The NCAA Round of 16 kicks off this weekend with one game on Saturday and the other seven on Sunday. TopDrawerSoccer previews all of the games for the upcoming holiday weekend as the field shrinks from 16 to eight.
NCAA Third Round Preview (home team listed first, all times ET)
How they got here: Top seed Wake Forest defeated Charlotte 1-0 in the Second Round thanks to Jon Bakero’s goal with seven minutes left in the game. Indiana defeated Connecticut 1-0 in the Second Round. Graduate student Ben Maurey scored the lone goal in the game. It was his first goal as a Hoosier.
Players to watch: If Indiana is going to pull off the upset on Sunday, Tanner Thompson has to win the midfield battle. The talented junior will be going against some of the best midfielders in college soccer in Jacori Hayes, Ian Harkes and Jack Harrison, but he is the key piece of the puzzle on the day for the Hoosiers. If the play flows through Thompson, Indiana will be able to keep control of the game against a squad that thrives on breaking down the opposition with level movement. Offensively, Thompson needs to get freshman Andrew Gutman involved in the play going forward in order to open up the Wake Forest defense and keep the Demon Deacons unbalanced. Wake Forest goalkeeper Alec Farrell was one of the stars of the Second Round with seven saves in the game. Farrell does not need that much work in the Third Round. The Demon Deacons defense of Kris Reaves, Thomas Haws, Hunter Bandy, and Sam Raben need to do a better job of limiting shots and blocking looks on goal in this matchup. The Hoosiers have plenty of players capable of finishing if given even a glimpse of the goal.
Series history: Indiana leads the all-time series 2-1. Wake Forest won the last meeting 2-1 in 2009.
Prediction: Wake Forest has played brilliant soccer this season, but it’s a different team without Michael Gamble. Charlotte showed some of the soft spots of the Wake Forest side in the previous round. Indiana is a program that is built on limiting mistakes in these situations and surviving into December. Indiana wins 1-0.
How they got here: Stanford took out red-hot Santa Clara in the Second Round. The Cardinal won 3-1 thanks to a pair of goals from freshman supersub Amit Bashti. Ohio State survived a big challenge for a Dayton in the Second Round and advanced in penalty kicks thanks to another outstanding performance from goalkeeper Chris Froschauer.
Players to watch: At this point of his college career, it is tough to write about Stanford and not mention Jordan Morris. All of his successes outside of the college game have made him one of the most recognizable names in college soccer from the past decade. Morris is a tremendous talent and definitely the player that the defense needs to account for in any situation. However, Stanford very well could move on from this round without a goal or assist from Morris. The team is built with a variety of weapons and that should come out on Sunday. Left back Brandon Vincent scored in the Second Round and could be in the mix again on a free kick against Ohio State given how West Coast referees tend to have trouble adjusting to Big Ten teams. Center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce did not register a shot in the win against Santa Clara. However, he is another option for Stanford. He is very good in the air. The defender has three goals this season. Ohio State needs another breakout performance from Froschauer in this one. The goalkeeper has been playing at another level for the past month, but he needs to take another step forward to keep Stanford off the board. Substitute Christian Soldat could also be in for a big role on Sunday. He is the type of player that has challenged the Stanford defense in the past. If Ohio State can catch Stanford on the break, Danny Jensen and Soldat will be the ones in charge of putting the chances away.
Series history: This is the first meeting between these programs.
Prediction: Stanford packs too much of a punch for the weary Ohio State side. Stanford wins 2-1.
How they got here: North Carolina defeated a plunky Coastal Carolina side in the Second Round. Tucker Hume scored a goal and contributed an assist in the 2-1 win over Coastal. Zach Wright scored the other goal. Creighton demolished Drake 5-1 in the Second Round. Ricky Lopez-Espin scored twice in the win. Fabian Herbers recorded three assists in the game.
