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NCAA Tournament Roundtable - Part I
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This weekend, the NCAA Division I Tennis Championships get underway. 64 men's and women's college tennis teams will head to campus venues around the country to compete in first- and second-round action. The winners will make up the Sweet 16 and head to Waco, Texas, to compete for the team championship May 14-19.

Hopefully you can get out to watch some of the action this weekend, but there are plenty of places to get your fill of championship college tennis:

And, of course, we would be remiss if we did not remind you of our May Madness Bracket Challenge, presented by Tennis Express.

 

TennisRecruiting.net invited some of our college tennis contributors to answer some questions about college tennis and the NCAA tournament. Today, in Part 1, we see their comments on a pair of questions. We will hear more from them in Part 2 on Friday.

 

Questions and Answers

 

Q) There were some interesting story lines in college tennis as the regular season came to a close. On the women's side, a previously-undefeated North Carolina team dropped their ACC Tournament semifinal match to Virginia to open the door for Southern California to claim the NCAA's No. 1 seed, and Vanderbilt won its first SEC Tournament championship in school history. Head Coach John Roddick continues to cement his powerhouse program in Norman, as the Oklahoma men claimed the No. 1 overall seed for the first time in school history. What do you think were the best stories to close out the regular season?

 

Marcia Frost, College Contributor

I think Coach Roddick - although he's obviously been working his way there for years - has definitely been an "overnight star" this past year. He's brought a lot of worthy recognition to Oklahoma, and I don't believe it's temporary. I think the Sooners have established themselves as a top team to contend with - and Coach Roddick deserves most of the credit.

 

Colette Lewis, ZooTennis.com

Certainly the late push of the Georgia Tech men was one of those dream runs every team hopes to make. Outside the Top 75 before beating Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, and avenging regular season losses to those last two teams in the conference tournament, the Jackets are now a 33-48 seed no one wants to face.

 

Marc Lucero, Co-founder and Director of Tennis, RAMP Tennis Academy:

For me, its a no brainer. The TCU men's program didn't just break through this year, they knocked the door down and made their presence felt. They caught fire in the second half of the regular season and are easily the story of the season.

I'd be remiss not to mention the Stanford men. The Farm's awakening from hibernation at the end of the year makes them a program to keep an eye on next season. The common denominator? Good young coaches who made their mark as players by being hard workers, smart strategists, and resilient competitors and now they are using those core values to shape their teams.

 

Julie Wrege, TennisRecruiting.net

Living in the southeast part of the US, I am tuned in primarily to the ACC and SEC. I was not surprised to see UVA men extend their streak of ACC Championships because Coach Boland once again has a stacked team. But the UVA women's convincing win over UNC in the ACC semifinals did surprise me - although the in-season match between these two squads was a 4-3 thriller in favor of UNC.

With both Georgia teams making the finals of the SEC Championships, I was surprised that neither brought a championship trophy home to Athens.

 

Rick Limpert, College Contributor

On the men's side, it will be interesting to see if Oklahoma can keep it going. They appear to be the favorite and might get a bit of a "homecourt" advantage if they make it to Waco, but we'll see. Another story to watch is that there are clear favorites this year in the first round on both the men's and women's sides, so can anyone pull off an upset on someone else's home courts?

 

Bobby Bayliss, former coach, Notre Dame Men

The best "close" of the season goes to Georgia Tech - slightly edging out Stanford. The Kenny Thorne-led Yellow Jackets went from unranked to one of the sixteen 33-48 seeds, as they upset Top 10 Duke on the regular season's last weekend 6-1, and then in the ACC Tournament decisively beat a Notre Dame 4-0 team that had beaten them earlier 6-1. They followed that with a huge upset of Virginia Tech, finally losing in the semis to Wake Forest.

Stanford improved as the season went along and it culminated in a great weekend in which they defeated rivals UCLA and USC.

 

Granger Huntress, Texas College Tennis

I'd say the biggest story this year on either side is parity. Many of the same faces are showing up near the top, but there are no clear favorites week and week out. I love it - and I think this will be the most exciting tournament in a few years, especially on the men's side.

