It has been quite an eventful week for the IU men’s soccer team as it parlayed a second-straight Big Ten Tournament title Sunday into a top five seed in the NCAA Tournament on Monday.
With the fifth overall seed locked up, IU also receives a first round bye and doesn’t play its first match until Nov. 24 at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
The Hoosiers won’t have an easy road to the College Cup as their side of the bracket features four regular season opponents, two Big Ten foes and No. 4 Wake Forest University.
“I think the five seed, we deserved,” IU sophomore defender Jack Maher said. “Moving forward, we’re going to continue to hopefully show everyone why we should be the No. 1 by the end of the year.”
Does IU have what it takes to makes a third-straight College Cup appearance? Is IU head coach Todd Yeagley capable of leading such an inexperienced team to the program’s ninth National Championship?
Here’s a full breakdown of what IU could be in store for throughout the NCAA Tournament.
Critical home-field advantage
IU has secured home-field advantage through at least the tournament’s first three rounds. Hosting a potential quarterfinal match isn’t entirely out of the question either, depending on the seed of a would-be opponent.
This bodes extremely well for the Hoosiers, who haven’t lost a match at home in almost three years. Regardless of the team it faces, IU playing at Jerry Yeagley Field is a circumstance that few oppositions want to encounter.
IU’s fan base is prolific for drawing some of the largest crowds during the postseason, and that could give IU a sizable advantage once the crowd noise and student section is factored in.
Playing at home also decreases the likelihood of opposing fan bases traveling to Bloomington and fueling the opposition. Aside from a potential second round matchup with the University of Kentucky, most of IU’s potential opponents reside hundreds of miles from Bloomington, making large away crowds unlikely at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
Potential second and third round matchups
With the Hoosiers receiving a first round bye, they’ll be afforded a few extra days of rest, and more importantly, more time to prepare for their opponent.
The second round is a bit more clear for IU as it’s guaranteed to play the winner of Kentucky and the University of Loyola, Chicago, who face off on Thursday.
The Wildcats and the Hoosiers have already met once this season, playing to a scoreless draw on Oct. 9, with the latter giving the Hoosiers one of their toughest home matches of the season. Loyola, on the other hand, has never matched up against IU, and is riding a wave of momentum after winning the Missouri Valley Conference title.
If IU can get past Kentucky or Loyola, its third round match will come against either 12-seeded Saint Mary’s College of California, the University of California or the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The Gauchos finished the season strong with a second place finish in the Big West Conference Tournament, and the Golden Bears earned their NCAA bid with late-season wins over six-seed University of Washington and seven-seed Stanford University.
The Gaels, who finished their season with a second-straight West Coast Conference title, likely present the toughest third round matchup for the Hoosiers. Led by the nation’s second-leading points scorer in senior forward Anders Engebretsen, Saint Mary’s has the pieces to make a deep postseason run and can test IU in a litany of ways.
Potential Quarterfinal and College Cup matchups
The title picture starts to get murky for IU if it’s able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Not only are the nationally-seeded teams among the strongest in years, there are no clear-cut favorites to make it to the College Cup and beyond.
On IU’s side of the bracket, a potential quarterfinal meeting with No. 4 Wake Forest could be a daunting task for IU. Not only would that match be played at the Demon Deacons’ Spry Stadium because of higher seeding, it would also mean the Hoosiers’ home-field advantage would be lost for the rest of the tournament.
Wake Forest also enters the NCAA Tournament with one of the deepest, most experienced collection of players in the nation. With head coach Bobby Muss leading the Demon Deacons to a top-five national seed for the fifth-straight season, this might be the year they finally break through for a national title.
Thirteenth-seeded Michigan and Maryland, both of whom IU defeated for the Big Ten Tournament crown, also punched their tickets into the tournament and happen to find themselves in IU’s region. For the Hoosiers to play either, it would have to come in the quarterfinals, and it would mean that Wake Forest was eliminated from the postseason.
A quarterfinal matchup with in-state rival Notre Dame University is also a possibility, but that would mean the Fighting Irish getting through the gauntlet of Maryland, Michigan and Wake Forest, amongst others.
The final four teams in the College Cup are tough to project since anything can happen come tournament time, but No. 1-seed University of Virginia likely has the best chance as it’s armed with a stout defense backed by a nation-leading 13 shutouts.
Two-seeded Clemson also looks to be as formidable as any, with its only two losses this season coming at the hands of Virginia and Wake Forest.
Some unseeded teams that could make some noise include James Madison University, University of Providence, University of Louisville, and Missouri State University. All four have proven to be extremely difficult to get past this season, and have a proven tournament track record from past seasons.
Only time will tell how far the Hoosiers can go this year, but if the regular season and Big Ten Tournament were any indications, the five seed won’t go down easy.
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