NCAA – The ReRank: Power Rankings After the Sweet Sixteen

Teams eliminated in round one can be found in last week’s post.

Still Alive

2. Virginia
3. Florida State
4. Texas A&M
5. Stanford
6. South Carolina
7. Penn State
8. Florida

Eliminated in Sweet Sixteen

9. Pepperdine

The Waves were able to bring the UCLA juggernaut back to Earth, making the defending national champs look mortal after two matches of otherworldly performances from the Bruins. Sam Mewis would pop up late to break Pepperdine hearts, but it had still been a tremendously valiant effort from Tim Ward’s side. Given another draw, Pepperdine could have very easily been still playing this week. But now it’s about maintaining this level of achievement after breaking the club’s NCAA Tournament hex. Lynn Williams leaves big shoes to fill, and finding comparable offense will be the key to not sinking back towards the pack.

10. North Carolina

Whenever the Tar Heels don’t at least make it to the Elite Eight, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax now. UNC had looked like a club that would accomplish that with a forgiving draw in the NCAA Tournament and having won a share of the ACC title after some struggles early in the season. Those offensive struggles became all too apparent again last weekend though, as the club struggled to put Colorado away before the attack ran aground against a disciplined and organized South Carolina side. Losing Satara Murray is a big blow to the defense, and there are serious questions on offense after the club failed to bloom in front of goal. Until the Heels get a fifteen goal scorer firing in their lineup, they might find it hard to make it back to the College Cup.

11. Notre Dame

Theresa Romagnolo’s first season in charge of Notre Dame was a rather bumpy one, with hard lessons won in games in which the Irish blew halftime leads early in the season, while the club also looked decisively less imposing than the top clubs in the ACC when all was said and done. Still, fourth in the league and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen show that the season wasn’t a total bust. Of course, Notre Dame will still go into the offseason kicking itself for not winning on Sunday after seemingly having every chance to against Texas A&M in College Station. Romagnolo will likely get cut some slack this season, but with highly graded youth talent coming in in droves, better will be expected in South Bend in future seasons.

12. Virginia Tech

There was no hangover after last season’s College Cup appearance, as the Hokies made a nice run to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to Big Ten champs Penn State in a battling performance. The Hokies certainly were great entertainment on the weekend in a thriller against Georgetown before an entertaining loss to the Nittany Lions. They were a step off the biggest guns in the ACC this year, but considering how much they had to replace, sixth in the league and a trip to the final sixteen won’t be frowned upon. Now it’s just a matter of finding a way to get back to the College Cup.

13. UCF

The Knights get a gold star this season for being one of the two unseeded teams to make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament after bumping off Wisconsin. Perhaps they should have earned one of those seeds considering how assured they were in toppling the Big Ten Tournament champs, a notion not harmed in the least by a solid showing against Florida State. At the very least, the club’s two wins in this year’s NCAA Tournament should calm fears about the team’s ability in the competition without Amanda Cromwell after last year’s early exit to Saint John’s (NY).

14. Texas Tech

The window may not have completely closed on Texas Tech, but you’d have a hard time arguing that it’s not closed a good bit after this season. Losing superstar full-back Jaelene Hinkle and the underrated Paige Strahan isn’t something that’s going to be gotten over overnight, even if the club still can bring back Janine Beckie to lead the offense. Inevitably, TTU was achingly close again, erasing a two-goal deficit to Florida before losing late. It seems like “close” has been the defining word of Tom Stone’s run in Lubbock lately, as the Red Raiders just haven’t been able to make the final push into the upper echelon.

15. Washington

The Huskies can certainly be proud of their season after making it to the last sixteen after disappointing last season. Against Stanford, they shifted tactics to a very conservative 5-3-2/3-5-2 to try and keep it tight after being ripped apart by the Card in their regular season meeting. In a sense, it worked, as they only lost 1-0. But they also had limited opportunities offensively, which was hardly a shock considering Stanford is the superior team in all facets of the game. Considering UW’s been unbelievably inconsistent over the past decade, the key now is keeping runs like this a consistent happening in Seattle instead of the exception every three or four years.

