I’ve decided to re-rank the teams in the NCAA Tournament field after each weekend of play, while also devoting a little attention to the dearly departed. Anyone eliminated in a prior round can’t be ranked higher than someone still in the tournament, hence why West Virginia and DePaul (among others) aren’t still in the Top 32.
2. Florida State
4. Texas A&M
6. North Carolina
7. Penn State
9. Virginia Tech
12. Notre Dame
20. South Carolina
23. Texas Tech
26. Illinois State
29. Arizona State
Eliminated In Round One
33. West Virginia
It feels like this was a breaking point for West Virginia’s reputation on the national stage. WVU has one of the nation’s best defenders, a deep, talented team, and had come off doing another double in the Big XII, a league which they’ve romped through since joining. And yet, WVU again came up short in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers have been eliminated in the first round in three of the past four seasons and only advanced to the second round last season through penalties. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s decision to send up Kate Schwindel and Ali Connelly for penalties despite neither having played is going to be second guessed for a long time. Given the Big XII’s poor NCAA Tournament performance, some might wonder if the league is actively damaging WVU’s ability to contend nationally. Then again, some might wonder if the Mountaineers have simply plateaued as a program under Izzo-Brown.
Last Saturday’s snow bowl in Madison went pretty much how most expected it would. DePaul fought valiantly but were also ultimately overmatched by the Big Ten Tournament champ Wisconsin Badgers. DePaul is still probably going to carry a grudge for a very long time with the NCAA for souring the greatest season in club history with a non-sensical first round matchup despite having not lost a single game leading into the NCAA Tournament. That aside, the key for Erin Chastain’s side will be turning NCAA Tournament appearances and major trophies into consistent happenings. Given the core of talent Chastain’s brought in, it certainly isn’t out of the question.
Keidane McAlpine must never want to see a penalty shootout again in his life. The Trojans boss has now seen his side bounced from the first round of the NCAA Tournament on spot kicks three years running after a shootout defeat to Pepperdine. In truth, USC advancing would’ve been slightly harsh on the Waves, but you suspect the Trojans will still see it as an opportunity missed after running Pepperdine close the entire match. Despite the exit, the future again looks bright for the red half of Los Angeles, who surged up the Pac-12 table and again seem like a squad to make finishes in the top half of the league a regular occurrence.
Oh, dear, BYU must be getting sick at the mere mention of Colorado these days. For the second straight season, CU sent the Cougars packing in the NCAA Tournament and did so in rather convincing fashion. This may be the more bitter blow, as BYU had looked like one of the nation’s hottest teams going into the NCAA Tournament, loss to Pepperdine aside. But the Cougars’ defensive questions reared their ugly head in the loss, while the volume of offensive chances again did not equal quality chances on the afternoon. With Ashley Hatch and many others returning next season though, BYU should again challenge for WCC honors and deeper progress in the Big Dance.
37. San Diego State
The Aztecs were unlucky losers on Saturday against Cal in arguably the round’s most entertaining fixture. SDSU showed that they could’ve advanced to the second round with ease if matched up with a different foe, but, alas, geography’s going to make every opening round matchup for a club like the Aztecs. Full marks to the Mountain West side for emerging as champions on both fronts again after the addition of Colorado College had made the league as challenging as ever. After some earlier up and down campaigns, it looks like SDSU might be here to stay as the Mountain West’s flagship program.
38. Washington State
Perhaps Washington State would’ve been happier with someone getting flown in after all. The Cougars were ambushed by a Seattle side that wouldn’t have looked out of place in some Pac-12 circles this season, falling in extra time to the WAC champions in Pullman. The upset defeat also again raises questions about new boss Steve Nugent’s postseason chops. Despite being a fairly steady hand in the regular season, Nugent now has not won a postseason match in four seasons as a head coach, stretching back to two losses and a shootout defeat during his tenure at UNC Greensboro. How WSU responds to last week’s setback will be worth watching in 2015.
