2016 Women's College Cup logo, smallIt’s that time of the year again. Our Game Magazine‘s college editors Rachael Caldwell, JJ Duke, and Ruth Moore preview the first-round action of the 2016 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. And because UCLA has qualified for the NCAA Tournament after last year’s… absence, Brandi Ortega joins the fray for this year’s coverage. They break down the first-round matchups, which teams have the easiest roads to the College Cup, and offer thoughts on possible upsets.

The complete bracket is here.

Bracket Quadrant #1

Seeds

  • #1 South Carolina
  • #2 North Carolina
  • #3 Clemson
  • #4 BYU

Bracket Outlook

First of all, while it won’t happen, it’s fun to see how many possible classic rivals could match up on this side of the bracket. Maybe we have a Palmetto Series rematch between South Carolina and Clemson for a trip to the college cup, maybe we Oklahoma State and Oklahoma shock the seeds and face off in the third round, AND we are already guaranteed to see the Border War fireworks fly between Kansas and Mizzou and a clash between old Mountain West foes BYU and UNLV in the first round. Overall, I think this bracket plays out with minimal upsets. The College Cup representative from this side is going to come from the South Carolina versus BYU quarterfinal matchup.

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

In theory, to reach the College Cup each of these seeds would have to go through another seed. The idea is for the one to go through the four seed and then the winner of the two and three seed. In spite of this exact science, the madness of the tourney often results in seed upsets which then means the seeds that survive have an easier path forward. I say all of this to say that North Carolina has the easiest path to the College Cup simply because South Carolina and BYU have to go through each other. Whoever comes out of that match is going to be tired and more than likely a little roughed up. Like I said earlier, I think whoever wins that match is going to the College Cup, but it is by no means going to be easy.

As for North Carolina, Liberty is becoming a well-known first-round foe for the Heels, and Kansas and Mizzou won’t pose much of a threat. I think that leaves the winner of Clemson versus Arkansas for a spot to the quarterfinals. Let’s say the seeds hold serve and it’s Clemson. North Carolina tied them 1-1 earlier this season, and I think they finish them this time. It pays to peak at the right time when it comes to the tournament, and the Tar Heels have certainly done that. So congrats to the Heels for playing their way into a No. 2 seed and earning an easier route to the Cup by default.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

I’m notoriously terrible at selecting first-round upsets here at Our Game Magazine. I’m just glad West Virginia isn’t in my bracket portion, as I always completely and totally pick them wrong. So, drumroll please, my totally laughable first-round seed upset goes to: Clemson. Let’s go through each matchup right quick.

Sorry, South Alabama, but the one-two punch of South Carolina’s defense combined with Savannah McCaskill’s general existence is not matched by many. Gamecocks advance.

North Carolina has played Liberty in the first round of the tournament three of the past four seasons. A 4-0 loss in 2013, a 3-0 loss in 2015, and let’s go with a 2-0 loss in 2016. Give ’em three more seasons.

BYU used to play UNLV regularly in the Mountain West conference, and as a result, they have an all-time record of 15-1-1 record against the Rebs. The Cougars also have a top five offense in the NCAA. They’ll be runnin’ the Rebels out of the NCAA Tournament after this match (forgive me).

That leaves Clemson versus Northeastern. First-year head coach Ashley Phillips has done a heck of a job with this Huskies squad — oh, and she was a four-year starter in net at Clemson. Hello there compelling narrative, I was looking for you. Aside from that, does Northeastern really have a chance? Clemson can score a ton and won’t give up too many. Northeastern is a team that doesn’t really score a lot, but also gave up more than two goals on just one occasion this season. They lost 1-0 to UConn, and 2-0 to Texas Tech. If the Huskies can just find a way to get on the board I think they can at least get this to penalties, because I don’t see this match being a barn burner. In Clemson’s last 10 matches they’ve tied three and the other seven have been decided by just one goal. I think it’s going to be a very tight affair in this one.