16. Kentucky

Well, when you’re the only side that loses by seven goals…or even by multiple goals in this round, you end up on bottom. Bravery going forward generally only works when you defend stoutly, which Kentucky most certainly did not do against Virginia, especially when they left Morgan Brian bafflingly open on UVA’s first two goals. Replacing Arin Gilliland promises to be a thankless and near impossible task, but at least there’s still a solid amount of offense that will be back for 2015. Even so, UK needs to take a quantum leap forward on defense and in goal to stand a chance of moving beyond this phase.

Eliminated In Round Two

17. Wisconsin

The Badgers were the unlucky souls to be the only seeded team knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (though West Virginia had departed a round earlier). They fell behind early against UCF and couldn’t claw their way back against a battling Knights side. It’s a bit of a disappointing comedown considering UW had won the BIg Ten Tournament and looked like a club that could go a round or two further in the NCAA Tournament. While Rose Lavelle returns, Paula Wilkins’ side now has to find a way to replace the likes of Cara Walls and Genevieve Richard for 2015.

18. Colorado

The Buffs continue to chug along as a consistent contender for an NCAA Tournament berth, having now made the second round in two straight seasons. Third in the Pac-12 was a pretty nice accomplishment for CU, though you also sense that there’s still a pretty big gap between them and the top two in the league. Solving that problem is the thing that’s going to be facing Danny Sanchez and co. over the next few years. He’s done well in bringing in transfers for quick fixes, but fostering some of Colorado’s impressive youth talent may be the next logical step in the program’s progression.

19. Missouri

I suspect the Tigers got a lot closer to the Sweet Sixteen than most figured they would at the beginning of the season. They gave Washington a hell of a fight on Friday before falling to a great goal in extra time to the Pac-12 side. There’s a solid amount of talent here going forward, which should ensure Missouri doesn’t fall off a cliff, but there’s the problem of having to replace Kaysie Clark, the heartbeat of the side in the middle of the park. If Mizzou can’t find a replacement, they’ll probably struggle to make it out of mid-table in the SEC in 2015.

20. Georgetown

You have to feel for the Hoyas. They fought back like lions against a Virginia Tech side that had looked like potentially blowing them out again after scoring an early goal. But the Hoyas promptly fought back to take the lead twice, though they weren’t able to hold onto it either time. With the likes of Daphne Corboz and Emma Newins both graduating, there’s some significant rebuilding to do in Washington D.C. ahead of next season. But there’s also little reason that the Hoyas can’t be contending for Big East silverware every season now given the foundation Dave Nolan has built up.

21. Seattle

Oh, what could have been. The Redhawks had South Carolina right where they wanted them, without their starting goalkeeper, down to ten after the dismissal of Taylor Leach, and seemingly on the ropes. But Seattle just couldn’t find a way to deliver the knockout blow before making it to the lottery of penalties. It may be the best shot SU has at advancing this deep in the NCAA Tournament in a while, so they have to be frustrated with being ousted like that. Realistically, they’ve hit their ceiling in the WAC as well, a big fish amongst a parade of minnows. They’ll be hoping for that elusive WCC invite, but until then, they should at least become quite acquainted with the NCAA Tournament.

22. UConn

The Huskies got closer against Penn State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament than they did in the regular season, but it still wasn’t enough in the end. It wasn’t exactly the easiest draw in the world either, so there’s no shame in going out to the Big Ten champs. In any event, UConn finished with another major trophy to put in the cabinet, which should help build a little momentum going forward. Losing players like Gabrielle Charno and Riley Houle will mean some rebuilding next year, but getting two more seasons of Rachel Hill should limit the pain.

23. Cal

A slow start saw Cal go down by two goals before thirteen minutes had been played against Florida, and that was pretty much that. Early deficits are pretty much a death sentence in the NCAA Tournament, and against a possession oriented side like the Gators, it was going to be near impossible to claw two goals back, though Cal made a game of it. The good news is that there’s a steady stream of great talent over the horizon that may finally get Neil McGuire’s side into a realistic battle with the other California schools for Pac-12 supremacy. Now it’s just a matter of molding that talent into a consistent winning unit.

