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Missouri Loves Company 2015: Tournament Preview (Men’s Division)

Preseason tournaments: they don't matter, unless they do!

mlc logoThe fall college ultimate season is like the preseason in many professional sports: it doesn’t matter. But there’s something a bit different about the late fall tournaments. Sure, the results don’t mean anything — there are no rankings points, no bids, no real reason to win. Yet most teams take Missouri Loves Company — and its Eastern counterpart Classic City Classic — pretty seriously.

Rookies are still getting assessed, of course, and rotations won’t often be tight. But you can learn more than you might think about the make-up of teams at MLC. Last year, all four semifinalists eventually made Nationals. The tournament winner, Colorado, made the quarters at Nationals and finished tied for fifth place.

On the flip side, though, you have teams like Texas and Illinois that had dreadful MLC performances but ultimately made Nationals and played well once there. Perhaps late fall tournaments tell us more about the teams that win than those that lose.

Either way, there will be plenty to watch for at this year’s tournament, which features six teams in the Ultiworld Top 25 and a whole host of bubble and Regionals teams.

Power Pool A (#6 Colorado, #7 Wisconsin, Luther, Notre Dame, WashU)

The 2:30 PM Saturday showdown between Mamabird and the Hodags is the obvious ‘must watch’ game during pool play. Last year, Colorado took down Wisconsin 13-10 in the tournament final.

There’s reason to believe the score will be even closer this time around. Colorado loses a couple of key pieces, including Stanley Peterson, from last year’s squad. Wisconsin brings back almost every important starter, including Craig Cox. The Hodags also have a lot of work to do before they go into winter gym hibernation, considering last year’s mess of an offense.

It’s worth noting that Colorado is still trying out players (they will bring three freshman and five sophomores, only one of which played on the A team a season ago) while Wisconsin has already set their spring roster. Both teams should have high expectations for their performance this weekend and this season. It would not be all too surprising to see them face off again in the final; on paper, they are the two best teams at the tournament.

Notre Dame is the most intriguing team in this pool outside of the top two. There wasn’t a whole lot to see from a year ago until late in the season at Huck Finn, when they got a win over Minnesota. Then they won Sectionals. Then they blew through pool play at Great Lakes Regionals and on eventually to the final, where they ran out of steam against a talented Illinois team.

Where does Notre Dame stand this season? The Great Lakes is one of the most up-for-grabs regions in the country, second only to the Metro East.

WashU had a great 2015 season, thanks in large part to 1st Team All-Region selection Joseph Marmerstein, who nearly carried the team to an upset win over Texas in the game-to-go at South Central Regionals. Unfortunately for the team, Marmerstein graduated in the spring. His shoes will be hard to fill. They’ll get a chance to start filling them at MLC against some stiff competition.

Luther is always competitive, but they’re a couple years removed from their senior-heavy up year in 2014. They had two first team All-Region players last season, both seniors. Expect them to be a tough out, always, but it’s hard to see them doing damage to the top seeds.

Power Pool B (#15 Texas, #16 Minnesota, #21 Illinois, #11 Carleton, Missouri)

Pool B is the much tougher pool this year, with an underseeded Carleton lurking in the 4th spot (although, it is Carleton, and it is the fall).

Almost every game in this pool should be a good one, and it would be hard to handicap these games. In some ways, Minnesota may be the favorite to finish on top. The team has a lot of continuity from a season ago, returning rising stars like Ben Jagt and Soham Shah. The chemistry is already there and, although they need to fill Josh Klane’s role, they have a lot of pieces in place already.

Texas — the higher seeded and higher ranked team — may find themselves in situation similar to last year, where they got slammed at MLC. Last season, they were learning to play without Will Driscoll and Mitch Bennett. This year, they will have to deal with losing Chase Cunningham.

It’s not that Texas can’t do that; it’s just that it takes time to learn to play with new players in bigger roles. Joel Clutton and Dillon Larberg should be right there to fill in.

Illinois could be really good this season. Nick Prozorovsky was perhaps a snub for POTY in the Great Lakes region last year and will be the prohibitive favorite this year. Could he make his way onto the national radar? This tournament will be a chance for him to break out. It will be worth watching to see if they can begin to make the leap in pool play.

Carleton isn’t likely to be rolling past teams. They always take a developmental approach, especially in the fall. Expect to see lots of rookies getting playing time, including key pickups like Tim Schoch (Garuda).

Missouri comes in as the only unranked team in the pool, but they are one of those teams that makes you think every year that they might just get to the next level. The problem has always been depth. They always have some beast — like Jay Froude — but not enough help around him. They’ll certainly have their hands full at MLC.

Pools C, D, E, F, G, & H

I hate to break it to you: I’m not going to be able to preview the other 30 teams at this tournament. Here are a few teams that I think could make a splash in the bracket: Northwestern, Iowa, Iowa State, Indiana, and Minnesota Duluth.

Last year, only two of the eight quarterfinalists came from outside of the power pools: expect similar results this season.

What To Watch For

– Look at the semifinalists: those teams are likely to stick around for most of the season as top teams, and it’s not a stretch to expect to see them at Nationals.

– Keep an eye on which team from the bottom pools bubbles up through the bracket the furthest. It’s a good sign of a possible up year for them.

– Don’t freak out too much if teams you expect to be good end up doing poorly. It is still the fall, and it is still a time to be learning, not necessarily winning.

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