Featured Match

DID SOMEONE SAY BORDER WAR!? Ever since that fateful 2012 season that saw Mizzou and Texas A&M leave for the, may I say, greener pastures of the beautiful Southeastern Conference, the annual meeting of hatred between Missouri and Kansas came to a tragic end. The last time these two bitter rivals met was in the 2014 edition of the NCAA tournament, with the Tigers advancing with a 3-1 win. None of the players that scored in that match are with these teams anymore, so hey aside from the years of distaste between these two schools, it’s a clean slate. I’m always up for a good rivalry match, and a rivalry match with raised stakes just makes it even better. I will most definitely be tuning into this first round match.

Additional Thoughts

Thanks for the additional thoughts space JJ, as I can finally talk about my Arkansas Razorbacks. I’m a little upset the Hogs didn’t grab a seed, as one could argue their season warranted it, but understand the hesitation from the committee to give the SEC four seeded teams considering the conference’s less than stellar NCAA Tournament record. Regardless, Arkansas still gets to host a first-round tournament game for the first time in school history. To think this program made its first NCAA Tournament just three years ago and is now in the conversation for a seed is pretty impressive, even from my skewed, biased perspective. The Razorbacks’ path is pretty nice all things considered, with Memphis a very beatable first-round opponent and Clemson perhaps the least terrifying of all the seeded teams. After that it would most likely be North Carolina and then possibly a South Carolina team they’re itching for payback against. This is a team that RELISHES the underdog role, and I’m sure Coach Hale is already hyping up the idea they were snubbed from a seed and no one thinks they’re contenders. Expect the Hogs to be fired up and ready to battle. Oh, and expect Razorback Field to be rocking. Woo dang pig y’all.

— by Rachael Caldwell

 

Bracket Quadrant #2

Seeds

  • #1 Stanford
  • #2 Georgetown
  • #3 Virginia
  • #4 Minnesota

Bracket Outlook

I have to say, I’m pretty excited to have this corner of the bracket (and not WVU/Notre Dame/UCLA/Duke). It’s a big ol’ Bay Area rumble, a smattering of Big Ten, and the potential for another killer episode of the Virginia-Penn State series. There are two West Coast Conference teams, Harvard from the Ivy League, and Georgetown seeded and hopefully ready to dodge the first-round knockout this time around. Rutgers and Penn State both made the Final Four in 2015, but both are unseeded and could potentially meet in the third round this year, for the third time this year. This quadrant encapsulates everything I love about college soccer and the postseason: familiar foes, decent balance, respectable seeds, and some mostly sensible geography — plus, all of the particulars of the above.

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

Cliché: It’s hard to claim an “easy” route, but Stanford, the No. 1 seed, has a manageable path. That’s probably an understatement given that the Cardinal is 4-0 this season against the teams in this quadrant that it already faced in 2016. It outscored those four 13-3, including a 3-0 road win against No. 2 seed Georgetown and a 4-1 win over No. 4 seed Minnesota at home. The team will be without Pac-12 Player of the Year Andi Sullivan (U.S. Women’s National Team duty) to start the campaign, but it’s hard to imagine the Cardinal (17-1-1 on the season) stumbling to Houston Baptist (10-10-1) at home.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

No. 4 Minnesota, facing the ACC’s North Carolina State, gets the upset alert because I’m feeling generous toward Georgetown. 10-8-1 on the season and 4-4-1 on the road, NC State has been tested by one of the strongest conferences in women’s soccer. The Wolfpack opened ACC play with a 1-0 win over North Carolina and scored on all conference foes except in 0-1 losses to Notre Dame and Florida State. Minnesota had to grind through an increasingly competitive Big Ten, sure, but compared to the other seeded teams, the Gophers definitely have their work cut out for them in the postseason.

Featured Match

Aside from the seeded teams, you have to keep an eye on what’s going on with those Bay Area teams. Pac-12’s California faces the WCC’s Pepperdine and the WCC’s Santa Clara hosts Long Beach State yet again. Santa Clara faced Long Beach in the first round last year and pulled through with a 1-0 win. California, incidentally, faced the WCC’s Loyola Marymount in the first round last year and suffered a first-round upset as a No. 3 seed. Lest anyone accuse me of favoring the West Coast too much here, I think Rutgers-Harvard could be an intriguing match-up. Rutgers might have the strength of schedule, results, and home-field advantage here (that’s a lot, I know) but something has me wondering if Harvard could pull off a scrappy little upset in New Jersey.

