida. There’s a real chance OSU could be 0-4-0 after two weeks, certainly not the start anticipated at the beginning of the season.

Florida State lived up to their College Cup contender status in the first weekend of the season, looking confident defensively against Portland before turning on the style against Minnesota on Sunday. After the buzzer beating heroics of Friday, Sunday was more of a customary demolition job, with FSU pouring it on in the second half, netting three after Minnesota had just equalized right before the break. With Dagny Brynjarsdottir back in the starting lineup, the offense hummed, and the Icelandic international and transfer Cheyna Williams each had a goal, with Carson Pickett adding two assists. Given the traditionally excellent defense, if the offense is humming as such, most opponents have little chance against the Noles. FSU should fancy their chances against an OSU side reeling after two losses, but they’d best be aware that the Cowgirls with Dike in the lineup could well be a trickier opponent than the one that fumbled their way through two defeats last weekend.

Texas vs Arkansas – 8:30 PM

Back on the mainland after a mostly productive weekend in Hawaii last week, Texas will look towards another big challenge as Arkansas comes calling in a famous football rivalry that hasn’t exactly boiled over on the pitch considering the languid state of the involved programs until the past few seasons. Texas really needed their win over Hawaii after coughing up a 2-0 lead to Arizona State in their opener. Up by two goals with thirty minutes to play, Texas had to settle with a share of the spoils. The win over Hawaii saw Longhorns’ supporters likely nervous again after going down in just the fifth minute of play. Goals from Julia Dyche and Whitney Jaynes put paid to fears of a surprise defeat though, and the Horns will be looking to go from strength to strength on Friday. UT have been suddenly presented a great opportunity for their NCAA Tournament hopes with Arkansas surging to begin the new season. To say Texas’ non-conference schedule is a bit light for a few weeks after this match is an understatement, and the Horns really need to take advantage of a chance to get a result at home. The defense will be in the crosshairs after not keeping a clean sheet last weekend, especially against an opponent with many weapons and ways to hurt a team.

Arkansas followed up their impressive 3-1 opening night win against Utah State with another win against Oklahoma State, marking the second time in a year the Lady Razorbacks downed OSU. The defense probably bent a whole lot more than Colby Hale would’ve liked, his side giving up nine shots on goal, but there’s been little to argue about with the offense, with Ashleigh Ellenwood scoring a late winner on Sunday after having played a major part in the goals against Utah State on Friday. The defense will fancy their chances of notching their first shutout of the season against a Texas side without a top defined threat in attack, but the club still needs to tighten up on the whole. UA would do well to get some wins this weekend, because next weekend brings a major test in a trip out East to play Duke and North Carolina. Victory over Texas on Friday could be worth its weight in gold come November though, as Arkansas increasingly looks like a side that may be more concerned with a national seed rather than just a spot in the field of sixty-four.

Texas A&M vs UCF – 9:00 PM

Other Attractions

Michigan State vs Eastern Michigan – 2:00 PM

Everyone figured Eastern Michigan would be a prime contender for a MAC title, but the Eagles proved they were capable of more by beating Big Ten NCAA Tournament team Indiana by two goals last Sunday. They can firmly put themselves in the at-large bid mix this weekend with matches against Michigan State and Texas Tech. Michigan State successfully got a potentially big non-conference win against San Diego State last weekend and may get a bigger than anticipated bonus against EMU if they can win on Friday.

Georgetown vs NC State – 3:00 PM

The Hoyas’ trip to California delivered mixed results last weekend, getting a solid win against San Diego before a grueling Sunday scoreless draw with Long Beach State. It remains to be seen how well that result holds up at the end of the season, but a win over NC State would certainly help their cause. The Wolfpack have been up and done so far, needing a late comeback to down state rivals UNC Wilmington before hanging pretty tough with Portland. This may be their best chance at a statement non-conference win, so they best take it on Friday afternoon.

Louisville vs Ole Miss – 5:30 PM

Louisville christens Lynn Stadium on Friday evening and will be looking for a positive result against SEC side Ole Miss. The next two matches are probably going to make or break the club’s non-conference RPI, and winning one may be vital for their NCAA Tournament hopes. Opponents Ole Miss made a positive start with a draw in the league opener against Georgia before getting a Kelly McCormick penalty to edge past Iowa State. A win on the road against an amped up Louisville side would be another big step towards a second straight NCAA Tournament, but their opponents will be charged up in their new ground, making it a tough ask.

La Salle vs Washington – 7:00 PM

Washington made a massive statement on opening night, crushing fancied SEC side Kentucky, 4-1, a great result for a side that had scored more than two goals once in about two calendar years. It’s now we’re going to find out whether the Huskies have staying power. The next two games need to be wins, if UW is to solidify their early season NCAA Tournament aspirations before what could be a huge showdown with Wisconsin next week. Opponents La Salle bounced back to beat Northeastern after a heartbreaking opening night loss to Boston U, but the Explorers really need this one to keep themselves afloat in the at-large bid race.

Long Beach State vs Georgia – 10:00 PM

Long Beach State’s aggressive non-conference schedule paid some dividends last weekend when they drew with Georgetown on Sunday after a narrow defeat to USC. That endeavor behind them, LBSU needs to start picking up some wins in the middle stretch of their non-conference slate before a brutal kick towards the beginning of Big West play. Georgia’s commanding victory against UNC Greensboro on Sunday was a positive step forward, but the club also finds itself in need of wins, with an otherwise modest looking non-conference schedule ahead other than UCF’s visit in early September.

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