March 21, 2013 by Charlie Eisenhood in News, Preview with 5 comments
This is it: Easterns, the final stop on the road to the Series for most of the country’s best College Open teams. They all converge on Wilmington, the North Carolina beach town, for the final push towards the playoffs.
Except for Brown, who qualified for the tournament with their fourth place finish at the Easterns Qualifier (Michigan declined their spot; UNC-Wilmington and Ohio were already in), all of the teams in attendance are ranked in Ultiworld’s Top 25.
While many teams are focusing on improvements that will help them in Madison at the College Championships, some teams are still scrapping for bids. UNC-Wilmington (USAU #19), Dartmouth (USAU #26), and Brown (USAU #39) are all looking to grab an additional bid for their regions as the teams on the fringes of a strength bid like Stanford (USAU #18) hope to fend them off.
One of the exciting features of this year’s Easterns is that pools have been designed to be balanced and avoid rematches. There will be just two games (Brown v. Minnesota & Wisconsin v. Stanford) between teams that have played already this season during pool play. The result should be exciting games, intriguing new matchups, and unpredictable outcomes.
Oregon (UW #1, USAU #2): Ego enter Easterns coming off of a huge tournament win at the Stanford Invite, the West Coast’s Easterns. Despite coming in with modest expectations, they surprised even themselves with their strong play on Sunday. Captain Dylan Freechild told Ultiworld that they had initially anticipated trying to place near the top at Stanford, putting more focus on Easterns. But now they come in as the #1 seed; expectations are high. They’ll have to face Florida, the giant killers, who knocked off the #1 seed at their last two tournaments (Pittsburgh at Warm Up and Canada U23 at Trouble In Vegas).
Florida (UW #12, USAU #10): Let’s take a moment to recognize that Florida has lost to just three teams this season: #2 Carleton, #3 Wisconsin, and #4 Pittsburgh. Granted, they haven’t faced many other top teams, but that’s quite a resume. They have a lot to prove, though, since their success came early in the season at Warm Up. They did win Trouble in Vegas, but they were the two seed. Sophomore Bobby Ley is their biggest playmaker and will no doubt be a force for them this weekend. Ley says a lot about this team: they are deep and they are young. Which one of those forces dominates the other will determine the team’s success this weekend.
Minnesota (UW #9, USAU #9): It’s been over a month since Minnesota took the field at the President’s Day Invite. There, they played quite well, only losing once — 14-12 to #7 Arizona, the only ranked team they faced, in the finals. Grey Duck will have their work cut out for them after a long hiatus and not a lot of tough games. Greg Arenson and Jason Tschida will capably lead the offensive line, no question, but will they be able to grind out the close games they are likely to find themselves in? Their game against Florida should be one of Saturday’s marquee matchups.
Brown (USAU #39): Clearly the underdogs at the tournament, Brown is fresh off of a semifinals run at the Easterns Qualifier. Since Michigan declined their bid as the third place finisher, Brown was excited to step in and get their shot at the nation’s best. At the EQ, they only lost two games — one to #14 Ohio and one to #23 Michigan. Both games were close. The challenge for them will be to see if they can put all the pieces together. Charlie Kannel is their leader and he’ll play a big role in any pool play success they have.
Carleton (UW #2, USAU #3): Can Carleton win when it counts? After beating Oregon on Saturday at the Stanford Invite, they got Ego again in a finals rematch. Despite an insistence that results don’t matter (certainly true of much of the Carleton regular season), Cut played their best players throughout the game and still came away with the loss. Their defense looked shaky in the finals. That said, this is a very good team that takes advantage of mistakes. Their top talent — led by Simon Montague, Julian Childs-Walker, and Nick Stuart — can take over games on their own. But do they have the legs to take the Easterns title?
Tufts (UW #5, USAU #7): Tufts may have been the biggest surprise at the Stanford Invite. Coming in seeded 12th, they made it to the semifinals before losing a close game to Oregon. Their conservative offense got the better of strong teams like Arizona and Colorado. After the games, captain Robby Perkins-High said, “After this weekend, we definitely know we can compete for a national title this year.” They’ll have to prove that in a very tough pool. Central Florida underperformed at Stanford, and Ohio’s weakness is depth (not something that bothers them during pool play).
Central Florida (UW #10, USAU #12): The UCF Dogs of War went 4-3 at the Stanford Invite, but lost at all the wrong times. Coach Andrew Roca said that his team played the worst he’s ever seen them play on Saturday afternoon. But he was optimistic, arguing that they needed the wake-up call. This weekend will be a big test of their ability to bounce back. They certainly have the talent to dominate, but part of the Stanford challenge may have been to reintegrate some of their playmakers (Mischa Freystaetter, Michael Hickson, e.g.) back into the lineup after they missed Warm Up.
Ohio (UW #15, USAU #15): It’s hard to figure out exactly where Ohio stands. They have just two losses on the season, both in the finals, both to North Carolina teams (UNC at QCTU, UNC-Wilmington at the Easterns Qualifier). In both matchups, the short roster looked exhausted and just didn’t play up to their potential. But they also really only have one quality win: a 12-11 nailbiter against Harvard at Queen City. The big question for this team is: how far can a heavy reliance on your superstars take you in this era of college ultimate? Mitch Cihon and Connor Haley are great, but they aren’t infallible. Cihon had a terrible first half against UNC-W that largely cost Ohio the game. But I wouldn’t want to face them in my pool on Saturday when they’re on fresh legs. Huge test for them this weekend.
