College Soccer: Tournament Time 2015
A look at the conference tournaments for the AAC, ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, and SEC. The breakdown includes the results so far, potential upset candidates, which teams are in desperate need of win(s) to get into the NCAA Tournament, and predictions on which teams will win their conference championships.
Note — 1R = 1st round, QF = quarterfinal(s), SF = semifinal(s)
All rounds played at Southern Methodist, quarterfinals played on Tuesday, semifinals on Thursday, and final on Sunday.
- QF 1: #1 UConn def. #8 East Carolina, 3-1
- QF 2: #2 USF def. #7 Memphis, 3-0
- QF 3: #3 UCF def. #6 Temple, 2-1
- QF 4: #4 Cincinnati def. #5 Tulsa, 2-0
- SF 1: #4 Cincinnati vs. #1 UConn
- SF 2: #3 UCF vs. #2 USF
It was a pretty comfortable regular season for UConn, the defending AAC Champions. The Huskies went 8-1-0 in conference play with the lone loss coming at USF. After that loss, UConn outscored its opposition 14-4. The interesting match of this tournament will be the battle of the Florida schools as South Florida takes on Central Florida in the later semifinal on Thursday. Central Florida extended its unbeaten run against in-state rival to 11 straight matches on October 23rd with a 3-1 win. But in the tradition of the postseason, throw regular season results out the window and you get the feeling that South Florida, which narrowly missed out on winning the conference title a year ago, may have some unfinished business to take care of in this contest.
Who Needs a Win
It’s not so much that Central Florida will be desperate for a result in the semifinals to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Its record at this point might be enough to earn an at-large bid. But the keyword here is might. We all know how wild this season has gone in women’s college soccer and there are plenty of teams that will need a big win to get into the tournament. With the Knights putting up a streak of 11 straight matches unbeaten against South Florida on Thursday, making it 12 straight will certainly be a boost for their tournament resume.
Semifinals on Friday in Cary, North Carolina. Final on Sunday.
- SF 1: #4 Clemson vs. #1 Virginia
- SF 2: #3 North Carolina vs. #2 Florida State
With the second consecutive year of the ACC Tournament narrowed down to a four-team pool, all four teams will know that no matter how the weekend at WakeMed Soccer Park turns out, they’ll be safely into the NCAA Tournament and potentially being seeded as well. That being said, it doesn’t mean that each team isn’t thinking about a conference tournament title. Florida State, North Carolina, and Clemson were level on points at the end of the season so expect each match to be closely contested. Virginia and Florida State had players absent on international duty over the past couple of weeks but should be back to full strength this weekend. These two teams could very well meet in the final, as they did a year ago. But you can’t ever bet against North Carolina in the postseason and the Tar Heels have rounded back into form after dropping three straight matches earlier this month.
Quarterfinals at higher seeds on Tuesday, semifinals at Creighton on Friday, final on Sunday.
- QF 1: #6 Providence def. #3 DePaul, 1-0
- QF 2: #4 Butler def. #5 Marquette, 1-0
- SF 1: #4 Butler vs. #1 St. John’s
- SF 2: #6 Providence vs. #2 Georgetown
It was always going to come down to the last couple of weeks to determine who was going to take the top seed and regular season crown in the Big East. And this year, it was St. John’s who rose to the occasion. The Red Storm have been paced offensively by Rachel Daly throughout the season and they can not only win the conference but also make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament. Last year, both semifinal matches went to penalty kicks in horrible weather conditions at Belson Stadium in Queens, New York. Even with this year’s semifinal round played at Creighton with no home-field advantage, expect the unexpected in the Big East
The Quarterfinal-Round Upset
We already have had one surprising result in Big East tournament play as third-seeded DePaul was upset by Providence in the 80th minute after senior Kathryn Hiller redirected a cross into the box over DePaul’s goalkeeper for the lone tally. For the Friars, this will be the first time the program has made the Big East tournament semifinals since 1994, where they fell to Boston College, 2-1. The loss makes the next week a nervy one for DePaul if a few other bubble teams pick up wins this week — the Blue Demons may be faced with the reality of not making the NCAA Tournament.
Who Needs a Win
Even as the two seed in this tournament, Georgetown is still looking for its signature win in 2015. The Hoyas did beat St. John’s in the regular season earlier this year but there wasn’t a result in nonconference play that jumps off the page to help their résumé. With powerhouse conferences like the ACC and the Big Ten traditionally sending six or more teams to the NCAA Tournament via the at-large bid, it doesn’t give many other schools opportunities to grab one of those spots. Georgetown helps its chances of grabbing one of those spots if it gets to the conference final.
