Nineteen teams will battle in Fayetteville this weekend for six bids to South Regionals. Pools were released Tuesday, and the top six finishers from last year are the top six seeds for this year, but don’t let that fool you: things in the Ozark Section aren’t as predictable as they have been, and there are a lot of teams outside of the top six that stand a chance of pulling some upsets and qualifying for Regionals.
How will the teams finish? Who will be making the trip to Tulsa? Which teams might find their way into the top six? Here’s my take.
1. It’s should come as no surprise that Kansas is my pick to defend their crown and take the section again. The Zontals are loaded with talent, and were the overwhelming favorites to take the section this year from day one. To this point, nothing has changed. KU lost more games in Vegas than they probably wanted to, and suffered lopsided defeats against Wisconsin at Mardi Gras and North Texas at Centex, but have still remained a fixture in the NUMP and UPA Top 25 polls all season.
Not all is perfect in Lawrence, however. Senior Jerrod Wolfe injured his MCL and it is unknown (at least by this author) if he will be playing in the Series. When it comes to Sectionals, it won’t matter, as KU is good enough to win the Ozarks without him. At Regionals though, it would be nice to have their All-Region deep back in action as they try to take one of the top two spots and defeat their rival Texas.
2. Arkansas may have lost several seniors last spring, and Nick Welch-Bolen may be overseas this semester, but Ludicrous Speed seems to have a deeper contingent of talented, athletic players than ever before.
So far, LS has only played in two college tournaments this spring, but both have been notable. Ludicrous’ first tournament of the season, The Hendrix Ultimate Experience, featured an admittedly weak field, but the fact that LS managed to take home the championship without several of their top players even making the trip was impressive. Then, at Mardi Gras, Arkansas showed potential, knocking off North Texas and barely losing to both Texas and Minnesota.
Some people were surprised by Arkansas pulling down the two seed, but I’d be more surprised if they didn’t turn heads this weekend by holding seed with some big wins.
3. The season started of slowly for Washington University, as they made the trip down to Mardi Gras and returned without a single victory, picking up lopsided defeats against Wisconsin (that one is excusable), Vanderbilt, and LSU. However, it was the first tournament of the year for the Contrabears, and New Orleans is a long way away from St. Louis. Not surprisingly, they performed much better at Terminus, defeating North Carolina, and narrowly losing to three teams who have performed very well so far this season: Michigan, NC State, and Georgia Tech.
Wash U did a good job of defending their home turf at Huck Finn, losing in the finals to a Luther team that has had an impressive season. The Contrabears got a close game from their alumni team and had two close calls against Harding, but other than that, handled their opposition without much trouble.
This team isn’t as deep as it was last year, and relies heavily on a few experienced players, but at the end of the day, George is arguably the best all-around player in the South, and when the game is on the line, that counts for a lot.
4. Missouri State lost a ton of their core players from last year’s team which took the Ozark Section by surprise, but so far, it doesn’t seem to be affecting them. The Frizzbears had a decent showing in Little Rock with only a partial squad, and then represented at their home tournament by beating every college team they faced, including a defeat of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the top seed in their pool, a dismantling of Truman State, and a come-from-behind victory over arch-rival Harding in the semifinals.
At Huck Finn, MSU faced the best competition they had seen all semester, and they responded well, losing close games to Luther and Illinois, handily beating Northwestern, Oberlin, Purdue, and Truman State, and vaulting to the number 40 spot in the UPA rankings.
The RRI numbers are probably a little inflated (thank you Wisconsin-Whitewater for providing the best example to date of why algorithms don’t always work), and on paper, this team doesn’t look that good. But they are a team with great chemistry, they have stepped it up since Little Rock, and on the field, they’ve been winning games. And on the field is where it counts.
5. With most of their players returning, the Oklahoma Apes of Wrath had high expectations for the season, but so far have not lived up to them. The Apes performed well at the Florida Winter Classic aside from a 13-0 shutout loss at the hands of Florida, but then struggled through Trouble in Vegas and Mardi Gras with several injuries and inconsistent play.
