NCAA Tournament Preview

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By JOHN BOSCHINI

Despite the controversy surrounding Monday's selection show, 48 teams begin their quest for the College Cup tonight as the 2010 NCAA Tournament kicks off around the country.

There is little argument as to who the favorites to reach the semifinals in Santa Barbara are. Louisville, Maryland, Akron and North Carolina have been the top four teams in the country by nearly every measuring stick since the middle of October. Louisville is one of only two undefeated teams in the country but the Cardinals were less than impressive in their Big East title run.

Maryland is arguably the hottest team in the country. During a 14-game winning streak, the Terrapins have outscored their opponents 36-4 while keeper Zac MacMath has kept 13 clean sheets this season.

Minus a blip on the radar called Cleveland State, Akron has shown over the course of the season that it is poised to take home a national title. Victories over then top-five opponenets Wake Forest, Tulsa, North Carolina are coupled with other quality wins against Michigan, Creighton, Michigan State and Penn State.

The Zips lineup is loaded with professional-calibar talent. The midfield is led by Darlington Nagbe while Jamaican freshman Darren Mattocks has banged in 15 goals this season.

North Carolina had its 13-game unbeaten streak snapped under controversial circumstances in the ACC title game but the return of Michael Farfan makes the Tar Heels legitimate contenders. If UNC is going to make a run its defense will have to be up to its regular-season form which had 10 shutouts. All four of the top seeds enjoy home field advantage until the semifinals.

Behind the frontrunners are more than a few dark horses looking to stake claim to the national title. Butler were hard done by dropping the 13th seed despite breaking into the NSCAA top 10 and finishing the season undefeated. Southern Methodist has quietly been hanging around in the top seven since Oct. 12 and should not be underestimated. Both teams could face each other in the round of 16, with the winner taking on North Carolina.

Michigan rocketed into a seed on the back of its conference title and the committee's high regard for the Big 10. The Wolverine's position might be elevated but an absolutely dominating conference tournament has forced the nation to take notice and if freshman Soony Saad can keep up his form Michigan can surprise some people.

Lurking in the first round are a few teams with more than enough talent to get past some of their seeded competition. Three ACC teams, Duke, Virginia and Boston College, have fallen out of form in the past few weeks but possess a ton of talent but their inconsistency could mean a first-round upset.

Ryan Kinne and Monmouth were in the top 5 early in the season but a few disapointing losses in the soft Northeast leave relegated the Hawks to a first-round matchup with Dartmouth. It will be interesting to see how Monmouth reacts to the pressure of the NCAA tournament. Also, be on the lookout for Princeton, who are riding a 12-game winning streak after a perfect Ivy League campaign.

Players to watch

Darlington Nagbe, M/F, Akron- Regarded by many experts as the top pro prospect in college soccer, Nagbe is a versatily and speedy attacking who can go at defenses from midfield or forward.

Will Bruin, F, Indiana- While the Hoosiers have been battling inconsistancy problems all season the junior forward has anything but inconsistant. Bruin has banged in 16 goals for an Indiana squad that rose from unranked in the NSCAA rankings to the eighth seed in the NCAA tournament. A dominating figure at 6'2 and 194 pounds, Bruin doesn't have the speed or finesse of a typical striker but will be a force for any undersized defender.

Zac MacMath, GK, Maryland- The USMNT youth keeper has been nothing short of dominant this season for the ACC powerhouse. The junior has recorded 13 shutouts and was named the ACC tournament most valuable player after shutting out Virginia, which included a penalty save, and North Carolina.

Darren Mattocks, F, Akron- The Jamaican forward has made a name for himself under Caleb Porter thanks to his quickness and a finishing touch almost unheard of at the college level. With one of the nation's best midfields backing him up, expect Mattock's offensive output to continue.

Michael Farfan, M, North Carolina- One of the nation's premier playmakers, Farfan will be key to UNC's chances of winning its region and reaching the Final Four. Farfan will be looking to make up for his ACC Final nightmare (he was issued a first-half red card in UNC's loss to Maryland), while also boosting his status a projected MLS first-round draft pick.

Soony Saad, F, Michigan- The 2009 National High School Player of the Year lived up to the hype this season, scoring a nation-leading 18 goals to help the Wolverines win the Big Ten championship. Look for him to continue his stellar run of form in postseason play.

