November 18, 2010

NCAA Sweet 16 men's preview

Cody Antonini and Muhlenberg will host Merchant Marine in the quarterfinals on Saturday  Photo by Lisa Youngentob

By James Derrick

So much for Dominican.  So much for Swarthmore.  So much for Christopher Newport, Williams, and anyone in UAA for that matter.  The Sweet 16 is surprising, and yet not too surprising.  While the NESCAC spent their first two rounds upending opponents en route to the third round- Williams cannot be included after being the next victim in line for Babson last weekend- the much touted UAA proved to be a letdown for the teams and fans alike.  Despite achieving two byes and three Pool C bids, they've failed to muster a single win. So much for overweighting a conference.

Regardless, the tournament continues with season favorites of Messiah, Ohio Wesleyan, and Trinity, as well as Wisconsin teams Oshkosh and Whitewater.

In the NESCAC side of the bracket, they've nearly established full control of the situation, assuring themselves three spots out of four in the sectional semi-finals. Only Williams will sit out after their loss to Babson; interesting that they made short work of Suffolk with an 8-0 thrashing, only to fall to Babson's fantastic form. Middlebury, Bowdoin, and Amherst all booked themselves spots in the Sweet 16 after tooth-and-nail matches, with Bowdoin ousting a tough Eastern Connecticut side 2-1, Amherst deflating St. Lawrence 3-2 compliments of a James Mooney treble, and Middlebury coming from behind to down Williams Paterson 2-1, with Tyler Macnee scoring at the death for a thrilling win. The Elite 8 match could very well be a rematch of the NESCAC championship, where Bowdoin fell to Middlebury on penalties. All Middlebury must do is put to rest Babson dream-run, while Bowdoin needs a win against Amherst, something they haven't done this season. At this point, every team on this side of the bracket is incredibly tough and incredibly talented, particularly the NESCAC teams, but a Babson side who knocked-out Final Four hopeful Williams looks to repeat their 1970s success, where they amassed three national championships.

The winner of this weekend sectional contests between Babson and NESCAC will face the winner of potentially the strongest quarter of the bracket. The incredibly tough teams of Ohio Wesleyan, Trinity, Lynchburg, and Johns Hopkins will battle for a spot in San Antonio, but their section could have been much tougher had not Lynchburg upset Emory, and Johns Hopkins plundered Christopher Newport's sinking ship; little the Captains could do about that. Johns Hopkins has, at times, looked very much the part of a finals contestant, yet in so many other cases looked as dour as a team facing potential early elimination in a conference tournament. However, the Centennial Conference semi-finalists have demonstrated their uncanny ability and post-season experience to provide themselves with a trip to the second round after an overtime classic thriller against Richard Stockton, and then an incredible 2-1 win over Christopher Newport in overtime. Problem is, they now face quite possibly the nation's toughest opponent in Ohio Wesleyan. It's going to be nothing short of a rough ride in facing the Wall brothers plus Bryant, and emphatically effective defense of Harmanis, Witkoff, Laipple, Miller and Greene. Ohio Wesleyan has not lost since the first game of the season, and they have already knocked-off Kenyon, one of the regions's best. This Saturday's match between the two will be full of intensity, but it's hard to imagine Ohio Wesleyan not finding themselves in a showdown with Trinity. Trinity has two this year, but it's been awhile. Their match against Lynchburg wouldn't normally be a cause for dire concern, however, Lynchburg's shocks in this tournament would be a cause of a hike in the nerves for any opponent. Their women's run dissolved early, but the men continue to defy the odds; first with a 3-1 blazing of Transylvania, and then an historic 2-1 win over Emory, who was the eyebrow-raising recipient of a first round bye. Even more intriguing is the fact that Emory dealt Lynchburg their second loss of the season. Lynchburg have loss just once since the beginning of October, a definite cause for concern among the Trinity squad. In terms of a Final Four finish, Trinity has looked the part for the most of the season, posting large-margin victories over many of their opponents throughout the season. However, they needed penalties to claim victory of in-state rivals UT-Tyler, and that coming after a nervy 3-1 win over Pacific. Trinity versus Lynchburg will, undoubtedly, provide an exciting match if Trinity fails again in finding their scoring form, and Lynchburg forgets just who it is that is higher in the rankings.

Matt Bonfini and Ohio Wesleyan host Johns Hopkins, Lynchburg, and Trinity in the quarterfinals on Saturday

One wonders how long Messiah can steady their nerves for breath-taking finishes and wins at the death. Messiah's overtime win against Montclair State demonstrated 1) Messiah will come through when a winner is needed at the last gasp, 2) they can grind out wins against tough opponents, but 3) they are susceptible. Were it not for Pezon's screamer, one also wonders if Messiah would have lived to fight again. They did, and now the nation awaits their match with shock Sweet 16 team, Medaille. Hard to believe that a regional bracket consisting of Swarthmore, Rochester, and DeSales, and it was Medaille who booked themselves a spot in the sectional semi-finals. Upending another UAA side, Rochester, and Medaille found themselves dealt a seemingly insurmountable task of downing Centennial champion Swarthmore. But despite rattling-off 26 shots, Langley, Rose, and Co. were unable to send one home, and Medaille claimed an unbelievable upset in penalties; too bad for Swarthmore, for now Johns Hopkins and Muhlenberg will carry the torch for the Centennial Conference. The winner of Medaille versus Messiah will face Swarthmore's better Centennial half, Muhlenberg if they are able break Merchant Marine's hearts in their sectional semifinal. Muhlenberg is a probable favorite to win that match, but so was Kean- USMMA pounded them- and so was Brockport- USMMA smashed three past them en route to a thrilling overtime win- and now Muhlenberg can't help but wonder if they're next in line to fall to the formerly unheralded Merchant Marines. Muhlenberg landed in the Sweet 16 with a massive win over Stevens in overtime, and Merchant Marine, who tied Stevens earlier this season, will be very wary of a tough Muhlenberg side as they look to maybe book a date with other surprise Elite 8 opponent, Medaille.

In the last quarter of the bracket, Calvin looks to book another date in San Antonio, as they hope to rectify their championship loss to Messiah last year. In order to do so, however, they must get by the Wisconsin boys first. In their first match, they will face UW-Whitewater, who have had little trouble in their progression to the third round, running out 2-0 winners against Macalester, and then cruising past Augsburg 3-0. Without a doubt the match will be enticing, with the winner facing either Loras or UW-Oshkosh. As far as Oshkosh is concerned, a win from Loras is statistically improbable, at least if one is using this season as a reference. Loras however, will use the momentum from their monumental last-gasp goal against Washington to find a way to break down UW-Oshkosh's miserly defense. It will be a difficult task. UW-Oshkosh remains the only team undefeated in the nation, and their defense is the reason; a hard lesson learned by North Park, who came close to breaking down Oshkosh in their second round match. Loras' six losses this season may be the difference-maker, for Oshkosh does not know how to lose this campaign. Oshkosh could go unscathed into the semifinals if all goes as planned for them. An all-out University of Wisconsin match-up in the Elite 8 would be exciting, but so would a modern rendition of last year's national championship between Messiah and Calvin in the championship match.

Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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