The table is set for some heavyweight quarterfinal matchups between teams with different styles, philosophies.
May 28, 2023 by Edward Stephens in Recap with 0 comments
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That’s a wrap on pool play and prequarters at the 2023 D-I College Championships! Despite none of the pools finishing to seed, all eight quarterfinalists come from the tournament’s top nine seeds — though one supposed championship contender has already been shown the exit. We’re here to break down the day’s major storylines, as well as checking in with the tournament’s goal and assist leaders.
Then follow along on the D-I College Championships event page for updates and livestreams throughout the weekend!
Reversal of Fortunes
According to a Medieval philosophical view of life that has its roots in ancient Roman thought, everyone rides the Wheel of Fortune, and no one but Fate knows how to make it turn. Sometimes you are up – sometimes you are down. Perhaps nowhere is that particular lens of truth more apparent than in the throes of College Nationals. With every twist and turn of the competition,1 a new team seems to cry out, in existential desperation, “O Fortuna, what hast thou wrought?”
The transition from the end of pool play in Pools A and D to the prequarters round was a thorough illustration of that school of thought. Take the regional rivalry game between Colorado and Texas to close out the action in Pool D. It should have been a sensational clash with both sides aiming to finish second in the pool. But TUFF, having been blown out earlier in the day by Pittsburgh, limped both into the game and out of it, sitting their top players to save some juice for the bracket. Colorado cruised to what had all the hallmarks of a buoyant, team-affirming victory. In short, Texas (Horns down) and Colorado (Buffs up) entered the bracket trending in completely opposite directions.
The second- and third-place finishers from Pool D crossed over to play their counterparts in Pool A – meaning that Mamabird’s and TUFF’s prequarters opponents would come down to the placement-deciding game between Georgia Jojah and Oregon Ego. Once more there was a stark difference in the fates of the two teams – not merely the naturally divergent paths of ‘win’ and ‘loss,’ but also what those fates changed about the characters of those teams. Georgia — riding a string of highlights that included a greatest, at least a half-dozen 60-yard huck completions, and mind-warping on-disc plays on both offense and defense — seemed to have evolved into their final form. Ego, in losing to the last seed in their pool, showed more bile than grit as the game wore on. They were audibly salty about the decisions made by the observers, and they showed more than a little frustration with one another.
After a round like that, could anybody doubt that Georgia would make short work of a tired, despondent Texas side and that Colorado would burnish their championship bona fides with grace over the chippy Oregon?
But Fate turned the tables on them all. The energized Jojah of pool play evaporated midway through the game, leaving a residue of poorly executed deep throws. Texas were only too happy to take advantage, especially since their (rested) stars were all clicking again. Zach Slayton was essentially untouchable; John Clyde’s hammers were the quickest ticket out of trouble against the zone. Starting at 6-6, TUFF went on a seven-goal run to put the game out of reach, eventually handing Georgia an ugly 15-8 defeat by the same margin.
The shift in the other prequarter was, at 15-13, a little more nuanced in terms of the score but equally jarring considering the teams’ previous rounds. Mamabird had been playing loose throughout the day, loading up every line with a heavy portion of their 10 high-performing freshmen. But with inexperience comes mistakes, and a few late ones made Mamabird vulnerable. Ego’s grittiness, which had created more than a little unhelpful friction in their loss to Georgia, found a more productive outlet in flapping a previously unflappable Colorado side. They scrapped to engineer late breaks and knock out the pre-season presumptive title contenders.
And so with a single turn of the Wheel, the mighty turn to the fallen, and the fallen to the mighty.
New England Wealth
Arguing over regional supremacy is a staple of the college game, and it usually makes for lively discussion. Not in this year’s men’s division though, not after prequarters saw Vermont and Brown dance into position alongside Massachusetts for the tournament’s annual Sunday showdown rounds. Even with a winless Tufts hanging out in the cellar of Pool A, the four-bid region has proved its worthiness by sewing up three of the eight positions remaining.
UMass showed off their willpower and ability to focus by staging a comeback with their full complement of players to win a meaningless game against Minnesota at the end of pool play – a stark contrast from the approach taken by UNC and Pittsburgh (see below). They have been and remain near the top of the division.
Brown’s and Vermont’s journeys through prequarters only emphasized each team’s unique strengths. B-Mo leaned heavily on their peerless duo of Jacques Nissen and Leo Gordon while also showcasing the extreme polish of their depth pieces — players like Elliott Rosenberg, Luca Duclos-Orsello, or Jason Tapper. Vermont tend to thrive on adversity and their own peculiar brand of swagger: they were overstocked with both today, needing big late comebacks to beat both Carleton and Cal, but doing so with no-look passes and silly-athletic plays. Three schools, three paths to quarters, three distinct team personalities – all springing from the same region.
Surely they can’t all make semis… could they?
Rest or Reps?
One of the questions the prequarterfinal and late pool play rounds leave us with is whether it is more beneficial to rest key players or find extra time for them to work together with the rest of the roster and build on-field chemistry. UMass, though they did not have to play a prequarter, elected to use their entire roster in their final game on Friday. North Carolina, Cal Poly SLO, and Pittsburgh, on the other hand, scooped out and set aside a number of their players to save for the knockout states.
But which is the better tactic? Will we get a quarterfinal round more like 2016 – when none of the teams that earned a bye into quarters advanced *beyond* quarters, or more like 2022, when all of the teams that earned byes cruised through into the semis? Look for answers when Pittsburgh and UNC (in particular) make a stand against teams (Vermont and Brown, respectively) that have had an extra round of play to develop more.
Dexter Clyburn (California) – 22
Eli Weaver (Michigan) – 19
Leo Gordon (Brown) – 17
Zach Slayton (Texas) – 17
Cullen Baker (Carleton) – 16
Jacques Nissen (Brown) – 16
Daniel Chen (Carleton) – 18
Gavin May (California) – 17
Chris Doehring (Michigan) – 15
Danny Landesman (Colorado) – 14
Carl Crawford (Vermont) – 13
Luca Duclos-Orsello (Brown) – 13
Jake Worthington (Texas) – 13
Dexter Clyburn (California) – 9
Justin-Cooper Williams (NC State) – 9
Zeke Thoreson (Colorado) – 8
Robert Breyer (Carleton) – 7
Itay Chang (Oregon) – 6
Cole Krucke (Georgia) – 6
Jack Krugler (Georgia) – 6
Oscar Low (Brown) – 6
Theo Shapinsky (Michigan) – 6
Kien Warren (UC Santa Cruz) – 6
Could we just save some time by calling it a twist-and-tournament? ↩