 

Tony Minnis, Inside College Tennis host:

On the men's side, I think it was the dominance of the teams in the Big 12. The Big 12 has four teams among the Top 9 in the country: Oklahoma (1), Baylor (2), TCU (7), and Texas (9). That doesn't even include Texas Tech - who is up to 16 in the country. Typically when people think of dominance in college tennis it's more the SEC or PAC-12. However, the Big 12 has certainly made a statement this past season that it is a conference to be reckoned with.

On the Women's side, I think it would have to be the upsets in the ACC tournament which were led by the University of Virginia's upset of previously undefeated North Carolina and Georgia Tech. making a run to the finals.

 

Bobby Knight, College Tennis Today

I think the best story on the men's side is Oklahoma's dominance over No. 2 Baylor - and, for that matter, over everyone else. How often do No. 1 and No. 2 play four times in the regular season - with No. 1 winning every time? Oklahoma has beat Baylor every way possible - winning the doubles point and losing the doubles point. They won indoors in Chicago, won outdoors in Indian Wells, won in Waco not once - but twice. It seems like every match somebody different has stepped up when the team needed it. Oklahoma has the best 1-2 punch in the nation with Axel Alvarez and Andrew Harris a combined 38-4 in dual-match play. John Roddick made an interesting tactical move by splitting up his No. 1 doubles team for the Big 12 Tournament in an attempt to win two courts instead of just one, and it paid off in a pair of 4-3 wins over Texas and Baylor.

 

Sonny Dearth, Daily Press

As recently as April 18, I gave Georgia Tech next to no chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament. They had lost five matches in a row, albeit to tough ACC competition, to fall to 11-11. But the Yellow Jackets won a 4-3 match against Duke to close the regular season, then -as the 10th seed - knocked off No. 7 seed Notre Dame 4-0 and No. 2 Virginia Tech 4-3 before Wake Forest ousted them 4-0. Those three late wins pushed my teenage friendly rival Kenny Thorne's team over the top. The most memorable match might have been the finish against the Hokies, when Carlos Benito overcame a 4-2 third-set deficit to edge Amerigo Contini 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 on line 2 to break a 3-3 deadlock.

Thanks to an outbreak of illness, the Virginia women had to play a home match with five women - one of whom was promoted from the club team - and a road match with just four earlier this season. But, now healthier and having upended previously unbeaten North Carolina en route to the ACC tournament title, Mark Guilbeau's Cavaliers are dangerously underseeded at No. 9. Last year, Danielle Collins won the NCAA singles tournament despite playing behind Julia Elbaba in the lineup all season. Now they're back.

 

Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

The potential for an OU/Baylor final is huge for the Big XII. And, of course, given how stubborn OU has been for Baylor this year, an upset would be incredible.

For the women, I'm particularly interested to see how the freshmen at Florida perform. Brooke Austin in particular has been exceptionaln- she is the first Gator freshman to win SEC Player of the Year. But can she hold her own at No. 1 singles against the toughest teams in the country?

 

Q) This past Tuesday evening, the NCAA Division I brackets were announced on selection show specials (men, women), and, as usual, the opening rounds take place on campus. If you could pick just one venue to attend this weekend, where would you want to be?

 

Lisa Stone, ParentingAces.com

Given my alumni status there, I would have to choose UCLA. Viewing at the LA Tennis Center is incredible, and the energy there is electric. The Bruin Men have had a tough season, so I'm looking forward to seeing them get into their tournament groove to earn a spot in the National Championships in Waco.

Of course, going to matches at UGA is always a huge treat. Coach Manny Diaz does a great job at creating a festive atmosphere and getting the fans involved. If I weren't going to be covering our state High School Tennis Championships, I would definitely make the drive over to Athens.

 

Kelley: It would have to be Charlottesville. There are so many good UVA players, and I've never been to that city - which looks really beautiful! Plus, the possibility of two UVA/Princeton second round matches!

 

Dearth: Virginia Tech. By beating Duke and North Carolina on their way to the No. 2 ACC tournament seed, the Hokies' men built a strong enough résumé that they earned the No. 15 seed despite an early ACC tourney loss to Georgia Tech. This is the first time the Hokies are at home for NCAA matches since 2000, and it's a great reward for a team loaded with juniors (such as Contini) and seniors (such as Hunter Koontz), and a coach (Jim Thompson) who has gradually built a monster despite the huge shadow of UVa. Besides, their match with East Tennessee State and the South Florida - Boise State clash should be excellent competition, as should the second-rounder.

