Buzzer Beater: Taking Stock [UFA Week 7, 2024]

A midseason check in and some early awards picks

Colorado Summit’s Alex Atkins throws past the Salt Lake Shred mark during the 2024 UFA regular season. Photo: Ken Forman – UFA

Is this the best modern season in UFA history? Every week it feels like there are more eye-catching games to discuss than I have space for in this column. This week is the same as Carolina moves into the top spot in the Power Rankings, Colorado knocks off Salt Lake for the first time in nearly two years, Portland earns their first win overall in about two years, and DC earned a critical win over New York to send the Empire teetering just over .500 on the season. Rather than pick one game over another, let’s take a breather and process not just this exhilarating week, but the season as a whole as we reach the midpoint.

A Midseasonsnight Breath

It feels like each week presents a new twist or turn, so let’s start by taking stock of where the division races stand at the moment.

ufa 2024 midseason standings central and west divisionsufa 2024 midseason standings east and south divisions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With wins over Atlanta and Austin, Carolina has the inside track as the top seed in the South Division. However, Carolina and Atlanta play twice more while Austin gets four games against Dallas and Houston. Might that difference be enough for the Sol to sneak into second place? Maybe…likewise Atlanta has the opportunity to beat Carolina and earn the top seed in what should be a tight playoff series. The Hustle have the best wins of the division, taking down New York at home and Colorado on the road.

In the Central, it seems like every team other than Detroit can beat any other on any given day. That’s good for building suspense, but hard to predict. This one may come down to the schedule. Minnesota still has to play Colorado and New York, so their tight division lead might come down to their two games against Chicago. Madison also has to play Colorado and does not see Detroit for the rest of the season. Indianapolis is starting from a below .500 position, also has to play Colorado (sensing a theme here?), and finishes the season with four road games. It will definitely be earned if they’re able to make the playoffs. Chicago stays within the division the rest of the way and can start to build a lead with three straight home games in June. Pittsburgh has games against Carolina and Philadelphia left on the schedule in addition to their Central Division opponents. Based on just the eye test, Minnesota and Chicago have to be considered the favorites to make the playoffs, but this season even that is not guaranteed.

In the West Division, the big surprise is Seattle. The Cascades are putting out consistent rosters full of talented young players. Zeppelin Raunig and Garrett Martin are both having great seasons. Winning both games of a doubleheader in SoCal is tough and these ‘Scades scaled that summit. They’ll play Colorado and Salt Lake still, but with six wins already banked should be a shoo-in for their first playoff appearance in years. Salt Lake is still the class of the division, this week’s loss to Colorado notwithstanding. The Championship Weekend hosts are top-to-bottom the most talented team and should host their playoff game (and maybe their own Championship Weekend appearance). That leaves Colorado and Oakland fighting for the last playoff spot. Colorado put down their best performance of the season this week with a win in Salt Lake, but has not shown the consistency fans have come to expect for the 2022 division winners. Oakland feels like they have been knocking on playoff’s door for a few seasons now. They wilted down the stretch in 2023, but have a clearer path this season. The Spiders only play the bottom three teams in the West the rest of the way and already own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Colorado. This could be Oakland’s year!

Finally, in the East Division the Glory took control of first place with their New York-DC doubleheader win. Boston only plays Toronto and Montreal the rest of the season and should start making plans to host a playoff game. That leaves our now-annual New York versus DC playoff matchup to come one round earlier than usual, as none of the other teams in the East proved they can consistently challenge the top three teams.1 Both the Empire and the Breeze have challenges ahead. New York closes out the season with games against Salt Lake, Minnesota, and DC. DC has that New York finale plus a matchup with Carolina to look forward to. One interesting note: it seems New York and DC could end up playing each other in back-to-back games if current seeding holds and they play during the end of the regular season and to kick off the playoffs. The chess match between two teams very familiar with each other will be fun to watch, especially for Boston who should await the winner.

All in all, the combination of ample cross-division matchups, growing talent around the league, and the transfer of the 2023 MVP away from two-time defending champion New York makes this season so fun to watch. I’ll be with you every week as we watch the drama unfold. I’ll be shocked if the standings look exactly as they do today by the time we get to the end of the regular season on July 22.

And just for fun, here are a few midseason award picks:

MVP – Anders Juengst. ‘Ders is the most impactful player on the best team so far this season. That’s been a winning formula for MVP the last few years.
HM: Allan Laviolette, Jordan Kerr

OPOTY – Zeppelin Raunig. The centerpiece of the Cascades offense leads the league in goals and +/-. More importantly, he passes the eye test for an ascending team.
HM: Travis Dunn, Bobby Ley

DPOTY – Lukas Ambrose. Ambrose gets blocks in a league designed for offense. He’s also played some of the most minutes in the league and never seems to tire.
HM: Justin Burnett, Jeff Babbitt

ROTY – Tobe Decraene. What an impact the Belgian import made so far this season for Montreal. Though the Royal are farther down the standings than I’m sure they’d like to be, Decraene has turned heads with his high-level play against high-level opposition. In a weaker division, we could be talking about Decraene leading the Royal to a playoff appearance.
HM: Jonah Stang-Osborne, Gabe Vordick

