November 13, 2019

NCAA Preview Edition

By Matthew Zinner

We have finally made it to the best time of the year. The new season. Tournament Time. Everyone is back to square one and believes that they can make it happen. Up to this point, the rankings were based on teams’ performances, talent, and future likelihood of success. Now a new element has been added to the mix: the bracket itself. Certain teams will be moved up and down the rankings based on the perceived difficulty of their path. To win it all, you are going to have to beat excellent teams. But getting an “easier” first weekend certainly helps. Now to the rankings.

Title Favorites

1. John Carroll Late October:   No. 9  |  17-2-2 (.857)  |  40 GF / 15 GA
  John Carroll vs. Washington and Jefferson + (Centre vs Kalamazoo): I think that of all the “one seeds” JCU has the easiest road to Greensboro. All of the top seeds are favored to get out of the first weekend, especially those that were actually able to host. JCU also should have the easiest Sweet 16 matchup with the winner of a down western region awaiting the Blue Streaks. There is usually no such thing as an easy Elite 8 game (although Tufts didn’t heed that message against Montclair State last year) and this will be no different. A potential matchup against the likes of Franklin and Marshall, Kenyon, or Rochester will be entertaining, but I’m taking JCU at home to finally get over the hump.
2. Calvin Late October:   No. 2  |  19-1-1 (.929)  |  69 GF / 14 GA
  Calvin vs. UW-Whitewater + (Ohio Northern vs St. Norbert): Calvin is consistently the most dominant offensive program in the country. They play a beautiful brand of soccer with so much talent that it is overwhelming for most teams in the country. I think they will be able to relatively coast to the Elite 8 while playing in the friendly confines of Michigan. That is where they, once again, will resume their annual battle with Chicago for Midwest superiority. Watching this matchup live last year it was clear that Calvin won the tactical battle. They were able to impose their style of play and exposed Chicago on the massive pitch in Greensboro. This year’s Chicago team is different though. Koh and Lopez were special talents, but they were also given free roles to roam as they saw fit. That lack of positional discipline is what Calvin exposed in a rampant first half that proved the difference. This Chicago team is less talented but more together. Unfortunately, they will still fall short against the Knights.
3. Tufts Late October:   No. 3  |  14-2-2 (.833)  |  40 GF / 12 GA
  Tufts vs. SUNY-Maritime + (WPI vs Nazareth): Tufts will be massive favorites against SUNY-Maritime setting up a likely second-round matchup against WPI at Bello Field. This game will be reminiscent of the 2017 second-round game against St Joseph’s (Maine). Unlike that matchup this Tufts team will have the firepower to overcome an entrenched opponent and win before a shootout. This will set up an interesting Sweet 16 matchup against a southern opponent. A big reason for Tufts success nationally over the past five years is their ability to overwhelm opponents that have never seen them before. Tufts has traditionally struggled against more familiar opponents that know what is coming, but Washington and Lee or Oglethorpe will have no such luxury. This will set up another 2017 rematch against Johns Hopkins. This year’s edition may actually take place in Baltimore, but, given the turf, surface will not be a huge factor. In this game, Tufts will benefit from their experience playing against Hopkins’ ball dominant style, with depth resulting in a late winner to return to Greensboro. A matchup against Calvin will be a tossup, leading into a game of destiny against Amherst.
4. Amherst Late October:   No. 1  |  14-1-2 (.882)  |  42 GF / 11 GA
  Amherst vs. Thomas + (Ithaca vs Keene St): I still think Amherst is the best team in the country, and I picked them to win it all. But the tournament committee did them no favors. Not hosting is ridiculous given that the women play on a second field, and the athletic department would be more than capable of pulling it off. Beyond that, Rowan is a team with enough talent and attitude to pose the Mammoths issues, even on Cole Field. Finally, they are staring down the most difficult Elite 8 opponent of any top seed. A match against either SUNY Oneonta or Messiah will be must watch. A game against the Red Dragons would pit the two top strikers in the country and favorites for National POY, German Giammattei and Whitman Hernandez. On the other hand, watching Messiah attempt to do Messiah things on the tiny, beat up Amherst field would be incredibly compelling. If Amherst is able to take care of business on their home field that weekend, they will be favorites to take home the second title of the Serpone Dynasty.
5. Franklin and Marshall Late October:   No. 7  |  16-3-0 (.842)  |  44 GF / 14 GA
  Franklin and Marshall vs. Penn State-Harrisburg + (Hobart vs Montclair State): This is not the forum to comment on the extracurricular events that transpired at F&M last week. But assuming that no one is suspended, I actually think it will help this team moving forward. In moments of controversy like this teams are forced to pull together, and ultimately, the team most able to come through fire is the team that wins it all. The Diplomats should be disciplined enough to dispose of a talented Montclair State team at home before an intriguing matchup against Kenyon or Rochester. That will be one of the best matchups of the Sweet 16, and if F&M can prevail, they will like their chances to spring the upset over JCU to reach the Final Four.
