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A preview of each part of the bracket in this year's NCAA College Cup.

J.R. Eskilson 

College basketball has March Madness for their tournament nickname, but there is no name for soccer besides College Cup. How can you possibly get excited about something with that bland of a name? Time to give soccer’s tournament a nickname: Delirious December. November is such a negative word to work with so we will ignore the first few weeks of the tourney.

Plus, tell me you are not excited to get behind something with delirious in the title. Just saying the word delirious is the verbal equivalent of drinking an energy drink (not as a mixer). So many college students would get behind the idea of watching some double d action, but enough with the nickname, if you love college soccer, these are the best three weeks of the year.

There will be a Cinderella story that everyone will hear about five hundred times before ESPN finally becomes aware of the situation and drives it home. There will be an ACC team in the Final Four just so we all remember how good that conference is. And there will be a player that plays well above his means just to trick everyone into believing he is MLS quality before we all wake up and laugh it off (oh Graham Zusi, you silly man). But before we get to this point, lets analyze the four brackets.

The brackets are named after the top seed: Akron (#1), Virginia (#2), Wake Forest (#3), and Ohio State (#4). The breakdowns include the teams, what to look for, and the players to watch; so read up, and impress the boss next time the topic of the Delirious December comes up at the water cooler.  

Akron’s Group:

Teams: Akron, Tulsa, Northwestern, UC Irvine, Stetson, South Florida, Saint Mary’s, Stanford, Green Bay, Notre Dame, Missouri State, Saint Louis.

What to look for:

If the soccer gods have any mercy, they will ensure that South Florida knocks off Stetson in the first round. If Stetson has to face Akron, we could see the institution of a mercy rule in college soccer. Stetson already lost, 7-0, to North Carolina this year. Akron is the most skillful team in the nation, and on paper this should be a cake walk, but the games are not played on paper. UC Irvine (potential third round match-up) is physical and skillful. Also, Northwestern (potential quarterfinal opponent) is the last side to defeat Akron. As good as Akron is, they have never been past the third round.

Former UVA stud, Kyle Martino, picked Notre Dame to win this group, and the fact he was not laughed out of the studio should tell you two things: 1) No one respects Akron’s killer instinct. 2) Everyone else in this group is roughly at the same level.

Players to watch:


Irving Garcia/Carlos Aguilar, UC Irvine, Seniors-
Not entirely fair to bunch these two together because they are both good enough to stand on their own. With an NCAA bid on the line, they combined for four goals and two assists in the Big West tourney. Did I mention both games they played were on the road? Garcia’s first half in the conference final made UCSB’s defense look like LA Galaxy circa 2008. Aguilar chipped in with both the goals in the semi.

Teal Bunbury, Akron, Sophomore-
He is fast, strong, and lethal with the ball on his foot. He is the best forward in college soccer and none of the defenders in this group have seen a player close to his ability this season. If you live anywhere close to Akron and have not seen him play, shame on you. Go watch him in the NCAA tourney, cause this will probably be his last one. 

Virginia’s Group:

Teams: Virginia, Penn State, Harvard, North Carolina State, Loyola (MD), Maryland, UCONN, Monmouth, New Mexico, Portland, Bucknell, Princeton.

What to look for:

Virginia is the hottest team in America right now. They cruised through the ACC tournament beating Maryland, Wake Forest (in PKs), and NC State along the way. Their goalie, Diego Restrepo, is one of the best in the nation. This is their group to lose. Loyola against Maryland is a fascinating first round match up: Maryland at home is close to impossible to beat but Loyola has some experienced and savvy players. The winner faces off against Penn State in the second round. Penn State has to be wondering what if they had beat Ohio State in the Big Ten final. Would they be the #4 seed and in a much better position? Those are the breaks of the game.