Players to watch: Creighton is a great side, but might have a slight weakness at outside back. Noah Franke and Lucas Stauffer offer plenty going forward, but they can be exposed with their off-the-ball positioning during spells of possession. North Carolina should take advantage of this with Jordan McCrary. The outside back with wheels could make life difficult on the Creighton defense. North Carolina is also dealing with a goalkeeper decision after starter James Pyle was forced out of the game against Coastal Carolina in the first half. Sam Euler came on and did well in his absence.
Series history: The series history is even at 1-1. Creighton won the last meeting 3-0 in 1999.
Prediction: This is the best game of the Third Round. Since 2008, Elmar Bolowich has been to five College Cups. No other coach is close to that consistency in terms of reaching the Final Four in college soccer. Bolowich is a wizard and Creighton has been wildly successful since he jumped ship from Chapel Hill to Omaha in 2011. Creighton wins 2-0.
How they got here: Akron destroyed Rutgers 6-1 in the Second Round. Stuart Holthusen and Richie Laryea both scored twice in the opening 18 minutes as the Zips raced out to a 5-0 lead. SMU is one of two unseeded teams remaining in the competition. The Mustangs defeated Utah Valley University in the First Round, and then knocked off previously undefeated Denver in the Second Round. Stanton Garcia scored the lone goal in the 1-0 overtime win over Denver.
Players to watch: The Akron attack was hitting on all cylinders in the Second Round game against Rutgers with five goals in just under 18 minutes. Part of that was Rutgers not showing up for the game and another part was Akron buzzing with a home game in the NCAA Tournament. There are a number of factors at play to keep Akron off the board, but goalkeeper Michael Nelson will be in the spotlight the most on Sunday. The Mustangs goalkeeper has made 81 saves this season while playing every minute for SMU. He will need to keep the defense in front of him organized in order to keep Akron off the scoreboard. Jacob Speed, Jordan Cano, Jared Rice, and Bryce Clark have all been outstanding in recent weeks for the SMU defense and allowed Nelson to shine. They’ll need another strong showing in Akron on Sunday. For the home side, midfielder Victor Souto is the lynchpin for the team. South is the distributor and the protector at the game. If he is on his game, the Zips will control the flow of the game and slowly squeeze the life out of SMU over 90 minutes.
Series history: Akron leads the all-time series against SMU 2-1. Akron won the last meeting 3-2 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Prediction: Akron is 9-2-1 at home this season with losses to UCLA and Wake Forest. Richie Laryea missed the UCLA game, which was a big reason for the result. SMU hasn’t lost since Sept. 13 against Stanford. This is two quality teams that both want to control the game with the ball from the start. The opening minutes (even without any score) will be very telling in this one. Akron’s home field advantage is enough to send them through. Akron wins 2-1.
How they got here: Georgetown defeated Hofstra 3-0 in the Second Round. Forward Brandon Allen became the all-time goals leader in Georgetown program history with his 12th goal of the season in the win. Boston College defeated Vermont 1-0 in the First Round. The ACC program went on the road and beat No. 14 South Florida 2-1 in the Second Round. Simon Enstrom scored the game-winner in both victories.
Players to watch: Georgetown is playing at an incredibly high level in all facets of the game right now. Defensively, the Hoyas have always been a pleasure to watch with Joshua Yaro leading the charge from the back. In the midfield, Chris Lema has turned into one of the most interesting prospects in college soccer. Lema spent much of his prep career as an option in the midfield with the eye for the attack. Lema has been reinvented as a defensive midfielder with the Hoyas. He has found some success in the role. He still is not a finished product in that position, but he has progressed to the point where he influences the game from a deep playmaking role. He still has the vision of an attacking midfielder, which has opened up some of the possibilities for the Hoyas attack with long passing sequences and then penetrating passes from the defensive midfielder. Boston College needs to stop those passing sequences early on. Zeiko Lewis, Isaac Normesinu, Enstrom, and the rest of the BC attack cannot afford to let Georgetown get comfortable with the ball. Early pressure, and even a couple of fouls, to break up Georgetown’s rhythm will be crucial to keeping the game close.
Series history: Boston College leads the all-time series 9-8-1. The teams played to a 1-1 draw in 2004 in the last meeting between the programs.
