November 19, 2010

Breaking down the men's NCAA sectionals

By Chris Shirk

NORTH CENTRAL SECTIONAL, at UW-Oshkosh, Friday and Saturday

UW-Oshkosh (19-0-3) over Loras (16-7-1) 2-0, UW-Whitewater (14-2-3) vs. Calvin (16-2-4), 7:30 p.m. Friday

Sectional Final, 6 p.m. Saturday, Oshkosh versus Whitewater/Calvin winner

2010 Statistical Overview

Loras: 16-6-1 (.717)  |  1.78 GSA, 0.68 GAA (+1.10)  |  Avg. OWP: .572  |  Last Ten: 9-0-1

UW-Oshkosh: 18-0-3 (.929)  |  2.67 GSA, 0.23 GAA (+2.44)  |  Avg. OWP: .518  |  Last Ten: 8-0-2

UW-Whitewater: 14-2-3 (.816)  |  2.26 GSA, 0.50 GAA (+1.76)  |  Avg. OWP: .584  |  Last Ten: 7-2-1

Calvin: 16-2-4 (.818)  |  1.92 GSA, 0.44 GAA (+1.48)  |  Avg. OWP: .501  |  Last Ten: 6-1-3

Given Loras' 7-6-0 start to the season, they are a surprise to be here in the Sweet 16.  However, they steadied themselves in conference play along with a win over a 10-man Dominican to finish the season on 8-0-0 run which has now been stretched to 9-0-1. The Wisconsin pair have been strong all season although Oshkosh's strength of schedule could be questioned.  However, with two tournament wins each to reach sectionals, they deserve to be among the last standing.

Sandwiched between win streaks of seven and five to open and close the regular season, Calvin struggled though a rough patch (3-2-3) bookended with losses to rival Hope.  But they had a rough patch in the final third last year and bounced back to come within one win of a national title.  Advancing past a strong Dominican side will have Calvin believing they can get back to the Final Four once more. Oshkosh has only conceded one second half goal of five total this season, while only four of Loras' 14 conceded came in the second stanza.  So grabbing a single first-half goal could be enough for the win in the first semifinal.  Whitewater and Calvin stand in some contrast to this second half stinginess.  Whitewater has conceded two-thirds of their goals in the second period (6 of 9), while Calvin has given up 9 second-half tallies against just one in the opening period.  The second semifinal has the markings of a tight scoreless affair until half-time, with the game possibly opening up after the break. 

Seniors' four year Record (through Nov. 14)

Loras: 77-5-5 (.828) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): 10-2-2, Final Four - 2007-08. Sweet 16 - 2009

UW-Oshkosh: 59-12-8 (.797) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 10): 4-1-0, Sweet 16 - 2007

UW-Whitewater: 50-16-11 (.656) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 09, 10): 3-2-0

Calvin: 63-17-10 (.700) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): 4-3-3, Final - 2009

The Loras seniors have more tournament experience and success than all but Messiah's, having advanced to the Final Four twice before last year's Sweet 16 exit.  And in the last four years they have won as many overall games (77) as Trinity, second only to Messiah (85). Oshkosh, who participated in ten of thirteen tournaments from 1991 to 2003, is making only their second appearance since their 2003 Final Four run.  Whitewater has never won at this stage of the tournament losing Sweet 16 games in 1999, 2001, and 2002.  Calvin is coming off their most successful post-season ever which included their first-ever Final Four appearance and only second time past the Sweet 16.  Looking at the whole current season, the edge would clearly go to the Wisconsin schools in this sectional, but the tournament experience and success that Loras and Calvin bring to the table is probably just as important at this stage.

Why they will advance to the Final Four

Loras: Besides Messiah this team has the most NCAA experience and success, and that will show.

UW-Oshkosh: Defense wins championships and their 0.23 GAA leads this group (not to mention they have the top offense as well and are playing at home)

UW-Whitewater: Might have played the toughest regular season schedule of the four to prepare themselves, and gave up the fewest shots on frame (4) and goals (0) in the first two rounds.

Calvin: 8 starters from last year's final are back (as well many of the subs); they know what it takes and will be desperate to get a second bite at the apple.

