NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 09/28/14 – (8) Florida State vs (17) Virginia

(8) Florida State vs (17) Virginia – 4:00 PM

Finally, at long last, we’ll be able to get a true test of Virginia’s mettle after weeks and weeks of wondering with the Cavs rolling over overmatched opposition. It speaks volumes that the visitors on Sunday are the sole remaining side with a 100% record but are languishing at #15 in the RPI. The Cavs haven’t beaten a team in the RPI Top 30, something they’ll be able to rectify in the next few weeks, as all three of the defending league champs’ next opponents are currently ranked #28 or above in the RPI. Steve Swanson’s side have made a fast start to their ACC title defense, having beaten Miami (FL) and Wake Forest by a combined 8-1 margin. The Demon Deacons were brushed aside on Thursday, 5-0, with the club not conceding a shut on goal and Morgan Brian scoring twice and assisting on a third for UVA. Brian’s been a bit more muted than you might expect, with just three goals and five assists thus far, though she also has missed three games on USWNT duty. It’s hardly meant Virginia’s missed a beat though, as Danielle Colaprico has been pulling the strings from all over the midfield with seven assists to her name. The forward duo of Makenzy Doniak and Brittany Ratcliffe haven’t lit opposing teams up, combining for eleven goals, but they haven’t really had to considering just about everybody on this side can knock them in with frightening efficiency. A win on the road would all but erase doubts about UVA’s national title credentials. It’d also give the club a much needed big win as it pursues a #1 seed.

Florida State are also in pursuit of that coveted #1 seed and will themselves be looking for the biggest win of their season after they’ve won five on the trot following the early September loss to Florida. In most cases, the wins have been by devastating margins, including Thursday’s 6-0 destruction of Louisville that was domination in every sense of the word. The defense, which has looked wobbly in defeats to Florida and UConn, didn’t budge an inch against a toothless Louisville side, holding them to just one off-target shot on the night. The Florida State attack just mowed over the Cardinals, with Cheyna Williams scoring a brace form short range in the first three minutes of the second half, when FSU ran riot over their new ACC brethren. Additionally, Berglind Thorvaldsdottir stayed in strong form, netting her seventh of the season that made it 5-0 to the home side. While there are few doubts about the offense, which has scored twenty-two goals in the past five matches, one wonders if FSU will be able to corral the Virginia attack and all of its highly rated weapons. A win here though would be huge for FSU’s odds of a #1 seed and would likely guarantee a 12-1-0 record before Virginia Tech comes to town in mid-October.

(9) Florida vs (20) Missouri – 2:00 PM

Missouri got a chance to state their NCAA Tournament case on Friday, they’ll have a chance to do likewise for their SEC title credentials, as unlikely as it might seem, on Sunday in Gainesville. Mizzou entered Friday evening’s clash with the Gamecocks very much in need of a win to boast on their resume after what most would typify as a rather tame non-conference slate. In a sense, the Tigers beat South Carolina at their own game, holding them to just three shots on goal, including keeping rookie center forward Savannah McCaskill to zero shots on goal. The Missouri attack hardly pulled up trees, with just five shots and four shots on goal, but they didn’t have to, with Lauren Selaiden’s goal at the half-hour mark holding up. Selaiden’s contributions off the bench were an absolute must for Missouri considering Taylor Grant and Savannah Trujillo were both hold without a shot. Grant’s return, after missing a game, was a big relief though, and more than likely, Missouri will not be able to rely on their bench in this one if they want to come away from Gainesville with a result. Even getting a point would be a huge statement of intent from Missouri, indicating that perhaps the Columbia side may be a cut above the masses in mid-table in 2014.