COTY – Bryce Merrill. There is a world in which Salt Lake experiences a bit of a playoff-success hangover after a stellar 2023. But that’s not this world! Merrill has the Shred focused on making it back to Championship Weekend and making sure no other team needs to fly home with the trophy.
HM: Tuba Benson-Jaja, Sam Rosenthal

News and Notes

  • It was a rough weekend for the Austin Sol who dropped to 4th place in the South Division. They managed zero blocks in a seven-point loss to Atlanta. Justin Burnett had one assist and four goals while only playing D-line. One day later, Allan Laviolette’s +8/0 turnover game led Carolina to another seven-goal win over Austin.
  • The Summit might as well have been from Coloradon’t after getting broken late in the fourth quarter of a tie game to lose to Oakland…but they Coloradid beat Salt Lake the next day. Alex Atkins punctuated his walk-off buzzer beating block with a Ben Jagt-esque triple spike.
  • Seattle used a 6-0 run spanning halftime to break open their game against the Aviators. An 8-1 run to close out the fourth quarter definitely helped, as did four blocks from Lukas Ambrose and six goals from Zeppelin Raunig.
  • David Barram’s seven-assist game helped Portland earn their first win of the year over a reeling Los Angeles team on the second day of a back-to-back. LA was down by five in the second half and rallied to tie the game, but the Aviators could not fly home with the win.
  • Minnesota held on to first place in the Central Division with a 24-21 win over Indianapolis. Gordon Larson dabbled in all parts of the game across O- and D-line, finishing with a 2A/3G/2D stat line. Will Brandt threw four assists in his season debut.
  • Boston continued their winning ways out East with a 22-12 domination of a Philadelphia team in need of a rebirth. Boston won every quarter by multiple goals, and had a 3-0 run in each quarter as well. With two games each against Toronto and Montreal remaining, the Glory put themselves in great position to host a playoff game for the first time in franchise history.
  • Kevin Quinlan’s five assist/four goal performance paired with Tobe Decraene’s 692 total yards led Montreal to a win over fellow Canadian franchise Toronto. Phil Turner’s six blocks kept the Rush in the game, but were not enough to earn Toronto a victory.
  • DC jumped out to an early lead and held on despite a mid-game comeback from the Empire to beat New York for the first time since 2021. New York is still figuring out its post-Babbitt identity, and shifted around their lines for this game. John Randolph moved to offense, replacing Liam Haberfield who played exclusively on the D-line. Tristan Yarter, Kenni Taylor, and Tej Murthy all made their Empire debuts.
  • Houston put themselves in temporary playoff position with a win over Dallas. Jimmy Zuraw’s seven assist, two goal, three block, zero turnover game helped the Havoc on both sides of the disc.
  • Madison and Detroit combined for 69 turnovers in the Radicals’ seven-point win. Jacob Felton’s nine turnovers more than doubled any other player, but his five assists put him in a tie for first place in the league–impressive for a rookie.

Mailbag

Have a question about the UFA? Send it in to [email protected] with UFA Mailbag in the subject line. You can also message me on Twitter at @StallSeven, or subscribers can DM me in the Ultiworld Discord.

What player from the bottom team of each division would you put on the top team in that division to help their championship odds? – Lucas Meade in the Ultiworld Discord

The classic trade deadline question. It’s tough to work out real one-for-one trades that make sense given that the incentives available in bigger-money pro leagues such as draft picks or salary cap space are non-entities in the UFA. But to just pick a player to magically be whisked away, well that’s easy pundritry!

  • East: Toronto to Boston
    • Phil Turner would be a big addition to the Boston D-line. The Glory have stood out for their offensive prowess this season, so another block-getter would go a long way towards helping them close out their division lead.
  • South: Dallas to Carolina
    • Alec Wilson Holliday has been the Legion’s best player and he could become a Drew Swanson-like difference maker on the Flyer’s D-line.
  • West: Portland to Salt Lake
    • Salt Lake has a ton of dynamic downfield athletes, but a stay-at-home hub handler could be useful. I’d be interested to see David Barram in a Shred uniform with a role focused on possession-keeping.
  • Central: Detroit to Minnesota
    • Statistically, Brendan Gessner is having the best season among the Mechanix. He could crack the Minnesota D-line rotation and be a positive impact player, though with the chemistry the Wind Chill players have already this is the only trade of the four that I’m not sure would “go through.”
UFA Power Rankings:
Rank Team Change Prior
1 +1 2
2 +1 3
3 -2 1
4 - 4
5 - 5
6 - 6
7 - 7
8 - 8
9 - 9
10 - 10
11 - 11
12 - 12
13 - 13
14 - 14
15 - 15
16 - 16
17 +1 18
18 +1 19
19 +1 20
20 +3 23
21 -4 17
22 -1 21
23 -1 22
24 - 24

  1. Yes, Philadelphia did play DC close once, but they’ve been blown out far more often this season 

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

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