Friday, January 3, 2014

Utah Snow Cup IV Preview

Players from across the country are traveling to Austin for the fourth annual Utah Snow Cup. With ten teams comprised of regional stars, under-the-radar players and impact performers, here's a preview of the nation's premier winter fantasy tournament.

The QuidKid Focus--These players will be under a microscope at The Fantasy Tournament. Why and what you should watch for.

Keir Rudolph, S, Kansas, Grey 
Photo by Madeline Finn
Here we go again. Was Keir Rudolph's breakout performance at Mud Cup over-hyped? Is Rudolph an elite seeker? It's hard to tell. Besides his 4/4 day at the Spring Breakout, Rudolph's achievements include catching the snitch to beat Baylor on the sport's biggest stage and powering his THE Fantasy Team to a bracket play run despite the infamous Southwest snitch bunny tails. There's also plenty to suggest that Rudolph has been over-hyped including a weak Firemercs 2 performance and Kansas' lackluster 53% snitch catch percentage this season. So, the question becomes, which Keir Rudolph will show up to Snow Cup IV?

A lot of that depends on how much time Rudolph will get to use his large wingspan and how much time he'll be running back forth from the hoops. Many teams have kept a beater glued to Rudolph at all times, knowing that if they don't, he could make them pay. Grey's second pick, ASU beater Duston Mazzella, will try to prevent this from happening. In my opinion, Mazzella's biggest strength is the seeking game. In fact, video published today shows him holding off UCLA seeker Brandon Scapa in the semifinals of the Western Regional Championship. Because Rudolph is so inconsistent, it'll be hard to take anything away from his performance at Snow Cup IV, but I have a feeling that he could have a really big day tomorrow.

Noah Schwartz, C, Tufts, Green
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
A relatively unknown player for Tufts, Noah Schwartz was drafted onto a very talented Green team. Schwartz is a solid all-around chaser who was very important during Tufts' run to the finals at Turtle Cup. Much of the focus on the Green team has been on the duo of Drew Wasikowski and Zach D'Amico, but I think Wasikowski and Schwartz will be doing most of the damage. Like D'Amico, Schwartz is a smart passer and displays great communication on the offensive end, however Schwartz's strength and size is closer to some of the new recruits Texas A&M has landed this fall. If Wasikowski can incorporate Schwartz into the offense as quickly as he did with all of those new recruits, Green will be off and running.

DeVaughn Gamlin and Becca Mulligan, K/C, Northern Colorado, Black
A pair of really smart picks from Vanessa Goh landed UNC teammates DeVaughn Gamlin and Becca Mulligan on Black. With Southwest Regionals fast approaching, UNC will be in the mix with a lot of good teams for only a few spots, and this extra experience for two of their most important players is vital. I'm curious to see how Gamlin, a fast and agile keeper, will be used considering Goh spent her first round pick on UTSA keeper Craig Garrison. Maybe they could pull off an Emerson-dual-keeper-zone with Goh point defending? Anyways, Gamlin is going to be very vaulable to Black and can learn a lot from Garrison. 

By taking beaters Logan Trudell and Chandler Smith in the second and fourth rounds, all signs point towards the Black team playing primarily with two male beaters and two female chasers. In a traditional one male-one female beater set, Mulligan would have little playing time behind Goh, but now, she's going to see a lot of minutes playing beside the best female chaser in the game.

If Gamlin and Mulligan can pick up new strategies, gain experience playing against top-level competition, and even get some wins under their belts, tomorrow will be a really good day for UNC's World Cup qualification chances.

Katelynn Kazane, C, UCLA, White
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
With the departure of Vanessa Goh and Missy Sponagle from the Bruins' roster this summer, many expected Katelynn Kazane to step right into that starting female chaser spot that has been so important to UCLA's success over the past few years. While UCLA seems a bit overwhelmed trying to replace so many players, Kazane hasn't been getting enough touches in the revamped Bruins lineup and isn't making as much of an impact as we expected. In many ways, Kazane getting drafted onto the White team alongside Tony Rodriguez was a gift. 