Pittsburgh (UW #4, USAU #3): After two straight semifinals losses at Warm Up and Stanford, Pitt has to feel a touch humbled and ready to prove who they are. Coach Nick Kaczmarek suggested that finding an identity as “Pitt 2013″ was critical to this team’s success. “We are not defending champions,” he said after the Stanford Invite. “The defending champion is Pitt 2012. This is Pitt 2013.” Has their offense had enough time together now to cut down giving up breaks against the very top teams? They have a very winnable pool, but Saturday has never been an issue. It’s the late Sunday matchups where they need to bring their A-game.
Florida State (UW #13, USAU #8): How will Florida State respond after a disappointing finals loss to Georgia (USAU #21) at their hometown Tally Classic? DUF is having their breakout year so far, but they still have a lot to prove and a lot of skeptics to silence. Part of being a great team is knowing how to win — does FSU have that ability yet? They’ve lost all four of their biggest games of the season (Santa Barbara Invite finals to #7 Arizona, Warm Up pool play game to #7 Carleton, Warm Up quarterfinals to #10 Central Florida, and Tally Classic semifinals to Georgia), three of them on universe. Their two point loss to Georgia shows that this is a pattern: they aren’t yet mentally tough enough to grind out wins. On the plus side, they’ve got some of the biggest playmakers in the Southeast on their team. Watch Chris LaRocque do his thing (he won the Ultiworld ‘Play of the Season’ video contest sponsored by VC and Printed Performance with this catch):
[youtube TmP0BntNJxs 600 377]
Colorado (UW #11, USAU #14): Mamabird flies into Wilmington with some consistency issues. They’ve shown an ability to beat the best (their 13-8 prequarters win over #6 North Carolina was the win of their season) but haven’t been able to crack into the top 10 with consistent performances against teams like Tufts or Arizona. Stanford gave Colorado a sense of where they stand and what they need to work on. It seems clear that diversifying the offensive options — and not just looking to Jimmy Mickle — will be important to this team’s success in the Series. Their close win against Texas A&M shows they can’t expect to float on to Nationals this year; Dozen was playing with just a handful of guys and still put up 12 points. The South Central region is going to be a battle.
North Carolina – Wilmington (UW #18, USAU #19): The Seamen came into Stanford two weeks ago undefeated and ready to show they belonged after a disappointing exit from the Series last year. They rattled off two straight wins over the top West Coast teams — Arizona (a huge comback victory) and Texas — and their weekend looked bright. But after a six point loss to Tufts, they crumbled mentally. They paid a heavy price for drops and careless mistakes against Stanford in the prequarters, losing 13-7. They followed that up by going 1-2 on Sunday. Coach Greg Vassar said that Spring Break left the team too unfocused. That puts a lot of weight on their results this weekend. Their defense is excellent, and don’t let slow starts fool you: they rally back in the second half.
Wisconsin (UW #3, USAU #1): The Hodags were a dominant force at Warm Up, going undefeated and looking all around like the best team in the country. But Stanford was a different story. Matched up with an unranked Whitman team in the second round, simple execution errors cost them the game despite having a boatload of chances to break down the stretch. They would only lose once more on the weekend — to Oregon in quarterfinals (another ugly game for Wisco) — but they definitely came back down to earth. On Sunday, coach Hector Valdivia was playing his defensive line on O points and vice versa, trying to reignite the offensive line with some spark on D. Practice leading up to Easterns has probably focused on similar issues. Will the Hodags reestablish themselves as the country’s best team? The USA Ultimate algorithm still considers them the #1 team. Their game against UNC will be their big Saturday test — it should be a classic.
North Carolina (UW #6, USAU #5): North Carolina missed the bracket at Stanford after a brutal universe point loss to Pitt left them reeling in their prequarters game against Colorado. But the top Atlantic Coast squad came out on Sunday with something to prove — and did, going 3-0 with blowout wins. Had the Pitt game ended up differently (UNC was up for almost the entire game), it could have been a big weekend for them. They will need to work on their resiliency. You can be sure they are looking to their Wisconsin matchup as one of the biggest games of the season for them. This is a team with big aspirations. They will be more prepared for the challenge this weekend.
Stanford (UW #16, USAU #18): Right now, Stanford is barely clinging to a strength bid for the Southwest after a solid 3-4 performance at their hometown Invite. Are they worried? Not a bit. “We don’t care how many bids there are,” captain Ben Funk told Ultiworld in Stanford. “Arizona and Davis are good teams, but they don’t have the experience we do.” That attitude keeps the focus squarely on improving themselves. They’ll have a tough road to any upsets in this pool, but they should find their way into prequarters.
Dartmouth (UW #22, USAU #26): Dartmouth’s last tournament was supposed to be the Easterns Qualifier, a tune-up for them before their biggest tournament in recent history. Unfortunately, one of their vans got into a severe accident on the way down the coast. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, but they had to cancel their trip. That means that Dartmouth hasn’t played since the middle of February at Warm Up, where they went 4-5 but narrowly missed beating both Texas and Pittsburgh. They will be hungry to grab another bid for the Northeast; their game against Stanford will be a critical test and probably the biggest game of their season.
Quarters: Oregon, Carleton, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, Tufts, North Carolina
Semis: Oregon, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, North Carolina
Finals: Oregon, Pittsburgh