Men's NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

Men's NCAA Tournament First Round Preview
by Tom Hindle
November 16, 2022

First round matchups are notoriously hard to predict. For all of the build up, rest days and time to scout, getting fired up for a Thursday night contest isn't always easy. It's also natural to have one eye cast to the next round, with a view to keeping players fit for a potential weekend game. But that doesn't mean that the first round lack intrigue. Rather, it's a time for shock results and tricky matches, where a mid major can upset a power five team, or an at large entrant can spark an early run. Here's a look at the 16 fixtures on Thursday. 

Hofstra at South Florida, 11/17 7 p.m.

This one is a matchup of two sides that got hot at the right time. South Florida lost three of its four games, but found a groove later down the line. From October 25 to November 10, it rattled off three top 25 wins, and two others against teams that were in the top 30 of the RPI. The Bulls don’t stand out in one particular category. They have scored as much as they have conceded, and have equaled their opponents on chances created all year. In tournament play, that just might be a good thing. Here is a side that won’t blow anyone out of the water. Instead, it will stick around, attack in key moments, and might just snag a victory or two.

But Hofstra will like this matchup. The Pride are 14-3-3, and haven’t lost in a month. And while they lack a signature win, they picked up a 1-1 tie at Virginia back in mid October. Hofstra scores a lot, and doesn’t let too many in. Eliot Goldthorp is the star, with 15 goals and six assists to his name. If the midfielder can get on the ball and create, the Pride might fancy themselves Thursday night.

Prediction: Hofstra 1-0 South Florida

Cleveland State at Pittsburgh, 11/17 7 p.m.

This appears to be a kind draw for Pittsburgh, but there is reason for caution. The Panthers haven’t been at their best of late, with star player Bertin Jacquesson going through something of a slump. With him off the pace, the goals haven’t come easily. Still, this is an excellent defensive group, with the ever improving Joe Van Der Ser in goal. They will be expected to beat Cleveland State.

That doesn’t mean the Vikings will be an easy out. They have found form at the right time, thrashing IUPUI and Oakland to win the Horizon League tournament. There’s also some experience against ranked sides here. They tied Ohio State, 0-0, on September 21, and played Marshall relatively close 10 days before. Forward Bojan Kolevski will also be a handful — he’s in double digit goals on the season.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 3-0 Cleveland State

Western Michigan at Louisville, 11/17 7 p.m.

Louisville played one of the most difficult schedules in the country and didn’t always do the best job of navigating it. For every win against Saint Louis, there was a loss at Kentucky. Things got particularly rocky in ACC play, when the Cardinals went 4-3-1 before losing to Virginia Tech in the first round. They’re a puzzling team. Some individuals — Aboubacar Camara, Macoumba Ba, Konstantinos Georgallides — have the potential to be among the conference’s best. But it hasn’t quite come together yet. If those three find a way to work things out, a run is possible.

Western Michigan is not a kind matchup to try and find form. It has put together some of the most exciting moments of the season, highlighted by a dramatic last second win against Wisconsin. And their form really hasn’t dipped. The Broncos played Akron three times, going 1-1-1 across those fixtures. That trio of results indicated exactly what this team can do: compete with some of the best. Could they be a trendy pick for a few wins?

Prediction: Western Michigan 2-1 Louisville

UC Riverside at Portland, 11/17 10 p.m.

Who comes out on top in a matchup between two teams who few predicted would be playing this deep into the season. A few months ago, Portland would have been the smart pick. The Pilots were rapid out of the gates, beating UCLA while tying both Denver and Indiana. Things haven’t been as smooth since then, with a 4-1 loss at San Diego showing how easily the Pilots can be exploited on the break. But their 9-0-1 home record spells trouble for any visitors.

UC Riverside probably won’t be afraid. It’s been a puzzling campaign for the Southern California side, with a rough nonconference slate giving way to a late season run. They have simply won the big games in the last few weeks, knocking off UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC San Diego to win their first Big West regular season title. The Highlanders went one better a few weeks later, edging UC Santa Barbara in the conference championship. They go into the game as massive underdogs, and won’t lack fight. But it remains to be seen if UCR has the quality to win.

