The key to a NCAA Tournament run usually involves having most of roster healthy, getting a little luck, and hoping the older players step up at right times. With only 16 teams left in the hunt for the national title, the luck part of the equation is on every team’s mind. A bad touch here, a missed sitter there, and the season ends in a blink of an eye.
This Sunday, all 16 teams take the field across the country with the winners advancing to the Elite Eight. Who will move one step closer to College Cup?
2014 NCAA Tournament Prediction Record: 20-12
All games on Nov. 30, all times eastern, NCAA seed listed
No. 1 Notre Dame (12-4-4) vs. No. 16 Virginia (11-6-2), 7 p.m., Live Video
How they got here: Notre Dame defeated Ohio State 2-1 in the second round with freshman Jon Gallagher scoring the game-winning goal. Virginia defeated UNC Wilmington 3-1 in the second round with defender Scott Thomsen providing two assists.
Series history: Virginia leads 4-1-2. Prior to 2014, Notre Dame was winless against Virginia.
Players to watch: This game comes down to the midfield. Virginia senior captain Eric Bird exited the game against UNCW after only 62 seconds due to a groin injury. Redshirt freshman Pablo Aguilar filled in for Bird in that victory and helped the Cavaliers capture a 3-1 win. The bout against Notre Dame will be tougher. The Irish have some of the best midfielders in college soccer and need the experience of Bird, which seems unlikely with a groin injury. If Notre Dame dictates the game from the center of the field, Virginia will have a difficult time trying to generate chances on Sunday.
Prediction: The Irish steamrolled Virginia 3-0 in the ACC tournament and that memory is still pretty fresh in everyone’s mind. Virginia will keep this one closer, but Notre Dame wins 2-1 in overtime.
No. 8 Georgetown (13-4-4) vs. No. 9 Syracuse (16-3-1), 1 p.m., Live Video
How they got here: Both teams battled back from deficit to snatch a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Georgetown defeated Old Dominion 2-1 in double overtime thanks to a timely goal from freshman superstar Arun Basuljevic. Syracuse edged out Penn State 2-1 off a late goal from Oyvind Alseth.
Series history: Georgetown leads the all-time series 10-5-2. The former Big East rivals last met in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Georgetown won that game in penalty kicks.
Players to watch: Brandon Allen did exactly what Georgetown’s coaches asked him to do in the second round. He provided the timely goal thanks to a bit of ingenuity and strength against a quality opponent. Allen is a rare breed in the NCAA tournament. He is a proven goal scorer at the highest level in college soccer. He is exactly what you think he is and that works. It works really well. Syracuse’s task is now to stop him. The Cuse defense has been magnificent this season and that starts with goalkeeper Alex Bono who continues to get better with each game. Bono and Allen are the headliners of this fixture.
Prediction: It’s down to the final 16 teams in college soccer. There is very little separating the squads. Georgetown’s proven goal scorer might be just enough here. The Hoyas win another close one in overtime 2-1.
No. 12 Creighton (15-3-2) vs. Xavier (15-5-2), 2 p.m., Live Video
Series history: Creighton leads the all-time series 1-0-1 with the only meetings coming in the last two seasons.
Players to watch: Xavier goalkeeper Eric Osswald played in the previous round with an injured groin. Osswald was unable t kick the ball against Indiana and Xavier still won the game. It was a pretty incredible performance from the group as a whole to escape Bloomington, but now the Musketeers enter another cavern of the college soccer landscape in Morrison Stadium. The Jays faithful are hoping for another strong performance from that defense that only conceded one shot on goal against a talented Oregon State side in the previous round.
Prediction: These teams played to a very even 1-1 draw earlier this year with Fabian Herbers scoring the late equalizer for Creighton. The rematch will be just as tight. Creighton wins in penalty kicks.
No. 13 Louisville (11-7-3) vs. UMBC (13-5-4), 6 p.m., Live Video
Series history: This is the first meeting between the programs.