Quarterfinal took place on Sunday at higher seed location, semifinals on Friday at Penn State, final on Sunday.
- QF: #7 Ohio State def. #2 Wisconsin, 2-1
- QF: #3 Rutgers def. #6 Minnesota, 4-1
- QF: #5 Michigan def. #4 Northwestern, 1-0
- QF: #1 Penn State def. #8 Illinois, 3-1
- SF1: #7 Ohio State vs. #3 Rutgers
- SF2: #5 Michigan vs. #1 Penn State
Wisconsin, the Big Ten Tournament defending champion, was the first to claim a share of the 2015 regular season title but came into this year’s tournament as a two seed on a 4-0 loss to regular season co-champ Penn State in September. Nationally ranked Rutgers held only a point’s difference over Northwestern to round out the quarterfinal hosts. In fact, all eight teams in the Big Ten Tournament field ended the regular season above .500 and narrowly separated by their conference records. So while No. 1 Penn State emerged from its quarterfinal with a 3-1 victory over No. 8 Illinois, No. 2 Wisconsin suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of No. 7 Ohio State, who had held the Badgers to a scoreless draw in the regular season. Rutgers handily put away Minnesota, 4-1, in its quarterfinal, and the more evenly matched No. 5-v-No. 4 saw Michigan slip past Northwestern with a 1-0 result.
Now the four winners head to Happy Valley for the semis with the two top seeds eliminated. Penn State will clash with Michigan again at home for the second time in two weeks and should be confident with the regular season’s 3-1 win over the Wolverines (and that same scoreline against Illinois) heading into the semifinals. And despite getting blanked 2-0 by Rutgers in the regular season, the Buckeyes can claim momentum from eliminating one of the top-ranked teams in the conference and a neutral site to go with their underdog status here. Seeding aside, the Scarlet Knights should certainly see themselves as contenders for the title no matter who they face. Rutgers defeated Penn State, 1-0, and tied Michigan 1-1, and although both results came at home, the Scarlet Knights will feel at home with their campus not too far away from Jeffrey Field.
The Quarterfinal-Round Upset
While last season it was top seeded Penn State who suffered the first-round knockout in the Big Ten Tournament, this year Wisconsin was the one to come up short. The Badgers back line gave up a crucial penalty kick opportunity late in the first half, which OSU’s Michela Paradiso converted, and the Buckeyes struck again a few minutes later off a header by Sammy Edwards. With the two-goal lead, Ohio State was able to be conservative in the second half, putting the onus on Wisconsin to try to beat the back line and freshman goalkeeper Devon Kerr, who held stalwart even under Wisconsin’s second-half onslaught. Faced with 22 shots, Kerr made nine saves and gave up one goal to keep the Badgers at bay.
Who Needs a Win
Rutgers and Penn State are ranked in the Top 10 of the NSCAA Coaches’ poll right now, and are not only locks for the tournament but very likely seeded teams regardless of how the Big Ten Tournament plays out. Ohio State holds a 11-5-3 record at this point in the season with mixed results in nonconference play. The Buckeyes’ 1-0 win over Florida was all the way back in August, and aside from the knockout win against Wisconsin, they either haven’t played or haven’t beaten any of teams that made the field of eight for the conference tournament in 2015. The Wolverines could be in a slightly better position with a 1-0 win over Northwestern and 3-1 win over Illinois at the beginning of October, along with a handful of clear wins in nonconference play. With Michigan already on the national radar as a team receiving votes, OSU has the most to gain from any win moving forward.
Quarterfinal on Wednesday at Swope Soccer Park, Kansas City, semifinal on Friday, final on Friday.
- QF 1: #8 Oklahoma State vs. #1 West Virginia
- QF 2: #5 Texas Tech vs. #4 Oklahoma
Winners of QF 1 an QF 2 meet in Semifinal #1
- QF 3: #7 TCU vs. #2 Baylor
- QF 4: #6 Kansas vs. #3 Baylor
Winners of QF 3 and QF 4 meet in Semifinal #2
My goodness, the Big 12 has certainly been something this season. I mean, we all knew West Virginia would run away with the regular season title, but I’m not sure anyone had resident cellar dweller of the Big 12 Baylor grabbing second place and Oklahoma State finishing second to last. Regardless, at best the Big 12 is going to be a three-bid league, meaning there are lots of teams here that have an NCAA Tournament bid to fight for. I think semifinal one will end up being West Virginia versus Texas Tech, with the winner going on to win the Big 12 title. The Mountaineers would love the matchup, as the only blemish on their Big 12 record came from a tie against Oklahoma. While it’s tough to trust this West Virginia team in knockout tournaments, I do think they’ll make the final. It was 4-1 against Tech back in October, and I expect more of the same. Quarterfinal three is intriguing, as its two teams I’m sure people expected to be sitting at home come November. Regardless, we’re going to see a Big 12 semifinal with either TCU or Baylor participating. I think they’ll fall to the winner from quarterfinal four, a matchup that isn’t too surprising if you ignore the team’s seeds. I think Kansas will go on a bit of a run and make it to the final, where the Jayhawks will fall to West Virginia.