Prediction: Portland 3-1 UC Riverside

High Point at UNC(m), 11/17 6 p.m.

It’s a matchup that has everyone on upset alert. But how big of a surprise would it be to see High Point win here? UNC doesn’t play thrilling soccer — it has only scored 19 goals all season — but it will make things very difficult for a brave High Point team. Such attritional soccer could be very well suited to tournament play. The Tar Heels will look to score off set pieces or corners and have the height at the back to do some damage. So, it’s in moments of transition where High Point needs to be at its best. That hasn’t been a problem this season, as the Panthers beat Maryland in College Park relying on a counterattacking setup. A tight contest seems likely, but High Point might just squeak out a win.

Prediction: High Point 1-0 UNC

Ohio State at Wake Forest, 11/17 6 p.m.

College soccer is full of puzzling teams, and Wake Forest might just be the most confusing of them all. 3 months into the season, it’s still quite hard to tell how good the Demon Deacons are. There’s certainly enough talent there to suggest they might be set up for a deep run. But the cohesion has sometimes been lacking, especially in losses to Clemson and Virginia over the past few weeks. If the Wake Forest that beat Clemson 6-1 in the regular shows up, this should be a relatively simple matchup. Ohio State has the defensive quality and penchant for big moments to make this one difficult. It stuck around in the Big Ten regular season race, steadily picking up points. The Buckeyes will give anyone a tough game; if they can stick around, a late winner could be on the cards.

Prediction: Wake Forest 2-1 Ohio State

Memphis at Saint Louis, 11/17 8 p.m.

Saint Louis squeaked through the A-10 Tournament to get here, beating Loyola Chicago on penalties. But it does have the resume to back up hosting in the first round, highlighted by a winning streak that stretches back to October 9. This is a far younger roster than the one that made a run last year, but some key players such as John Klein and Alberto Suarez have taken a step. Memphis, meanwhile, did just enough to earn itself a spot in the field. Wins against SMU, UCF and Tulsa were sufficient to convince the committee. The Tigers will look to freshman forward Alberto Cruz for an attacking spark; he has been a headache up front for a variety of opponents this year.

Prediction: Saint Louis 1-0 Memphis

Marshall at Elon, 11/17 6 p.m.

Not hosting might sting for a Marshall side that figured among the top 10 teams in the nation for most of the season. But the Herd didn’t do themselves many favors in a Sun Belt tournament loss to James Madison. Although they outshot the Dukes, 15-6, they only mustered one shot on goal, and struggled for fluidity against a team that was happy to sit on a result. Those problems might continue against an Elon side that had only conceded 11 goals all year. The Phoenix could turn this one into a messy contest — but Marshall should have enough quality.

Prediction: Marshall 3-1 Elon

Rutgers at Penn, 11/17 7 p.m.

Rutgers is riding a wave of momentum having beaten Indiana in the Big Ten championship. But it wasn’t the Scarlet Knights’ only big performance of the season. They have beaten Penn State and Ohio State and have looked dangerous in other Big Ten contests. Matthew Myers is their star, with 20 goal contributions on the season. But Jackson temple and Jason Bouregy have also taken steps this year. Their new found quality will be tested by a tough Penn side. The Quakers have only lost one of their last 11 games, and are RPI sweethearts. There’s quality all over the pitch, but it’s their defensive ability that has stood out — they allow less than eight shots per game.

Prediction: Penn 2-1 Rutgers

Fairleigh Dickinson at Maryland, 11/17 6 p.m.

Maryland might feel aggrieved not to have snatched a first round bye. The Terrapins played a tough schedule and navigated it well. But failure to beat Northwestern and Wisconsin hurt them on selection day. This is a well balanced team, but one that lacks goals. Josh Bolma, Hunter George and Malcolm Johnston are all threats in the final third and create chances. Who exactly will put them away, though, is a point of contention. Freshman forward Colin Griffith has impressed recently, and might have done enough to play himself into the XI. At the back, Maryland doesn’t allow too many shots, but it has been too open on the counter at times. It’s certainly an area Fairleigh Dickinson will look to exploit. The Knights have a proven goalscorer in Tony Gomez, and he might only need one chance to bury Maryland.