Players to watch: UMBC goalkeeper Billy Heavner is 10-1-2 with five shutouts since he took over in goal for the Retrievers. The sophomore is just one piece of the puzzle for the success of UMBC but he has had a magical touch for the America East program in keeping the ball out of the net. Louisville has a very talented goalkeeper as well in senior Joachim Ball. Ball is 11-6-2 on the campaign with six shutouts.
Prediction: UMBC is the only team left in the tournament that has won two road games. The magical postseason run stays alive in this clash with a close 1-0 win over Louisville.
No. 3 Michigan State (12-4-5) vs. No. 14 Washington (12-5-2), 1 p.m., Live Video
How they got here: Michigan State defeated Oakland 1-0 in the second round. Washington held on against Furman and advanced with a win in penalty kicks.
Series history: This is the first official meeting between these programs. The two played in a preseason exhibition this year.
Players to watch: The matchup between Fatai Alashe and Cristian Roldan is the one to watch. Both players are bound for the professional level and both players are crucial to their teams success. Alashe is more of a destroyer while Roldan is an artist. If Roldan can create, Washington will be tough to stop.
Prediction: Oakland pushed Michigan State to the limit in the first half during the previous round, but Michigan State settled in and saw out the game well in the second half. With nervous jitters out of the way, Michigan State withstands another storm from Washington and grabs a 1-0 win in overtime.
Series history: This is the first meeting between these programs.
Players to watch: UC Irvine has not conceded a goal in 187 minutes of NCAA Tournament soccer. Part of it has to do with goalkeeper Michael Breslin because he has made the saves when called upon, but the defense in front of him has been outstanding. Providence’s attack looked pretty much unstoppable in the second half against Dartmouth in the previous round. The Friars rattled off three goals in just over 30 minutes. Dominik Machado led the charge with two goals to seal the victory. Irvine will be keeping an eye on him on Sunday.
Prediction: The biggest hurdle for Irvine will be the travel. It’s a long way to go from Southern California to Rhode Island. The Anteaters prepared for this with games at West Virginia and Georgetown earlier this season. The late kick-off should help too. The dream stays alive for the Big West squad with a 2-1 win.
How they got here: Clemson defeated Coastal Carolina 2-1 in the lone game on Monday from the second round due to a weather postponement. North Carolina trounced James Madison 6-0 and knocked off No. 10 seed Charlotte 2-1.
Series history: Clemson leads the series 29-24-6. North Carolina won the earlier meeting this season 3-2 in double overtime.
Players to watch: In that earlier meeting, Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell made eight saves. North Carolina goalkeeper Brendan Moore made zero saves. Clemson was lethal in front of goal with limited chances and North Carolina was wasteful. The Tar Heels have realigned the shooting sights and set the target on the net in recent games. Andy Craven and Tyler Engel have been close to unstoppable lately and need to be kept off the scoreboard on Sunday if Clemson wants to make sure that the home fans are happy.
Prediction: North Carolina looks like a much different team in the NCAA Tournament than it did during the regular season. The seniors have stepped up in a big way. Clemson has talent, but North Carolina is playing with an edge to its game. Tar Heels top their rivals 2-1.
No. 2 UCLA (12-4-4) vs. No. 15 California (11-6-1), 10 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
Series history: UCLA leads the all-time series 40-14-6. California won three of the last four meetings.
Players to watch: UCLA freshman Abu Danladi provided the game-winning assist for the Bruins against USD. It was a brief glimpse of the quality from the forward who has been riddled with injuries in his debut season. With the fleeting promise that is regaining fitness heading into the tournament, Danladi’s return to the field has been slow. He made a big difference for UCLA in the previous round with the assist as well as drawing the foul that led to Leo Stolz’s goal. Danladi played 81 minutes in the loss to California earlier this season. California has an idea of how to slow him down as well as shut down the UCLA attack.
Prediction: UCLA is not in the conversation at this point of the season without that amazing double save from Earl Edwards in overtime against San Diego. If Edwards continues to play at that level, UCLA can play an orange cone at all four spots in the defense and be fine. California is talented, but it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season. UCLA wins 1-0.