The Claws Are Out
Nov. 2, 2009
By Kevin Scheitrum
The nation’s most dangerous college soccer team doesn’t, at first glance, look anything like it. They could certainly pass for a group of especially volatile high-schoolers. But the nation’s most dangerous team? It’s a tough role, when the Boston College Eagles barely look like they’re in college at all.
“I was just telling my friend at Columbia, Kevin [Anderson – the Lions’ head coach] my former assistant, that the other night we had seven freshmen, three sophomores and one junior for most of the game,” said Boston College coach Ed Kelly. “That’s the way it’s been from the start.”
As for that most-dangerous-team thing: Sure, there are teams that are probably better. Teams that have had more success – some, a lot more success – this year. But the Eagles, they of the two upsets in two weeks over teams ranked No. 2, perhaps represent better than any other team in the country the danger of a team igniting at the right time.
They’ve now won five of six games, including wins over then-No. 2 North Carolina on Oct. 17 and another over No. 2 Wake Forest on Friday. In that stretch, the Eagles have given up just four goals, further bolstering the reputation of a defense that still hasn’t given up more than two goals in a game this year, playing in arguably the nation’s best conference.
This all comes after a season of speckled and sporadic success, with win streaks splitting time with losing streaks through the season’s first 11 games – an opening run that saw the Eagles go just 5-6-0. Now, at 10-7-0 (4-3-0 ACC), they have a legitimate shot at finishing first in the ACC standings, with a matchup against N.C. State in the final week of the regular season looming ahead on Friday.
“At the start of it, the first game, you were just trying to get to know people and who was going to be in this place and that place,” Kelly said. “We weren’t trying to put kids in too early. They were mostly walking around in a daze, trying to figure it all out. That never really happened when they were in high school.”
Going into the Wake Forest game, the Eagles’ RPI stood at No. 29. After the win, that number’s bound to shoot up – possibly by quite a bit. Enough that Kelly is confident that BC could find itself in the NCAA Tournament without taking home the ACC Tournament’s automatic berth.
And that’s a good thing when you consider that taking the ACC Tournament involves winning three games against some of the best teams in the nation. For reference, six of the ACC’s teams are ranked in the RPI’s top 30, tops in the country. The only ones that aren’t – Virginia Tech at No. 90 and Clemson at No. 121 – have each beaten N.C. State, with Clemson also picking up a win over Virginia.
It’s a grind to win the thing, coaches will tell you. So much of battle of attrition that, as a tournament win solidifies your spot in the NCAA Tournament, it grinds out the energy reserves that come in handy during The Tournament.
“To play any three of those teams, to win it against wake forest or anybody else is tough,” Kelly said. “If you’re sitting pretty, one of the best thing that can happen to you is win the first one and then lose in PK’s, so you’re fresh for the NCAA’s.”
And if the Eagles do reach the Tourney – this is, remember, a program that reached No. 1 two years ago – they’ll play the role of something very, very dangerous: the wild card. Youth, while it doesn’t provide the benefit of experience, offers a certain burst that sometimes lacks in older teams. It’s a burst that often expires early but, when mixed with the right grooming over the course of the year, can go very, very far.
They’ll be young, although not as young as they were when the season knocked them off their feet in the first week September, not allowing them to fully recover any balance until October. But if the Eagles have shown one particular weakness, it’s been the tendency to lapse against teams not counted among the country’s elite.
Luckily for them, they most likely see another one of those the rest of the way.
“You almost have to lose some of those games, because if you won them all you’d think we were that good, even though we’re not,” Kelly said with a laugh. “They’re kids. It’s a normal progression of losing and winning, which is probably at the end of the day that can happen to them. Otherwise, you’d be dealing with these egomaniacs. The best possible thing is they lose those stupid games and learn why they lost them.”
While we're still two weeks away from the announcement of the NCAA Tournament field, here are a few out-of-the-way and under-the-radar teams to keep an eye on as they finish the regular season and enter their conference tournaments (if applicable -- the Ivy League, Pac-10 and WCC don't have postseasons)
UAB: Ranked as high as No. 20, the Blazers have shown to be a team that can cause a whole lot of damage when it's on -- but when it's off (case in point: a 5-1 loss to Tulsa on Oct. 17), it's off. However, they've got only one loss in their last 12, and winning -- even when it's not against the top-flight of teams in the country -- becomes a habit after a while. And with just one game remaining in the regular season, a battle with Marshall on Saturday, the team with sole possession of the C-USA lead can't be overlooked. Plus, they've always got friend of the blog, Two-Boys Gumede.
Creighton: The Blue Jays started the season as high as No. 6 in the polls, but a string of injuries and early losses sent Creighton out of the rankings by the end of September. But, they're fully healthy now, coach Bob Warming said, and it showed in the Jay's 1-0 upset of No. 7 UCLA on Saturday -- a game in which Creighton held the Bruins without a shot for the first 34 minutes. This is a team built on defense, and now with its full roster back, prepare to see some suffocation.
Missouri State: The Bears cracked the NSCAA Top-25 last week (at No. 25) and followed it up with their sixth straight win, a 3-2 overtime victory over recently-ranked Drake at home on Sunday -- Missouri State's second straight win over the Bulldogs. Just before that streak, they tied Creighton, 0-0. There's a lot of energy being generated at Plaster Field, which saw its fourth-highest attendance ever in that Drake win, and with good reason. And if the Bears down Evansville on Wednesday, they'll wrap up an MVC regular season title.
UNC Wilmington: It has been a long, long time since UNCW lost. Now riding a 10-game unbeaten streak after downing George Mason -- a team that downed Maryland earlier this year -- and then hammering Drexel, 5-0, the CAA leaders haven't lost since a 2-1, double-overtime loss to Duke on Sept. 22. Given that the thesis of this piece revolved around the Getting-Hot-At-The-Right-Time Theory, there aren't many teams hotter than the Seahawks right now.
San Diego: The road warriors are only 6-4-0 at home, but a perfect 5-0-0 on the road this year, including a win most recently over San Francisco -- the Toreros' second win of the year over the defending WCC champs and the team that was picked to win the conference title in the preseason poll. Ranked as high as No. 22, USD is now 7-1 in the conference. And with a road record like they've put up, expect this team to turn some heads come tourney-time. Oh, and they're ranked fifth in the RPI.
Other teams to watch: San Diego State (upset specialists), Harvard (a potent offense that's been dormant), UConn (but we've been there), Iona (streaking hard), St. John's (clinched a bye in the Big East)
**If we've missed any, feel free to comment on the blog.**