This preview and the 2012 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate
Featuring the champions of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, the runner-ups for the South Central and the Southwest as well as the 3rd place finisher from the North Central, it’s easy to assume that Pool B is a bunch of slouches outside of the top seed. I’m here to tell you that you are dead wrong.
Pittsburgh: Is it finally their time?
Coming off of a disappointing quarterfinals loss and fifth place finish at last year’s College Championships, En Sabah Nur has returned to Boulder, this time as the overall 2 seed. Sporting a fast paced offense along with an unrelenting and deep defense, 2012 Pittsburgh has been totally dominant. With tournament victories at Michigan Indoor, Warm-Up: A Florida Affair and College Easterns as well as a runner-up finish at the Stanford Invite, Pitt has turned in their strongest regular season (24-3), since they emerged into the National scene. Yes, you can credit this to amazing offensive players (DeGirolamo, Saul and Alex Thorne), strong defensive leadership (Conner, Hausman and Kauffman) or the fact that they have five impact freshman players (Bender, Dillon, Earles, Pitts and Max Thorne), but talent can only get you so far. I give a lot of credit to Coach Nick Kaczmarek who has truly changed the attitude of this Pittsburgh team. This is a more selfless squad that does not gauge success with personal merits, but with the accolades they can earn as a group – with the sole purpose of winning a national title.
One of the reasons I have Pittsburgh as my pick to win the ship is that their season has not been perfect. Their strength was challenged in early March at the Stanford Invite, after an exemplary performance at Warm-Up. Unable to bring the same defensive intensity that we saw earlier in the season, Pittsburgh could not get decisive wins over teams like Stanford and Colorado and was surprised by a patient and efficient TUFF squad. While most teams would’ve plateaued from an experience like this, Kaczmarek maintained En Sabah Nur’s focus, producing a dominating performance just two weeks later in Wilmington, NC.
En Sabah Nur’s Road to the Championship:
As Bryan pointed out in his Pool A article, winning your pool is an absolute must if you want to make a run at the title. In 2011, Pittsburgh took second in their pool (behind Iowa), and had to face British Columbia in the first round of bracket play. Despite blowing out the Thunderbirds, making their pre-quarters game short, En Sabah Nur went on to face a much fresher Colorado squad. Having secured their pool before the last game of pool play, Mamabird was able to stack the odds in their favor by resting their starters for an additional game. When it was all said and done, Pittsburgh’s season ended early as they suffered the same fate as the other three pre-quarters winners.
En Sabah Nur’s schedule is as follows: California-Davis, Luther, Texas, and Michigan. With Davis being one of the large question marks for this tournament, Pittsburgh will need to come out strong, showcasing the same dominating defense that we saw at Warm-Up and Easterns. LUFDA will be a strong test to round out Friday, especially with Eric Johnson salivating at the chance for another big upset. With wind speeds reaching the mid-20s on Saturday, the final round match-up against Great Lakes Regional Champion Magnum could be troublesome. Irony may smile on Pittsburgh should they win their first three games, earning their starters some extra rest.
With likely games against Minnesota (Quarters), Carleton (Semifinals) and Oregon/Wisconsin in the Finals, they will need all the energy they can get.
Luther: The North Central Surprise
LUFDA’s road to Boulder has been incredibly interesting. With an EJ-less roster attending the Free State Classic and placing 6th, many began to worry that the North Central would not get enough bids for Luther to make it back to Nationals. However, the return of Johnson saw a turning of the tides as Luther finished T-5th at Centex and T-3rd at the Someday Ultimate Tournament including wins over Michigan State, Colorado, and California as well as two close losses to Wisconsin. While EJ’s skill is incredible and his effect on a game is obvious, LUFDA’s confidence sky-rocketed with the return of their leader. Luther may be known for Eric Johnson, but they are far from a one man show. Players like Peter Graffy and Josh Johnson have been stepping up in the past few months as LUFDA is looking to peak this weekend.
LUFDA’s Road to the Championship:
Expect Luther to show up with a high level of physical conditioning, ready to use Boulder’s elevation and wind to their advantage. After taking down Florida in possibly the most exciting upset of the 2011 Nationals, LUFDA is looking at Pittsburgh for its next high profile victim. At 12:30 PM MST, we will be on the edge of our seats to see the duel between two of the top Callahan nominees, Johnson and Thorne, as Luther will try to push Pittsburgh into an old-style shoot-out. As this is the last game of the day on Friday, I don’t expect LUFDA to hold anything back as they try to steal Pool B. With the 6’2” Graffy likely matching up on DeGirolamo and JJ probably tasked with Saul, LUFDA will be forcing Pittsburgh to continuously look at tertiary options like Watson and Max Thorne.
Assuming they can take down Michigan in round one, LUFDA should feel confident in their ability to at least hold seed in this pool, despite the tough opponent Texas and the unknown California-Davis on Sunday. I expect the high speed winds coupled with Boulder’s elevation will play in Luther’s favor as the North Central teams continue to perform well in adverse conditions.
Should things go according to seed, we’ll see a NexGen rematch between EJ and Jimmy Mickle, which Luther won 12-8 at Centex. Playing any pool winner after that point is hard, especially when you have Oregon on the horizon. If they can’t win the pool, LUFDA needs to take second and focus on getting to Sunday.
