Friday, 6:00 PM
(3) South Carolina (13-5-3; 5th – SEC; WTSR – 1.18, 4th – SEC)
Clemson (13-3-2; 5th – ACC; WTSR – 1.38, 3rd – ACC)
Why Is This A First Round Match?
The NCAA thinks having more cents is more important than showing common sense.
I See What You Did There. Which Team Is Probably More Pissed Off About This Match?
I’d argue Clemson. They’ve already beaten South Carolina once, in non-controversial circumstances. They had an RPI that should have been enough to see them hosting a first-round game. And they should have had an easy option for an opponent with Georgia making the field. All of that and the indignity of facing a seeded team in the first round? Oy vey.
Could South Carolina Actually Be *GASP* Happy About This?
In a “making lemons out of lemonade” way. They’ll never admit to it, but I’m sure they would’ve liked someone like High Point turning up in Columbia. At least SC gets a shot to avenge a loss though. Nobody may be happier than goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, who was guilty of a clanger of the highest order in the regular season matchup that proved decisive. She’s not a keeper that makes big errors with any type of consistency, meaning Clemson isn’t going to be able to count on mistakes to advance.
Two Rivals, Two Fairly Talented Teams…Great Matchup, Right?
Ha! You would think that, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, these two teams tend to bring out the worst in each other, with some of their recent meetings, including the last one, reduced to defensive hack-a-thons with too much blood and not enough thunder. I’d argue that it’s going to be less compelling than competitive. That’s not a bad thing, but I wouldn’t expect an aesthetic classic. And I would hardly be shocked if it ends 1-0 or 0-0.
How High Are You On South Carolina?
Not very. I had them pegged as one of the likeliest seeds to get bounced early, even before the matchup was revealed. Their overtly defensive mindset leaves a very small margin of error to work with. That works a lot better when you’ve got someone like Kayla Grimsley leading the line. It doesn’t quite work as well when you’ve got everyone that’s led the line since Grimsley as your offensive conduit. They got a rotten matchup in the form of a Clemson side that does everything they do but a little better. The team has plugged in Savannah McCaskill to lead the line, and it’s worked out decently, to a point. The rookie definitely makes everyone else around her better, but she hardly looks like a player that’s going to net a club fifteen goals a season.
With just five goals this year and a scoring ratio of a goal on a little more than every eleven shots, it’s safe to say that McCaskill isn’t the most efficient weapon up top. SC really leans on her as well, as she has double the number of shots as the Gamecocks’ next highest player, Sophie Groff. None of Carolina’s players with twenty or more shots (that’s seven of them) put half of those shots on target. The team as a whole puts just 42% of its shots on target. Yet, McCaskill does have the odd stormer, such as when she scored twice against Florida. But things get much tighter in the NCAA Tournament, and SC’s squandering of chances doesn’t bode well when they’ll be hard to come by.
Well, That’s Fairly Negative…
The good news for South Carolina is that the defense is pretty darn good, as always. It gave up multiple goals in just two matches, to Florida and Texas A&M, and there’s little shame in that. You’d argue that they have been leaking goals in the league though. Their only clean sheet in their past five matches is against woeful Mississippi State.
Still, the Gamecocks have Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, and she’s about as good as it gets at the college level and has the capacity to steal a game on her own at this time of year. Center-back Taylor Leach is an accomplished leader on the backline and a threat on set pieces as well, which is always handy at this time of year. If they play to the peak of their abilities, and the rest of the club gets a rub of the green, South Carolina could live up to their #3 seed.
But You Think They Won’t?
Right. You read Clemson’s WTSR rating in ACC play? Yeah, that’s better than both North Carolina and Notre Dame, who both came away with national seeds. I’d argue that WTSR has been a pretty good indicator through the postseason thus far, and that’s a number that can’t be ignored. Clemson themselves have conceded two goals in a game just twice this season, to Virginia Tech and North Carolina, while also keeping four clean sheets in their past six. Despite not qualifying for the postseason, they’ve also won five of six and lost just one of their final eight matches, that coming at Notre Dame.
Quick! Pour Some Cold Water Over My Clemson Enthusiasm!
Hey, you remember what I said about South Carolina having offensive problems? Well, Clemson has them too. In spades. Of the six ACC sides that made the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers had the lowest goals scored mark in the league. By six goals! They netted just eleven in ten league games, and put under 44% of their shots on target. They have a whopping one player who netted more than two goals in the league, and that’s Catrina Atanda, who at least was hot down the stretch, scoring three goals in the club’s final two matches (albeit, against tepid competition). Making matters worse, Atanda didn’t exactly show well in the regular season meeting between these two, with just a single shot on goal in the win.
Atanda’s got help though, and that makes Clemson much more dangerous than they’ve been in the past. Rookies Salma Anastasio and Shannon Horgan have added punch to the lineup, with the latter netting the winner in the first meeting this season. There are a lot of promising parts here, but having them all coalesce in November isn’t easy.
I Thought You Favored Clemson For An Upset…
I do. As fitful as the offense is, Clemson’s defense is more than talented enough to lead the team to many a win. The alien in goal that was nervous and mistake prone at the U20 World Cup for Canada apparently didn’t return to Clemson, as Kailen Sheridan has been impressive in goal, as she has been for much of her two years with the Tigers. She still has to show she can turn it up as the pressure increases, but she’s got a great defense in front of her, led by another young stud in Gabby Byorth. This is a Clemson side that gave up just seven goals in the league, which is less than both North Carolina and Virginia. If they can scratch out a few goals, the Tigers might make it far this November.
So Where’s Clemson’s Ceiling?
Probably the Sweet Sixteen this season. For all the good the Tigers have done in excising the inconsistency that kept last year’s side out of the NCAA Tournament, Clemson has also shown themselves to be some way short of being a top side yet against sides like North Carolina and Notre Dame. You might argue also that the Tigers’ stats are a bit skewed by getting a great ACC draw and missing juggernauts Florida State and Virginia in the regular season. Stylistically, South Carolina in the first round, and probably Washington State in the second round, are pretty good for Clemson. But when a team with more tournament nous, like North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen, comes calling, Clemson could hit a wall. Hard.
Upset. It’s brutally hard to beat a side twice in a season, especially when they’re closely matched rivals. But I think the extra rest for Clemson, while Carolina has been beating itself up against Missouri and Texas A&M in Orange Beach, might prove telling in such a physical contest. It’ll be close and ugly, but I think Clemson sends South Carolina packing as the first seed eliminated in this year’s NCAA Tournament.