By: Jimmy Leppert and Alex Lee
Checking in with Alex, we talk about our predictions around the mid-season point of the men’s college season. With the Stanford Invite this weekend, there is a lot to talk about.
[Instead of two separate posts about our predictions so far, Alex and I sent some emails back and forth. This is that conversation. It’s similar to what Ultiworld did recently, and Grantland has been doing this for a while.]
Jimmy Leppert: So Alex. It’s about the half-way point of the 2015 college season. Some of the major tournaments are out of the way, Warm Up, Pres Day, Queen City, and we know a bit more about each team – especially if you’re watching any part of what Ultiworld offers via their film packages.
Lets start with something positive – what did we get right?
Alex Lee: So far, all of the big guns have lived up to the billing: Pitt, UNC, UNC-W, Oregon. UNC-W has been really impressing me so far and Pitt’s just being Pitt. We can never really take away anything from Carleton’s pre-regionals performances.
The Southeast looks strong. Georgia has come out hot and the other three Florida teams are in the top 10. That might be a result of them being able to have their whole rosters at Warm-Up though.
Colorado hasn’t seem to really lost a step and Texas A&M has firmly moved into the top teams conversation.
Washington’s been making me look pretty smart by beating Colorado and holding tight with Oregon.
Southwest is a mess like we expected.
JL: You’re including UNC-W with the big guns,eh? They’ve put up some impressive results so far, and some not as impressive. Still not sure they can climb the ladder all the way to the top, but they’ve definitely moved up some rungs. With how well Pittsburgh has done thus far, and Oregon’s play even without Dylan Freechild, I’m not sure if they belong in the same conversation.
Just like I said at the beginning of the season, I think the Southeast’s biggest problem is that they could hurt their own region by playing each other. @bamasecs has seemed a bit concerned about this, especially with how brackets could’ve ended up at Warm Up. They’re all clearly in the conversation for Nationals, and earning the 4-bids for the region, but how much does playing each other hurt their standings (and eventual seeding) at Nationals?
I’m not so sure if Colorado losing to Washington in the semis at Pres Day is them not losing a step, but there isn’t as much of a drop-off as I expected for sure. Texas A&M on the other hand… they may be the best team in Texas, but I’m still not sure if they can even put up a good fight (against Colorado) to win their own region.
Washington looks like a much better team so far this season without a doubt. So I guess the next question is, who is in your top five right now?
AL: Based on the tournaments so far, my top five has got to be:
1. Oregon (15-0) It’s been against really easy competition but 15-0 is always impressive. I feel even more confident with my preseason pick seeing them relatively cruise through President’s Day without Freechild.
1b. Pittsburgh (14-2) The only two losses are one pointers to North Carolina and UCF. These results are all the more impressive as we’ve seen Coach Kaczmerak run pretty open lines and experiment in January and February. Probably at Stanford we’ll see something closer to the final lines that they’ll play through the series.
3. UNC-W (18-3) I’m sticking with this team as they’re undefeated in their past two tournaments, even though some of the results from EQ were probably closer than the Seamen wanted. There’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon if you want to hop on.
4. UNC (11-2) One loss to UCF and another to the upstart Massachusetts hasn’t changed my opinion about Darkside. UNC-W gets the slightest of nods because of their larger body of work. I can’t wait for the UNC vs. UNC-W rivalry to start up again.
5. UCF (12-3) Arguably one of the most dangerous teams in the field. UCF is the only team that has beaten Pitt, UNC and UNC-W. Their athleticism and play style guarantees that they can match up with any team in the nation. However, a bad loss to Illinois and a blowout loss against Pitt holds this team from going up the rankings. I’m not sure that they’re the most consistent team out there, but some team is going to be unhappy to see this team in their pool at Nationals.
Do you have any differences in your rankings?
JL: Ha! I’m not down on UNC-W, I just think their results aren’t as impressive as you do. Harvard, Georgia, UMass – their three most impressive victories. They’re probably #6 for me…
1. Pittsburgh / Oregon – toss up, take your pick who really should be in front of the other. If Stanford goes according to seed, earliest we’ll see the two face-off is the finals of the tournament. I can’t wait. Pittsburgh should be expected to put those horrible offensive points they had in Warm Up behind them, while Oregon will work to get healthy, and keep on improving. A show-down between the two is what we all want, at least before the series.
3. Florida State – you picked the wrong Florida-based team my friend. Until the finals of Warm Up, they looked like the team to beat, not Pitt. Pitt looked vulnerable. Now, it’s FSU who looks vulnerable. They should have the Ultiworld team subscription, so they can pick out exactly what went wrong when they met Pittsburgh in the finals. If they had won that game, they’d be sitting above Pittsburgh in my rankings.
