A very intriguing Sweet 16 match on the horizon, but a lot of work to be done before we arrive there. Chicago's women took priority over the men and were able to host, which clearly shows where the priorities lie at UC. This is Chicago's first NCAA tournament since 2005 and the first time anyone on their current team has played in the tournament. The truth is this remains one of the most talented teams in the country, but they are at this spot because of 1 win this season against Wash U. Other than that 1 day, they've been the same old Chicago, so it depends which teams shows up this weekend. Their first round match should be a nice test as they get the winner of Grinell and UWEC, 2 teams who are solid, but not good enough to beat the Maroons. I see Chicago moving forward to the round of 16 with a 5-0 win.
If you want to talk about disappointing seasons, Trinity (TX) is up there. I had them overrated as a top 5 team in the preseason, but they've spent most of this season on the outskirts of the top 10. I still think this team is very good and can beat anyone on the right day, but to win this regional they will have to do something that they couldn't do this entire season: beat a top 10 team. To start, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is overlooking Gustavus. GAC has to be thrilled to be back in the tournament after a year hiatus and I'm sure they will have a great crowd out for their round of 32 match against Trinity. I think the Gusties will hang with TU, but every time GAC has run into a ranked team this year, they've lost. Trinity is a little better than just a "ranked team" as well. I like TU to advance to the Sweet 16 after a 5-1 win against Gustavus. I think energy could propel GAC to a doubles win, but they won't get very far in singles.
Even though Chicago holds the title of regional top seed, I see Trinity as the favorite in this match. TU is looking to get back to their second consecutive Elite 8 and make something of this year after a sloppy regular season. They have the experience edge and I think their strong doubles play matches up well against Chicago. The Maroons have been very weak in doubles besides the Wash U match. They dropped 2 to Denison, Kenyon, Carnegie and Gustavus, and they dropped all 3 to Emory and DePauw. If Chicago doesn't bring a high level in doubles, they will be down 3-0 before they know what hit them. TU remains as one of the best doubles lineups in the country, although they have been shaky at times this season. This is when they usually step up and I expect them to do it. Chicago's #2 team held them up during UAAs, but they can't count on that against versus TU's #2 team. Chicago needs to put a point on the board because TU is too good and too experienced to squander a 3-0 lead.
I've talked time and time again how TU needs to find wins throughout the singles lineup and this holds true in this match. Chicago probably has a slight edge in singles talent and the Tigers have to find guys who will step up. I expect a very similar match to last year's regional final between Trinity and Kenyon. I think TU will find a way to win, but it will be close. A lot depends upon how Chicago handles the moment, because the nerves get to you in doubles more than singles. I like Trinity to jump out to a 2-1 lead after doubles and hold on for a very close 5-3 win. I think their seniors will step up and their experience will pay off in this. The Tigers know they have potential and I think they will just want it more than Chicago. If the Maroons can somehow manage to get ahead after doubles they become a heavy favorite, but given the results during the season, I think that's an unlikely scenario.