Chat with Graham Hays
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com college sports writer Graham Hays will be here to chat about the NCAA women's soccer tournament, which begins this Thursday and Friday.
Hays contributes to ESPN.com's women's basketball, softball and soccer coverage. He began with ESPN in 1999.
Send your questions now and join Hays on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
Graham Hays (4:00 PM)
We've got the bracket, we've got two days until the games kick off at UCLA, three days for everyone else. What's on your mind about the NCAA tournament and the road to Cary?
should i be excited about the possibility of UNC-ND in the third round? thats traditionally a great final four game
Graham Hays (4:02 PM)
Definitely an intriguing potential third-round game. There are a few of those, with UNC-ND and Stanford-UCLA among them (although as UCF and BYU fans will attest, UCLA has a lot of work ahead to make that happen). The last team to beat UNC in the tournament was Notre Dame in the third round in 2007, and Randy Waldrum loves proving he's on the same footing as the Tar Heels, so it would be a fun one if it happens.
Graham Hays (4:03 PM)
That said, Notre Dame has its work cut out for it. I had Charlottesville (UVA, South Carolina, UNCG and Lehigh) as the best opening round site, but South Bend isn't far behind, if at all. New Mexico, Illinois and USC? There aren't any easy wins in that quartet.
Nebraska finishes third in the Big 12 regular season. They lose to the eventual tournament champion, Oklahoma State in OT in the semis. They don't get selected. Oklahoma, who Nebraska tied in Norman and had a worse overall record gets selected. Texas, who Nebraska beat, had a similar overall record and gets knocked out in the first round of the conference tourney gets selected. What?
Graham Hays (4:07 PM)
I hear your frustration. Strictly as a soccer fan, it's a bummer that we'll have a tournament without Morgan Marlborough, who is really one of the unsung superstars in the sport right now. But it's tough to make a case for the Huskers ahead of OU and Texas. Oklahoma had a winning record and more wins than Nebraska against RPI top 100, and three wins against RPI top 25. Nebraska only had the Texas win. And that head-to-head aside, the same is true for the Longhorns -- they had better results over the entirety of the schedule. Some of it was bad luck for Nebraska -- they went to Indiana in a down year, played Loyola (Md) in a year when it wasn't its best and made the effort to go to Arizona and ASU for games. But the schedule, and the results in the schedule, just weren't there.
It was asked, how Auburn get into the tournament and not UGA. i had a few thoughts to this: 1) Auburn beat both Florida and UGA in the regular season even though they lost to UGA in the SEC Tournament2) Auburn paid the NCAA $200,000 to get in. It's apparently being called the "Cam Clause"Either way, big fan of Karen Hoppa and the team she puts out every season. Can't really take anything away from Holeman at UGA, either. Just think that the NCAA was on point with only 3 SEC teams this year. Love the conference, but man...it wasn't the best year in recent memory!
Graham Hays (4:10 PM)
Ouch, low blow in Auburn's direction. But I think you're right on with the first point. It's a similar deal to Nebraska in the Big 12. It feels strange because we just saw Georgia beat Auburn in the SEC tournament, but as you say, they split overall, when you add in the regular season. And Auburn got the wins it needed against Florida and Florida State (and Milwaukee wasn't a bad win, either). I do think Georgia was one of the first two or three teams out, and might have gotten in if Hofstra and UC Irvine hadn't used at-large bids, but they got the right three.
How far do you think the terps will advance?
Graham Hays (4:14 PM)
I'll be honest, I don't know. There are a lot of skeptics when it comes to Maryland. I only saw them in person once, but I liked what I saw. From that game, and a few on the web, I wouldn't say they're quite as technical as a Stanford or a Portland, but even if it's revisionist thinking, I really do think the number of big games they found a way to win this season tells you a lot about that team. It's a tough team that just outlasts people. And that's not to say it lacks for skill -- Jasmyne Spencer is going to cause headaches for every defense she goes against. My gut feeling is they don't get by both Texas A&M and UVA in back-to-back games, if it comes to that, but am I going to be surprised to see them in Cary? Absolutely not.
