Looking like the top of the heap, Pittsburgh
After two tournament victories, and one finals loss, Pittsburgh is finally looking like the championship caliber team that we expected. They blazed through North Carolina, Stanford, and pulled away at the end of the Easterns finals with a 15-12 victory over Central Florida. In past years we’ve seen them make finals of a couple of tournaments, looking like they had potential, but there was always a stumble along the way. With Alex Thorne and Tyler Degirolamo playing like top five Callahan nominees, this may be the year that Pittsburgh at least breaks through to the national final.
Thorne and Degirolamo have displayed an ability to be multidimensional in their game both with deep throws and deep cuts. Degirolamo seems to be the weapon that teams are focusing on taking away, but Thorne is making them pay. When teams are trying to force him out, he has found a way to strike deep at the right moment. While the offense has worked well for Pittsburgh the entire year, the defense has been a concern for coach Nick Kazmerak. Not happy with the performance shown at Stanford Invite, he was pleased with the number of turnovers generated at Easterns. Up 10-9 on Central Florida, the defensive line stepped up to put the game away. They extended the lead to 14-10 before Central Florida mounted a small comeback.
While there is no guarantee that Pittsburgh will perform at nationals, late season success can’t be a bad thing. Florida and Pittsburgh, two top seeds in 2011, both had sub par series performances leading into boulder (Yes, both squads were in the finals of Easterns last year too). Pittsburgh faced some close games at regionals against competition, winning 15-10 over Millersville and 15-9 over Penn State. Not losing, but a sign that they were not peaking like a championship contender. Thinking about the eventual champions, Carleton? Well they lost games at regionals to the eventual runner up (Wisconsin) and a semi-finalist (Iowa), games that are expected to be tough and actually help teams prepare for nationals.
Check out an interview with Alex Thorne, the winner of the Spin MVP Red Jersey, with our very own Zack Smith:
Tufts, a sign of trouble?
“We lost this game from our lack of execution from earlier in the tournament” – Jack Hatchet
Tufts had a streak of games that resulted in scores of 12-11 (W), 13-14 (L), 14-13 (W), 13-12 (W), 15-13 (W), 15-14 (W), and then finally a 15-9 loss to Central Florida. Playing in tight games is a valuable experience, but for far too long this season they have relied on their defense to make a run at the end of games. The offense has sputtered with teams clamping down on main distributor Alex Cooper. However, they survived until the semi-finals with a healthy Adrian Banerji. Banerji took pressure off Cooper, becoming a distributor from downfield. Too many times though, the first cut wouldn’t be available and an ill-advised deep shot would be taken.
Tufts can still gain a high seed in Boulder by holding this level of play. However, they can expect an earlier than wanted exit if they do not improve their execution. Bad decisions in early games vs. North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia piled up putting the pressure on late in games. While Pittsburgh and Central Florida were finishing most of their games early, Tufts was stuck putting more points on their pivotal players. The injury to cutter Sam K-S certainly didn’t help things, but none the less, Tufts needs to find a way to execute against lower ranked opponents to conserve their legs.
Central Florida, what a difference!
My thoughts of Central Florida at Warm Up: A team that relied on star player Mischa Freystaetter, doesn’t use the break side effectively, and is too one dimensional to make a run. Well, I might as well throw that out the window, because coach Andrew Roca has them playing great. Freystaetter wasn’t available on Saturday, and was expected to be on the offensive line. Well? Freystaetter lined up on defense, and the UCF offense featured a new look. John Best became the center piece, directing traffic, and putting it deep when necessary.
When teams came zone, a traditional method to fluster the Dogs of War, Alex Bullock put up cross field hammers without hesitation. Instead of Freystaetter being the number one cutter, Quint Wharton and Jeremy Langdon ruled the downfield. On defense, Freystaetter flustered the break side handler with gigantic marks, getting an automatic mismatch on a turnover. Michael Hickson ran the fast break, floating backhands to space for his 6’8” cutter to run it down. Cannot forget Michael Ogren, who helped take over the Tufts semifinal with a footblock leading to a double happiness.
With this overhaul, Central Florida is showing a much higher ceiling than before. They have shown themselves to be the favorite in the South East going into the series. With it looking like only one bid, I can’t wait to witness the slug fest.
Best of the Rest
- Ben Funk and Jordan Jeffery helped Stanford squeak by Ohio and is now in position for a Strength Bid.
- North Carolina looked impressive overall, handling Dartmouth relatively easily. Players are starting to fit into roles
- Illinois looking formidable, maybe this is the year they get over the hump at nationals? Ryan Smith is playing like a beast, as well as the “Ryan Bigley” line.
- It seems like Georgia really misses a healthy Elliott Erickson. Absent due to a hamstring issue on day 1, it looks like they need another spark to get the job done.
Sorry for the shortness and lateness of the recap, I have unfortunately been stricken with the flu for the better part of the week. We do have lots of coverage recorded from this last weekend, so be on the look out for videos!