Prediction: Maryland 3-1 Fairleigh Dickinson

Qunnipiac(m) at Vermont, 11/17 7 p.m.

Vermont enjoyed a 12 game winning streak in the regular season before seeing things fall off late. It lost to UMBC before crashing out of the America East tournament at the hands of Albany. But there’s a lot to like about this team. The Catamounts keep the ball and create chances in bunches. Alex Nagy orchestrates everything and can cause damage with his playmaking ability. But their defensive chops will be tested against high scoring Quinnipiac. The Bobcats average nearly three goals per game and are led by the dynamic David Bercedo. They might not have the requisite balance to win this one, but they might give Vermont a real scare.

Prediction: Vermont 3-2 Quinnipiac

Cal Baptist(m) at UCLA, 11/17 7 p.m.

The first timers against a team that few thought would be in the field. It should make for an interesting contest. UCLA has been very good defensively without offering too much in attack. That will either be a formula for success or a reason to crash out of the tournament to newcomers. Cal Baptist certainly won’t fear anyone. It got hot late to win the WAC conference tournament, largely thanks to a defense that only allowed one goal over 270 minutes. In many ways, the Lancers appear to face similar problems to the Bruins. But they might have an edge in Bryan Iliohan, who has 18 goal involvements this season.

Prediction: UCLA 1-0 Cal Baptist

San Diego at Denver, 11/17 4 p.m.

Denver is another team that might feel unlucky not to earn a bye. The Pios have quality wins against Maryland and Virginia to their name and could have easily beaten both Pittsburgh and Georgetown. Add that to the fact that they rolled through the Summit League, and it seems they shouldn’t have to worry about a first round matchup. Luckily, it seems to be a rather kind one. But San Diego has found form at the right time, doing enough to win the WCC title. The Toreros went unbeaten in conference play, and has lost only one of its last 14. Denver will pose a big threat, but it might be closer than many think.

Prediction: Denver 2-1 San Diego

Seton Hall at New Hampshire, 11/17 6 p.m.

New Hampshire was a trendy College Cup at the start of the season, but started the season in miserable fashion, losing to Maryland and Boston University. Things have since picked up, with the Wildcats winning the America East tournament. Some of the early season unsteadiness is still around, though. The Wildcats still haven’t beaten a top 25 side and don’t always put away their chances at a high clip. They will play surprise entrants Seton Hall in the opening round. The pirates don’t boast an outstanding resume, but a win at Oregon State showed what they can be capable of.

Prediction: New Hampshire 3-0 Seton Hall

Navy at Georgetown, 11/17 12 p.m.

Navy will look to cause an upset in a DMV showdown. But it won’t be easy. Georgetown has steadily improved over the course of the season, and have seen a strong freshman contingent grow. Jack Panayotou has delivered on his pre college promise, while Jacob Murrell is starting to score goals. Daniel Wu has also stepped into a bigger role at the back with aplomb. An uncertain season has given way to a very promising one. Navy won’t make things easy, though. It concedes less than a goal per game and has a dangerous attacking player in David Jackson. If the Midshipmen can keep Georgetown off the board early, things might get nervy for a young squad.

Prediction: Georgetown 2-0 Navy

Missouri State at Creighton, 11/17 5 p.m.

Creighton was one of the surprises of postseason play, with the Bluejays rattling off back-to-back wins to capture the Big East championship. For them, it all starts with the nation’s top goalscorer Duncan McGuire. He’s now bagged 19 goals in 18 starts, evolving into one of college soccer’s most dangerous forwards. His play will be key as Creighton welcomes a tough Missouri State team to Omaha, Nebraska. The Bears aren’t quite as rampant as in years past, but still boast an excellent defensive unit that has only allowed nine goals all year. It might not be a high scoring affair, but the Bluejays appear to have the upper hand — especially if McGuire is on form.

Prediction: Creighton 2-1 Missouri State

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