Selection Committee Criminally Underrates Penn State Women’s Soccer In NCAA Tournament
Penn State women’s soccer is included in the 48-team NCAA Tournament that will kick off in a few weeks’ time in North Carolina. This shouldn’t be a shock, as the Nittany Lions were dominant in the Big Ten all year until the Iowa Hawkeyes stunned Penn State in the conference semifinals.
The surprise? Penn State’s seed…or lack thereof.
The Nittany Lions will enter the NCAA Tournament’s first round as the No. 17 seed, forced to play Alabama State on April 28 instead of earning a first-round bye. It is a criminal underrating of a program that has players in every national chart, earned a Big Ten regular-season championship, and boasts a No. 4 national ranking in the United Soccer Coaches Poll.
It’s as if the selection committee didn’t watch any of the regular season, saw the Nittany Lions lose one playoff game against weaker opposition, and docked the team way further than they should. Either that or they didn’t see the Big Ten as a very strong conference this year, which could be true, seeing as Big Ten finalist Wisconsin got inexplicably snubbed.
To put Penn State’s No. 17 evaluation into perspective, take the Nittany Lions’ run in 2019. That team was seeded No. 16, meaning both teams should’ve had pretty similar campaigns to receive such congruent ranks. Yet that is not even close to true.
Penn State was the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten last year after laboring through a less-than-average season. Then, the team went on a tear in the conference tournament and rightfully earned its place as a top-16 team. The 2019 Nittany Lions were seeded well because it seemed predictable that they would get to the Sweet 16 but were outmatched against eventual champions Stanford.
However, this team is so much better.
Penn State lost a tough opening day match to fellow NCAA entrant Rutgers, a team that was also arguably underrated. After that, the squad’s only blemish before the Big Ten semifinal exit was a 2-2 draw against Ohio State — the fourth and final national tournament participant from the conference. In all other matches, the Nittany Lions went 10-0, outscoring opponents 31-5 in the process.
The selection committee got a lot right, such as placing Florida State as No. 1. The Seminoles have been the dominant team the nation saw in Stanford in 2019, yet it is unfair to both them and the Nittany Lions to be placed so closely in the bracket.
Don’t get us wrong. It won’t be easy for Penn State to advance to the Sweet 16. Alabama State will pose a threat in the first round after winning the SWAC title, and No. 16 Vanderbilt will be a great out for the Nittany Lions should they best the Hornets.
However, the fact that the Nittany Lions should be favored in a hypothetical matchup with Vanderbilt reveals the problem with the committee’s final calculations.
The Commodores went 9-5-1, with most games coming in the fall despite knowing full well that the NCAA switched the soccer championships to the spring. Sure, they went on an Iowa-like run to win the SEC title last November as the conference’s No. 7 seed. But this still raises the question: Is the committee just looking at championship week and virtually throwing away a couple months of regular-season play?
One could compare Penn State’s resume with the rest of the 47 teams in the field and come to the conclusion that the Nittany Lions are far better than their No. 17 seed suggests.
Of course, this could all mean Alabama State will stand on its head and put away the Nittany Lions. But it’s worth noting that putting the Nittany Lions, who should be in the top five or six, in the same bracket with contenders such as the Seminoles, No. 8 USC, and No. 9 Duke, is ridiculous and over-saturates the region.
At the end of the day, the team won’t care. The Nittany Lions will go to North Carolina with only Alabama State on their mind. However, regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, it is a slight to the Big Ten, Penn State, and its players, who have played far too well to go unseeded.
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