The Eighth Man

It’s Snow Problem: Drawing Conclusions from a Wintry Big 10/MAC Challenge

Conditions at the Big 10 vs. MAC Challenge couldn’t have been much worse. With snow falling on ground already with enough of it to cover a creek running down the middle of the fields, it would be an understatement to say the weather had an effect on the level of play, limiting speed and agility while making accurate passing that much more difficult.

 

But even with the less than stellar conditions, a lot could be taken away from the results and performances of the weekend. Below, we’ll go in-depth on some of the biggest takeaways from the weekend.

 

Minnesota is good, but not the best of the Midwest

After winning the Big Ten vs. MAC Challenge, Minnesota has earned the right to be talked about in the conversation of the best teams in the Midwest. That being said, there were two major reasons the Golden Gophers won this tournament other than pure talent: Nobody from the Midwest had seen their patented zone defense before, and the conditions were favorable for running it.

When playing in a couple of feet of snow, it becomes difficult to juke out anyone and drive to the hoops. So Minnesota was able to stay compact in their defense, knowing people wouldn’t be able to penetrate it. The biggest indicator of this is that Ohio State went up 40-0 very quickly in the Big Ten championship game, but as soon as Minnesota got in their zone and settled into the game, they went on a 50-10 run.  It should be noted that Jeremy Boettner, star chaser for Ohio State, also suffered a knock right before Minnesota went on their big run.

All in all, Minnesota is a solid team with some good players, and they can definitely compete with a lot of teams in the country. But, it remains to be seen if they truly have the talent to beat top teams from any region. They still have Jared Sipe, who has somehow fallen off of the quidditch world’s radar, but who is still a great all-around player. Along with him, they have David Pray, Cody Narveson and Matt Jass, all solid, athletic players. Beater-wise, they have a strong duo in Tim Ohlert and Taylor Zastrow –  with Ohlert being by far their best beater – but nothing much beyond them. Lastly, they have physical, talented seekers including Max Meier who caught the snitch to pull out the victory against Central Michigan.

This is the first of a few Midwest teams that I will predict to make it to the Sweet 16 in a few weeks, when the 80  teams descend onto Myrtle Beach.

 

The Midwest team that draws Baylor will lose that game

As stated above, teams from the Midwest, with the exception of Kansas, don’t have much exposure to the zone defense that Baylor runs. Baylor may not have invented the defense, but they have definitely put it on the map with their World Cup VI semifinals run.

Midwest teams in better weather conditions, or with a little more practice, would be, I believe, able to pick apart the Golden Gophers, but Baylor would be a different story. Baylor is bigger, stronger, more athletic, and has an overall much better beater core than Minnesota.  What I know for sure is that if any Midwest team goes up against the Bears without a prior strategy, they will be completely unable to adjust on the fly and won’t even have a chance.

If I had to pick one Midwest team that could stand up against Baylor, it would have to be Ball State. Ball State is an extremely physical team, and they play aggressively on the offensive end with their bludgers, which might open up the defense just enough for some crucial drives.

 

Michigan State can officially be called “Jacob Heppe and others”

Jacob Heppe is the life of this team. He is electrifying on the pitch, and opens up options for everyone else because of how much defenses need to focus on him. That being said, Michigan State isn’t a whole lot more than that after him and a few others. What is on this team along with Heppe are the following; a very strong male beating core, average female beaters, one on-the-rise female chaser and a bunch of above average male quaffle players. Without Heppe, they are a disorganized team that gets by on being more experienced and more athletic than any team outside the Midwest’s upper crust.

I am interested to see how their entire World Cup roster plays with new sideline coach Luke Changet. They added him because of how disorganized they were in the middle of games, and this past weekend wasn’t a good indication of what he can offer in that regard. Hopefully, we will be able to see their full roster in less than two weeks at Glass City. But until then, I am not sold on them, and with their recent decline to being a Pot Two team, I think a Sweet 16 berth should be their goal, which may prove to be a lofty one.

 

Central Michigan has the best chance of any Midwest team against the Southwest

Central Michigan has a true ferocity about them. Starting with their two leaders, David Prueter and Ashley Calhoun, every one of them plays with a fire every time they step on the pitch. Calhoun is a dominant female beater that controls the game with her physicality and communication. She bosses Andrew Derry and Tom O’Neil around, and they follow her every word. That continuity in their beater game will bode well for them in big games.

Ashley Calhoun is a steady performer and a forceful leader for a rapidly improving Central Michigan squad.

Ashley Calhoun is a steady performer and a forceful leader for a rapidly improving Central Michigan squad.

As far as their quaffle players go, Prueter is an incredible player that can get physical if and when he needs to. He then has Adam Landis, David Wilber, Seve Moralez and his back up, Brandon Booth, all physical chasers that fit perfectly within their scheme. On top of all those hard hitters, they can then switch to a finesse angle by throwing on Chris Fisher. Fisher excels at quick catch and release shooting by the hoops. You then have what really gives them the best chance against the Southwest, the physicality in their female chasers. In no way are they the best female chasers in the region or even the most athletic, but they will hit and aren’t afraid to take a hit.

Now, at this point, it seems like Central Michigan should be hands down the best in the Midwest and a contender for World Cup. It isn’t that easy.  Central Michigan just simply matches up with the Southwest better than other teams in the Midwest. No other team has the same physicality from every single one of their.

But, Central Michigan definitely still has their share of weaknesses, starting with their seeker game. Their seeker caught every single one of the snitches this past weekend besides the one in the Minnesota game. Even with that outstanding percentage, I am still unimpressed. Jeff Fisher just doesn’t give me any confidence in his ability to grab a snitch when it truly matters in a big game. After that, they seem to have two other notable weaknesses: speed and quaffle catching. Chris Fisher is really the only reliable catching option, and they are definitely a step below in speed compared to other teams on the cusp of being elite.