I’m not particularly sure this Clemson side is going to be looked back upon with any particular degree of fondness. The Tigers looked like a team transformed early in the year, scoring goals for fun, but that was all scheduling smoke and mirrors, with the Tigers scoring a goal a game in its final eleven contests, encompassing the league schedule and a mind-numbing 0-0 draw in the NCAA Tournament against South Carolina. Clemson’s defense will probably keep them in the running for consistent appearances in the Big Dance, but this may be their upside unless they can find someone that can actually spearhead the offense with regular goals.
40. Oklahoma State
What a season of extremes for the Cowgirls. OSU began the season with six straight losses as injuries and a difficult non-conference schedule took its toll, but they rebounded to finish second in the Big XII. And then it all came crashing down in the postseason, as they lost in the Big XII Tournament quarterfinals before then getting bounced by Arizona in the NCAA Tournament first round. Whether that says more about OSU or the Big XII in general is up for debate, but it was hardly the note the Cowgirls wanted to go out on after such a stirring fightback from their early woes this year.
The Jayhawks’ season ended with a pretty large thud after they had begun it by winning fourteen of fifteen. KU would proceed to lose five of their last six matches, including dropping both postseason matches en route to a slightly disappointing finish to the season. Losing to bitter rivals Missouri to end the year was hardly the best of send-offs, and some might be wondering if the Big XII, and Kansas by proxy, wasn’t just grossly overrated the entire season. On a very hot seat at the beginning of the season, it’ll be interesting to see if head coach Mark Francis did enough to earn his employer’s continued faith going forward.
42. Boston University
Well, BU certainly met their kryptonite this season in the form of a Northeastern side who beat the Terriers twice, the latest knocking the Patriot League side from the NCAA Tournament. There were some frustratingly inconsistent patches in the league for the first time in a while this year, but BU still came good in the Patriot League Tournament against Colgate. There’s probably more room for improvement in the RPI next year too if they can iron out inconsistency early in the season.
43. South Florida
South Florida’s rep as one of the big conference’s “almost” teams certainly didn’t get disproven by this season, in which the Bulls fell on penalties to UConn in the AAC Tournament final before the defeat to Illinois State in the NCAA Tournament. It was another setback for a club that just hasn’t seemed to be able to get over the hump and to the level of at least state rivals UCF. There’s a good core of talent here though, and the hope has to be that the Bulls can finally make back-to-back NCAA Tournaments after so many up and down seasons.
The Sooners looked to be on their way to a huge victory against Arkansas in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament after taking a 2-0 lead. And then the bottom fell out, as OU collapsed, blowing their advantage and going down in a dispiriting 3-2 defeat to their SEC opponent. It was perhaps a slight disappointment considering the big progress the program had made this season after last year’s brutal campaign. The question now is whether 2014 was another false dawn in a program known for them or the beginning of a protracted rise.
45. Cal State Fullerton
Tip your cap to the Titans, who overcame a mostly uninspiring non-conference campaign to come on strong in the Big West, winning the double and setting roots as the league’s new powerhouse. They still looked to be nothing but sacrificial lambs against Stanford…and then they took a 2-0 lead and scared the living hell out of the Palo Alto side for an hour. The Titans would eventually be overwhelmed, but not before they had earned a ton of respect for the effort. Fullerton doesn’t look to be going away any time soon, so the onus on next season must be raising the RPI to avoid matchups like the one against Stanford in the future.
46. La Salle
Boy, the frustration at La Salle has to be kicking into overdrive right about now. This was probably their best chance in a long line of them to finally win an NCAA Tournament match, and the Explorers just couldn’t get it done. Rutgers had looked like a club on the wane after a hot start to the season, but they still had enough in the tank to dispatch the A10 champions. Next year? No Kelsey Haycook, no Maryam Huseini, no Jessica Wiggins, no Kerri Aiken. So La Salle may be rueing this missed opportunity well into the new year.