NESCAC NEW ENGLAND SECTIONAL, at Bowdoin, Saturday and Sunday

Middlebury (15-3-1) vs. Babson (16-3-2), 10:30 a.m Saturday

Amherst (13-2-3) @ Bowdoin (14-1-3), 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Sectional Final, 1 p.m. Sunday

2010 Statistical Overview

Middlebury: 15-3-1 (.816)  |  2.11 GSA, 0.46 GAA (+1.65)  |  Avg. OWP: .578  |  Last Ten: 7-2-1

Babson: 16-3-2 (.810)  |  2.34 GSA, 0.95 GAA (+1.39)  |  Avg. OWP: .583  |  Last Ten: 8-1-1

Amherst: 13-2-3 (.806)  |  2.33 GSA, 0.53 GAA (+1.80)  |  Avg. OWP: .609  |  Last Ten: 8-2-0

Bowdoin: 14-1-3 (.861)  |  2.40 GSA, 0.43 GAA (+1.97)  |  Avg. OWP: .552  |  Last Ten: 9-0-1 

Babson crashed what was shaping up to be a do-over of the NESCAC playoffs but with a Final Four spot on the line instead of merely the AQ and probable first round bye.  However, the Beavers beat a Williams side that had trouble closing out games all year to book their place in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1991.  After Williams, the next most historically successful NESCAC schools are Amherst and Middlebury, but each has only gotten past this stage twice in ten tournament appearances.  Bowdoin is in uncharted waters having reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in five tries. 

Statistically, the three NESCAC schools are practically neck and neck, with Bowdoin's numbers ever so slightly better though some might argue they played a slightly easier schedule.  Bowdoin is a perfect 14-0-0 in games in which they score, being shutout in their single loss and three ties.  And three of those blanks occurred in their first four games of the season; the PK loss in the NESCAC final being the only time they were kept off the scoreboard in the last 14 games.  They haven't given up a game-tying goal after taking a lead all season.  In head-to-head matches among the three NESCAC schools, Middlebury is 3-0-1 while Bowdoin and Amherst are 0-1-2 and 0-2-1, respectively.

Not only has the NEWMAC's Babson not played the same rigorous conference schedule as their NESCAC counterparts, even against an easier slate of opponents they gave up about double the number of goals of that the others have.  To advance to their first Final Four since 1991, Babson will need to beat two schools with better offensive and defensive numbers than Williams.  They have proven to be resilient and not easily unnerved as they have come from behind to win five times this season, including four of their last six games.  That's a good characteristic to have if you give up goals like they do, but their first obstacle, Middlebury, has also shown the same mental toughness in coming from behind for both tournament wins last weekend.  All three of Babson's losses in 2010 have come to tournament-bound teams, twice to NESCAC schools: Williams (L1-3) and Bowdoin (L1-2).  Surprisingly, the Babson-Middlebury match will only be the seventh NEWMAC-NESCAC encounter in the tournament in the 18 years since the NESCAC began participating.  The NESCAC holds a slight edge with a 3-1-2 record following last weekend's result. 

Seniors' four year Record (through Nov. 14)

Middlebury: 57-12-10 (.722) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 10): 6-0-3, Champions - 2007, Elite 8 - 2008

Babson: 59-19-7 (.735) overall  |  NCAAs (08, 09, 10): 2-1-1

Amherst: 55-12-8 (.787) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): 7-2-2, Final Four - 2008, Sweet 16 - 2007

Bowdoin: 40-19-6 (.662) overall  |  NCAAs (09, 10): 1-0-1

Middlebury's seniors were freshmen when they won the title in 2007and they have yet to taste defeat in the tournament (6-0-3) having being ousted on penalty kicks in 2008 and not participating in 2009.  However, with only five seniors and just three in the current starting line-up, the connection to the championship run is minimal.  Amherst's seniors are the only ones in this sectional to have made the NCAAs all four years, posting a 7-2-2 tournament record.  Bowdoin's and Babson's current players were winless in previous trips to the NCAAs.  So if experience counts, the edge certainly goes to Amherst and Middlebury duking it out Sunday for a place in San Antonio.  Bowdoin are the team on the rise and we will see how they handle the pressure.  They are undefeated at home (8-0-2) this year and will not want to disappoint their home support again as they did in the NESCAC final, losing on penalty kicks after a scoreless 110 minutes against Middlebury. 

