Bracket breakdown: Analyzing potential NCAA tournament opponents

Monday, November 6, 2017 - 6:45pm

The Michigan field hockey team looks positioned to advance out of its NCAA Tournament bracket.

The Michigan field hockey team looks positioned to advance out of its NCAA Tournament bracket. Buy this photo
Arnold Zhou/Daily

 

Ranked No. 11 at the beginning of the season, the Michigan field hockey team has proven that ranking was far too low. The Wolverines rattled off 16 wins in a row with 13 shutouts to finish off their season. Then, Michigan dispatched Ohio State, No. 9 Northwestern and No. 5 Penn State to win the Big Ten Tournament, securing an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

There is no longer any dispute about Michigan’s status as a top team. The Wolverines earned the third overall seed and will host Syracuse on Saturday. The Daily broke down Michigan’s side of the bracket.

No. 3 Michigan

Michigan finished its season with an undefeated 8-0 record in conference play and swept the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The Wolverines have a good balance of offensive and defensive standouts who work together cohesively. They rank second in the nation in goals-against average, eighth in goals per game and fifth in scoring margin.

Senior goalkeeper Sam Swenson was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and senior forward Katie Trombetta the Big Ten Player of the Year. Both were unanimous All-Big Ten First Team selections. Sophomore forward Meg Dowthwaite, who ranks 15th in the nation in goals scored, was also named to the first team. Fifth-year senior midfielder Esther de Leijer, who scored the winning goal in the Big Ten Tournament championship game despite a broken hand, made the second team.

Though the Big Ten is not as strong as the ACC, Michigan has proved it is up to the challenge. The Wolverines’ offense has been inconsistent at times — they were outshot by Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament final and didn't score the game-winning goal until the final minutes — which could cause them trouble against a top-ranked defense like Syracuse. But if Michigan finds its groove, it will be a hard team to beat.

No. 11 Syracuse

Syracuse didn’t make it out of the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, losing 3-2 to Louisville. However, the Orange managed an at-large bid due to the strength of their conference. Despite finishing 2-4 in ACC play, they were 12-6 overall, including seven victories over ranked teams.

Syracuse has one of the stingiest defenses in the nation, ranking third in shutouts per game and goals-against average. It'll be a battle of strengths as it faces a Michigan team that ranks first and second in those categories, respectively.

Still, the Orange allowed fewer shots on goal than any team in the tournament besides Connecticut, which is no small feat considering their powerhouse conference. Two defenders made the All-ACC teams: senior Lies Lagerweij was named to the first team, and junior Roos Weers made the second team.

Offensively, senior midfielder and forward Laura Hurff, an All-ACC Second Team selection, is a standout, but the team ranks only 15th out of 18 teams in the tournament in goals scored per game.

Facing one of the only other teams that can match its defensive prowess will be a challenge for Syracuse, and that should give the Wolverines the upper hand in what will likely be a low-scoring matchup.

No. 10 Louisville

If Michigan makes the quarterfinals on Sunday, it will play the winner of the match between Louisville and Northwestern.

The Cardinals advanced to the finals of the ACC Tournament, upsetting No. 2 Duke, 3-2, in the semifinals despite being outshot, 31-8. In the finals, they lost to North Carolina, 1-0, but received an at-large bid with a 14-7 record. The Cardinals, who are hosting the semifinal and final rounds of the tournament, fared better than Syracuse in conference play with a 4-2 record.

Junior goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran, who had a career-high 18 saves against Duke, and senior midfielder Nicole Woods were both named to the All-ACC First Team. Despite its impact players, however, the team has a middling offense and defense. The Cardinals rank 26th in the nation in goals-against average and 35th in scoring average. They managed only one shutout during the regular season — against unranked Central Michigan — and their scoring margin was lower than all but one team in the tournament.

But Louisville has come through in big games, defeating Syracuse and Duke in the ACC Tournament. It also played in the toughest conference in field hockey, meaning that despite lackluster stats, the Cardinals could fare well against teams from less-competitive conferences. Still, most teams that are able to make it far in the NCAA Tournament stand out on either offense or defense, if not both. Because the Cardinals do neither, they'll need some more big-game magic to keep their season going.

No. 9 Northwestern

Northwestern made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, beating No. 20 Rutgers in the quarterfinals before falling to Michigan, 3-0. The Wildcats received an at-large bid with an overall record of 14-6 (6-2 Big Ten). Northwestern easily dispatched lower-ranked opponents but struggled against tougher competition, losing to every top-10 team it faced except then-No. 10 Maryland.

The strength of the Wildcats lies with three game-changing players. Senior defender Sophia Miller was one of only three unanimous selections to the All-Big Ten First Team. Junior midfielder Puck Pentenga also made the first team and was fifth in the nation in assists per game. Junior forward Pascale Massey, Northwestern’s most prolific goal-scorer, was named to the second team.

Pentenga and Massey lead a high-powered offense that ranks 12th nationally in goals per game, a feat that is even more impressive considering many of the teams ahead of them came from less-competitive conferences. However, the defense has at times left a little to be desired — only two tournament teams allowed more goals per game — which could explain the Wildcats’ struggles against top competition. In Louisville, however, Northwestern faces a team that has struggled offensively and one it has already defeated in the regular season, 2-0. With a strong foundation in Miller, Pentenga and Massey, Northwestern has the pieces to repeat that result.