Easterns is the last stop on the tour of the majors and will determine where a large portion of strength bids should go. Stanford, Georgia, Michigan, Florida, Penn State, UNC-W, North Carolina are all competing for those remaining spots. The field isn’t jam packed with as many nationals contenders as last year, but Tufts and Pittsburgh will likely fight for top seed positioning in Boulder.
These rankings make no sense?
There’s a common thread of incredulity across the nation. Ohio and Penn State are top 10 teams? Whitman and Washington are out of the top 20? As described in one of our Bid Watch posts, we are seeing the “Queen City Tune Up Effect”. Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, UNC, UNC-W, Ohio, Tufts, and UConn have all mostly played each other. Close games has kept the rankings relatively close, and Michigan State’s wins at Centex have helped everyone else out.
With this field full of nationals hopeful’s it’s likely that we see some separation after this weekend. At this point, a shifting of five points in the ranking can mean the difference in being inside the top 20 or being on the outside. One game, one point will make the difference between one team getting in and the other getting out. This leads to the next question, who will come out of this tournament still alive?
Best chance of cementing their place in the top 20…
Stanford is the 4th seed at this tournament, for good reason. Jordan Jeffery and Ben Funk lead a program that has a history of peaking at the right time. Despite being ranked 19th, I’m expecting a good performance that should give the Southwest a second bid at the end of this tournament. I expected Ohio to hang on towards the end of the regular season, making the Ohio Valley Regional an exciting tournament with two bids. They are highly ranked, and would have to fall hard to not make it in. There’s no guarantee that they make the championship bracket, but that doesn’t matter for the rankings. A good performance on one of these two days will put them in a great position going into the Chicago Invite.
South East jockeying
Central Florida has been hanging on to that top spot since the beginning with a strong performance at Warm Up. A good performance establishes them as number one going into the series, but it will be intriguing to see how things work out. Mischa Fraystaetter is a huge (6’8”) reason why they are doing well, as well as Matt Nations and Michael Ogren. The biggest knock against them is their lack of versatility shown so far on offense. Should they run into other South East teams, they’ll face squads that know exactly what they’re going to do. Talent may win out, but Florida and Georgia know how to execute at Regionals.
We’ll have a more introspective look on this South East rivalry in this article by Cody Johnston.
Teams that need to dominate at Easterns… Florida and Illinois
Unfortunately for Florida and Illinois they are well on the outside looking in at the top 20. Both teams have played a large portion of games, and are in need of a dominant performance to secure a strength bid. Florida still hasn’t discovered a major play maker, as we saw at Stanford Invite, but you don’t want to discount another program with experience. Illinois’ Jack Krieger was a huge deep threat at Centex, and will need to be again for Illinois to go deep in this tournament.
Potential for Gaming the Rankings?
After all the talk we’ve had about gaming the rankings, well, the opportunities seem to be available. Lots of regions represented with multiple teams. Could there be some match-ups where people are a bit tempted to throw games? It’s not that likely to see from the lower level teams, who are all in danger of one bad game ruining their season. Forfeits in consolation are more likely, because any team that does well and loses in the championship bracket has virtually no incentives to play on.
Greg Vassar, tournament director and Coach of UNC-W, has preemptively cautioned teams against throwing games.
“Many of you are concerned about your USAU rankings. If it appears that your team is losing a game on purpose to manipulate rankings you may be reported to USA Ultimate under their code of conduct rules. Your team may also be subject to being banned from our events for a year or more. Please don’t come to Easterns to NOT play games. You can go elsewhere to do that.”
Enough talk about the rankings…
If you’re wanting a prediction of who’s going to win? I’ve got to stick with Pittsburgh being the favorite, but Tufts not too far behind. While they are one of top four teams, I think Stanford can surprise us all. We’ve already asked if UCF can win on talent, but what about Michigan? This squad is an enigma, not playing with the majority of their roster at Queen City Tune Up, but were semifinalists a year ago at Easterns.
The Real UNC-Wilmington?
UNC-Wilmington is still ranked highly because of their performance at Queen City Tune Up, but this is the real test. They lost to Texas A&M at Tally Classic, and have showed that they don’t have the luxury of depth. There are no easy games in this tournament. They do, however, have home field advantage as the winds of Wilmington are a great equalizer. Tommy Lamar and Dave Macurak will need to play huge for their squad to make it past quarters. We may be speaking too soon, because this pool is tough with Dartmouth and San Diego State below. San Diego State’s Steve “Blardo” Milardovich is capable of taking over games, and will be a treat for anyone to watch on the weekend.
That other North Carolina team…
It isn’t quite home field advantage, but a 2 hour drive isn’t bad at all for North Carolina. At this point in the season, things should be clicking for this squad. They have been subjected to some early season injuries and were missing a few players going out to Stanford. That should be in the past, but Christian Johnson and Thomas Sayre-Mccord have to continue their dominance on the offensive side.. However, it is worry some that bad weather is on its way. When North Carolina is at their worst, drops occur, and slippery discs are not going to help. At Queen City Tune Up, the team appeared to lose trust in each other, only allowing a few players to touch the disc, and then continuously putting deep shots. If they can play as a team, North Carolina will be successful. Don’t be surprised if they can squeeze out an upset or two.
Speaking of New England…
Will Dartmouth’s Spencer Diamond make a big impact now that he’s had a week to adjust? Dartmouth needs a big performance out of Ian Engler, Lee Farnsworth (Pres Day MVP) and the recently added Diamond to get back into the top 20. The other New England team is fighting for a top seed at Nationals, Tufts. They don’t have the added pressure of having to fight for a strength bid, but will face top competition once again. Against Texas and Oregon, Tufts matched up well defensively, but looked out of sync on the offensive side. Too many bail out deep shots, combined with some sloppy end zone play made games closer than they should have been. Can they adjust and make a real case for the number two seed at nationals?
Going for… number 2?
Pittsburgh controls their own destiny towards the two seed at nationals. A win at Warm Up and runner up at Stanford puts them in the driver seat for number 2, and maybe number 1 if Oregon falters at all in the series. Despite them not taking advantage of an easier road in 2011, this is still incredibly valuable. I don’t expect much to change, with Tyler Degirolamo and Alex Thorne expected to dominate.
One last thing… parity
A year ago, most things went to plan. We had dominant top teams, a middle tier, and some guys trying to sneak into the top 20. This year, almost nothing has gone to plan. The seeding at this tournament are accurate in that they are what each team deserved, but I don’t expect most pools to go to seed. We’ll see more conflicting results, which will just mean we have a lot of teams ranked 8th to 25th that are good this year.
We’ll have a good crew on the ground as we welcome back Jonathan Neeley to the action. Zack Smith will also be there tweeting up at storm @Skyd_ZackSmith. Look for video recaps, interviews, and game footage to be up throughout and after the weekend.