Men's Soccer 2014 NCAA Tournament #3 Michigan State / #14 Washington Regional Breakdown

Men's Soccer 2014 NCAA Tournament #3 Michigan State / #14 Washington Regional Breakdown

When looking at this region, Michigan State and Washington are the teams to focus on. Both teams are coming off Elite Eight appearances last season and return the majority of their production off of those teams. Should they matchup in the third round, it would pit two teams strengths against each other. Washington wins as a result of their high scoring output. Michigan State’s strength is their defense. The two teams squared off in an exhibition match before the start of the season and Washington came out on top 1-0. Albeit it was just a scrimmage, it does give each team a little familiarity with their potential opponent. Getting to that point will be no easy task, as all four first round teams have the potential to pull the upset. When it comes down to who will advance from the regional, balance is always nice. A lot of these teams are strong in certain areas and then weak in others. Then there’s Michigan State.  The Spartans aren’t an offensive juggernaut, but they are solid in all aspects of the game. You can’t look at that them and say they have a glaring weakness. Should they advance from this regional? Yes. If they actually do will be another story though, because NCAA Tournaments are always full of surprises.


#3 Michigan State vs. Kentucky/Oakland

Kentucky is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years after an eight-year absence, and the Wildcats have their stout defense to thank for that. Kentucky statistically has the best defense in Conference USA and ranks top 20 nationally in goals against average and shutout percentage. Junior goalkeeper Callum Irving has been outstanding this season, saving over 80 percent of the shots he has faced while posting ten shutouts. Sitting in front of Irving is a backline made up of a quartet of sophomores: Charlie Reymann, Kaelon Fox, Matt Quick and Justin Wilson. Those four make up the top four spots in the minute played by a field player category and have been a rock at the back for Kentucky, accounting for 74 of the possible 76 starts by a defender this season. Kentucky will need those players to continue to perform in the tournament, as the Wildcats have that has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. In 19 games this season, the Wildcats have scored two plus goals just five times. Kentucky does have a pair of talented scoring threats in forward Justin Laird, six goals and four assists, and midfielder Napo Matsoso, five goals and four assists, but as a whole, the offense hasn’t produced. Matching up against Kentucky will be a dangerous Oakland team. The Golden Grizzlies don’t stand out in any aspect, in fact they don’t rank among the top 70 nationally in any of the key statistics, but they are a team that is on a roll. Since starting the season 0-6-1, Oakland has proceeded to 9-1-2 over their last 12 games, including wins over NCAA Tournament teams Michigan State and Ohio State. The Golden Grizzlies are a veteran bunch, as 10 of Oakland’s starting XI are juniors or seniors, with freshman goalkeeper Wes Mink being the lone exception. Watch out for junior midfielder Matt Dudley. The England native leads the team in assists, with six, and has a knack for coming up big in the clutch, as all three of his goals this season have been game winners.

Michigan State received the number three overall seed in the tournament after an impressive 2014 campaign. The Spartans will have home field advantage up until the College Cup, which bodes well for a team that is looking to build off an Elite Eight appearance last season. Like Kentucky, Michigan State is a team led by their defense. They also have an offense that has struggled at times. The Spartans rank among the top 20 nationally in goals against average, shutout percentage and save percentage, but rank 93rd in scoring offense. The offense shouldn’t be as much of a concern for the Spartans though. Jay Chapman was the midfielder of the year in the Big Ten this season and defensive mid Fatai Alashe is a four-year starter that has scored some big goals during his career. Up top, forwards Tim Kreutz and Adam Montague are a pair of seniors looking to finish their careers on a high note. Montague is a four-year all-conference performer, while Kreutz really came into his own last season, scoring nine goals, after an injury plagued start to his career. Of those four players, only Alashe has avoided injury and played in every game this year. Fully healthy, this team is good enough to stack up with anybody, and they have invaluable experience on this stage. Ten of Michigan State’s starting  XI appeared in at least the Elite Eight last season, including center back Zach Carroll who started for a Virginia team that made the College Cup semi finals. Of those ten players, seven are either a junior or a senior, and five of those players have started for the Spartans since their freshmen seasons. Should Oakland advance to the second round, they could be a difficult matchup for the Spartans. Last month, the two teams squared off and Oakland scored twice in the final ten minutes to pull off the 2-0 upset. Anything is possible in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s hard to see this Michigan State team bowing out that early. Since 2012, Michigan State is 9-4 in postseason play, including the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans only losses are to Notre Dame twice, who were national champions last year and appeared in the third round in 2012, perennial power Indiana, and Maryland, who is currently the number four overall seed. Kreutz and Montague each scored a game winner in last season’s postseason run against Louisville and Georgetown, respectively. Should either of these players find themselves back in last year’s tournament form, Michigan State has a chance to make a deep run.


