Friday, October 31, 2014

Maryland Favorites in Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship

By Erik Morlock and Kyle Stolcenberg

University of Richmond Spiders
Appalachian Apparators Quidditch
Johns Hopkins Hallows
Lock Haven University Quidditch
Grove City College

Pool A is seemingly straightforward. Richmond’s solid beating and physical chasers should keep it at the top of this pool. Its biggest scare could come from the Apparators’ fast pace if they can get between the Richmond beaters. Richmond’s beaters are not taken advantage of very often, and beaters Derek Roetzel, Katie Rothert, and Esther Outlaw should help Richmond win this pool fairly easily. Although Richmond should win the pool, it may face troubles as the tournament goes on. Richmond’s offense runs through keepers Brendan “Bo” O’Connor and Jeremy Day and when one or both tire, the offense can see a major dip in form. Richmond has already struggled without these two, losing to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Turtle Cup when both were fatigued after a long day and at Keystone Cup where Richmond lost out of snitch range to Bowling Green State University, Ball State University, and New York University with Day exhausted and O’Connor absent.
The Apparators should manage second without much of a challenge. The World Cup VII qualifiers feature an aggressive offense that can score often. Their match with Richmond should be an interesting contrast in style with Appalachian looking to use its quaffle skill to put up points and play a fast game, while Richmond will rely on its beaters to slow the pace. The Apparators already defeated Lock Haven University 140*-70 this season and have only lost to the University of Maryland and University of Virginia in overtime this year.

Hopkins could potentially be a sleeper and sneak into the second place spot with a roster full of athletes; however it struggled against more organized teams at Mini Cup. With World Cup qualification in past years, it would be surprising to see Hopkins go down without a fight, but it has lost key players—notably leader Mike Matesich—who took it to the World Cup in previous years. Discipline and behavior has been a concern for Hopkins in past years, though it seems that reputation has not resurfaced yet this year. Lock Haven has continuously struggled to get its team rolling despite the athleticism it consistently displays. It could surprise an unexpecting Hopkins team by coming out with the aggressiveness it has shown in past years, but there is not much evidence that it will be organized enough to make a splash in this pool. Lock Haven should have no problem taking fourth place over Grove City.

Standings: Richmond 4-0, Appalachian 3-1, Hopkins 2-2, Lock Haven 1-3, Grove City 0-4

Villanova Community Quidditch
Virginia Quidditch Club
George Mason University
Carnegie Mellon Quidditch Club
Duke University

Pool B is likely to have very close competition at the top of the bracket. Villanova defeated both UVA and George Mason in close games at Turtle Cup IV, while UVA beat George Mason at Mini Cup on a snitch catch. In the most recent USQ rankings, UVA has actually risen above Villanova—UVA is ranked 35, Villanova 37, and George Mason 49. The closest matchup will probably be between Villanova and UVA, two teams that have both made improvements on offense this season. Their similar styles of play will likely lead to a low-scoring showdown like the one at Turtle Cup. Villanova likely has the edge, as regional champion two years ago, it has proven to know what it takes to win when it matters. Villanova is led by Dan Takaki who has shown himself to be one of the top keepers in the region and is also a top seeker. Khalil Taylor, one of the team’s best quaffle players, is not on the regional roster, and that will limit the team’s ultimate potential. Still with solid tackling and a good seeking game, Villanova is the favorite in this pool.

UVA could struggle again against George Mason University if it starts out slowly like it often does. UVA beat them at Mini Cup though, and possesses the more experienced squad. Although the matchup could be close, George Mason’s beaters have struggled this year, relying on their point defenders to stop the attack. This even competition at the top of the bracket is bad news for the two bottom seeds who will struggle to get more than one win in this pool. Last season, UVA was the first alternate to travel to World Cup from the Mid-Atlantic, and Duke was the second alternate. Duke has only played two official games so far this season. Though they were both losses, it is likely that Duke could be underrated coming into the regional championship. Carnegie Mellon has had success against a few weaker opponents this season, but has also struggled. This matchup will also be close, but No. 83 Carnegie Mellon’s wins this season gives it an edge over No. 119 Duke University.

