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Conference Tournament Preview: Big East, Big Ten and ACC semifinals

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By JOHN BOSCHINI

Three of the country's top conferences will take another step towards crowning a champion when the ACC, Big 10 and the Big East play their semifinals today. Some teams are playing for their NCAA tournament lives while the national powerhouses are looking to add silverwear to trophy cases and secure a prime position in the NCAA tournament.

Here is a closer look at the semifinals:

ACC

No. 2 Maryland takes on No. 6 Virgnia as the 2008 and 2009 national champions square off at 5:30 at WakeMed soccer park in Carey, NC. Virginia took a small step to regaining its conference form with a victory over Wake Forest but will face a much tougher test against a Maryland side riding a 11-match winning streak. A front line populated by two ACC first-teamers and a goalkeeper with 11 shutouts has given Maryland a +39 goal differential this season. The Terrapins will also rely on Patrick Mullins, one of the most exciting freshman in the country and the ACC rookie of the year. Last year, Virginia knocked Maryland out of both the ACC and NCAA tournament and will look to continue that trend tonight. Maryland already exacted some revenge with 2-0 victory during the regular season. The Cavaliers' scoring threat comes primarily from Will Bates. The sophomore striker will have to be on top form to break down Maryland's back line.

Top-seeded North Carolina will take on fifth-ranked Boston College at 8:00 in Carey. UNC will enjoy the advantage of playing less than hour away from its home field but face the pressure of being the only North Carolina team left in the competition. UNC is riding a 11-game unbeaten streak since its surprising upset to Old Dominion in September. The Tar Heels were boosted by the return of Michael Farfan to the lineup but are still facing some injury problems. UNC showed why they were the top-ranked offense in the ACC this season with a 4-0 victory over N.C. State but will find it more difficult to break down and Eagle defense that thoroughly dominated Ryan Finley and Duke's offense in the quarterfinals. Boston College, who lack a true goal scorer of its own, will likely sit back and hope to surprise UNC on the counter attack. The Eagles had some success in the two teams only regular-season meeting, holding UNC to a 1-1 draw. It was the only conference game UNC failed to win this season.

BIG EAST

The Big East semifinals kick off this evening when Providence takes on Cincinnati inside Red Bull Arena with kickoff scheduled for 5:00. Neither team is a national contender but a win will assure a berth in the NCAA tournament. This is shaping up to be a conservative affair as both defenses are averaging less than a goal per game allowed. The Friars upset Georgetown to book their place in the semifinals while Cincinnatti completed an upset of Connecticut with a penalty kick victory.

Unlike the early semifinal, the 8:00 kickoff at Red Bull Arena will feature two teams who have already secured berths in the NCAA tournament and are looking to bring home the Big East title. Undefeated Louisville are hoping to take its No. 1 ranking into the postseason but standing in the way is Dillon Powers and Notre Dame. Freshman Dylan Mares leads Louisville with eight goals but the Cardinals strength lies in defense, led by goalkeeper Andre Bourdeaux, who holds a 0.56 goals against average. The Irish, who have steadied the ship after an inconsistent start, are undefeated in their past five games. Notre Dame has only been shut out five times this season, thanks in large part to Steven Perry's 12 groals, but have difficulty defensively, allowing nearly a goal per game. 

BIG TEN

The seventh-seeded Wisconsin Badgers will look to continue their surprise tournament run following a shocking upset over Ohio State. Michigan are fresh off a first-round victory of its in-state rival, Michigan State. Freshman Soony Saad has quietly become of the most dominant freshman in the country, racking up 16 goals for the Wolverines. If the Badgers are going to have any chance at another upset, freshman goalkeeper Max Jentsch will have to continue his form. He currently holds a 358 minute shutout streak.

Fresh of its comeback victory over Northwestern, Penn State will hope to continue its good run of form against top-seeded Indiana. The Hoosiers will rely on Will Bruin to provide their scoring offense. The Big 10 player of the year has scored 15 goals so far this season. The problem for Indiana is that there aren't many other options for offense if Bruin can't score, with their second-leading scorer sitting on five goals. The Nittany Lions should enjoy home-field advantage and will hope Corey Hertzog continues his torrid scoring pace.

Comments

  1. Maryland played their “reserve squad” in a spring or pre-season match a few years ago in College Park. If I remember correctly, it was a 1-1 draw.

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