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.

Other Matches To Watch

(22) Kentucky vs (49) Alabama – 7:30 PM

Hey, they really don’t like each other. Two of the league’s form sides will clash on Thursday night in Lexington. Kentucky is playing for an outside shot at second in the league and national seeding hopes, while Alabama is trying to lock up an at-large bid and ensure they aren’t playing on Monday.

(34) Missouri vs (37) Arkansas – 9:00 PM

Missouri’s defense looked frighteningly frail against Tennessee on Sunday without Candace Johnson, which is bad news considering Arkansas brings a big striker of their own in Ashleigh Ellenwood. The Tigers have shipped three in two straight and in three of their last five. Arkansas are teetering on the bubble and need every win they can get after just one victory in four.

(53) Ole Miss vs (60) Tennessee – 8:00 PM

Winner goes to Orange Beach and the SEC Tournament, while the loser or UT in the event of a draw goes home to ponder a long offseason of disappointment. Ole Miss will be hoping that blowing a two goal lead to Missouri last Friday isn’t the epitaph on this season’s tombstone. Tennessee will be full of confidence after pounding those same Tigers a few days later but face the pressure of needing three points on the road and getting back-to-back wins, something they haven’t done since September this season and since 2012 in the league.

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