Why they will advance to the Final Four

Middlebury: In the big games NESCAC games, Middlebury has proven to be the best this year.

Babson: They are fighters and will play with a chip on their shoulders and for all NEWMAC, LEC, ans MASCAC schools to prove that, in contrast to what some would lead you believe, the NESCAC does not have a monopoly on good soccer in the region.  The defeat of Williams was the confidence boost they needed to believe they can make a historic run past three NESCAC schools.

Amherst: Their starting line-up boasts the most NCAA experience in the sectional (83 games to Middlebury's 54) and that experience will see them get back to the Final Four for the second time in three years.

Bowdoin: Just as good as any one in the NESCAC and the law of averages and home support will get them the only wins that have eluded them this season.

MID-ATLANTIC SECTIONAL, at Muhlenberg, Saturday and Sunday

Merchant Marine (12-2-5) @ Muhlenberg (13-2-6), 11 a.m. Saturday

Messiah (19-1-0) vs. Medaille (16-4-3), 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Sectional Final, 1 p.m. Sunday

2010 Statistical Overview

Merchant Marine: 12-2-5 (.763)  |  1.51 GSA, 0.68 GAA (+0.83)  |  Avg. OWP: .580  |  Last Ten: 5-2-3

Muhlenberg: 13-2-6 (.762)  |  2.29 GSA, 0.57 GAA (+1.72)  |  Avg. OWP: .580  |  Last Ten: 6-2-2

Messiah: 19-1-0 (.950)  |  2.79 GSA, 0.49 GAA (+2.30)  |  Avg. OWP: .554  |  Last Ten: 10-0-0

Medaille: 16-4-3 (.761)  |  2.57 GSA, 0.67 GAA (+1.90)  |  Avg. OWP: .472  |  Last Ten: 8-1-1

Hershey’s M&M’s should be the sponsor this sectional since all three match-ups will fit bill. The upsets that have occurred last weekend in this quarter of the bracket have resulted in the Sectional being Messiah's to lose.  That would not have been so clearly the case had Stevens, NYU, and Swarthmore or Rochester made it to this stage.  Despite the nation's winningest team, this group of schools still has the lowest average winning percentage (.809) of the four sectionals.  Only Lynchburg's .795 mark prevents the other three sectionals from each having three teams sporting records over .800.

Medaille is easily the biggest surprise of the entire Sweet 16, reaching this stage for the first time ever despite not having the eye-popping goal and assist totals that some of their All-American led squads have posted in the past decade.  Their opponents' average winning percentage is just .472, (.443 if you remove their tournament opponents), representing the only schedule below .500 of the Sweet 16 teams.  Prior to the tournament, Medaille was 0-3-2 against teams over .600, and Messiah represents a higher offensive, defensive, and overall quality than any of those opponents. Both schools are high scoring and have 50% higher second half scoring, but in this one scoring at all will be a task for Medaille who has managed just two goals in seven matches against teams over .600.  Simply put, this is the most lopsided pairing of the 3rd round, but Medaille will take hope from their results last weekend against Rochester and Swarthmore as well as Transylvania's improbable run to the Elite 8 last year.

Merchant Marine was a borderline at-large selection and has the lowest GSA of the remaining tournament teams (1.51) while being the only one with a per game differential less than one full goal (+0.83).  Together with Muhlenberg, they have gone to overtime more often (8 times each) and have be part of more ties (5 and 6) than all other Sweet 16 teams, and they have the two worst records over their past ten games (5-2-3 and 6-2-2).  Only because it is so predictable will this sectional semifinal not end in PKs.  Merchant Marine, participating in just their fourth tournament, lost at this stage in their first and best run in 2002.  Muhlenberg has much more soccer tradition, but aside from their Final Four run in 1995 has been pretty futile in the tournament going one and out in seven of twelve appearances, and twice more requiring penalty kicks to advance to the second round before exiting.  The AQ-era brought an end to their regular appearances in the tournament, having gone 8 of 9 years from 1989 to 1997, the first year with the AQ's.  In the 13 years since then they have been involved just four times, including 2010. 

