Friday, April 21, 2017

DI-A Quarterfinals Preview

Photo: Connie Hatfield

It's hard to know what to make of the DI-A quarterfinals. At first glance it looks fairly lopsided. One of Life and Lindenwood is going to go home probably earlier than they should have, the same with BYU and Indiana, while either Arizona or Baylor or going to be unlikely semi-finalists. However, that's just on paper. How things play out on the pitch could be wildly different.

Life vs. Lindenwood

This is easily the most enticing of the first round match-ups. Life and Lindenwood are serious rivals, both of whom feel like they have a shot at a national title. Had the format of the tournament been different they might have both made it. Now they meet in the quarterfinals where they renew their rivalry. Defending DI-A champions Life have and the advantage between the two teams this year. Life have looked increasingly strong as the spring moves along and it wouldn't shock anyone to see them back in the title match. They did graduate some players but also have had others step up to provide a lot of balance.

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Lindenwood have also improved as the spring has moved along. They had an early set back to Central Washington and haven't been able to get past Life but they have posted a string of strong results. They have some excellent playmakers on the team and are an offensive juggernaut. The key for them will be jumping out to an early lead. If they can go up by 10 or 15 then they have to like their chances of holding on.

It should be close but our pick is Life to go through.

BYU vs. Indiana

This is another match of two solid teams. That said, BYU is arguably the best team in the country when playing well. They have such a deep roster. Players like Matt Jensen and Calvin Whiting have been capped by the Eagles. Kevin Schofield is extremely underrated as a winger. Then you have the Whippy brothers and players like Alex Vorster. BYU have done some traveling this year but not a lot so that might play a factor but if they are even playing to 75% they should be Indiana. That is not to say the Hoosiers don't have weapons of their own. Bryce Campbell could be the best player in college rugby but he can't do it all himself.

We'll pick BYU here. If both our Life and BYU picks hold that sets them up for a clash in the semi-finals.

St. Mary's vs. San Diego State

There is a chance that San Diego State could pull off an upset here. They have been our dark horse for much of the spring after some good results. However, they are facing a St. Mary's team with serious ambitions to take back the DI-A title. The Gaels have done most things right this spring. They beat BYU once and then mostly held the Cougars close in Provo. They have also beaten Cal and taken a valuable trip to Ireland and Scotland. The path looks pretty straightforward if they play the way they are capable of playing.

Our pick is St. Mary's.

Arizona vs. Baylor

This is the true wildcard of the round. Arizona made it to the quarterfinals with a win over Air Force while Baylor had a bye. Arizona can play some good rugby and have gone through a tough PAC Rugby schedule. That should leave them prepared to face a good Baylor team at home. Not much is known about Baylor. They were obviously good enough to win the Red River but do they have the experience and depth to match a team with the tradition of Arizona? We'll certainly find out.

This may be an upset pick but we're going with Arizona.

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