NCAA Tournament bracket preview, pt. 1

Louisville, UNC lead their brackets; Monmouth an upset threat?

Come late November, the margin of error in college soccer is
reduced to zero, and the white-knuckle drama of knockout soccer will stretch
into mid-December.

Now, after four months of grueling work, 48 teams are laid
out on a bracket and coaches understand what it will take to be one of four
remaining schools to contest the College Cup in Santa Barbara.

Louisville Bracket

Louisville, perhaps not expected to be here at
the end of the regular season, has done a tremendous job of reaching this
stage without a loss. They’ve certainly reaped the reward that a No. 1 seed
deserves by being handed a comparatively easy path to the Final Four – the Cardinals won’t have to prove the doubters who contend that Akron and Maryland
are the more talented teams wrong until the final.

Seeds

No. 1 Louisville:
A program doesn’t ascend to the top by accident, and the methodical and
efficient style employed by the Cardinals translated into an unbeaten season in
the Big East – the top conference in 2010. Junior striker Colin Rolfe (above) leads the
way, with a helping hand from freshman standout Dylan Mares.

No. 8 UCLA: A
youthful side, the Pac-10 runners-up are led by two freshman on the attack in Victor
Chavez and Kelyn Rowe. Becoming reliant on youth can be an asset, but a more
experienced side could easily overwhelm the Bruins.

No. 9 Notre Dame: The Irish had a strong second half of the season, and the Irish have two
weapons in midfielder Dillon Powers and defender Aaron Maund (right). They’ll need
significant contribution from elsewhere to make a deep tournament run.

No. 16 Ohio State:
The Buckeyes’ upset loss on penalty kicks to Wisconsin in the Big East tournament
hurt their seeding, and they could pay for it having landed in the bracket with
Louisville. Konrad Warzycha remains one of OSU’s most lethal options in attack.

Watch out for…

Monmouth: The small school located
in West Branch, N.J., has made itself a name over the last few years, appearing
in the rankings on a weekly basis with an attractive brand of soccer. Ryan
Kinne and Bryan Meredith (right) are two reasons that the Hawks could spring an upset –
or more.

Providence: It
took a late run to the final of the Big East tournament, but the Friars proved
that they have the moxie to survive the rigorous demands of a knockout
tournament. With a possible matchup against Ohio State in the second round, a
third round berth isn’t out of the question.

North Carolina
Bracket

A 1-0 loss in the ACC Championship likely cost the Tar Heels
the shot at a No. 2 seed (that went to Maryland) but UNC has to be content with
their side of the draw. Going through Louisville can be perceived as a less
daunting task than beating Akron or Maryland in the Final Four.

Two of the other three seeded teams are mid-majors: Butler,
a surprise from the start, and William & Mary, a solid team that was
thrashed by Maryland 3-0 earlier this year.

Seeds

No. 4 North Carolina:
Injuries have crushed the Tar Heels this year, so to be seeded this high is a
reflection of the impressive coaching job done by Elmar Bolowich. Michael
Farfan (right) and Kirk Urso drive the offense through the midfield, but the focus will
be up front. Goals from a forward will be crucial if UNC want to succeed in the
later stages of the tournament.

No. 5 Southern
Methodist
: While former SMU coach Schellas Hyndman has his current FC
Dallas side in a championship game, the Mustangs begin a quest of their own on
Sunday. Despite a loss in the C-USA tournament to South Carolina, the talents
of Arthur Irvo and freshman Juan Castillo make SMU a formidable matchup.

No. 12 William &
Mary
: Relying on a stable of experienced players, the Tribe have produced
one of their most impressive seasons in 15 years. Will it translate to success
in the NCAA tournament? A quarterfinal berth certainly isn’t out of the
question.

No. 13 Butler:
The Horizon League darlings emerged from almost nowhere to post a 16-0-3
record, secure a seed, and host a tournament match for the first time in
program history. Ben Sippola has been the driving force of the offense, tallying
eight goals and nine assists. His performance will be crucial to any postseason
success the Bulldogs hope to achieve.

Watch out for…

Creighton: The
Blue Jays suffered an upset loss in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
that likely cost them a chance at a seed and a first round bye. Buoyed by
forward Ethan Finlay (right) and strong defender Tyler Polak, Creighton is an upset
threat.

Georgetown: Like
their bracket counterparts, the Hoyas lost early in their conference
tournament, falling to Providence at home. Freshman forward Steve Neumann
provides the only consistent scoring options, and Georgetown will need more to
go on a nice run.

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