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MORNING BRIEFING: Evaluating the men's bubble teams
by Paul Kennedy, November 17th, 2008 8AM

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We don't envy the NCAA Division I men's soccer committee with its task of picking the at-large teams for the 2008 NCAA Division I Tournament -- the 26 teams that will join the 22 conference champions. The rash of weekend upsets and number of low-ranked conference champions ate into the number of places available for at-large teams.

Nine conference champions -- ranging from No. 60 George Mason to No. 132 San Francisco -- ranked No. 60 or lower in last week's RPI Index. Six of these teams beat out conference rivals who ranked in the top 40.

Twenty at-large bids should go to:
Wake Forest
St. John's
Indiana
Michigan
Loyola (Md.)
Notre Dame
UC Santa Barbara
North Carolina
Northwestern
Louisville
UC Davis
Duke
Virginia
Drake
Boston College
California
Harvard
UIC
Connecticut

NCAA CRITERIA

That leaves six spots up for grabs. Here are some teams on the bubble (in bold with last week's RPI ranking):

Oakland was the highest ranked team in the RPI index (No. 29) but lost to UMKC on penalty kicks in the Summit League final. The Golden Grizzlies' big win came against Conference USA champion Tulsa.

In the CAA, which had three points separate the top six teams, William & Mary (No. 30), but it lost to eventual champion George Mason, 5-3 in the conference semifinals. Northeastern (No. 49) made the CAA final on the strength of a pair of shootout wins, one of which was over regular-season champion UNC Wilmington (No. 50) in the semifinals. In W&M's favor: non-conference wins over Atlantic Sun regular-season champion Campbell, Southern regular-season champion Elon and Southern tournament champion UNC Greensboro and ties with Atlantic-10 regular-season champion UMass and MAAC regular-season champion Loyola (Md.).

Ohio State (No. 33) and Wisconsin (No. 34) both lost in the Big Ten quarterfinals -- Ohio State to Indiana, 1-0, and Wisconsin to Michigan in a shootout. Working against Ohio State, last year's runner-up at the Men's College Cup, is the fact that it lost its last four games. The Buckeyes did beat Wisconsin in the regular season and also had quality wins over Tulsa and Michigan State.

UMass (No. 34), the 2007 NCAA Tournament surprise, ran of seven straight wins to win the Atlantic-10 regular-season title and reach the tournament final, which it lost to Dayton. Saint Louis (No. 35) fell to the Minutemen in the semifinals -- their second loss to UMass in a week.

Five Big East teams should get in -- South Florida, St. John's, Notre Dame, Louisville and Connecticut -- leaving several others on the bubble. Syracuse (No. 37) was the top ranked of the next three teams but did not even make the 12-team conference tournament field. DePaul (No. 45) won two games -- including 1-0 at UConn -- in tournament play. Providence (No. 46) beat Villanova, then fell to St. John's in overtime. In head-to-head play, Syracuse has the edge with wins over DePaul and Providence.

Buffalo (No. 32) looked to be a reasonable shape heading into the weekend but its 1-0 loss to Northern Illinois in the Mid-American semifinals hurt the Bulls. Their best result during the regular season: a 0-0 tie with Penn.

Holy Cross (No. 40) finished third in the Patriot regular-season standings and lost to Colgate in the tournament final. The argument for the Crusaders: wins over UMass and Boston College.

Perhaps no team is waiting more nervously for word on the at-large selections than Campbell (No. 38). The Camels ran off 12 straight wins but blew a 3-1 first-half lead and lost to Jacksonville, 4-3, in the A-Sun final. Campbell's wins included a 2-0 victory over North Carolina. Working against Campbell is the weak A-Sun. Jacksonville was the second ranked A-Sun team at No. 127 ...

AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS (22)
ACC Maryland
America East Boston University
*Atlantic Soccer Longwood
Atlantic Sun Jacksonville
Atlantic 10 Dayton 1 (own goal 19).
Big East South Florida
Big South Winthrop
Big Ten Michigan State
Big West UC Irvine
CAA George Mason
Conference USA Tulsa
Horizon Loyola (Ill.) 1 (Halma 75).
Ivy Penn
MAAC Fairfield
Mid-American Akron
Missouri Valley Creighton
MPSF Denver
Northeast Fairleigh Dickinson
Pac-10 UCLA
Patriot Colgate
Southern UNC Greensboro
Summit UMKC
WCC San Francisco
*no NCAA automatic bid.



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