The first major men's college tournament on the East Coast is set for this weekend.
February 6, 2015 by Simon Pollock and Charlie Eisenhood in Preview with 1 comments
Knock off the snow and fire up the engines — it’s time for a road trip to Charlotte.
Queen City Tune Up returns in 2015 as the first premier tournament on the East Coast. Seven teams in the 20 team field will travel over 800 miles. At least three more will travel over 600 miles. Luther’s traveling the furthest: it’s 1,063 miles from Decorah, Iowa, to Charlotte.
It all just adds to the build up.
For many teams, QCTU kicks off the season. Imagine digging your way out the freezing, snow-covered parking lot or driveway (for many teams, a literal reality) and 14 hours later emerging into mild weather in the 50s and 60s. Add to it that Queen City allows for some great mixing of top competition and regional contenders, and it makes for a very exciting weekend.
#2 UNC In Search of a 3-Peat
It’s not that other teams haven’t won at Queen City Tune Up before; they just haven’t done so since 2012. UNC Darkside returns this year as the clear favorite. For two years running, UNC has been head and shoulders above the notable competition this early in the season. Preparation, skill, and size have separated them from the rest. Harvard, who dispatched their opponents with similar ease in Charlotte last year, could not muster a rhythm against the physical lines put out by UNC and lost 15-12 in the final.
Though roster turnover has lowered the average height and size of UNC (per the eye-test), the squad is still coming off a finals appearance at Carolina Kickoff after a victorious battle with Pittsburgh in their semifinal. This early in the season, what matters most (and gives UNC a clear edge) is already having meaningful experiences against other powerhouse programs.
The top seeds in the other pools (Michigan, Harvard, and Georgia) are strong programs themselves, but this will be their first regular season tournament. In some cases, it may be the first serious temperate weather throwing opportunity that these players have had outside in 2015. That’s a big disadvantage (at least this weekend) when stacked against a humming offense featuring Jon Nethercutt, Ben Snell, and rookie Nathan Kwon. The battle-tested UNC D-line has also had the opportunity to cut its its teeth against top teams.
The snake seeding won’t make it much easier for the four other Pool A contenders. Iowa, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Alabama, and New Hampshire will have their work cut out for them as they start to shake off winter break against Darkside.
The Road Back to Nationals
Six other contenders arrive in Charlotte this weekend with a return trip to Nationals in mind. Two of them top out their pools: #7 Michigan and #14 Harvard. The other four lurk as far down as the fourth seed in their respective pools.
Michigan MagnUM, ever the emotional contender, return a host of talent. Eli Leonard, Sam Greenwood, a healthy Matt Orr, and Jesse Buchsbaum — all standouts from 2014 — should take the field this weekend. Michigan again looks to be a fast and physical competitor. They’ve got their own big men in Greenwood and the now well-known 6’9″ Buchsbaum, who will pose matchup problems for the rest of Pool B.
#8 UNC-Wilmington is the second seed below Harvard in Pool C, and they’ll battle for top dog in the pool in the last round on Saturday. It promises to be an emotional meeting for both teams — the last time they met, the Seamen notched a 14-13 victory against Red Line to bounce them from the bracket at Nationals. Harvard will need to make sure they’re warm and not a step slow against Wilmington. That both teams will have already played three games just builds the anticipation.
#15 Massachusetts comes in the fifth overall seed this weekend and they’ll look to take out #12 Georgia in Pool D, also in the last round of pool play.1 UMass bring back the monstrous presence of Jeff Babbitt on defense, but expect them to throw a little bit more at Elliott Erickson and the Jojah squad. The boys from Athens have an impressive fall behind them, however, and will present no small task for Massachusetts. Call it a coin flip.
Eastern Michigan and Dartmouth round out 2014 national competitors, but both have votes against them to stand out against the above list of talent and neither is ranked in the top 25. For EMU, it’s unfortunately simple. The surprise loss of Johnny Bansfield and James Highsmith — two All-Region players and one of the most potent duos in all of college — may unfortunately remove this team from the conversation.
Dartmouth will arrive in Charlotte one of the few with previous sanctioned regular season game play. Dartmouth had an up and down performance at the Santa Barbara Invite and will need to see more cohesion from their returners to climb out of Pool B. Note that Andrew Pillsbury played limited minutes with a large cast on his right arm during the Santa Barbara Invite.
Georgia, while not among this five, is no stranger to the National stage and certainly has its sights set on a return to the top of the Southeast region. A crop of unbelievably talented rookies, headlined by Nathan Haskell and Sebastian Di Francesco, has added much needed depth to an already talented team led by veterans like Erickson, Sam Little, and Shawn Paul.
RELATED: How Georgia’s Young Dogs Powered Its Fall Push
This tournament gives Georgia the opportunity to prove that CCC wasn’t an aberration, a flash of possibility muffled during the regular season. That’s what happened last year. This year, they’re ready to get back to Nationals.
Clean Slates, High Hopes
Queen City 2015 will also be the debut for a number of teams looking to bring their programs to the next level this year.
Maryland finds itself unfortunately sandwiched between Michigan and Dartmouth as the second seed in Pool B. One of the many East Coast teams that lost out on two major tournaments due to weather last year (flights to Florida Warm Up were grounded and Roll Call was fully cancelled), the Space Bastards may not have reached their full potential in 2014. After UNC shut the back door on any hopes of grabbing the second and final bid from the Atlantic Coast, Maryland regrouped and took a page out of Pittsburgh’s book — most of the squad played competed at the club level all summer as Town Hall Stars. While their season results weren’t as remarkable as Temper’s, the club experience is extremely important and has helped foster increased chemistry for the College Park men.
And yet, Pool B goes even deeper. North Carolina State takes the fourth spot, but is easily the most dangerous four seed. 2015 hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Wolfpack, as they bumped up against Pittsburgh, UCF, UNC Wilmington, and UNC and took some tough losses. However, they have some strong returners, led by Jake McGoogan, and will not be an easy out. NC State makes this pool even more interesting, and the second seed at the end of pool play could be wide open.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prequarters
Even though the rest of the field may not have much National (or, in some cases, even Regional) gravitas, Queen City Tune Up will offer great competition for the lower seeds looking to break their lines in. Pools B and D will have some very exciting matchups to determine the second and third seeds for crossover Sunday morning and in turn will generate great competition as those two pools cross for a berth into the quarterfinals.
In Pool A, #19 Iowa would have to stun UNC for a bye into the bracket, but their ranking suggests they’ll hold seed. IHUC should stack nicely against the third team down on Pool C. Tennessee, UConn, and VCU round out the pool. Don’t sleep on Tennessee, who announced themselves in the fall with a very good performance at CCC. They have skill and more depth than in years past — keep an eye on them vs. Iowa. UConn also will be hungry to prove themselves. A program that is always in the mix in the Metro East, UConn will look to John Wodatch and a lot of tall cutters to win the physical battle on Saturday.
UW-Milwaukee, Alabama, and New Hampshire will all seek the third seed in Pool A. The holder of that prequarter spot is likely to take on the loser of Saturday’s exciting Harvard vs. UNC Wilmington matchup — not a necessarily envious spot for any of the teams as they attempt to gauge their talent and cohesion in this early season bout.
In spite of the possibly tough crossover matchups for the lower slots in Pools A and C, however, strength bids will be on the brain. Even if these teams don’t see themselves dethroning UNC, Harvard, or UNC-W this weekend, they’ll take their out-of-region matchups very seriously. Queen City Tune Up will be a big landmark in the oncoming war for bids in 2015.