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Tournament should be chock full of surprises

Andy Troeger | Thursday, November 13, 2003

With two weeks to go in the season, Notre Dame’s women’s soccer team looked like a lock for the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were one of two undefeated teams in the country and ranked No. 2 in every major poll behind North Carolina.

Things changed over those last two weeks, as the Irish lost two games to fall out of second in all of those polls, generally landing between No. 4 and No. 6, but when the NCAA seedings came out Monday, none of that mattered. The Irish were placed back at No. 2, right where they would have been before the losses.

The bracket for women’s soccer is a little different than the more-familiar men’s basketball tournament. The seeded teams generally host games, meaning there is home-field advantage. In the case of Notre Dame, they could play at home all the way to the Final Four if they are to keep winning.

In addition, teams are generally kept close to home for the first two rounds to keep travel costs down, which explains why Loyola (Ill.), Michigan and Oakland (Mich.) are all in town this weekend.

With that being said, the bracket for this year’s tournament is severely lopsided. Of the top six teams in the final NSCAA poll, five of them are on one side of the bracket. No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Santa Clara, No. 5 Portland and No. 6 Penn State are all seeded into the same half of the bracket, with only No. 4 Notre Dame being placed on the other side.

Not only are all those teams on the same side of the bracket, but three of them will be playing for one spot in the Final Four. North Carolina rightly was given the No. 1 seed in the tournament, but Portland fell to No. 8 and Santa Clara fell all the way to No. 9, meaning they could meet in the third round, with the winner getting the undefeated Tar Heels.

The Irish meanwhile get an interesting scenario if they are able to advance through their part of the bracket. After playing Loyola, the potential exists for a second round matchup with Michigan followed by a third round matchup against Boston College. For any of you out there that missed it, those were the two teams that have defeated the Irish this season. Think the Irish would be fired up to get another shot?

Looking around the tournament, here are a few things to look for.

First of all one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament is No. 11 seed Florida State. After a terrible start, the Seminoles rebounded and nearly beat No. 1 North Carolina on two different occasions before falling in both games. Look for them to possibly pull off an upset or two.

Also, either Portland or Santa Clara could very well give North Carolina some trouble in the quarterfinals. Look for the Tar Heels to prevail, but not without being challenged.

Finally, don’t look for many seeds to fall in the early rounds because of the home-field advantage, but if you’re looking for those early round upsets, here are a couple of choices: Texas A&M over No. 12 Duke and Texas over No. 3 Florida, both in the second round.

Let the games begin.

Contact Andy Troeger at atroeger@nd.edu. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.