47. Florida Gulf Coast
They had started the match skittish enough, but the loss of Tabby Tindell to injury was pretty much the deathblow to FGCU’s hopes of winning an elusive NCAA Tournament match. Finally in with a real shout of logging that first win, the Eagles instead started slow and couldn’t find a response in the second half when they did start to go forward a bit. Tindell still has a few years left in Fort Myers, meaning they might get that win yet, but when is it time to start asking if Jim Blankenship has hit his ceiling with the A-Sun powerhouse?
If Georgia was playing for its coach’s job, it certainly didn’t begin last Saturday’s match with any sense of urgency, after going down 1-0 and, quite frankly, being lucky to not be down more at the break. While the Bulldogs came out and equalized in the second half, they were clearly second best, even with the improvement, and were sent packing in short order. Also packing was the coaching staff, unceremoniously sacked after the defeat. The incongruity of continual Top 25 recruiting classes and one NCAA Tournament win in five seasons was too much to bear in the end, leaving open a job that may attract some high-minded pursuers if the price is right.
Oh, what could have been. Rice looked like a fancy tip for an upset against Texas going into the first round…right before we knew that their best player, forward Lauren Hughes would miss the match with injury. The Owls played like a side fully aware of that fact and were on the end of a lopsided result in favor of the host Longhorns. Good news? Hughes and Holly Hargreaves are both back next season, meaning Conference USA opponents better get used to dealing with duo once more. And you can probably add head coach Nicky Adams to the list of mid-major coaches who might attract attention from bigger programs.
What a fate. The Flyers grabbed destiny with both hands a few weeks ago and won the A10 Tournament on their home turf only to get destroyed by Virginia Tech in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps we should have taken a hint by the club’s earlier 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Stanford in the regular season. Of course, the Flyers were without injured forward Ashley Campbell…which might’ve given them a chance to score a goal or two and make the scoreline a little more respectable. As always, Dayton should be in NCAA Tournament contention next season, with hopefully a little tighter defense in tow.
51. San Diego
Did San Diego really belong? *shrugs shoulders* It’s hard to make a definitive statement either way considering they were handed an impossible task in the first round anyway against UCLA. Unlike the first encounter, the Bruins wasted little time in putting the Toreros the sword and could’ve run out winners by double digits had they felt like it. The WCC’s balance of power may be shifting towards BYU and Pepperdine, but it’s seemingly more than likely that San Diego, through it all, will be in contention for the NCAA Tournament every season. In other words, the status quo from the past decade should remain intact.
Even a pretty thorough dismantling at the hands of Penn State shouldn’t discourage Bulls supporters, who enjoyed a dream season after so many listless years in the MAC. League title and conference tournament title in hand, the question now is of staying power in a league that has since all three directional Michigan schools, Toledo, and Miami (OH) all enjoy time near or at the top in recent years. First-year coach Shawn Burke more than repaid the faith shown in him by the administration in giving him the job in the first place but will want to show that 2014 was no fluke.
The Bears certainly didn’t follow the script of Florida vs Small Club for about eighty minutes last Sunday. Mercer didn’t roll over and get passed to death by the Gators, instead holding the SEC side to just a single shot on goal for the vast majority of the match. Unfortunately, that shot did happen to go in, and the Bears still looked short on firepower up front, but the SoCon Tournament winners deserved much better than the 3-0 scoreline that ended up being the final after Savannah Jordan knocked in a brace for Florida. Tony Economopoulos’ hire has been an unqualified success after three seasons, and it’d hardly be surprising to see him linked to bigger positions in coming seasons.
54. SIU Edwardsville
SIUE was agonizingly close to being this year’s Western Michigan, a name on everyone’s lips going into the second weekend of the tournament. Given the sudden rise of the Cougars, from transitioning team to NCAA Tournament participant, advancing in their very first trip to the Big Dance in DI would have been astonishing. SIUE will try and do something most of their OVC brethren haven’t been able to do in recent years: Stay at the top of the league. It won’t be easy with the graduation of top player Samantha Jones.