24. Texas

After two largely tepid seasons in charge, Angela Kelly needed a big third season to convince supporters she was still the right person for the job. 2014 wasn’t a huge season, per se, but a return to the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the second round where they fell to Notre Dame in a close fought encounter was a definitive step forward. Taking the next step looks like a big ask at the moment though, and you suspect they might have hit their ceiling in the short-term until some more star power arrives in Austin.

25. Auburn

So close…and yet so far. Auburn looked to be on their way to breaking their long duck at this stage of the tournament when they took the lead against Texas Tech on Friday. But they’d fall victim to a fightback from the Big XII side, losing on a late, late goal from the Red Raiders. Considering this was a Tigers side that missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in ages last season, it’s hard not to be pleased with the bounce back in 2014. But it also might be worth wondering what the next step is for Auburn and where the next star is going to come from in their effort to finally get to the Sweet Sixteen.

26. Arizona State

ASU with healthy Cali Farquharson? Good chance of upsetting Kentucky. ASU without healthy Cali Farquharson? Not so much. The Sun Devils had Farquharson off the bench playing limited minutes, but she wasn’t at full strength, severely limiting the club’s chances of victory. A better showing defensively obviously would’ve helped as well, as ASU’s inconsistent rearguard caught up with them. Good news? Farquharson, Aly Moon, and McKenzie Berryhill all look set to return in 2015, making the Sun Devils a team to watch out West.

27. Rutgers

They ran out of gas at the end of the season, but it was still a very promising first campaign for Mike O’Neill, who didn’t take over as head coach until very late into the offseason. The Scarlet Knights managed to start out the league campaign very well, including topping league champs Penn State in convincing fashion. But they struggled for form late in the season, with fatigue making itself known. They did well to gain a second wind and beat La Salle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but basically had no chance against Virginia. It will be interesting to see if Second Season Syndrome hits O’Neill and his side in 2015.

28. Arkansas

That Arkansas were even one goal away from Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after barely making the competition speaks volumes about their growth as a program. I expected they’d get run over by the Card, but they battled, if not necessarily from the front foot. The big question is, where do they go from here? Colby Hale’s smoke, mirrors, and chaos and the workrate of the players should have them competing for NCAA Tournament bids on a consistent basis, but you also feel they need more top-flight talent if they’re to contend for major trophies any time soon.

29. Arizona

Arizona’s definitely arrived on the national stage ahead of schedule following Tony Amato’s arrival meant to erase a long history of futility. But the limits of that rapid growth became pretty apparent as the Wildcats took a pounding from Texas A&M in the second round after having drawn the Aggies in the regular season. Gabby Stoian’s a good offensive building block for the future after a highly impressive season in 2014 for Amato’s club, but she still needs to be surrounded with equitable talent. The key now is probably fortifying a defense that had a lot of room for improvement this year against top clubs.

30. Illinois State

Illinois State pretty much hit their ceiling with a thud on Friday against a Pepperdine side that exposed their defensive flaws with ruthless precision. ISU probably weren’t going to go much further than one win in the NCAA Tournament given their rickety defense. The big question now is where do the Redbirds go now without Rachel Tejada leading the line? Tejada helped put ISU on a path towards two straight trips to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and it remains to be seen if the Redbirds can find that kind of magic again despite their likely continued dominance of the MVC. Keeping hold of head coach Drew Roff also may get harder given his sterling record with ISU.

31. Northeastern

Could it finally be that the CAA is settling down to the point that one program is consistently superior? Doubtful, but it’s hard to argue that the Huskies aren’t making a case for themselves as ahead of the pack, if only by a nose. That didn’t help them much against a Florida State side that wasn’t too troubled by their vaunted defense and which took their chances. There’s still some bright young talents in Brookline though, so the odds of their getting back here next season are not bad at all.

32. Harvard

Getting draw with UCLA was pretty much a death sentence, not just for them, but for about anyone all the way up to the last eight. The Crimson are clearly the class of the Ivy League, but the question is what is it going to take to boost them into a side that contends for a national seed and maybe multiple wins in the NCAA Tournament? Getting some big teams to actually travel and play them in non-conference play would help, as would a healthy Caroline Chagares. But you also get the sense that Harvard may be the proverbial big fish in the small pond at this point.

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