Missouri Loves Company 2014: Tournament Preview (Men’s)

The best of the Midwest get together for an early college battle in the increasingly important Missouri Loves Company.

Missouri Loves CompanyAfter a long wait, the college ultimate season is finally here. It may still be fall, but this weekend’s tournament slate really matters: last year, eventual finalists Colorado and North Carolina both won major fall events — CCC and Missouri Loves Company, respectively.

Some of the best teams from two consistently solid regions — the North Central and the South Central — will descend upon Columbia, Missouri, this weekend for MLC, the year’s first truly important tournament.

For many, MLC is the first yardstick that defines how they stack up against top competition. Yes, there have been scrimmages and small regional tournaments, but some of the nation’s best college teams will be at Missouri, including the defending National Champion, Colorado.

There are five total 2014 Nationals teams in attendance (Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Carleton and Texas A&M). Add perennial contenders Minnesota and Luther, up and coming Northern Iowa and Arkansas, and a bevy of teams who are itching to prove themselves. This weekend should be fun.

Tournament Specs:

– 40 Teams
– 8 Pools of 5
– 2 Power Pools (A&B)
– Round Robin Pool Play Saturday
– 16 Team Single Elimination Bracket Play Sunday (All 10 from Power Pools; 6 Other Pool Winners)

Weather Forecast:

Saturday: 48°F/32°F ; Wind ~ 17 mph ; 0% Chance of rain
Sunday: 57°F/40°F ; Wind ~ 14 mph ; 0% Chance of rain

Power Pools:

Missouri Loves Company has long used a power pool format; it’s an obvious setup for this weekend’s tournament, with a very strong top-end and large variance beneath it.

The TD took the five best teams (in attendance) from both the North Central and South Central and split them up into two pools. This allows for a good number of early season matches between the top schools, all while giving a chance to make bracket play for the non-power pool teams.

Let’s take a look at these pools.

Pool A: Colorado, Texas, Carleton, Iowa State, Illinois

The eye is immediately drawn to the top two teams in the pool, Texas and Colorado. Both teams spent most of last year ranked in the top five — which culminated in an extremely entertaining Regional final and eventually a Colorado national championship. Both TUFF and Mamabird suffered heavy losses in the offseason, however. This weekend will be the first time in five years that Jimmy Mickle and Will Driscoll won’t be matched up when these two play on Saturday. Still, each team is lucky enough to have a very deep talent pool with a lot of athletes.

For Mamabird, it’s a question of how they’ll handle losing so much experience. Role players will become the go-to players; bench players will see a lot of playing time. Because of the depth of their program and B team, Colorado will have few (no?) rookies for another year. That matters, especially early in the season.

Texas has been more one dimensional than Colorado, and losing Driscoll will mean a sea change in their approach to the game. Last year, they won and lost through Driscoll. How will they respond in a new season with totally new strategy? We’ll get a glimpse this weekend.

For CUT, this weekend might not mean much. Yes, they are returning a good number of their main players from last year’s pre-quarters team; yes, many of their players gained experience during club season. But Carleton never seems to perform in preseason or early season tournaments. They know how to win, though. Don’t doubt their talent or their May aspirations; just know that they will be giving their rookies a lot of playing time and any results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Both Illinois and Iowa State are looking to reach the upper echelon in their respective regions. For Illinois — the bubble team to make the power pools — they’ll have something to prove after missing Nationals by a long distance (5th in a two bid Great Lakes region) in 2014. Don’t forget, though — Illinois rode a great Sunday into the finals of last year’s MLC where they lost to Colorado. They’ll be hoping a hot start this season will prove to be a bellwether for success.

Iowa State has been unlucky to be in the North Central. It’s brutal. There are a lot of talented teams and they seem to just beat up on each other throughout the year before falling to the usual suspects, Wisconsin and Carleton. It was really a shame they only had two bids to Nationals last year from that Region. This weekend will be a chance for Iowa State to show that they can hang, not only with top North Central teams, but with top national talent as well.

Pool Prediction:
1. Colorado
2. Carleton
3. Texas
4. Iowa State
5. Illinois

Pool B: Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Luther, Minnesota, Colorado College

Pool B is stacked. Three of the top 4 NC teams and a Texas A&M team that returns Matt Bennett? Oh, and Colorado College who finished a close fourth in the South Central last year and nearly beat Texas at Centex. It’s a different year, and the teams have certainly changed, but this should be a highly entertaining pool.

Wisconsin is now without Colin Camp (though he returns as a coach), but that’s not necessarily new turf: they spent a majority of last season without him due to injury. They, as always, will be tall and athletic and play excellent defense. After a quarterfinal exit last year but a long history of success, the Hodags will certainly be motivated to get back to the top of the college division. We’ll get a look at some of their important new fifth years and relatively unknown rookies this weekend.

For Texas A&M, the return of Matt Bennett means the continuation of progress. It was uncertain if Bennett would be returning for a fifth year, but after being accepted to grad school in College Station, Dozen suddenly has their best shot ever to go deep at Nationals. Bennett has proven to be one of the nation’s top handlers — his run at Nationals last year was unbelievable. His experience will be key this weekend in the windy conditions. Dozen should still be without Dalton Smith due to injury, but a number of young, athletic receivers will be running down all of Bennett’s throws.

It was cruel that Minnesota was not at Nationals last year. Chalk it up to whatever you want — bad system, unfair rankings, weak mentality — but this team had the talent to be there. The story is the same this year. With a healthy Josh Klane back, Grey Duck will be looking to add at least a third bid to the North Central. Facing Luther and Wisconsin early in the season will be a good barometer for them. If the past two seasons are any indication, GD will rack up a number of quality regular season wins. Expect nothing different in Missouri.

Luther and Colorado College were both left on the outside looking in at the end of last season. Both finished fourth in their region, with Colorado College nearly knocking off an exhausted A&M team in the game to go in the South Central. With some of the top teams in their region losing some firepower, this year could be a great time for either of these teams to sneak up and nab a Nationals spot. This weekend for many teams is about development, but Luther and CC could make (and may need to make, if they want invites to top tournaments in the Spring) strong statements if they pull off some upsets.

Pool Prediction:
1.Texas A&M
2. Minnesota
3. Wisconsin
4. Colorado College
5. Luther

The Best of the Rest

There are some surprisingly good mid-level teams in this tournament. Outside of the power pools, teams like Northern Iowa, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, and Minnesota Duluth will all be looking to prove that the TD put the wrong team in power pools. Arkansas was in the power pools, before they weren’t and Illinois took their spot. Northern Iowa has been fighting for tournament invites and relevance for years now. With windy conditions and crisp temperatures settling into Missouri this weekend, there will be opportunities for upsets. First, though, these teams will have to take care of business on Saturday just for a chance to go up against the top contenders on Sunday.

What To Watch For

If the weather forecast is correct, there will be wind. No team likes that this early in the season, and inexperienced players will have a tough time in the weather.

You have to give the edge to the teams with a solid core of veteran handlers. Teams like Texas A&M, Colorado, and Minnesota should come out and rely on their experience to fight through the conditions.

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