Texas: Out for Vengeance
TUFF has been a team that has relatively flown under the radar for the entire season. After the Classic City Classic and a shortened Mardi Gras, all signs pointed to the South Central only getting one bid to Nationals. However, Texas was certainly judged too early as the Stanford Invite saw the rise of this powerhouse. TUFF was the second team to hand Pittsburgh a loss, where the first was to the defending champions Carleton College. Though a loss to Stanford forced Texas into consolation play, they won out on Sunday, taking down Florida (15-10), California-Santa Barbara (15-10) and eventually getting revenge on Bloodthirsty (11-8). Two weeks later, TUFF was out in force to defend their home turf at Centex, where they only lost twice, both on universe to Wisconsin and Tufts. By the time regionals rolled around, most people assumed that Texas would earn the second bid to Nationals, despite a surprise loss to rival Texas A&M at CC’s.
Texas runs a patient and efficient vertical stack that utilizes throws to space between the handlers. Offensive mainstays include Doublewide standout Will Driscoll as well as Danny Broberg and Mitchell Bennett. While the dump swing is their bread and butter, TUFF is certainly not afraid to take shots downfield, with athletic players like Aditya Yerrapragada. My biggest fear for Texas has to do with the altitude of Boulder as well as the Saturday’s forecast. TUFF has shown the ability to handle adverse weather conditions as things got pretty rough during Centex, but the elevation causes throws to hang in the air for a longer duration. A lot of Texas’ handler movement comes from trust throws to space and if their timing becomes disrupted, that could spell disaster. On the other hand, with coaches like Calvin Lin and Stephen “Franchise” Presley, TUFF should be very powerful strategically and should adapt well on the fly.
TUFF’s Road to the Championship:
I really like Texas’ schedule for the goal of holding seed: Michigan, California-Davis, Pittsburgh and Luther. TUFF gets to start later in the day, taking on Magnum two rounds after their game against Luther. Magnum will be trying to win every game they play, so if Texas does not come out flat, their energy could overpower a tired Michigan team. As the only team with a first round bye, the Texas captains and coaches have a chance to watch California-Davis in their game against Pittsburgh…which should prevent any surprises come game-time. My favorite thing about TUFF’s schedule is that they play the teams ranked lower on Friday rather than Saturday as wind is the ultimate equalizer.
With the three seed, Texas may run into Tufts for a Centex quarterfinals rematch, which the latter edged out on universe. This game was TUFF’s for the taking, so I don’t think there would be a lack of energy to take down the E-Men. Should they make quarterfinals, Texas would have Wisconsin in another rematch from Centex that TUFF seemed to have control of. Things could get very interesting if things play out to seed.
Michigan: Doubters Beware!
Going into Great Lakes Regionals, I was fearful that Magnum was going to be the odd man out. Illinois was looking like a complete team and Michigan had two loses to rival MSU so things looked all but certain. How wrong I was! Not only did Magnum take the Great Lakes Championship, they did so with force as the smallest margin of victory was 15-8 in the finals against Burning Couch (who I’m sure rested their starters after a certain point). Despite not having Yonatan Rafael, who was out with an injury, Magnum did well at the only major they attended. While a 9th place finish at College Easterns may not sound impressive, I assure you that their comeback pool play win against Georgia was incredible.
Magnum likes to use the deep ball, but their true strength is their athleticism and their unrelenting defense. The faceless army is always willing to sacrifice their bodies as Michigan probably has more raw athletes than ultimate players. What convinced me was witnessing a goal line stand against Georgia where Michigan earned the turn and eventually broke in a huge swing of momentum. Pool B should not take Magnum lightly, as the last time they attended Nationals, they played the role of spoiler, taking down Wisconsin in pool play and ending Harvard’s season in pre-quarters. Not to mention, they gave Cornell a battle in probably the most exciting game of 2010 Nationals.
Big man Spencer Jolly is usually forced underneath, opening up the cutting for Michigan and sending it deep to a plethora of freak athletes. Keep an eye out for Jeff Pape, who Magnum will certainly be leaning on to help them escape Pool B.
Magnum’s Road to the Championship:
Michigan starts the tournament off with Luther and then Texas, the two teams that they would need to beat in order to provide them with a good chance of advancing. I believe that their athleticism and defense will keep them in any game, save for Pittsburgh. However, in order to be champion of the Great Lakes, you need to be able to play in some of the worst weather. If things truly turn for the worse on Saturday, I expect this to play in Michigan’s favor. Pre-quarters are certainly not unreachable, but it will be a very difficult task.
California-Davis: Fear the Unknown
One of the biggest question marks this weekend is certainly the Dogs of UC-Davis. Before NorCal CC’s Davis did not play in a tournament since the Stanford Open in late February, where they lost in the finals against Cal Poly-SLO. A team that appears to be incredibly well coached by Kevin Cissna, Davis definitely got some help from Arizona and UCSB on their way to earning the backdoor bid to Nationals. Not to take anything away from Davis, as their results in conference play show that they could hang with both Stanford and California should it had played out to seed. Davis sports a very young roster and is poised to play the part of season spoiler. Captained by Elijah Kerns, Jake Ellis and Robby Merk, the Dogs have 12 underclassmen on their roster of 20. With nothing to lose, Davis could be the most dangerous opponent in Pool B.
The Dogs’ Road to the Championship:
California-Davis has to play Pittsburgh first, which should allow them to play loose very early into the day. With no one expecting them to win against the second seed of the tournament, the young Dogs will have the ability to get their nerves out, while challenging themselves against possibly the best offensive line in the country in an exhilarating setting. The best chance to upset could come in round two against Texas who may take the fifth seed in their pool lightly. With hucks hanging and sailing long naturally, I imagine Saturday’s wind will be very frustrating for the youth of Davis. Clearly no slouch to competition, the Dogs can certain do some damage in the placement brackets when the time comes. My money is on Davis breaking seed.
I’ve mostly spelled out my thoughts, but here are my predictions in a nice list:
Boring, right? Rarely do things go according to seed at Nationals…and I would love to be proved wrong.
Feature photo courtesy of Kyle McBard of Ultiphotos.