#14 Washington vs. Furman/UAB

Furman and UAB will square off in a battle between two very different teams. On one hand, you have a Furman team that ranks ninth in the country in both shutout percentage and goals against average. On the other, is a UAB team that is 22nd in the country in scoring offense. Furman’s backline of Adrian McInnis, Eric Steber, Kyle McLagan and Kevin Edelmann has limited opponents to a .332 shot on goal percentage and have allowed just five goals over the past month. UAB counters with the duo of Freddy Ruiz and Alex Clay, who totaled 22 and 20 points, respectively, on the season.  Which group will budge? The two schools have four common opponents on the season: Coastal Carolina, Kentucky, Mercer and South Carolina, although Furman’s game with the Gamecocks was an exhibition to open the season. Both teams beat Coastal Carolina. Furman tied Kentucky while UAB lost to the Wildcats 1-0. UAB beat Mercer 2-1 and Furman beat the school in two out of the teams three meeting on the season. UAB split a pair of 1-0 games with South Carolina, while Furman tied their exhibition 2-2. Given those results, the two teams look to be pretty close to dead even. One team will look for an x-factor that could separate the schools, and Furman might just have it in their forward duo of Lewis Hawke and Bobby Edet. The sophomore duo has been the main source of offense for the Paladins this season, scoring 48% of the teams goals. When it comes down to crunch time, the duo was even better, combining to net seven game winners between them. Going up against a UAB team that has just four clean sheets this season, Hawke and Edet should find some quality scoring opportunities and could tilt the decision in Furman’s favor.

Whoever wins that first round game will have the task of trying to slowdown Washington’s high scoring forward trio. Darwin Jones leads the huskies with eight goals this year, while Mason Robertson and Josh Heard are right behind him with seven. As a team, Washington ranks 12th in the country in scoring offense, averaging two goals per game. When that offense is rolling, the Huskies are at their best. In the ten games that Washington has scored two plus goals, the Huskies are 10-0. When they score a goal or less, they are 2-5-1. That has the potential to be an Achilles heel. Should a team like Furman turn in a solid defensive performance, the Huskies could be heading home early. What Washington has to fall back on though is their experience. Nine of Washington’s Starting XI were key members of last season’s Elite Eight team, with the only exceptions being redshirt-senior goalkeeper Spencer Richey, who missed last year with a broken leg, and freshman defender Justin Fiddes. Now that experience isn’t just going to fix the Huskies problem in low scoring games, but it could give them a leg up on their opponent. Just two players on Furman’s roster were on the school’s last NCAA Tournament team. UAB has nine players still on the roster off their last NCAA Tournament team, but none of those players have won a game in the tournament. Washington has a group of players that know what it takes. Should UAB and Washington matchup, Washington should have the advantage given both teams subpar defenses and Washington’s high scoring offense. If Furman advances, they could have a legit shot to upset Washington. Whether they can actually pull it off depends on if the backline can hold. Like UAB, Washington’s defense should give a few chances to Hawke and Edet, and if the backline can keep the game low scoring, an upset could be in the cards.


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