Standings: Villanova 4-0, UVA 3-1, George Mason 2-2, Carnegie Mellon 1-3, Duke 0-4

Pool C
Maryland Quidditch
Capital Madness Quidditch Club
Penn State University Nittany Lions
Quidditch Club of West Virginia University
Horn Tailed Horcruxes

Maryland is the overwhelming favorite not just here but in the tournament as a whole. It would be commendable for any team to play Maryland in snitch-range before the semi-finals. Maryland asserted its regional dominance at Turtle Cup, where it beat some of its strongest potential competitors including the University of North Chapel Hill, Villanova, and UVA all well out of snitch range. Maryland followed this up with a trip to the Oktoberfest Invitational where, despite big wins over New York University (NYU), Tufts University, and Q.C. Boston: The Massacre—widely considered to be among the top teams in the Northeast—it fell short of expected dominance, playing NYU to a quaffle point deficit in pool play before pulling the snitch and eventually losing an out-of-range rematch against Tufts in the finals. These recent results should give hope to the rest of the field.

It’s well known that Maryland’s primary flaw is its willingness to give up bludger control. It plays a strict man-to-man off-ball quaffle defense and relies largely on beaters to play the point, so any team that is able to consistently hold bludger control against it (as Tufts and NYU did with largely two-male-beater sets) will be able to find glimpses of space inside on offense. No team in the Mid-Atlantic can hope to match up with Maryland in quaffle skill or depth, but we can hope that teams will be able to keep games close via unconventional, beater-heavy strategies.

Capital Madness is the one team in this pool with an outside chance to do this. Coached by former UMD star and quidditch dinosaur James Hicks, this team boasts a tremendous amount of collective experience and, after some early-season woes, is starting to come together. It recently took a tournament title at a largely uncompetitive Mini Cup, beating UVA via a snitch catch in the finals. It took every bit of pace out of the game, standing near mid-field on offense and using a combination of aggressive beating and impressive mid-range shooting. A repeat of this strategy will give Capital Madness its best chance at an upset against UMD. Madness is also capable of following NYU and Tufts’s example of shifting its lines into a two-male-beater set. Primary beater Katryna Fernandez is most experienced as a chaser while former Richmond player Carlos Metz and perpetual mercenary Ted Stanton give solid (and stylistically very different) looks at male beater. I think we’re unlikely to see this, particularly given the lack of depth at female chaser, but it ought to be considered.

The matchup between Penn State and Capital Madness looks to be reasonably even and will most likely decide second and third place in this pool. Penn State is 2-5 in official matches this year but has played an impressively tough schedule, with its losses coming against Ohio State University, the Warriors, New York University, Emerson College, and UVA. This semester has largely been a rebuilding time for Penn State, but its aggressive scheduling is likely to have gotten its newer players to a level of competence needed in this tournament. Its offense so far has been fairly nonexistent, and it has failed to score more than 60 points in any of its losses. However, there is certainly potential lurking. Don’t be surprised if this is a break-out tournament for Penn State.

Capital Madness would have been a bigger favorite against Penn State if this matchup were scheduled for the beginning of the day, but I expect depth to become an issue as the games progress. Madness boasts an impressive starting lineup: former VCU chaser Sam Rosenberg, former UMD chaser Sam Medney, and ex-NYDC Capitalists players Steve Minnich and Robby May will play in the quaffle game while Virginia Commonwealth University graduates Michael Musatow and Fernandez will beat. However, there is an extreme drop-off in talent after this line (except possibly at male beater.) The success of this team late in the day—and in bracket play—will depend on its ability to score points in the half-court. If its offense stagnates behind its beaters or if it is forced to run on fast breaks, it could be a long day. I still give it the nod here over Penn State in a game that is likely to come down to the snitch.

The bottom of the pool will be contested between West Virginia University and the Horn Tailed Horcruxes, both of which have had some big losses to mediocre teams this season and who haven’t had the exposure of big-name tournaments. West Virginia, however, has managed out-of-range wins against Carnegie Mellon and Grove City College, so it has to be favored over the so-far-winless Horcruxes.