Players to watch:

Andre Akpan, Harvard, Senior- He has one of the best afros in college sports, it has the cushion to support a good header and the volume to bounce back. As long as he does not try to bring the fade back, he will be considered among the best forwards in the nation. (Great forwards have great hair, it is a rule.) Also, he runs 40 meters in under 4.5 seconds, so there is that too. He has already proven his worth in the Ivy League, this is the last chance to leave his mark on the nation and shed the tag “invisible in big games.”

Tony Tchani, Virginia, Sophomore- Recap of last week for Tchani during the ACC tourney: During hurricane conditions against Maryland, Tchani put the Cavaliers on his back and destroyed Maryland’s ACC title hopes when he scored the game winner in the 88th minute on an absolutely mind-blowing piece of skill and composure. (He beat three defenders on the dribble then slotted it by the keeper.) He spent 110 minutes dominating the Wake Forest midfield before nailing a PK in the shoot out. In the final, he took his victory lap by showing the nation he can defend with the best of them. In case you need more convincing, Tchani won freshman of the year last season in the ACC even though he missed HALF the season. How is he not talked about more often? 

Wake Forest’s group:

Teams: Wake Forest, UCLA, San Diego, Michigan State, UNC-Wilmington, Charlotte, Duke, Winthrop, Wofford, UCSB, Sacramento State, Loyola Marymount.

What to look for:

Here is what I like about this group, every match up is intriguing. All of the first round games are going to be close. All the second round games could be potentially dangerous for the seeded teams. Plus we have two of the top teams in the nation from different coasts headlining the group. In the upper half of the bracket, Wake Forest is faced with a potential rematch against Charlotte. Earlier this season, Charlotte snapped a forty-six game non-conference winning streak by Wake Forest. In the bottom half of the bracket, the West Coast schools are lining up for a shot at UCLA. Sac St, LMU, UCSB, and San Diego all want to lay claim as best in the West.

Players to watch:


Kyle Nakazawa, UCLA, Senior-
When NCAA finally adopt an actual scoring system, there is going to be a category for points scored in the clutch (last fifteen minutes of games decided by two goals or less). Nakazawa would be the clear winner of this category this year, he is averaging a clutch point per game over the last three games. His free kicks are deadly, his vision is uncompromising, and he is going to break your heart. 

Ike Opara, Wake Forest, Junior- A name that should be familiar with most U.S. soccer fans, he was the starting center back for the U-20 team in Egypt. In an interview with goal.com earlier this season, Opara said his goal for the season was to win the treble (ACC regular season title, ACC tourney title, and NCAA title), at this point he is going to have to settle for the double. Wake Forest will need his leadership if they want to advance out of this group.  

Ohio State’s Group:


Teams: Ohio State, North Carolina, Butler, Saint John’s, Stony Brook, Brown, Louisville, Indiana, Dartmouth, Boston College, Western Illinois, Drake.

What to look for:


Is anyone really buying into the idea that Ohio State is the fourth best team in the nation? Outside of their conference schedule, they have one win over a tournament team (Butler). And the number five seed, North Carolina, has not beaten a quality opponent since the second of October. They played like they had completely checked out during the ACC tourney. This group only needs to be described by two words: Upset Central.

Players to watch:

The Goalies! Derby Carrillo, Senior, St. John’s. Andre Boudreaux, Junior, Louisville. Brooks Haggerty, Senior, North Carolina. Fabian Knopfler, Senior, Butler. Matt Lampson, Freshman, Ohio State. These five goalies are ranked 5, 8, 12, 13, and 24 respectively in the nation in terms of goals against average. An unreal collection of the some of the top talent in between the pipes in this bracket. I would not be expecting any soft goals in this bracket.  

Check out the College Soccer Professor’s twitter (twitter.com/NCAAsoccer) for first round predictions.
 

J.R. Eskilson writes a weekly NCAA column on Tuesday for Goal.com.

Get all the latest College Soccer news from the Professor by clicking forward to Goal.com's Youth Soccer page.



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