Ed here …
… It’s an Atlantic Coast Conference party at the NCAA men’s Division I College Cup this weekend, as the defending champion Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Maryland Terrapins, and North Carolina Tar Heels converge on Pizza Hut Park for tomorrow’s semifinals. The party crashers are St. John’s from the Big East.
Let’s start with Wake, which enters the national semifinals with a 21-1-1 record - the loss coming to Virginia in the ACC semifinal, and the only other blemish being a scoreless draw vs. Duke. Statistically, Wake is the closest thing you’ll find to a PlayStaion team. They have more than double the shot attempts of their opponents (415-204) and they have outscored their 23 opponents by a combined 81-16. That’s right, more than 3.5 goals per game scored, and less than 1 goal per game allowed. On seven occasions this year, the Demon Deacons have scored at least five goals in a game. Five!
Since that loss to Virginia, Wake has not only won every game, but they haven’t allowed a goal, beating William & Mary, Darmouth, and South Florida in the NCAA Tournament by a combined 13-0. Only W&M kept it close, losing by a goal. Four players have scored at least 10 goals this season, led by Cody Arnoux’s 17 goals and Marcus Tracy’s 13 goals and 10 assists. Wake played their national semifinal opponent, North Carolina, once this season - winning 4-2 in Chapel Hill. Looking ahead to a possible final berth, Wake beat Maryland, 4-2, but hasn’t played St. John’s this season.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are a more pedestrian 14-7-1. In fact, Carolina wasn’t just blue entering the NCAA Tournament because it’s their school color. The Tar Heels were losers of five straight when the national tournament started, including 2-1 and 1-0 losses to Maryland (the latter coming in the first round of the ACC Tournament). UNC certainly hasn’t rolled anyone since, winning 1-0 decisions over Jacksonville and Northwestern, and needing overtime to fend off Illinois-Chicago, 3-2. If you were setting odds, they’d be the longshot in this bunch, probably at 12-1 or so. Unlike Wake, who features multiple goal-scoring threats - Brian Shriver is the guy for Carolina, tallying 13 goals to nearly double the second-best scorer on the club. Shriver has four game-winning goals.
On the other side of the bracket, Maryland battles St. John’s. The Terps are led by Jeremy Hall and Casey Townsend, who have combined for 25 (14 and 11, respectively) of Maryland’s 48 goals. I saw the duo personally demolish my alma mater in Maryland’s 4-0 win over Evansville. They simply were the field captains, the game went through them, and the Purple Aces had no way of marking them. Each scored twice in a game that probably wasn’t even as close as the lopsided final score would indicate. While Wake Forest has the gaudy season record, Maryland is rolling right now. Since a 5-3 loss to Clemson in October, the Terps have won 14 in a row - including two wins each over both North Carolina and Virginia (the latter coming in the ACC final). In the tournament, Maryland has dispatched of George Mason, Cal, and Creighton. Against the Blue Jays in the Elite 8, I have heard they played much better than what the rather close 1-0 scoreline would show.
Unlike the statistical domiance of Wake Forest or the recent form of Maryland, St. John’s enters the national seminfinals having actually been outshot by their opponents (265-258). Leading scorer Nelson Becerra has a rather modest 8 goals and 7 assists to lead the club. But their main weapon is goalkeeper Neal Kitson, who is 19-2-2 with 15 shutouts. He’s allowed just 11 goals in 23 appearances for a team that while not statistically overwhelming, is outscoring its opponents, 39-12. Their defensive and goalkeeping work will be an interesting matchup I think with a team like Maryland that has quality players which can command a game offensively. St. John’s’ best shot is for Kitson to be on top form and try and steal two wins against high-powered attacks. They are a more likely winner of the Cup than Carolina, but I don’t think they’ll get there. Maryland is strong.
If we get a Maryland-Wake Forest final, it will be one to check out on Sunday afternoon. Two very good teams with a lot of talent that play good soccer.
The semifinals are Friday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern (Wake/UNC) and 8 p.m. (Maryland/St. John’s). The final is at 1 p.m. Eastern Sunday, on ESPN2.