How about some love for the Stillwater region? Oklahoma State and Oregon State are, in my mind, sleepers to make it to Cary, Memphis is always tough, and a young and improving Michigan team. No bad matchups there.
Graham Hays (4:16 PM)
Absolutely agree, Chris. And it's nice to see Oklahoma State get a chance to host. I was there when they lost at Rutgers as a seed a couple of years ago; it just seems to take something out of teams when they do the work to earn a seed and still get shipped. My question on Oregon State is do they have the offense to win three or four games in the postseason, especially when, as you point out, they don't get to start with an easy one.
Considering how Oklahoma State did this year, I think they deserve more of a 2 seed rather than a 3 seed don't you think? And how far do you think OKState will advance?
Graham Hays (4:19 PM)
Yes and no. I had them as a No. 2 when I was trying to mock out a bracket, and I was a little surprised to see both Boston College and FSU get No. 2 seeds. So I'm thinking the same way as you there on OSU. But I also see where the No. 3 is coming from. Oklahoma State took care of the games it needed to take care of, but it didn't have any statement wins. It probably needed either the A&M game or the Portland game (and yes, that sort of unfairly faults them for getting to the Big 12 final. while A
In the first round who do you think is going to be the biggest upset?
Graham Hays (4:21 PM)
There are a lot of good games out there, including some of the seeds. I completely buy Boston College as a team that has the talent to get to Cary and win it all. They're that good. That said, Boston U. had a chance to tie the game in the closing minute when they played in the regular season and had their best player put the ball just over the bar on a breakaway. That was at BU, it was a really windy day, etc. etc. But that Beanpot game could be more interesting than it might look on paper. Those two teams aren't particularly fond of each other.
Graham Hays (4:23 PM)
And I'd definitely throw San Diego against No. 4 Wake Forest in that upset mix, along with Siena against Georgetown.
Grunt (Hard on the Delaware River)
So, who are your dark horses in this year's NCAA Women's tournament?
Graham Hays (4:26 PM)
How are we defining dark horses? For seeded teams that could outperform the seed and possibly get to Cary, I'm keeping an eye on West Virginia, which really played well over the second half of the season, and Texas A&M. If you want to go unseeded teams that could make some noise, South Carolina is in there, maybe Dayton for slightly longer odds. I'm trying to find out what the story is with Alex Morgan. I'm assuming that with the US WNT still needing to qualify via the home-and-home with Italy, she won't be back for Cal's games. But I haven't seen for sure. If she's playing, Cal is obviously dangerous.
After five straight years of advancing to the second round do you think that Oklahoma State will finally reach the Sweet Sixteen? Maybe even farther?
Graham Hays (4:29 PM)
Wow, good representation in here today for Oklahoma State questions. Hopefully that's a sign of big crowds this weekend in Stillwater. Sweet 16, yes. I do think they get out of that tough pod. I'm very bullish on Florida; I'm leaning toward picking the Gators to come out of that quadrant, even with UNC lurking down there as the No. 1 seed. So I wouldn't pick Oklahoma State to get to the quarterfinals, but had they been in a different draw, it was a team I liked as a sleeper coming in.
Trisha B. (Montgomery, Alabama)
What's the best place to watch a college soccer game? Are there any stadiums that have the same kind of atmosphere as a football Saturday?
Graham Hays (4:32 PM)
For someone in Alabama? No, I can't say there are any atmospheres like what I'm led to believe occurs in Tuscaloosa and Auburn on Saturdays. But there are some fun placed to watch a game. Portland tops my list. Nice stadium, good sight lines, the biggest crowds in DI and knowledgeable fans. Plus, the Pilots always play attractive soccer. I've only been to Texas A&M for the postseason, but it's a good venue and the fans there are rabid about pretty much all things A
who wins the hermann this year?