6. Chicago Late October:   No. 5  |  11-1-5 (.794)  |  29 GF / 9 GA
  Chicago vs. Dominican + (Ohio Wesleyan vs Hope): Chicago will also have to navigate being sent on the road for logistical reasons. A second-round matchup against OWU or Hope away will be difficult, but the stingy Maroons defense—zero goals conceded in the UAA—should be enough. I think Chicago will be big favorites over the winner of the Luther pod, setting up another matchup with Calvin. I have already spoken about this matchup above, but at some point, this squad will have to conquer their demons to win a National Championship. I think they would actually rather play this game at Calvin than in Greensboro, where the massive field left them exposed last December. A win here will likely see them face Hopkins or Tufts but coming off a victory over Calvin their confidence will be impregnable.
7. Johns Hopkins Late October:   No. 6  |  16-2-1 (.868)  |  40 GF / 15 GA
  Johns Hopkins vs. John Jay + (Connecticut College vs Catholic): JHU will make the short trip to D.C. to face either Conn. College or Catholic in the second round. Facing AJ Marcucci and Conn. in the second round could prove a stumbling block, as the Camel’s keeper is capable of winning any game on his day. However, I think the Blue Jays will eventually wear down a tiring backline with their possession, moving on to the second weekend. There they should be able to beat whoever Virginia or Pennsylvania throws at them, setting up a dream rematch against Tufts. At home this time, Hopkins makes adjustments to deal with Tufts press and is able to sneak in a first half goal. Then while the Jumbos are forced to chase, Achim Younker gets in behind on the counter to seal the biggest win of Coach Appleby’s career. This team would be built for the field in Greensboro and fancy their chances against whoever emerges from the Midwest bracket.
8. Messiah Late October:   No. 4  |  16-2-2 (.850)  |  44 GF / 11 GA
  Messiah vs. Framingham State + (Babson vs Oneonta State): I think Messiah is comfortably one of the top four teams in the country, but they were given a nightmare second-round matchup. On paper Babson is the more likely opponent, and having beaten Tufts, the Beavers will know they can take down anyone. But a second-round matchup against SUNY Oneonta would be a joke. This is a game that could be a potential final and for it to place in the first weekend is incredible. If they are then able to emerge from that trial by combat, they are likely staring down a NESCAC back-to-back on Amherst’s field. I think Messiah’s talent will see them past a resolute Middlebury side, but their injuries and subsequent lack of depth will make a Sunday matchup against Amherst a nightmare. If they are able to emerge from Massachusetts, they will have two weeks to heal up before a Final Four matchup in which they will be favored against whoever awaits. After that, a chance to exorcise the 2014 demons and relaunch the next decade of supremacy with a long-awaited victory over Tufts.
9. Kenyon Late October:   No. 8  |  17-1-2 (.900)  |  58 GF / 15 GA
  Kenyon 17-1-2 vs. PSU Behrend + (Rochester vs Hanover): Despite picking them to lose in the first round, I have actually been high on Kenyon all year. I just feel that every year, one of the top teams fails to break down a team that sits in, and this year the Lords are the lucky team to fall victim. If they do win, a second matchup against Rochester will be the second best match of the day behind the aforementioned Messiah-Oneonta tilt. I would also like Kenyon versus F&M in Ohio before setting up an epic matchup for in-state bragging rights in the Elite 8. The regular season matchup was a tight affair, and ultimately the difference in hosting rights, and this game would be no different. Unfortunately, the Lords would be pretty big underdogs against whoever survives the group of death, but once you make the Final Four it’s anyone’s game.
10. Swarthmore Late October:   No. N/R  |  11-3-3 (.735)  |  34 GF / 22 GA
  Swarthmore vs Roanoke + (Christopher Newport vs Eastern): For my Cinderella pick I am going with Swarthmore, who once way back in the day hosted me on a lovely recruiting visit. I still have dreams about that meatball parm…anyways, if the Phoenix can escape Virginia, they will face familiar foe Johns Hopkins in the Sweet 16. Emboldened by a regular season draw, Swarthmore upsets Hopkins and then faces Tufts with the opportunity to emerge from this year’s nerdiest sectional. The dream run continues when they spar against fellow bibliophiles Chicago in the Final Four. A national championship game against Amherst features more Noble prize winners than professional athletes, and Swarthmore emerges as the biggest underdog champion since Newton versus the falling apple.

 


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Zinn's Contenders

 

Zinn's Contenders is an attempt to project the current year men's national champion based on a combination of facts, opinion and a bit of insider's knowledge. 

Columnist

Matthew Zinner

Matthew Zinner was a four year member of the Tufts Men’s soccer team winning two national championships in 2014 and 2016. After graduation he spent one year as a member of the coaching staff, winning a third national championship. After five years of division III soccer, Matthew hung up the boots to attend medical school. With his abundant free time, he is still an avid follower of Tufts and DIII soccer as a whole.

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