Prediction: The Hoyas are playing really great soccer right now, but Boston College has shown some resilience against adversity with victories on the road. Hoyas should control the early stages of this game. A goal in the first half might put this one away early. Georgetown wins 2-0.
How they got here: Syracuse survived a bit of a scare in a 2-1 win over Dartmouth in the Second Round. Ben Polk and Louis Cross scored to lead the Orange into the next round. Julian Buescher assisted both goals. Seattle defeated UCLA 1-0 in the Second Round. Hamza Haddadi scored his 10th goal of the season in the win.
Players to watch: Goalkeeper Shane Haworth made a couple of jaw-dropping saves in the Second Round for Seattle against UCLA. He finished the game with six saves in the shutout. Haworth has the quality to keep this team alive even when they don’t play well and a cross-country trip with an early kick off is a perfect recipe for a game that might see an inexperienced team struggle. The red-hot Ben Polk will be looking to capitalize on any mistake. Polk’s goal in the Second Round extended his streak to four goals in the last three games.
Series history: This is the first meeting between these programs.
Prediction: The travel is the issue here. Seattle last traveled to the East Coast at the beginning of the 2014 season. On a neutral field, Seattle would probably be able to squeeze out a result. However, Syracuse earned the higher seed after winning the ACC Tournament. Syracuse wins 2-1.
How they got here: Notre Dame defeated Tulsa in penalty kicks in the Second Round. The Irish won 3-0 in PKs with Max Lachowecki hitting the deciding shot from the spot. Maryland defeated defending national champion Virginia 1-0 in the Second Round. Freshman Eryk Williamson scored the game-winner off.
Players to watch: Maryland midfielder Mael Corboz dished the assist in the previous round. He could be the key in this round as well. Corboz is a brilliant soccer player and an option to break down a well-organized defense. The Rutgers transfer has fit in with the Terps seamlessly. Corboz is good from the run of play as well as from set pieces, so the Irish need to keep their hands to themselves if they want to keep Maryland off the scoreboard. Notre Dame will be looking for center back Brandon Aubrey to step up in this game. Aubrey missed his penalty kick in the previous round, which can be a real challenge on the mental toughness of a player. Aubrey’s response will be worth watching in this clash as the Maryland attack will test his ability to read the game and cut out passes.
Series history: The all-time series history is 2-2-1 with the last meeting on August 28. The two teams played to a scoreless draw in that meeting.
Prediction: The previous round could either be a wake up call for Notre Dame or a realization that Notre Dame might not be as good as they look on paper. The Irish have not played all that well in six weeks. There is still the talent there to turn that around, but the indications recently point to a team that has not been able to put it together consistently. Maryland is young, but hungry for a postseason run. They have a red-hot goalkeeper and a talented attack that is converting at a high rate at this point. Maryland wins 2-0.
How they got here: Clemson cruised past Elon 5-2 in the Second Round. Defender Iman Mafi scored a goal and contributed three assists in the win. UCSB defeated South Carolina 1-0 in overtime in the Second Round. Ismalia Jome scored the lone goal on his only right foot goal of his college career.
Players to watch: Sneakily midfielder Kevin Feucht has had a great season for the Gauchos. Even among a team with a number of new faces and quality prospects, the central midfielder from Germany has been the MVP of the team. Feucht is clean with possession and opens up the game for his teammates. His play has allowed Josue Espana to have an impressive season. Espana’s defensive responsibilities have been lifted somewhat with Feucht’s play, which gives UCSB even more in the attack. If the Gauchos pull off the upset, Feucht will win the midfield battle. Clemson counters with an older side that has been gearing up for this trip to the College Cup for the past few years. Mafi will be the one to watch for Clemson. UCSB is going to be play a physical style in this game and could have a knack for picking up fouls while stopping Clemson from trying to catch the Gauchos on the break. Mafi will have chances on free kicks.
Series history: This is the first meeting between these programs.
Prediction: UCSB will put up a fight in this one and could keep it close late, but Clemson has the pieces to eventually break down the Gauchos over 90 minutes. Clemson wins 2-1.
NCAA Tournament Predictions: 24-8