I’m not here to argue that this team is the cream of the crop, and I can see this team getting beat by some top tier teams in most regions – including Bowling Green Boston University, Maryland, Miami and the Lost Boys – but in regards to the Southwest, they are the Midwest’s best shot.

I hope to see this team in the Sweet 16, and even going further, if given a favorable draw, but I’m not ready to predict that right now.

 

Ohio State’s performance from regionals is not indicative of their team as a whole; this is an Elite Eight level squad

Anybody who saw Ohio State play before regionals and at regionals knows that there was one huge difference, their passing game. Before regionals, they were flying around the pitch, and their passing was almost always in the perfect location for their teammates to continue to move the ball.

But, at Regionals, they were stagnant. Putting up only 10 points against Bowling Green in a non-impressive fashion was just on example of the mediocrity that was their offense that weekend.

This past weekend, however, we got to see our first glimpse at the second semester Buckeyes, and it was a thing of beauty. The passing, from every member of their team, was crisp and fluid. But not only did their chasing impress, but their beating was improved as well, a definite relief with captain and beater Matt Eveland out for the season with a clavicle injury.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Eveland was hardly missed with the emergence of Gavin Kyle. Kyle was menacing in an aggressive manner that we are not use to seeing from the Buckeyes. Coupled with the conservative Julie Fritz, this duo can join the conversation with Central Michigan and Ball State as having the best male-female beater duos in the region. With this, I am going to make my first-ever bold prediction: I expect to see Ohio State in, at least, the Elite Eight come April 6th in South Carolina.

 

Bowling Green finally has some semblance of an offense

After a lackluster offensive performance at regionals, Bowling Green came into this tournament with something to prove. And, despite the results, they may have done just that.

On our Midwest Regional Championship winning run, we shut down team after team offensively, but only to stay in range in what were generally low-scoring games. Up to this point, the offense was a combination of the occasional fast break opportunity and me. Our passing was erratic, and when a pass was on point, a drop followed it about half of the time. Having said all of that, this weekend has shown that we have been hard at work in order to have a reliable offense to push us to the next level. We put up 80 quaffle points in every single game we played, with some key goals even coming against a two bludger defense.

Of course, this tiny sample size still begs plenty of questions. Can the offensive improvement translate to better conditions where defenses are faster? Will it allow us to actually pull out of snitch range, something we were unable to do against Miami and Ball State this past weekend? And, the big one, are we an actual, legitimate World Cup contender? We can hopefully answer two of these at Glass City, if not all three (I swear if it snows at Glass City I’m moving to California). I don’t usually predict or write about my own team much but because of our Pot One standing, I will go ahead and predict a Sweet Sixteen run for this team, if not further.

 

Michigan is no better or worse than they were at this point last year

It is crazy to think that Michigan, being in the most populous area of the Midwest, is as big of an unknown as Minnesota was coming into this past weekend.  Their core players are exactly the same as last season, with Andrew Axtell, Evan Batzer and the Schepers twins, Zach and Dylan. They have role players in Eric Wasser, Malek Attasi, Robert Morgan and Lisa Lavelanet, whom all do a great job filling in around their four great players.

But, at the end of the day, Michigan has the same faces they’ve had in the past, and haven’t made many adjustments to their strategy of playing hero ball with Axtell and Batzer play in and play out. It remains to be seen if they will sustain the new team-oriented concept, but until I have seen them with a full roster in good conditions outside of Midwest Regionals, there isn’t much more to be said.

Expect another Round of 32 finish for this team, as they are treading enough water to win the occasional game against a good team, but lack the strategy to do much more than that. But hey, they are still Middlebury’s only official loss at a World Cup.

 

Ball State is falling…

They were very underwhelming this past weekend, being blown out by Central Michigan twice and barely pulling out an overtime win against an extremely depleted Bowling Green side, 90*^-80.

Now, to be completely fair, they were also depleted and didn’t have their best player at three separate positions on Sunday – Melinda Staup, Trevor Campbell and Devon McCoy, respectively.  But looking at how they fared against Central Michigan earlier in the season in a completely controlled climate with essentially their entire team does not bode well for them. They just don’t seem to have the same ferocity as they have had before (yes, that is the second time I have used the word “ferocity,” it is an awesome word).

They do, however, have some great players in Tyler Walker, Sara Makey, Mac Randolph, Jason Bowling and the aforementioned Staup, Campbell and McCoy. But, beyond those seven players, I’m left searching for players that can really, truly help push this team to elite levels. They have players like Anthony Votaw, Erin Kelly, Danielle Anderson and Zach Rupp that are all solid role players, but are just not up to par with the role players from teams such as Central Michigan.

It pains me to say that, if given a tough draw, this team may end up in a play-in game. We will all see if they can make it into the Round of 32.

 

In order, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Ohio State are the top 3 teams in the region

I was on The Seeker Floor last week, and went on record as saying the top 5 teams in the Midwest are: Ball State, Michigan State, Kansas, Michigan, and Central Michigan, in that order, purposely leaving out my team, Bowling Green. This following power rankings is completely and entirely different than just a few days ago. We already have Bowling Green at number one, followed by Central Michigan and Ohio State, respectively. After those three, I would say Minnesota is the fourth best, followed by Kansas. This proves one thing: the hierarchy of the Midwest is a shaky one.

Still, this past weekend shed a lot of light on the current state of most top tier teams in the Midwest this semester. But, come World Cup, it won’t matter anymore what the Midwest hierarchy is. They all have their weaknesses and matchups that don’t bode well for them on paper, but in a few weeks, we’ll see which of them can overcome them and make a deep World Cup run.

 

 

7 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.