Muhlenberg’s and Merchant Marine’s win-loss records, OWP, and manner of going to overtime a lot would suggest an evenly matched game, but looking at statistics like GSA and GAA suggests that one team will be much more prepared for their counterpart.  Merchant Marine has not face such a potent attack as Muhlenberg brings (2.29 GSA) save perhaps that of their season opening opponent Montclair St., and on the defensive side only Stevens has protected their goal better than the Mules do (0.57 GAA) with Brockport being comparable.  On the other hand, Muhlenberg, due principally to the tough Centennial slate, has faced numerous opponents that have exceeded Merchant Marine's offensive production (1.51 GSA) and defensive effectiveness (0.68 GAA).  However, it must be noted that Merchant Marine did tie both their regular season opponents comparable to Muhlenberg who prior to their 2nd round win over Stevens had tied or lost to all opponents with better numbers than Merchant Marine.

Seniors' four year Record (through Nov. 14)

Merchant Marine: 49-19-5 (.705) overall  |  NCAAs (09, 10): 2-1-0

Muhlenberg: 48-17-9 (.709) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 10): 2-1-0

Messiah: 85-7-3 (.911) overall  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): 14-1-1, Champions - 2008, 09, Final Four, 2007

Medaille: 64-16-9 (.770)  |  NCAAs (08, 09, 10): 2-2-1

What's there to say with regard to tournament experience when Messiah has won more tournament games in each of the past two years than the other three combined have played during the past three years?  Between the other three schools there is no real NCAA experience advantage or more favorable overall success in recent years for any one of them except to note that Muhlenberg does compete in one of the nation's tougher and deeper conferences and is second only to Swarthmore in number of regular season conference wins over the past 4 years.  Medaille from the weak AMCC and Merchant Marine from the relatively new Landmark Conference do get the same level of competition from their conference.

Why they will advance to the Final Four

Merchant Marine: Because teams will be looking past them (Muhlenberg eager to have a go at Messiah, Messiah already with the heads in San Antonio) despite the fact this was the first team this season to score on the nation's second best defense (Stevens) and that to get to the Sweet 16 they became the only team this year to net three against Brockport.  They rise to the occasion and find a way to defy the odds.

Muhlenberg: They have played the toughest schedule of the four and only lost twice (both to Swarthmore) who has been cleared out of the way by Medaille.  Their combined quality on both sides of the ball is better than anything Messiah has face this year.

Messiah: They're Messiah; it's what they do.

Medaille: Somebody has to be this year's Transylvania, right?  (But even Transylvania didn't reach the Final Four)

SOUTH SECTIONAL , at Ohio Wesleyan, Saturday and Sunday

Lynchburg (17-4-1) vs. Trinity (TX) (19-2-1), 5 p.m. Saturday

Johns Hopkins (15-3-4) @ Ohio Wesleyan (18-1-2), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Sectional Final, 6 p.m. Sunday

2010 Statistical Overview

Lynchburg: 17-4-1 (.795)  |  2.14 GSA, 0.71 GAA (+1.43)  |  Avg. OWP: .541  |  Last Ten: 9-1-0

Trinity: 19-2-1 (.886)  |  3.85 GSA, 0.72 GAA (+3.13)  |  Avg. OWP: .580  |  Last Ten: 9-0-1

Johns Hopkins: 15-3-4 (.773)  |  1.84 GSA, 0.56 GAA (+1.28)  |  Avg. OWP: .555  |  Last Ten: 8-1-1

Ohio Wesleyan: 18-1-2 (.905)  |  2.33 GSA, 0.41 GAA (+1.92)  |  Avg. OWP: .554  |  Last Ten: 10-0-0

Of the remaining tournament teams, only Babson has been more accommodating to opposition attacks than Lynchburg (0.71 GAA) and Trinity (0.72 GAA) who are paired in the first semifinal of this sectional.  And neither has played the toughest of schedules regardless what the OWP and SOS numbers say.  And true to form, Lynchburg allowed goals in both 1st and 2nd round games, while Trinity conceded in their 1st round win before shutting down Texas-Tyler in a mutually frustrating game that went to penalty kicks.  Trinity’s otherworldy 3.85 GSA and +3.13 goal differential are hard to gauge given some of their absolute landslide wins.  Capping their goals at 5 or 6 maximum per game brings the GSA down around a more reasonable 3.00. Needless to say, their offense is back after dipping to an over 10-year low of 2.21 last year.  But last Sunday Texas-Tyler demonstrated that their attack can been stifled and their scoring shutdown as had Christopher Newport, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Texas-Dallas, Centre, and even Olgethorpe during the season.  Lynchburg’s GAA is as good as any of those schools this year, so it would be premature to think Trinity simply overruns the ODAC champion. 