 

Our experts think that Ole Miss will host strong teams
courtesy, Ole Miss Athletics
Knight: I think Oxford, Mississippi is the place to be this weekend because the Columbia - Georgia Tech match should be a very good one (best 2 vs. 3 match in my opinion), and whoever wins that is going to be a handful for Ole Miss. If I could split myself in two, my other self would be in Blacksburg because the potential second round match between Virginia Tech and South Florida should be a very good one.
 

Minnis: I think one of the neatest and most underrated places to watch tennis would have to be College Station, Texas. Both the Texas A&M men and women are hosting next weekend and I can't think of place with more passion and tradition than Texas A&M. The facility is top-notch and the crowds are right on top of you and relentless. Teams going in need to be ready for Yell chants by the crowd and a very intense environment.

 

Huntress: I think the UCLA regional would be great on the men's side. I mean, it's L.A. - and I think UCLA is a vulnerable 16-seed with Texas Tech heading out there. Regardless of the outcome, it should be some great tennis.

On the women's side, I imagine Texas A&M will be ready for TCU in the second round, assuming the Frogs get past Notre Dame. The Aggies loss to TCU back in January kept them from advancing to the Indoors. I would imagine the 12th Man will be out in full force.

 

Bayliss: The most interesting initial pairings might be at Mississippi where the Rebels are the likely second-round opponent for the Columbia - Georgia Tech winner. That should be a dogfight, as Bid Goswami's Lions have a largely senior squad that has earned the respect of many coaches this year. They compete well and will face a Georgia Tech team that is coming off a tremendous season-ending finish. Another bracket to watch could pit young and talented Texas Tech against the always formidable UCLA Bruins.
 

Limpert: Wow! this is always a tough one. For the men, I would like to be in Oxford, Miss., on the Ole Miss campus to see who comes out of a regional that includes Columbia, and the Ole Miss Rebels. For the women, there worse places to be than Athens, Georgia on a spring weekend that features Purdue, Duke and the host Georgia women's tennis team.

 

Wrege: I will be on the east coast of Florida for the first weekend of the NCAAs, and I plan on going to Gainesville for this part of the women's tournament. Georgia Tech finished its season strong, winning 11 of its final 14 matches and reached the finals of the ACC Tournament for the first time in Coach Rodney Harmon's tenure. Their opponent, Wichita State, amassed the most wins (24) in program history, hammering through its regular and postseason competition. That match should be excellent, and the winner would more than likely play the host Florida Gators.

 

Will Texas A&M avenge its earlier loss to TCU this weekend?
courtesy, Texas A&M Athletics
Lucero: I'm a Southern California homer, so I would go to South Central to watch USC's mens regional. Anytime University of San Diego and San Diego State get together you get great energy from the teams and a lot of history. USD probably gets through and will be primed for a rematch with USC. I would like USD to get into the Round of 16 at a lot of sites, but I think USC is still too experienced for them. The NCAA committee likes to follow its geographic proximity guidelines, which hurts USD - they keep getting sent to either UCLA or USC. This is one of their best teams, and a trip to Westwood might have been better for them his year, but you play who they tell you to, so Coach Masi will have his guys ready to rock.
 

Lewis: I'd probably head to Chapel Hill, with the Tar Heel men and women both hosting, and indoor courts available, given the weather problems that disrupted so many of the conference championships. I don't expect the second-seeded women to have any difficulty, but the men, seeded 13th, could have their hands full with Mississippi State.

 

Frost: Well, I have it easy because I live in Champaign! I'll be covering at the University of Illinois - for Tennis Recruiting.

 

More on Friday

Come back this Friday - the first day of competition - to see answers that our panelists gave to more questions. We ask our panelists to talk about potential upsets - and to name their national champions.

 
 

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Colette Lewis has covered topflight junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Read her weekly column, follow her on Twitter, and and find more of her daily commentary at ZooTennis.
 
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