Standings: UMD 4-0, Capital Madness 3-1, Penn State 2-2, West Virginia 1-3, Horn Tailed Horcruxes 0-4

Pool D
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch (UNC)
Rutgers Nearly Headless Knights
Wizengamot Quidditch of VCU (VCU)
Philadelphia Honey Badgers
Q.C. Pittsburgh (Pitt)

UNC is the best team in this pool and should sweep on day one without too much trouble. Though UNC is noted for playing very little defense, we can count on its games to devolve into fast-paced havoc in which Max Miceli and Andrew McGregor will fast break to more points than other teams in this pool are capable of scoring. Looking forward to bracket play, it’s worth noting that UNC’s beaters have improved massively since last year. Their ability to run the 1.5 bludger strategy offensively and their aggressive beating on defense are the primary reasons the quaffle players are able to play such effective hero-ball. The rest of the pool, however, is probably the most even of the tournament and the teams could conceivably finish in any order.

For the second season in a row, Rutgers came in atop a wave of online hype and largely failed to meet expectations. It has put up some big scores against lesser teams, but its offense is extremely reliant on the duo of chaser Chisa Egbelu and keeper Juan Arencibia to drive the lane and provide assists to wide-open dunkers. Against more organized offenses--particularly those that use bludgers effectively--Rutgers has been completely shut down offensively, scoring a maximum of 40 points in its six losses against teams other than UNC this semester. Rutgers will probably be able to secure second place in this group, but don’t be surprised if it struggles to put up enough points against a team like VCU.

VCU is another team that may struggle to score points against organized defenses: it tallied 60 combined points against Richmond, Villanova, and NYU at Turtle Cup but also managed a solid win over George Mason. The return of powerhouse keeper Darren Creary this year should mean an easy step up in offense, but he is often reluctant to use his size. The hopes of VCU--particularly on day two--will likely rest on his capacity to be scary near the hoops. It is concerning that the Wizengamot have not played an official match since September as it has not been able to keep up with the development of the rest of the region in the past couple of years and will need to have developed some of its newer players. VCU should take third in the pool but could pull an upset over Rutgers as well as falling to either Pitt or the Honey Badgers.

The Q.C. Pittsburgh team that showed up at the Nittany Invitational in early October was full of new players who wanted to get out and run against defenses but seemed unclear about a lot of the rules. It currently sits at 0-7 with just one game in snitch range, but the team has played a notably difficult schedule, including the majority of the Mid-Atlantic’s best teams as well as Ohio State and the Warriors. This experience should help Pitt settle down and play close games against one or two teams in this pool. Based on the potential of its individual players, Pitt could finish anywhere from second to last in this pool; based on its performance so far we can safely put Pittsburgh in the bottom two.

In the Philadelphia Honey Badgers we have yet another team with solid individuals who struggle to score points against superior squads. Notably, the Honey Badgers lost recently to Rutgers 90*-10. However, in both teams’ first official game of the season, Philadelphia managed to force overtime in a sloppy against UVA despite only scoring 10 quaffle points. It brings a lot of physicality on defense and, if the team can start playing more cohesively, it could hold some low-scoring games in range.

Standings: UNC 4-0, Rutgers 3-1, VCU 2-2, Pitt 1-3, Philadelphia Honey Badgers 0-4

Bracket Predictions

The Mid-Atlantic gets 10 World Cup bids this year. Maryland, UNC, Villanova, and Richmond should feel pretty comfortable going into the weekend. UVA, App State, Capital Madness, Rutgers, and Penn State should also be fairly safe picks depending on how the bracket sets up, but are more prone to upsets. The final bid, likely to be one of the two earned via the consolation bracket, is much less certain. VCU and George Mason are the clearest choices, but Q.C. Pittsburgh and Hopkins have long traditions of success and it would be wise to not count either of them out.

Maryland is almost certain to be in the finals and has been predicted all season--by just about everyone--to be the regional champion. Its opponent in the finals will come down to bracket seeding. I expect UNC to take the other top seed, based on forecasted goal differential, and end up across from Maryland, setting them up for a nice finals run. If this happens, expect a blowout repeat of the Turtle Cup IV finals. If a more defensive-minded team ends up against UMD in the finals we can expect a somewhat closer result, but it is still unlikely to be in snitch range. Either way, the University of Maryland is the clear favorite to repeat as regional champions.

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