Additional Thoughts

Selection Monday and the reveal of the NCAA DI Women’s Soccer Championship bracket got me the most excited that I’ve been for soccer all year. Based on the tradition of OGM College Coverage Past, I got lucky this year, with “my” two teams (Santa Clara and Penn State) winding up in the same quadrant. My DI “alma mater,” SIUE, made a shocking return to the tournament and will play one of my all-time favorites, Notre Dame. UCLA returned to the tournament as well and snagged a four-seed. There are a lot of potentially fun match-ups all the way through the National Championship, and despite hating to make predictions, I’ve actually enjoyed filling out this bracket.

Generally speaking, 2016 has been a terrible year — but this postseason lineup is looking like a welcome respite. Thank you, women of NCAA soccer.

— by Ruth Moore

Bracket Quadrant #3

Seeds

  • #1 West Virginia
  • #2 Notre Dame
  • #3 Duke
  • #4 UCLA

Bracket Outlook

There are potential Cinderella stories in the first and second rounds. Really, the entire section of this bracket is rife with peril (how ’bout that turn of phrase?) for any of the seeds should they look past the early rounds. This is West Virginia’s to lose, though, and Duke will have something to say about that. But it will come down to the Mountaineers and the Blue Devils with West Virginia advancing. The middle of the bracket is intriguing and offers some toss-ups with teams, for the most part, evenly matched.

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

First of all, there are no easy roads in the NCAA Tournament. Who writes this stuff? But since I have to pick, I’ll say West Virginia has the easier route to the College Cup even though UCLA could pose a barrier should the Bruins put together a string of full games. West Virginia is just too tough and they’re playing at home though Ohio State can cause some headaches for the favorites as they did in a tight 1-2 loss to the Mountaineers in September.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

Why? Why must I answer this question? Okay, UCLA is on Upset Alert. There. Whatever. The Bruins are hosting but Seattle comes into the match as WAC tournament winners. The Bruin defense will need to make sure Natasha Howe isn’t given time and space, and be consistent for two halves, something the young team is still struggling to learn how to do. After a 1-0 win over the Trojans, the Bruins may be peaking at the right time, though.

Featured Match

There’s not just one match. I’m keeping an eye on that Ohio State-Dayton game but also that Michigan-Illinois State one as well. On paper, you might give the edge to Ohio State, but Dayton plays the spoiler well and the Atlantic 10 champions can give the Buckeyes all they can handle. Over in Ann Arbor, Michigan hosts Illinois State, MVC regular-season and tournament champions but look for the hosts to take this one and advance to face Duke.

Additional Thoughts

UCLA. In all seriousness, this was supposed to be a building year en route to potentially nabbing Mallory Pugh and Ashley Sanchez to begin dominating women’s college soccer for at least one year, but the Bruins have put together a strong season. Jessie Fleming has lived up to they hype but without Darian Jenkins, the Bruins’ chances of making a deep run in this year’s tournament are low. However, if this turns out to be incorrect, I will conveniently forget I ever typed these words.

— by Brandi Ortega

Bracket Quadrant #4

Seeds

  • #1 Florida
  • #2 USC
  • #3 Florida State
  • #4 Auburn

Bracket Outlook

Out of the four quadrants in this year’s NCAA Tournament bracket, this one is probably the most confusing. It’s not so much about the seeds, or the auto bids that are in there, but it’s the at-large teams. That group includes Texas A&M, TCU, Utah, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, and Marquette. I exclude Utah and Marquette as both teams had solid seasons and I give credit to TCU for fighting back after a rough conference season to come within two minutes of winning the Big 12 Tournament title (to be honest, I’m gutted for that team as they did about everything right against West Virginia on Sunday for 88 minutes). And while Wisconsin had a rough season, they were able to grind out a few results late to get their RPI to 36, even with their eight draws. Also, it’s not the worst thing in the world to enjoy watching Rose Lavelle lace them up one more time for the Badgers.

