Marquette vs Louisville – 7:00 PM
Marquette has to be fidgeting a little bit as they head into their final weekend of non-conference play. Their resume thus far looks pretty barren of quality results, with wins over the likes of Colorado College and Colgate probably not measuring up very well with potential bubble rivals if the club doesn’t win the Big East’s auto bid. A loss to Illinois State in which the club were caught pretty cold, going down 3-0 by the half-hour mark and unable to make a comeback has just added to the tension on Valley Fields near the halfway mark of the 2013 season. Louisville’s not exactly proven to be an RPI juggernaut themselves, but the Cardinals still probably represent one of Marquette’s best chances of boosting their RPI going forward. Scoring has seldom been the problem for the Golden Eagles, who have rode the goals of Taylor Madigan and Mady Vicker, who have combined for seven goals, to a more than two goal a game average thus far. Maegan Kelly, capable as scorer or provider, has been more of the latter thus far, with four assists to just one goal. Marquette has struggled defensively at times this year though, shipping two to UCLA and Portland state before last Sunday’s shocking first half meltdown against Illinois State. Considering Saturday’s opposition boasts one of the nation’s most vibrant attacks, it’s something of a foreboding sign. But warnings or no, Marquette needs wins and they need them in a bad way, and defeat here could ramp up the club’s bubble worries as Big East play nears.
Louisville was finally able to keep a clean sheet last Sunday, after having shipped twelve goals in their last five games before that 1-0 win over UTSA. The Cardinals have been a consummate “good offense, bad defense” team thus far, which has helped them beat Butler and Miami (OH) while drawing with Virginia Tech. It’s also meant losses to Illinois and Kentucky though, and the Cardinals’ NCAA Tournament future this year is far form certain. Given Marquette’s occasional defensive lapses though, Louisville might be well equipped to pick up a critical road victory on Saturday night. Charlyn Corral and Christine Exeter have been about as deadly as expected, with the duo combining for eleven of the club’s eighteen goals thus far. Corral’s perhaps been a bit too quick to pull the trigger, but she does have six goals and four assists for her trouble. Exeter has been back to her match winning best this season, with three game winning goals and five overall for the Cardinals. Getting into an offensive slugfest with Marquette’s a questionable strategy, but can these Cardinals play any other way at this point? Memphis and Rutgers await next week in the beginning of AAC play. It’s a three match swing that’s likely to make or break the Cardinals’ season, meaning a win here would be priceless for the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Indiana vs Minnesota – 6:00 PM
Indiana’s passed every test thrown in its way thus far, acing their final non-conference exam by beating Xavier in confident fashion in mid-week. The tests are about to get much tougher though, with the Hoosiers entertaining surprising Minnesota in their Big Ten opener on Saturday. The Hoosiers lit up an overmatched Xavier defense to the tune of twenty-nine shots, eleven shots on goal, and three goals, with Lisa Nouanesengsy continuing her impressive pace to open the new season, netting her sixth of the season late in the game. Kayleigh Steigerwalt also made a distinct impression with a goal and an assist to help lead the IU charge. Indiana’s defense has fared pretty well this season, including keeping four clean sheets in their last five while not conceding more than one all season. Of course, much of that may be down to the level of non-conference competition, which hasn’t exactly been that great. If IU wants to be more than a nice story this season and actually challenge for the postseason, they’ll need to string together some wins in the Big Ten. The schedule makers didn’t exactly do the club many favors though, with Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State to open up. That does mean things should ease up later though, meaning the Hoosiers could make some ground up if they don’t drown in the first few weeks of league play.
Minnesota is flying in the early RPI despite a decisive loss to Florida last Friday on the back of winning all of their other matches, including victories against LSU and Ole Miss. The Gophers probably discovered a bit of their ceiling against the Gators, basically being on the back foot from the opening whistle but lasting at 0-0 until just after the hour when Savannah Jordan struck twice to give the home side the win. There wasn’t a hangover though, as Minnesota made the short trip to Jacksonville and handled the A-Sun side pretty easily, winning 3-0. The Golden Gophers spread it around offensively, but they did get Katie Thyken her seventh of the season, and she’ll again be a key conduit of offense for Minnesota in their Big Ten opener. In very good shape in the RPI right now, the Gophers probably just need to avoid an outright collapse in the league to net a return to the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, that means taking care of business and beating teams like their first two opponents, Indiana and Michigan State. At the same time though, Minnesota might be able to sneak into a national seed if they do very well in the league, meaning they can’t take their eye off the ball on Saturday.
Long Beach State vs BYU – 10:00 PM
South Field probably hasn’t seen many greater games than Thursday’s stunning win over Oklahoma. Despite dominating the match in just about every category, BYU gave up two goals in the first half-hour against the Sooners and looked to be falling to a devastating defeat that would’ve likely done a number on their RPI. But the Cougars never said die and scored three goals in the final seven minutes to walk away with a famous win. While BYU’s win undoubtedly raised some spirits that may have sunk a bit after a draw with Oregon and loss to UC Irvine in Provo, the fact that they needed such a comeback still has to be a worry after the club looked like they hadn’t missed a beat in the early weeks of the season in four straight wins. The loss of Michele Murphy to an ACL injury certainly cut some of the attacking depth out of a club that was suddenly struggling to score goals, while the two conceded to Oklahoma underlined some of the defensive worries the club had hoped they had put to bed earlier in the season. Saturday isn’t going to be a picnic either, as it’s the start of a three game stretch, with Denver and Baylor to follow, that will likely decide BYU’s NCAA Tournament fate come season’s end. BYU knows their opponents are running out of mulligans as far as their at-large bid hopes are concerned and that making up another 2-0 deficit, this time on the road, isn’t going to be too likely.
The Beach have been a team that’s hard to figure out. Capable of beating Texas Tech but also capable of losing to Northern Arizona. LBSU really needed a win at Georgia last Friday but were largely dominated by the SEC side. To their credit, the 49ers were able to rebound with an extra time win over Auburn a few days later, but considering the Tigers haven’t looked good so far, it’s questionable as to how much that win is going to mean to their at-large hopes, other than not submarining them. LBSU doesn’t have too many more opportunities out of conference play to earn RPI kudos, and they really need to get something out of this fixture. To do so, they’re going to have to tighten up a defense which has let them down too often this season. LBSU has just one clean sheet in seven games, a foreboding sign considering BYU still has a fair amount of attacking depth despite Murphy’s injury and the club’s recent struggles. It’s largely been scorer by committee thus far, with nobody netting more than three total. Eileen Maes and Mimi Rangel have combined for five goals and four assists, but one senses they’ll have to up their scoring pace if the club is to contend for honors. A win at home would be a big statement of intent and might just be the club’s ace in the hole for an at-large bid come Selection Monday.