Who Needs a Win
Is everyone but West Virginia a possible answer here? As I said earlier, this is probably a three-bid league. So with the Mountaineers racing toward a one seed who is left? Your answers are Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and whoever makes an improbable run to the final from the other side of the bracket. Quarterfinal number two is critical for both of those teams. Say someone not named West Virginia wins the tournament and the auto bid. Then you are faced with West Virginia, the auto bid team, and one more spot left open. I would give it to the winner between Texas Tech and Oklahoma. On the other side of the bracket, it’s going to take a lot more than just a win to get them into the tournament, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas finds a way to sneak in with a win.
All games at Orange Beach, Alabama. First round Monday, quarterfinals on Wednesday, semifinals on Friday, and final on Sunday.
- 1R A: #7 LSU def #10 Kentucky, 2-1
- 1R B: #8 Vanderbilt def #9 Georgia, 2-1
- QF 1: #7 LSU vs. #2 Missouri
- QF 2: #6 Texas A&M vs. #3 Ole Miss
Winners of QF 1 & QF 2 meet in Semifinal #1
- QF 3: #8 Vanderbilt vs. #1 Florida
- QF 4: #5 South Carolina vs. #4 Auburn
Winners of QF 3 & QF 4 meet in Semifinal #2
As expected, it’s been an absolutely wacky season of SEC play, which has lead to some extremely interesting seeding and matchups in this tournament. Looking at the quarterfinal matchups, most are a coin flip as to which team will advance. The quarterfinal one is a matchup of two Tiger teams that absolutely outplayed expectations for the season. The second quarterfinal has Ole Miss and Texas A&M, but probably not with the seeds you expected the teams to have heading into the year. It would be foolish to bet against this Aggies team now that its do or die time, but regardless of the victor, I think the winner of quarterfinal two makes the final. Ole Miss has proven its mettle this season, and if CeCe Kizer gets on the board they’re hard to stop.
On the other side of the bracket, Vanderbilt can absolutely give Florida a challenge, but I think they’ll be meeting the winner of the best quarterfinal matchup this week, South Carolina versus Auburn. Going out on a limb to say the winner of quarterfinal four wins the SEC Tournament. Both South Carolina and Auburn had the SEC regular season title in their hands at some point this season but let it slip away. When on their A game both defenses can be stout and their offenses definitely have their fair share of weapons. Mark it down, I’ve got South Carolina as your SEC Tournament champion for the first time since 2009.
Who Needs to Avoid a Quarterfinal Defeat
There are two very easy answers to this question: Vanderbilt and LSU. LSU is probably a bit safer than the ’Dores, and would be on the correct side of the bubble even with a loss. However, we know that when it comes to the selection committee, you don’t want to leave anything to chance, or the bubble. As for Vanderbilt, Coach Ambrose has lead a valiant first campaign, but the Commodores will need to win the tournament if they want a bid into the NCAA Tournament. Also, it’s worth noting that while Florida is most certainly going to be tournament team, a win in the quarterfinal still holds importance. If Florida wants to grab a No. 1 seed, winning this tournament will go a long way toward that goal, otherwise the Gators face the danger of a much lower seed than they would like.
AAC, ACC, and Big East Outlooks by JJ Duke
Big Ten Outlook by Ruth Moore
Big 12 and SEC Outlooks by Rachael Caldwell
Rachael Caldwell will be graduating from the University of Arkansas in 2015 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and minors in Spanish and Business Management. Rachael played soccer from when she was three until her senior year of high school, where she was the captain of her state championship winning team. Rachael looks forward to writing more for Our Game Magazine and also writes about women’s soccer on her blog, rachaelfc.wordpress.com.
JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. Although his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself on being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras).
Ruth Moore serves Our Game Magazine as a College Editor and the magazine’s Design Editor. She holds a degree in Professional Writing from Kutztown University, freelances in communication design, and loves coffee.