The Apes rebounded somewhat over spring break, winning High Tide, but then suffered several lopsided defeats just a few days later at College Southerns. Fool’s Fest was a stronger performance, as OU beat Iowa and USC and gave a solid Colorado State team a close game, but a loss to Iowa State and a Sunday of rainouts denied the Apes the chance of using the weekend to make the statement that they are once again one of the elite teams from the South.
But, when it all comes down to it, OU still has several players with a lot of talent, experienced leadership from its captains, and more players over 6’3” than any three other Ozark teams combined. I don’t think that they’ll be in peak form by this weekend, but if they do put it all together, look for them to finish higher than fifth and play like the team we all expected them to be.
6. Though I am probably biased, Harding has got to be one of the bigger Ozark disappointments so far this season, based on their inability to close out games. Apocalypse had late second half leads against LSU at T-Town Throwdown, Arkansas in the finals of the Hendrix Ultimate Experience, and Iowa State and Missouri State at Frostbite, but lost all four games.
At Huck Finn, Harding had the opportunity to pick up victories against quality opponents, but went 1-5 on the weekend. In Harding’s defense, they were only able to bring 11 players including a B-team member and had three players fighting through substantial injuries for most of the weekend. Despite this, HU played pretty well, losing the five games by a combined eight points. Had they brought a full team, Apocalypse might have been able to pull out a couple more victories, but their inability to finish off Wash U after being up 10-5 suggests that they still aren’t over their second half problems.
This season, Harding has managed to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat (something that has been a problem in the past), so they should be able to hold seed and be the last team to qualify for Regionals. So far though, they have not proven that they have the ability to outplay quality opponents for a full game, and until they do, a higher finish is unlikely.
The Dark Horses
The next seven teams, listed in alphabetical order, are all knocking on the door, looking to steal a Regionals bid from one of the top six:
Hendrix might be the most improved team in the section since the beginning of the semester. After losing every game they played at their home tournament, including a 13-1 loss to Oklahoma State and defeats at the hands of Tulsa and Rhodes, the Flying Squirrels rebounded with a solid performance at Frostbite. Hendrix picked up victories against St. Louis and Missouri-Rolla, avenged an earlier loss by crushing Tulsa 13-4, and gave Harding all they wanted in a 13-9 loss.
Hendrix continued their positive momentum at Huck Finn, where they went 5-2 with a runaway victory over Wisconsin-B, another win over St. Louis, and hard-fought losses to Kansas State and Western Illinois.
The Squirrels are by no means the most athletic team in the section, but a solid handling corps that likes to huck makes this a team to watch out for.
I’m not going to lie; I really have no clue how good Kansas State is. I know they have an inflated RRI, based on their demolition of bad teams at the Flinthills Ultimate Invite back in February, but just because they might not be as good as the all-knowing algorithm would predict based on those results doesn’t mean they’re not a solid team.
At Huck Finn, the Huckstables held seed and won their pool, defeating Hendrix 13-9, before getting blown out in their crossover by a good Wisconsin-Whitewater team. K State then went on to lose their two Sunday games, putting up a fight before losing 15-12 to a solid Wash U alumni team, and then ending up on the wrong side of a 15-7 score against club team Big River.
This weekend, the Huckstables are seeded tenth overall, and third in their pool. The matchup with Missouri should be a good one, as both teams will struggle for the right to start Sunday off in the second place bracket.
Based on how they played back in February at the Hendrix Ultimate Experience, I would have expected John Brown to be in a much better position this weekend. In Little Rock, JBU beat Rhodes twice, and had narrow defeats against both Harding and Southern Indiana, two teams with significantly higher RRIs. But since then, things have gone downhill: JBU did not play well at Frostbite, losing to Truman State 13-7 and to Missouri-Rolla 13-9, with their only win of significance coming in a narrow defeat of St. Louis. Then, this past weekend at the OkState Scrimmage, they got beaten soundly by Oklahoma State in a game that I thought was going to be close.