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Prediction: As boring as a selection as this is, it would be a huge surprise for anyone outside of the top four to make it to Santa Barbara. Once there, the matchup between Maryland and Akron is as much a national championship game as the one being played on Dec. 12.

Akron simply has too much talent and big-game experience to be ignored and should be crowned national champions. The Zips should beat Maryland in the semifinals and North Carolina in the final to win its first

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22 Responses to NCAA Tournament Preview

  1. Paul says:

    What’s the word on Bradley? I have friend that I played 3 years with, Ricky Tellez, that I’ve been wanting to keep up with but haven’t been able to. Can yet make a run and does he get much playing time? Anyone know?

  2. BSU SC says:

    How can you say that Louisville was “less than impressive in their Big East title run”!?!?! They’re undefeated and won the conference tournament. That’s pretty impressive to me.

    There is no way that all of the top 4 seeds make it to Santa Barbara. Too many darkhorses are in this tournament to make that a reality. Your predictions are boring.

    …and hardly a mention of the undefeated Butler Bulldogs. They’re a national title contender. This Butler team is the soccer version of their basketball counterparts from last year. They will make a lot of noise in the tournament and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them lift that national championship trophy when it’s all over.

    Go Butler!!!

  3. Butler has no chance to win a national title. The Horizon League is awful and Butler plays no one of any real note. Be serious, please.

  4. Louisville is the number one team and the country and they don’t have a player to watch. I take it that means they’re pretty solid across the board and work well as a team and keep it tight. Sounds like a certain national team I know.

    Go Cardinals!

  5. Scott says:

    Yes, what controversy?

  6. Mwing09 says:

    UC Irvine was left out of the tournament despite being ranked in the top 10 in the polls, because they lost in the semifinals of their conference tournament.

  7. gunner04 says:

    maybe top 10 team, uc irvine not making the tournament field? thats all i could think of.

  8. T says:

    You clearly did not watch Louisville actually play the games vs Notre Dame and Providence at Red Bull Area. If you did you wouldn’t have made the comments. Notre Dame and Providence are very good teams, Louisville did what they had to do. Your ACC bias really shows through…

  9. Juan Carlos says:

    It’s not just because they lost the conference semis but they had such a low RPI that it didn’t make up for its loses to lower tier teams. With comes to question the validity of the NCAA to even rank them that high to begin with

  10. BSU SC says:

    You’ve obviously never seen them play. Butler completely destroyed Indiana 3 weeks ago. People said the same thing about the basketball team last year. Watch an learn…

  11. froboy says:

    there was a red card and a PK

  12. froboy says:

    sorry, that was responding to the controversy in the UNC vs MD game, the selection controversy was leaving UC Irvine out

  13. froboy says:

    the ACC has won 4 of the last 5 national championships and consistently is the best conference over that time

  14. Thanks for answering. Seems a bit of a stretch to lead a story with that type of “controversy” but to each their own. I don’t see that as an egregious omission.

  15. Dylan says:

    No one said Indiana was all that good. Zero chance Butler wins. Zero.

  16. Dylan says:

    Neither Notre Dame nor Providence is a “very good team”.

  17. adam says:

    Your obsession with being undefeated is kind of absurd. Louisville won, like, 6 games in overtime this year and 8 overall by one goal. That’s not anything but lucky, man.

    You’re right about us probably not seeing all of the top seeds in the College Cup. It would actually be rather extraordinary if that happened (oh, 14% chance)… but even more extraordinary than all top seeds in the College Cup would be Butler even reaching it, so back off the Butler love. I’m not saying they don’t have the talent to get there, and they’ve certainly got the coaching to get there, but their seed almost guarantees they won’t. It’s extraordinarily difficult to win two road games against very good soccer teams consecutively, so unless something outlandish happens in that section of the bracket (which isn’t impossible), I would be SHOCKED to see them hit the College Cup.

  18. adam says:

    Bradley will have a very difficult time winning their first game in Tulsa, and if they do, they will almost certainly be wrecked by Indiana.

  19. Qb1pup says:

    Actually, North Carolina and Butler could play each other for the right to possibly play SMU. SMU could face William & Mary or Princeton if they advance.

  20. Mike Petry says:

    Pick the bracket, win fabulous prizes at CrimsonCast.com

    link to crimsoncast.com

  21. IU says:

    Bought time there is some love for IU and in particular Will Bruin! There has been little (but some) mention of the seven-time champion Hoosiers this season.