But here in lies my issue: How in the world did Texas A&M and Texas Tech get in? A&M missed a lot in Ally Watt not being available for the season due to her commitment for the U.S. U-20s. But the Aggies had a lot of poor results in the middle portion of the season, including losses to Vanderbilt, Alabama, Tennessee, and Ole Miss in a stretch where the team went winless for almost a month. Sure, a late season win to Auburn was probably their saving grace but there are nearly 10 teams that had a better RPI than the Aggies did and didn’t get in. For Tech, they needed an overtime winner in their final game of the season just to finish eighth in the Big 12. That’s eighth of nine total teams in the Big 12. Now, unlike A&M, the Red Raiders RPI is at a respectable spot at 42 and they played a few more challenging teams, albeit not really having a signature win. But those two selections are just confusing to me to say the least and I think that could make things a lot easier for the seeded teams in this bracket to carry through and get to the third round (or the selection of those teams that just snuck in could give them second life and motivate them to pick up an upset or two, it’s already been a crazy enough season as it is).

Which Seed Has the Easiest Route to the College Cup?

I’m going to say that USC probably has the best route. There is no real easy route here in this bracket because all four seeds have a good case to get out of this quadrant. And for USC, Florida State is waiting in the third round and that squad just thrives on elimination games, especially if they get to penalties. But USC has been a joy to follow all season long and it looks like they have found a recipe for success to make a run this season. Sure, they stumbled out of the gate and lost to Santa Clara and Long Beach State in their first two matches but they rattled off 10 straight and thrashed North Carolina and Stanford (yes, thrashed Stanford) during their campaign. They are a menace on offense with Morgan Andrews, Alex Anthony, and Katie Johnson combining for 23 goals while Sammy Jo Prudhomme is in that discussion of being one of the top goalkeepers in the senior class. I believe those two factors meshing in with a 7-1 home record and the chance to play at least three matches in SoCal could be the difference here for the Trojans to march on to San Jose.

Which Seeded Team is on a First-Round Upset Alert?

To what I said above, I don’t think any seeded team should have any issues with their early round matches but of the four seeds, keep an eye out to South Alabama on the road to Auburn. The Jags finally got the sour taste out of losing in the first round every year when they dumped LSU out of the competition last year with a 4-0 win. And for the first time in forever, they are not pitted up against Florida State, a team that they ironically enough beat earlier on this season. Also, South Alabama played Auburn this year, so they have 90-plus minutes to work off of in their scouting plans (Auburn won that late August contest 1-0 on Courtney Schell’s 107th minute goal). It is not to say that Auburn have faded down the stretch in any aspect as well, as while they did lose to Texas A&M right at the end of the season, they did regain their composure to get to the semifinals in the SEC tournament. I just think that if you play a team once already during a season, you really can game plan nicely and figure out what you did wrong during in the first encounter so that you don’t make that mistake again.

Featured Match

Marquette at Wisconsin is probably the best of the bunch here in the first round. It’s a regional rivalry, these two teams know each other pretty well as they play a tune-up match prior to the start of every season, and the last time that Wisconsin hosted an NCAA Tournament match back in 2014, it snowed… a lot. Now this time around in Madison it’s not going to snow, but it’s going to be about 34 degrees at kickoff and while both teams are based in cold weather areas, one would think it should favor the home team. However, Marquette does come into this match the winners of eight of their last 10, including Carrie Madden scoring this crazy overtime winner in the Big East semifinal over St. John’s last week, and are backed by the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in Morgan Profitt. She plays more of a defensive midfielder, despite racking up five goals this year, and will have the assignment of marking the ever elusive and ever dangerous Rose Lavelle. Lots of factors to keep an eye on in this one and plenty of intrigue as well, with the winner having the luxury of possibly heading to a much warmer climate in Florida next weekend.

Additional Thoughts

Welp, I am the only person who didn’t see their alma mater get into the NCAA Tournament this year, as my beloved Rider Broncs flamed out in the MAAC quarterfinals. So, I now get to become the in-state homer for the rest of the season. Which means it’s all riding on you, UConn. Last year’s tournament run was nice by getting past Notre Dame before falling to Rutgers. But man, you’ve got the dynamic scoring duo in Stephanie Ribeiro and Rachel Hill, who’ve now combined to tally 35 goals this season, and a 14-match unbeaten streak heading into this weekend’s contest against Albany. I think this could be the real dark horse in this section and if a seed were to trip up here in this quadrant, I believe that UConn is going to be the team to take advantage of it.

— by JJ Duke

 

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