You probably would’ve gotten some funny stares and some laughter had you mentioned that Valpo’s season would’ve ended with them just seconds from taking Notre Dame to extra time in the NCAA Tournament. And yet that’s what a dogged Crusaders team did against the much ballyhooed Irish. With upheaval at league powerhouse Wisconsin-Milwaukee, there’s room for a new giant in the Horizon League. While Valpo’s hardly been a model of consistency over the past decade, who’s to say they can’t step into the void and become a consistent threat to get to the Big Dance?
56. Northern Arizona
NAU got thrown a bone by not being matched up against Stanford or UCLA despite being one of the weakest teams in the region. Did the Lumberjacks take advantage of that gift? Well, they did and they didn’t. I’m not sure anyone realistically expected the club to challenge for an upset of Arizona State, but at least they put forth a solid effort in a battling 4-2 defeat. Getting junior forward Haley Wingender back next season should ensure NAU’s fighting to get back to the NCAA Tournament once more.
The Broncs got the oddest of matchups with their being sent over to Seattle to play Washington despite a plethora of options closer to them on the East Coast. All things considered, it wasn’t the worst fate in the world, as the MAAC Tournament champs didn’t fare that badly against UW. Considering few expected much more than mid-table obscurity for them before the season, it was still a season to cherish and potentially a building block for further gains down the road.
58. South Dakota State
Lang Wedemeyer’s SDSU team probably could have caused some serious problems for a seeded team given the right matchup. North Carolina was not the right matchups. The Jackrabbits didn’t get blown out of the water but seldom looked like overcoming the Tar Heels. Given the expectation that Denver would crush everyone in the Summit League on a yearly basis, SDSU winning on both fronts in the league this year had to be a refreshing development. It also might be one that gets Wedemeyer looks from bigger programs sooner rather than later.
59. New Hampshire
Steve Welham’s UNH side was always going to face an uphill climb against UConn and weren’t really threats to win but still didn’t embarrass themselves in defeat. Considering the Wildcats’ program was pretty much in stasis before Welham arrived before this season, it’s still been a job well done in the short-term in a wide open conference since Boston University departed. It will be interesting to see if they can avoid Second Season Syndrome in 2015 and challenge for a league title.
60. South Alabama
Oh, South Alabama. The Jaguars suffer the misfortune of being close enough to Florida State that they’re probably going to be FSU’s first-round opponent in perpetuity for as long as USA makes the NCAA Tournament. Graham Winkworth still did spectacularly to overcome serious personnel losses after last season though and surely has to be rising on the list of hot coaching hire options given his success through two seasons. The next step may be ramping up non-conference strength of schedule to toughen the club’s RPI up.
61. Houston Baptist
Misty Jones’ side didn’t really stand a chance against the #1 seeded Aggies, with the home side putting the Southland Conference Tournament champs through their paces with relative ease. But still, for a program that was basically in Division I limbo a few years ago, the rise to the NCAA Tournament has been a meteoric one. We’ll see now if HBU can put up a legitimate challenge to Stephen F. Austin’s reign as conference kingpins.
62. High Point
Some were hoping they’d keep it close against Virginia like they had against North Carolina in the past. Those who did were deeply disappointed, as HPU got vivisected in brutal fashion by the Cavs. UVA scored eight in short order and could’ve had eighty-eight if they felt like it in all likelihood. Don’t cry too hard for Marty Beall’s side. They’re almost always around in the Big South, meaning more NCAA Tournament trips are likely in their future.
63. Central Connecticut State
It’s one thing to be turfed by a high national seed. It’s another to be beaten down by a team that didn’t get close to any seed. Getting Swedish defender Jennifer Cafferky for a few more years should help hopes of getting back here, but finding some more offense, especially with the loss of Tori Sousa, will be vital if CCSU isn’t to drop back into the muddle of the NEC.
64. Prairie View A&M
Thought they were being thrown a bone by not drawing a #1 seed? Well, not so much, as they were thoroughly outclassed by a rampant Texas Tech side. The SWAC is unpredictable, but the Panthers are usually a solid bet to be competitive every year, meaning they may yet be back.