Earlier in the semester, John Brown probably would have received a top 10 seed in the section, but based on their recent struggles, they’ve fallen to 14th and will have a rough day of pool play against Oklahoma, Harding, Hendrix, and Wash U-B. This team is much improved over last year, but if they want to extend their season beyond this weekend, they’ll have to regain the form they had earlier in the semester.
At the beginning of the semester, Regional Coordinator Mike Houston warned us that Missouri would be the South’s sleeper team this year, and while the 2006 MUtants aren’t dominant, they are better than the 2005 version.
Mizzou started the season at Mardi Gras, where they went 4-3. The wins weren’t as impressive as the losses, where they gave close games to three solid teams, St. John’s, Wisconsin-B, and Florida State. At Frostbite, the MUtants beat a short-handed Oklahoma State team and hucked their way to an upset of the top seed in their pool,Wisconsin-Eau Claire to go 4-0 on Saturday. Sunday would be another story though, as Missouri would suffer consecutive losses against Harding, Wisconsin-Whitewater, and the Wisconsin-Eau Claire team that they had beaten a day earlier.
The MUtants will be looking to pull off the upset against Arkansas, the top seed in their pool, but they better not overlook Kansas State, or they could find themselves starting off Sunday in the sixth place bracket, having to win four straight games to advance.
Missouri-Rolla is another team I know virtually nothing about, because they’ve only played in one tournament this semester. At Frostbite, Rolla did defeat a struggling JBU team 13-9, but also lost to fellow “bubble” team Hendrix and lost by a wide margin against Truman State.
Pitted in pool play against Washington University and Missouri State, it will be difficult for Rolla to pull an upset. But, if UMR beats Arkansas-B and holds seed, they will begin Sunday in the 6th place bracket, where they could do some damage against the other three seeds.
Oklahoma State is another team that has been inconsistent this season. Their most impressive wins probably came in Little Rock, where they beat a short-handed Missouri State team 13-7 and then thrashed Hendrix 13-1. But that same weekend, Ultimato lost by large margins to Southern Indiana, and to Mississippi twice, two teams that I thought they would match up well against.
Frostbite was not a good tournament for OSU as they only managed to win two games. It is noteworthy that OSU was playing with a limited team in Springfield, but the fact that they didn’t have enough players to even field a team on the Sunday of a March tournament doesn’t necessarily bode well. However, last weekend, Ultimato hosted John Brown and Tulsa in a three team scrimmage and performed well beating TU 11-5 and then giving an impressive performance in a 13-5 win over JBU.
Large roster or not, OSU seems to have the rust off and looks ready to play. An upset over Kansas in pool play is very unlikely, which should make the Oklahoma State/Truman State pool play game a good one: not only is the eight seed playing the nine seed, it’s also the battle to start Sunday in the 2nd place bracket, which would make either team’s quest for a Regionals berth a lot easier.
Truman State is the last of the teams that I haven’t really seen this year and don’t know much about, but at least they have played at several tournaments. Starting with Frostbite (with only one reported score from Mardi Gras, I really have no idea how they fared there), JuJiTSU went 3-0 in their pool against college teams, including convincing victories over Missouri-Rolla and John Brown, before losing 13-6 to Missouri State on Sunday.
At Huck Finn, Truman went 3-0 in pool play with wins over Wisconsin-B, St. Louis, and Luther-B, but then lost their crossover game against Big River 13-2, and were blown out on Sunday by both Missouri State and Purdue. In their defense, Truman brought a small team to St. Louis, and after experiencing a couple of injuries were basically playing savage on Sunday.
Aside from having the hardest name in the section to type correctly, JuJiTSU is one of the teams with the best chance of pulling an upset and getting a Regionals bid. That being said, if they can’t pull out the win against Oklahoma State on Saturday, the uphill battle they will face Sunday will leave them on the outside looking in.
Luke Dockery is a former captain and current player for Harding Apocalypse.