Florida have opened up their SEC campaign with two straight 2-1 wins, though they’ve yet to be truly convincing in either triumph. Georgia was the foe on Friday night in a derby, and the Gators got all they could handle from an aggressive Bulldog side. The Gators took a lead halfway through the opening stanza but were pegged back less than five minutes later to send the clubs into the break even. The match’s dominant figure, Savannah Jordan, would do what superstars do, scoring the winner in the seventy-second minute as Florida took control in the second half after some nervy moments early. It goes without saying that Florida’s going to need a more complete performance on Sunday afternoon if they want to keep their 100% SEC record intact. While the offense has continued to rumble on, scoring multiple goals in five of their last six, the defense continues to be a worry, having conceded in both of their SEC matches thus far. With Texas A&M looming next Friday, Florida really needs to show they can shut down a potent offense lest next week’s showdown with the Aggies be a forgettable one.

(11) South Carolina vs (23) Georgia – 1:00 PM

Both of these sides will be under pressure to avoid defeat on Sunday afternoon as they aim to not lose both games on the weekend, a result that would all but end title hopes for both after just three rounds of the league season. South Carolina were stunned on Friday against Missouri, losing for the first time in the league at home since the end of 2012. For the first time this season, South Carolina have not conceded in back-to-back matches, likely leading some to wonder if the club’s notoriously stingy defense is going to be able to hold fast against some of the league’s better attacks. For the first time in five matches, the offense didn’t have answers, with key center forward Savannah McCaskill being held without a shot on goal. SC only managed three shots on goal and will need to find their scoring touch on Sunday against their traditional bogey team in Georgia. There’s no reason SC can’t top Alabama and LSU next weekend before a tricky fixture at Kentucky, meaning this match could be a big opportunity to start some momentum as the midpoint of the league season looms. SC’s RPI survived a decent hit against Missouri last time out, but a second straight loss could well push them out of immediate contention for a national seed.

Georgia lost for the first time in six matches on Friday night in Gainesville, falling short to their old foes, Florida, though they gave perhaps the greatest scare the Gators have faced from them since Steve Holeman took charge in 2010. The Bulldogs were on level terms for much of the first seventy minutes, with Marion Crowder hitting back shortly after Florida had opened the scoring. Georgia couldn’t make a swift start stick though, and the Gators grabbed more of a foothold in the second half before netting a winner through Savannah Jordan. It marked just the second time all season that the Georgia defense had conceded multiple goals, and the Bulldogs will want to get their first SEC clean sheet on Sunday afternoon. That the club hasn’t kept one in three league matches has to be a bit concerning, especially with some high powered attacks strewn on the schedule over the past month of the regular season. The Bulldogs are still in a great position in the RPI, even with the loss on Friday, but a second straight loss would likely seem them slip a little closer to the bubble. Motivation surely will not be an issue. The Athens side likely will want to claim vengeance for last season’s SEC Tournament hiding that ended the club’s season with a thud.

(6) Penn State vs (29) Illinois – 1:00 PM

Odds are, many expected Penn State to be right where they are now, battling for both a league title and a #1 seed come November. Few could probably say the same about Illinois, who, after all, had lost Vanessa DiBernardo to graduation and who lost decisively to Notre Dame, 3-1, in the regular season opener. Since then, they club has won nine of ten, including a win over Arizona State that looks a hell of a lot more important now than it did then. The Illini have thus won four of five in the league, including their last four after dropping the opener against Iowa. Forward Jannelle Flaws has spent the last four games opening up the proverbial can of whoopass on Big Ten opponents after what you’d have to classify as a slow start, where she netted just four goals in her first seven matches. She’s promptly scored nine in her last four. She might have to maintain that scoring pace as well, considering the Penn State side she and the Illini are facing are in no way goal shy. Illinois’ defense has held up pretty well in league play despite some hairy moments earlier in the season, but shipping three to Notre Dame in the opener shows a vulnerability to top teams. Still, this is a priceless opportunity for Illinois. A result would all but seal an NCAA Tournament place. A win might have Janet Rayfield’s side in the discussion for an unlikely Big Ten title.

