Monday, March 10, 2008
What an incredible weekend; sunny and in the 70's with only a scant trace of wind coming and going during semifinals. I got my tan on, people watching were happy, and teams hucked ruthlessly. I mostly followed the Hodag games, but snuck out from time to time to witness the carnage being visited on other pools. Some quick thoughts I have.
1) Parity, parity, parity: Texas beat Las Positas beat Colorado beat Oregon beat Texas. Santa Barbara beat the pool winners and lost to everyone else. Oregon and Cal, both 2-2 in pool play, were eliminated from contention by Saturday afternoon. These uneven results point to one thing: a lot of the traditionally premier teams are very young right now, and thus inconsistent.
2) ... and then, there are the Hodags: The Hodags, now two tourneys into the season have shown a) an ability to lose any given day to the top 10-12 teams and b) no one comes even close to them in terms of consistency of play. Their tight games against UBC at the Invite and Arizona at Vegas shows that they're not by any means unbeatable, but they've found a way to win those games regardless while other historical powerhouses have dropped games to anyone around. Are they easily the best team out there right now? Yes. Are they vulnerable to a loss at the hands of a red-hot team in elimination in Nationals? Yes.
3) Global warming: This winter has pounded cold-weathered climates. Madison destroyed its old snowfall record this year; at Colorado's last outdoor practice it was 25 degrees out; and the Northeast can't get clear to spring. Those teams still haven't gotten a chance to go outside and begin gelling in actual playing conditions. So, you can attribute some of Colorado's struggles to that (some, but not all, see below) and some of Wisconsin's inconsistencies on offense against UBC to the same; not only have they yet to practice outdoor, an administrative scuffle between them and the Wisco Athletic Dept lost them their last two indoor practice times. I expect those teams frozen in with cabin fever to improve at a much quicker pace than those outdoors year-round.
4) Which makes me ask, has Arizona peaked? I saw them play very well in Vegas, at a moment when most teams hadn't trekked outside and only hours away from their home turf, two things that certainly helped them. And I was incredibly impressed by their ability to make big play after big play. The problem is they were making these plays on the backs of shaky throwing decisions. The top of the College game has begun resembling elite Club in that turns and breaks are at a premium and high-power teams can string together a game with no offensive mistakes, and riskier throwing decisions will unravel a team unless they're converting nearly every one. Kudos to Arizona for converting nearly every one in Vegas, but the play that comes to mind is with them trying to tie at 11-12, throwing a risky hammer to a stationary target, and having Will Lokke fly through the air for a game-changing D. They have the ability to beat anyone because of their athleticism, and they are disciplined enough to not play themselves out of games, but win the championship? Nope. Qualify from their region? That's a different story...
5) The Southwest: I'd like to meet the actuary who has to break down odds in this region. Mamabird is playing like shit but should improve. Question is how much? Black Tide just stared into Tommy Lee Jones' and Will Smith's little red penlight after losing all but one game this weekend. Claremont is beginning to believe after victory over Tide, but how much should we read into it? The team looking most consistent is the one I just called inconsistent in the last paragraph, Arizona. They need to buckle down their offense and hope the other teams don't catch up, and they'll be going to Natties. Mamabird needs to find two consistent handlers that will not turn the disc, can make easy break-throws, and are able to find Jolian and Mack cutting into power positions. Their hucks need to come from those two as cutters to keep their threats dynamic. Otherwise Degs may have a glut of depressed volunteers at Pleasant View Soccer Complex mid-May. Santa Barbara embarrassed themselves this weekend; they need to put it behind them and hit the weights because they're undermanned against the big teams. I don't think Claremont has a chance of qualifying, but they'll likely mortally wound one of the top three teams at Regionals. My early predictions are Arizona winning and Colorado taking the second. Notice how no one mentioned San Diego.
6) The Northwest: another clusterfuck. Oregon, Cal, Stanford, UBC, Las Positas... no one declared themselves the front-runner. I thought UBC played the best as a whole, but they still managed to lose to the one team everyone beat on, Santa Barbara. Stanford, despite sloppy play, found a way to win. Not impressive, but it counts for a lot. Oregon is suffering from Mamabird disease: over-reliance on frustrated superstars. That never bodes well at Regionals. Cal was far, far too turnover-prone to contend with anyone and Las Positas is untested, but from what I saw of their quarters game vs UBC they can beat anyone in the region.
7) Florida dropped out of the Invite after their quiet exit in pre-quarters in Vegas. Why travel to Stanford if you've basically submitted the prize money to the Hodags? In other news, the Hodags don't even have to go to Centex to win the prize money. Here's another $5,000 to add to your Mardi Gras prize money.
Moral of the short story is that the inconsistent play and rookie mistakes all these teams seem prone to make for unpredictable — and thus exciting — watching. The race is too early to call, because the Hodags have been tested to double-game point in elimination games twice now, but as a whole no other team matches up against them for an entire tourney. They'd beat any other team in the country at least 8 of 10 times, but it's for those 2 anomalies that we watch, and they train.