Graham Hays (4:35 PM)
After complaining about their trees (the non-mascot variety), I'll go back to Stanford. I think it has to be Christen Press. They lost the best player in the game from last season and the offense has barely missed a beat. That's a credit to the style and depth they have, but it's an even bigger credit to Press. She's got the perfect blend of raw speed and technical skill.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Which Women's College Soccer Players that are Playing Right Now In College will play in the Women's Professional Soccer League?
Graham Hays (4:37 PM)
Wow, that's tough. I haven't really thought through the draft options yet. One player that comes immediately to mind is Keelin Winters from Portland. She probably won't be one of the early pick, and I'm not saying she'll be the best player in the class. But every time I watch her, she seems like the kind of player you could plug in a pro midfield for about a decade and never worry about. SO I guess I went with draft sleeper, sorry, Chris.
What do you think of the punishment that was implimented on Florida State?
Graham Hays (4:42 PM)
I feel like I'm beating a dead horse at this point, but you asked, right? I think it was a joke of a decision by the ACC. Florida State earned its place in the ACC tournament by what it did over the course of the regular season. If it chooses to essentially sacrifice that in the interest of rest, that should be the choice of a coach who knows his student-athletes. The ACC tournament, like all conference tournaments, is a useless event created almost exclusively to feed the ego of the conference.
Katherine (Norman, Oklahoma)
How far do you think my sooners can go in this tournament? They put up a really good fight against the Cowgirls in the Big 12 Championship.
Graham Hays (4:44 PM)
I don't think it's any kind of slight to the Sooners and what Nicole Nelson has done in a short amount of time there to say that, at least for this year, winning one game is a reasonable objective. Just in terms of an even matchup, Oklahoma-Washington is near the top of the list in the first round. After that, potentially playing Portland at Merlo Field as an inexperienced postseason team? That's asking a lot.
Jewels (Irvine, Ca)
Does LBST have a chance against Santa Clara??
Graham Hays (4:49 PM)
Sure, that doesn't seem like a reach. Santa Clara hasn't had a ton of luck scoring goals this season (although the same could be said for LBSU, at least by the standard of postseason offenses), and if you're talking about a 1-0 game or extra time, anything is in play. Other than the one outlier against Cal, Long Beach has shown it can play at this level, beating Virginia Tech and Arizona State, along with UC Irvine in the Big West final.
Jim L (Oneonta)
Although I wouldn't have dared admit this just a few weeks ago, I think Penn State is going to make a run in this tournament. Like last year, their string of losses were all one-goal games (with the exception of 4-2 loss to Portland) and they finished the year quite strong -- playing very nice possession and getting scoring from a number of players. Now they are the beneficiary of a favorable bracket and first round opponent. Am I delusional? ;)
Graham Hays (4:52 PM)
A few weeks ago, Penn State fans were just hoping to get in! But no, I don't think you're delusional. I haven't seen Penn State since the dark days early in the season, but the scores back up what you're saying about playing possession soccer. And if that's the case, they are a very dangerous team. Talent was never, ever the issue for this team. They don't arguably have top-20 talent; they have top-20 talent. I'm buying West Virginia, so that's a really tough get in Morgantown in the second round in my book. But if you're looking for a part of the bracket to be in as an unseeded team, that's probably it.
Out of the the four Big 12 teams that are in the tournament, who do you think will advance the farthest?
Graham Hays (4:56 PM)
I'm sticking with the old standby, Texas A&M. It sort of sputtered to the finish line, but that attack has so many options, I like its chances to create goals in the tournament. And they've been here before, and they know what it's like to go on the road (although Minnesota may be a bit chilly; I still remember a few big coats coming out on a pretty mild night in Bloomington earlier this season).
Graham Hays (4:56 PM)
All right, thanks for all the questions. It's cool to see so many folks want to talk soccer. Enjoy the games!