Lynchburg is in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever after gaining their first-ever tournament win just last year.  In eight tournament appearances prior to last year they went one-and-out, seven of those occurring in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  So this is a new era for the Hornets in many ways.  But in this group that has emerged from the strongest quadrant of the tournament, they are still the team that doesn’t belong.  In Ohio Wesleyan you have the tournament’s most regular participant, the all-time leader in appearances and games played.  They will be looking to reach their fifth Final Four which would tie them for third all-time behind just Messiah (11) and Rowan (7).  Despite a number of disappointing tournament exits, Trinity, Division III’s best regular season team over the past decade, still has as good a tournament record this century (23-7-1) as anyone besides Messiah with three Final Fours and one national title.  And in Johns Hopkins you have a regular Sweet 16 team in recent years (five of last seven), but since their trip to the title game in 1994 they have only reached the Elite 8 twice in 1998 and 2006.

Hopkins has had a very uneven season and it’s somewhat of a surprise that they managed back-to-back wins against the likes of Stockton and Christopher Newport.  More surprising is that they scored five goals in doing so, given that during the regular season they only twice in ten tries had scored two goals against a team over .500.  Ohio Wesleyan hasn’t lost since the opening weekend at Wheaton (IL) although they did struggle against a couple sub-.500 teams in early October.  And besides the 4-1 reality-check they sent Kenyon, whose record was deceptively flattering, they struggled to two 1-0 overtime wins and a scoreless tie against the three best teams they played.  So the second semifinal pits two team that have struggled to score goals and get wins in regulation against top level competition. 

Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 14)

Lynchburg: 58-14-10 (.707)  |  NCAAs (09, 10): 3-0-1

Trinity: 77-5-5 (.914)  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): 6-2-2, Final - 2007, Elite 8 - 2008

Johns Hopkins: 62-16-12 (.700)  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): 5-2-3, Sweet 16 - 2008-09

Ohio Wesleyan: 69-13-7 (.815)  |  NCAAs (07, 08, 09, 10): Sweet 16 - 2008

Given only three current Trinity starters were around for their 2007 run to the title game, Johns Hopkins’ squad has the most tournament experience, reaching the Sweet 16 for the third straight year.  Lynchburg’s seniors, no matter what happens this weekend, will graduate with more wins than any class in the team’s history.  A Trinity scalp would be the icing on top.  Ohio Wesleyan has Division III’s winningest active coach in Jay Martin which keeps them in the mix year after year.  Opposite him is Hopkins’ 3rd-year coach, Craig Appleby, for whom the jury is still out as the team struggled this year as the squad become nearly completely of his making and molding. 

Why they will advance to the Final Four

Lynchburg:  The team that has no expectations to live up to and nothing to lose is always dangerous.  Their opponents’ over-confidence or failure to handle the weight of expectations opens the door for this squad to continue surprising people in this bracket of death.

Trinity:  They will be the most motivated team this weekend having (a) the tradition of the school to live up to, (b) a chip on their shoulder that east coast-bias and Messiah’s overwhelming success has kept them from getting the credit they have deserved, and (c) the need to put last Sunday’s lack of goals well behind them.  That motivation will assure that their high-powered attack isn’t grounded again.

Johns Hopkins:  There’s no Messiah to stand in their way!  That, and they have been prepared by playing the toughest schedule of the four and have the most tournament-experienced roster.  They deal with the pressure and rise to the occasion to emerge from the toughest bracket for a place in the Final Four. 

Ohio Wesleyan:  The best defense in the Sectional will face teams that have struggled to score in their toughest matches.  Great coaching doesn’t hurt either.

No contests today.
No contests today.
No contests today.