|Easterns 2014 College Pools (Open)|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
|#1 North Carolina (AC)||#6 Florida (SE)||#16 Harvard (NE)||#4 Florida State (SE)|
|Michigan (GL)||#7 Minnesota (NC)||#13 Central Florida (SE)||#2 Pittsburgh (OV)|
|Massachusetts (NE)||#10 Stanford (SW)||UNC-Wilmington (AC)||Luther (NC)|
|#12 Carleton (NC)||Whitman (NW)||Georgia (SE)||Illinois (GL)|
It’s that time of the year again when teams from all over the country make the trip over to the Carolinas for the UNC-Wilmington-hosted Easterns tournament. For a long time, it’s been a premier event at the tail end of the college season. There are few changes this season: instead of being held on the familiar Wilmington campus fields, tucked away in the back near the baseball diamond and past Cook Out, the tournament is being held in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; about an hour to the south, and home to a weirdly vibrant St. Patrick’s Day Scene (years of SUNY-Buffalo spring break trips to the shore there taught me that). It’s a brand new field site – this is only the third event being held on the plus fields. Going into play, there are a few storylines to be on the lookout for before the tournament even begins.
The one on everyone’s minds will be how Carleton responds to the tragedy from earlier this month. The fact that CUT is attending this tournament is a testament to their strength and resolve, and will certainly serve to honor the memories of their teammates well (for those wondering about how they can help, the Carleton Foundation would like any and all donations directed to specific areas in respect of the family, there is more information about that here).
An unknown going into the weekend is UMass-Amherst, the team that won the bid from Easterns Qualifier. This could be a team on the cusp of turning heads. They got pretty close in 2013 and are returning a large number of the contingent of veterans who led them there this season. That’s helped them get to this point, but now they find themselves lining up against the top teams in the country. There won’t be any easy games at Easterns; their depth, their strength throwing in the wind, and their ability to respond to pressure of playing the top teams will be put to the test in Myrtle Beach. Qualifying for the tournament says that their program is one on the rise and becoming a more legitimate threat in the region. If they’re able to continue that upward trend by upsetting some teams at this tournament, more success this season only seems logical.
There are a few other teams going into this tournament that we don’t know much about this spring. Atop that list is Minnesota Grey Duck. It seems like after last year’s disappointing finish, they went into a sort of hibernation. Some familiar faces have left the team, but Grey Duck seems poised to build on the regular season success of last year and perhaps translate it to some results in Cincinnati. There was a great profile recently on Skyd that went into this very topic, it should be required reading before analyzing Minnesota’s results this weekend. Joining them in being a bit unknown this spring are Illinois, Luther, Michigan and Whitman. Two of the four hail from the Great Lakes region, while Whitman has to be eyeing a bid from the Northwest, and Luther in the North Central. With the strength of their regions (or that one could knock the other out in the case of the Great Lakes region), it’s very probably that only two of these teams are able to get to the Championships.
Speaking of a region eating itself alive with its strength, how about the state of Florida? And where that leaves poor Georgia? The three teams from Florida in attendance all have a legitimate shot right now it seems to not only finding themselves far into bracket play of this tournament, but at the Championships as well. Florida looks to be a team returning to their former glory; Florida State a team on the rise into the upper echelon of the college game; and Central Florida as a team fighting to stay atop the upper teams in college. Sorting out where each could fall at regionals and beyond will become a whole lot easier after this weekend. At Stanford, FSU used a strong defense to get far into the tournament; a similar style of play at Easterns and they should gain a similar result. But Georgia has to feel like the odd man out in this situation. They aren’t a bad team at all, with Elliot Erickson helping to lead the way; the team has the big-time difference maker that a lot of teams in the college game are lacking. But falling in to the Southeast region this season has to be a curse more than any blessing the warm weather brings.
Easterns = Strong College Championship?
Are we able to look at Easterns as a true scope as to how teams will perform at the college championships? Or are the results here not truly indicative of how a team will perform when it matters most? To do this, I went back and looked at the results of Easterns, and then at the College Championships, hoping that something would jump out as apparent between all of the results, year in year out. Last season isn’t exactly a banner year for this theory. Minnesota Grey Duck won Easterns 2013 in almost dominating fashion, yet didn’t qualify for the College Championships. Outside of that though, only four other teams in attendance didn’t make the Championships. Only Central Florida would perform here as well as they would in Madison, taking second in both competitions. Eventual champions for the 2013 season would fall in quarterfinals. Carelton, Wisconsin and Oregon all made an early exit.
To further look into this hypothesis, I hopped in the Skyd Time Machine and jumped back all the way to 2004 . That spring, some familiar faces to Easterns of late such as Brown, Carleton, Colorado, Illinois, Stanford, Tufts and Wisconsin were taking the field at the College Championships. Other teams, like Cal and UCSD, Delaware, George Washington, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, NC State, and William & Mary would also all qualify. Missing from this? North Carolina, the 2004 Easterns champion. Ohio State and Georgia, 2004 semi-finalists. Cornell, Duke, East Carolina, Dartmouth crop up as I dig deeper as well. Tufts did make it to the Easterns finals, but not very far at the college championships. More familiar names crop up in the quarterfinals, with NC-State, George Washington and Brown all getting that far but losing at Easterns. The championships weren’t kind to these teams though; Brown would finish the highest, semi-finalists, NC-State quarterfinalists. Again, the results aren’t exactly backing-up the theory here. Part of that, at least in the earlier years it looks like, can be explained to the rising prominence of the tournament. It looks like in 2004 that Queens-Kingston (a Canadian team in the Metro East) would travel the furthest to reach the Carolina tournament. This year, if I’m plugging in the right address into Google Maps, it looks like Whitman has the longest journey to this tournament; nothing that could be completed in a day of driving like the 2004 teams could. So as the tournament has been able to attract farther-reaching teams, the competition has improved. Yet that has had no consistent impact on predicting how the teams will finish at the end of the year. The years in between 2013 and 2004, there are a lot of up and down results. In 2012 for example, Pittsburgh won both tournaments. But the next three finishers at the College Championships didn’t attend Easterns; and one of the three next three finishers at Easterns did not qualify (Stanford), while UCF and Tufts were knocked out in quarterfinals.
In the end, it seems we can’t look at the results of Easterns for how the tournament every team is working towards, the College Championships, will turn out. Aside from a few cases were the winner eventually went on to win both tournaments, add in a few other cases that are based on teams doing semi-well at both, and still there are too many outlying years within this tournament. As mentioned earlier, as the reach of the tournament has expanded year after year, the quality of the tournament as a whole does seem to improve. More teams are sent to the College Championships that had competed at Easterns, and their results seem to loosely match between the tournaments. Very loosely though, even with the expanded quality of play at Easterns, it still isn’t a perfect predictor even if a team will make it past their regionals tournament.
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