The front half of the season is complete and from here we can see the landscape the rest of the way – the contenders, the challengers, the hopefuls. It’s only six weeks until the big show. Damn.
The Northwest’s six bids has sparked some pretty heated discussion, but the six bids are symptom rather than cause. There’s the stunning gap between girl’s ultimate in the NW and everywhere else; there’s the brutality of the weather in the east this winter (and midwest every winter); the happenstance of several NW schools at the top of the cycle while other regions are at the bottom. I don’t see this generating any substantial changes to the rules, but it has a good likelihood of changing the way teams plan their seasons, particularly the teams on the bubble. There’s a real tension between earning bids and developing your team; this tension is most agonizing for the teams ranked in the 15-25 range. No longer will these teams recklessly pursue the best and highest caliber tournaments; the smart teams will start building a blended schedule with a mix of gimme or top-heavy tournaments and the big time challenging tournaments. Northeastern’s and Harvard‘s schedules this season are a really good example of this. You are also very unlikely to see teams schedule a challenging back-to-back as UNC and Michigan did with QCTU and Prez Day. The teams at the top and the teams with no realistic shot at earning a bid have the luxury of playing only for development; consequently, these teams are unlikely to change the way they plan the season.
The real divide between the regions is not the number of bids, but how the bids compare to contenders. Nothing confirms this better than the four boring regions: Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, Southeast, and Northwest. Other than the Northwest, these regions only have a bid apiece, but can you see anyone other than Michigan, Ohio State and Central Florida winning? Me neither.
The exciting regions are the Atlantic Coast, New England, South Central, and Southwest. In the SW, UCSB and Stanford look like locks, but UCLA will have to do very, very good work to hold off UCSD and Davis. Big money says Texas and Colorado will play in the South Central finals, but Colorado State and Kansas is a toss up. Tufts stumbled at the NW Challenge and is looking to pick off Northeastern or Harvard. Don’t sleep on Dartmouth, though. Count those up and you’ve got four contenders for two spots in the Northeast. That brings us to the grandmamma of all these regions: the Atlantic Coast, where you’ll get Virginia v. North Carolina in the finals and game-to-go. I’d love to see this game live.
I give the Metro East and the North Central tweener status. So little is known about the ME teams that anything could happen. As for the North Central, I know they sent a stack of teams to Nationals last year and I know so many of those teams have major name recognition, but…none of those teams is close to where Carleton is right now.