Knocking off PSU isn’t going to be easy though, especially with the Nittany Lions enjoying home advantage. Erica Walsh’s side has dismantled their last three Big Ten opponents after opening up the league season with a mere 1-0 win over Purdue. A 1.56 weighted total shot ratio in league games thus far is staggering, and PSU’s made those shots count, with 3-0, 5-1, and 4-1 wins to their credit. Some might accuse the Big Ten powerhouse of feasting on some of the league’s lesser lights, with the Illini, Wisconsin, and others to come, but PSU has made it look very easy thus far. Northwestern was brushed aside with minimal fuss on Friday night, with the club conceding just two shots on goal (though one went in), and hammering the Wildcats for four themselves. The variety of weapons was on full display, as neither of the club’s top scoring options, Mallory Weber nor Fannie Crouse scored in the win. Yet PSU may well want to put the onus on their defense in this one. They’ve kept just four clean sheets in ten and also shipped three to an explosive Duke team on a Sunday afternoon earlier in the year. While a run and gun shootout with Illinois and Flaws might please the neutrals, it also might be a recipe for trouble for PSU. But a win here would probably answer a lot of lingering questions in terms of the club’s true potential for a #1 seed, especially a decisive win. Keeping Flaws off the board will be a challenge though, even for a team as in form as PSU has been.

(69) Kentucky vs (38) Auburn – 6:00 PM

The heat is rising on these two teams after high expectations at the beginning of the season for Kentucky and a recent spate of poor form for Auburn. The visitors have made a poor start to league play in the SEC, losing to South Carolina last weekend before playing out a scoreless draw in Nashville to Vanderbilt that dealt the club a serious blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes already. Auburn finds itself currently without a major result against an RPI Top 50 team, a state that would surely see it out of the field of sixty-four if that field were being picked today. In a sense, Auburn’s not going to have a chance to rectify that until next Sunday against Tennessee as their next two opponents aren’t in the RPI Top 50 right now but may be by Selection Monday. At any rate, the club needs to arrest its fall in form with just one win in the past four. The defense failed them against South Carolina, while the attack ran dry against Vanderbilt on Friday. Fatigue could be an issue as well. Auburn were dragged through two halves of extra time against Vandy, while Kentucky got to comparably put its feet up against Mississippi State, holding them without a shot on goal in an easy win. If the Tigers end up chasing the game early, it could be a long evening in Lexington.

Kentucky enters this one with a good deal of ground to make up in the RPI if they want to avoid the ignominy of missing the NCAA Tournament and are entering a four match stretch which will likely make or break their season. Up first is Auburn, and Kentucky will probably be fancying their chances given the difference in exertion noted above, as well as how well the club handled Mississippi State on Friday night. UK got a brace from Courtney Raetzman and Arin Gilliland’s fifth of the season to roll out east winners, but one of the prevailing themes of the night may be the change in goalkeeper. After rolling with Taylor Braun in goal all season, the Wildcats instead dropped the rookie and put sophomore Ayanna Parker in. It remains to be seen what the situation will be in this one, but it’s hard to get a read on Parker considering she was not forced into a single save for UK. Defensive battles are probably not going to be Kentucky’s forte this season considering they’ve already given up multiple goals in three of nine matches, but they may just fancy their chance at a clean sheet given Auburn’s scoring woes Friday. In any event, they’ve certainly shown they can score, and UK will most definitely want to put on a scoring show with the television cameras trained on Lexington on Sunday evening.

Other Matches To Keep An Eye On

(24) Texas vs (15) West Virginia – 2:00 PM
(7) Virginia Tech vs (46) Duke – 5:00 PM
(27) Boston College vs (28) Clemson – 11:00 AM (at Waltham, Massachusetts)
(61) Tulsa vs (16) UCF – 2:00 PM
(53) TCU vs (26) Kansas – 2:00 PM
(88) Iowa vs (33) Rutgers – 1:00 PM
(75) Long Beach State vs (70) Santa Clara – 4:00 PM

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