With a snow storm threatening the north eastern teams, the forecast still looks good here in Charlotte, NC for Queen City Tune Up. The field is a good one this year, featuring 8 teams that have qualified for nationals in the last three years. With good weather, this year should be revealing of who has the raw potential to make the big dance come May.
One of the more difficult things to do in prognostication is to predict who will be making it from #10 to #20. Stanford Invite and Easterns are both pieces of the puzzles later in the season, but early on, Queen City Tune Up sets the stage for those dark horses and surprises. Last year gave us two teams in the finals, Tufts who ended up 2 points away from a semi finals appearance, and Wilmington, who lost strength as the year went on. A bad or good performance is not always indicative of who qualifies, as Michigan won the tournament in 2011 and failed to qualify and North Carolina was eliminated in quarters but took their region in dominating fashion.
So who is going to be the surprise story this year? Who’s a current favorite that’s not going to make it out?
Let’s take a look at all that potential:
North Carolina Darkside – The question may not be will they qualify, but how far into Nationals will they be playing. Christian Johnson is the star on a veteran squad that returns the majority of the previous year’s roster. Not returning is Thomas Sayre-McCord, a big impact player during the regular season in 2012, but missed the majority of the series with a knee injury. Darkside is not built on just a few elite players, but a plethora of young men who can play well in roles. Tristan Green is explosive in his own right while Max Shepard and Marshall Ward sure up the decision making. Look for a total team effort on the weekend as Coach Mike DeNardis tries to continue the uphill climb from missing Regionals in 2011, qualifying for nationals in 2012, and maybe more in 2013.
Tufts Emen – Tufts was on the early season radar last year with a win at this very tournament, but many of the play makers have left from the strong squad that had Wisconsin on the ropes in quarterfinals. Should we still expect them back at Nationals? At this point, they would seem to be the favorite just because of last year’s finish, but Dartmouth and Harvard are slowly nipping at their heels. Despite losses of Jack Hatchett, Sam K-S and Alex Cooper, Tufts is a program good at developing talent into specific roles. Adrian Banerji has returned with a cast of other veterans; Gene Buonacorsi and Will Wong are among those returners while Tyler Chan and Carter Thallon bring a bit youthful talent into the mix.
Michigan MagnUM – The spin master is back. Yonatan Rafael has returned after an ACL tear last season to lead Michigan back to nationals. The roster also features Dan Detone and a fearful transition defense as well as Krishna Mahajan on the offense. Notable names of Jeff Pape and Seth Collins from previous campaigns are gone, but one of Michigan’s strengths has been recovering after the departure of strong players. After Will Neff won the Callahan in 2009, Michigan rebounded to within a point of semis in 2010.
Harvard Redline – 2012 Queen City Tune Up MVP Piers McNoughton has gone to the darkside, leaving Tufts for Harvard, and joining up with Mischa Herscu in addition to Mark Vandenburg fresh out of Paideia High School. Redline was eliminated by a much stronger Tufts squad in the Regional finals last year, but chances seem higher this year. This tournament is a perfect place to start the march for a strength bid. As we’ve seen from analyzing the rankings, the decay function causes these games to be weighted less as the season goes on, so a good result here may not be enough if bad performances occur later in the season.
Ohio – Mitch Cihon and Connor Haley are the two big names to know for this squad, one that is looking to repeat a visit to Nationals. With the defending champions in their region, it’s imperative that Ohio does work to get a strength bid. The Ohio Valley region has held at times up to 4 bids during the regular season, but they were only able to hang on to two by the end of last year. They can’t not afford to waste time this year and let their younger part of the roster develop if they want to return to the show.
Georgia has had difficulties the last two years qualifying for college nationals, but junior Elliot Erickson is excited for the potential that Jojah brings this season.
The Ohio Valley is well represented with 4 teams attending, Ohio State, Penn State and Cincinnati.
I will be limited in my writings this year as I am the head coach of the University at Buffalo team. Good luck to the rest of the field this weekend!