4. You got this one right. North Carolina. I was watching film of Classic City Classic the other day, one of the UNC games Ultiworld has available, and how much of a difference Nethercutt alone makes on that team is unbelievable. My friend was watching the same video, and texted me halfway through, “Half of the time it doesn’t look like he’s even trying, and then he turns it out and goes to a whole new level. Damn.”
5. Washington – they have one loss, to Oregon, and have a win over the defending champs. Also, ASU doing well helps them, as will the rest of the Southwest when that chaos meets more of the east coast teams. While they may have to go through Oregon at regionals, if they continue to post impressive results now, the seeding come Nationals should work out in their favor. They can’t let losses to Oregon bring them down, and bring them from seeing their potential. Their pool with Carleton and Tufts won’t be an easy one at Stanford either.
So we’ve talked about what we got right, where we stand now…. how about our mistakes? Where did we screw up so far?
AL: I really like Washington, jumped on the hype train before the season started. I just need to see a larger body of work before I put them towards the top.
1. In a way too early overreaction, Harvard is making me a little nervous. I had this team penciled in for a quarterfinals spot at Nationals. I’m still holding onto my Crimson stock, but my hand is inching towards the sell button. Their only showing was QCTU, where they did fine, but nothing to inspire confidence that these guys deserve to be in the conversation of real contenders. I may have underestimated the loss of the upperclassmen who graduated last year.
I know running open lines and focusing on gaining experience is an increasingly popular early season strategy but the Crimson have to balance this with a win-first mentality as they should be slightly concerned about trying to secure additional bids for the region. Massachusetts is looking strong, and Dartmouth and Tufts always pose upset potential. I would not want to go into Northeast Regionals fighting for only one or two bids.
2. It seems like the Southwest will be a dogfight again and it looks like Bloodthirsty aren’t in the top tier of the region this year. Swing and a miss on this one.
3. My biggest miss has definitely been Northwestern. I thought they might make a little noise at Warm-Up, but it was just the opposite. Not only did they get blown out by Carleton and UCF, they also lost to relatively middle of the road teams in Cornell and Georgetown. I thought a second bid might go to the Great Lakes and right now Illinois might stand a chance. Otherwise, Michigan will force their doubters *cough* *cough* to watch MagnUM be the sole representative of the region as they return to Nationals.
What teams have surprised you so far this season?
JL: I hear you on Harvard, I thought they would be the strongest team out of their region without a doubt and knocking on the front door of Pittsburgh, and others. Like you say, if Harvard, Tufts and UMass all keep on their current path, the New England regionals are going to be very interesting – especially depending on how the bids shake out.
And as we’ve discussed with UNC-W, they’re doing all they can to prove me wrong and become the best team in North Carolina.
Surprises? UMass and Georgia. UMass, and their win over North Carolina, propels them not only to the top of their region but high up in the USAU rankings as well. As said, I had Harvard in front of them. Without a strong Red Line team in front of them, they’ve got bigger things (seeding) to worry about. Georgia on the other hand… well I just didn’t think they would be able to perform in the loaded Southeast. But they’ve done more than enough so far this season to ensure an adequate number of bids for the region. Going back and watching film from Classic City Classic this past fall, their defense (marking especially) can look shaky at times, but they also forced a lot of mistakes from their opponents, too.
AL: Arizona State. Where did these guys come from? They were not on my radar at all, but I’ve been really impressed. They’re not just beating up on Southwest teams, but really played well at Warm-Up. Came away with wins over Texas and Florida and hung tough with Wisconsin and Florida State. This might actually be the year that the Southwest can grab one more bid if a solid UCSB squad holds form at Stanford.
Otherwise, there’s nothing that’s really grabbed my attention so far. Everything’s gone pretty chalk, but after Stanford we should have a better picture of who the real contenders are.
Do you have any new predictions going forward, looking toward Stanford or beyond?
JL: I agree about Arizona State, they’ve certainly improved by a lot from last season.
Looking at the pools of Stanford, I’m not buying big upsets. Pool B may be the most dangerous, with Oregon, Arizona State, Wisconsin and another team from the Southeast trying to make waves – Auburn. Auburn has had a difficult schedule so far this season, and attending Stanford only ups the ante. Meanwhile, ASU and Wisconsin get to test just how prepared they are for a run at Nationals by landing in the same pool, and getting to play Oregon. Still, I’m leaning more towards little to no upsets at Stanford and even Easterns.
And I’ve got to stick with my predictions, if only to look like a bigger fool at the end of the season!