Rodriguez is one of the best in the business at distributing the ball and getting everyone touches. He connects with Vanessa Goh like a thousand times per game with the Lost Boys and it's not just dinky tosses around half court--he's finding her open in the keeper zone and leading to goals. The Goh model is the perfect model for Kazane to succeed with the White team and UCLA. I'm sure Dan Hanson, also on White, recognizes this, and is going to do his best to make sure Kazane is putting points on the board tomorrow.

Mitch Cavender, C, Lost Boys, Pink
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
Drafted onto Santiago Gonzalez's Pink team, Mitch Cavender was the first quaffle player selected by Gonzalez. Cavender is one of the strongest point defenders at Snow Cup and is seeing his number of goals rise with the Lost Boys, but it does seem like a strange pick considering Cavender rarely holds on to the ball for more than a second or two. With the Lost Boys this season, it seems his main offensive duty has been to set screens and then roll to the hoops for a dunk. 

The QuidKid Focus is on Cavender at Snow Cup because I believe the Lost Boys need a few more players to be comfortable driving with the ball, distributing and making plays. While I doubt it was Gonzalez's original intent to force Cavender into this role at Snow Cup, by taking beaters in the first, second and sixth round, it has. It in addition to Gonzalez himself, ASU's Sean Pretti and Boise State's Casey Thompson are expected to provide the main offensive firepower for Pink. 

April Gonzalez, B, NAU, Pink
One of the aforementioned beaters selected by Santiago Gonzalez, April Gonzalez is going to have some interesting roles with Pink. Assuming Pink isn't going to try to play a two female beater set with first round pick Clare Hutchinson and Gonzalez, she will either be paired with Kansas' Samy Mousa or the Skrewts' Willis Miles. Each pairing presents it's own challenges and pluses.

This fall, NAU has been sending both of their beaters up on offense and it has resulted in moderate success. While Gonzalez and the other NAU beaters have created space for the Narwhal offense to score 125 points per game, the Lost Boys took advantage of the beaters being out of position and ran a very effective transition offense. So, Gonzalez should feel comfortable being paired with either Mousa or Miles as both beaters have lots of experience playing offensively. The issue is preventing what happened versus the Lost Boys. With Mousa as her partner, Gonzalez really has to be aware of staying controlled and getting back on defense. This should be a good test for her and could be extremely beneficial to NAU come April. Paired with the Skrewts' Willis Miles, who somehow fell to the ninth round, she has a bit more freedom to be aggressive. Miles' cool demeanor and smart offensive beating can teach Gonzalez a lot about how to make NAU a serious World Cup contender.

Long Beach Funky Quaffles Players, K/C/B/S, Various Teams
Photo by Kat Ignatova/IQA Staff
With two snatches against the Silicon Valley Skrewts in the round of 16 at Western Cup, the Long Beach Funky Quaffles sealed an improbable World Cup qualification. LBFQ is loaded with athletic players at every position and strategy seems to be their biggest roadblock currently. And what better time to pick up strategy than a giant fantasy tournament?! In fact, there are members of LBFQ on seven different teams! 

Perhaps motivated by their recent World Cup qualification and desire not to fly across the country for nothing, having so many players travel to Snow Cup could be a major turning point for LBFQ. With LBFQers on seven teams, the team as a whole should gain a lot of exposure to new strategies. Look for chaser Caleb White to work his way into the Wasikowski/D'Amico/Schwartz chasing lines on Green. Or checkout how Anthony Hopkins is doing as a GM. Chaser Alex Richardson will be playing on White. Dan Hanson, who was drafted in the seventh round by White, was particularly impressed with Richardson after his Next Best West performance. Hanson will be the engineer behind finding ways for Tony Rodriguez to get the ball to Richardson.

Dynamic Duos Rankings--Duos of players are one of my favorite things to analyze about fantasy tournaments. Here's a countdown of who I believe will be the most fearsome one-two punches of the tournament.

10. Marc Hubble and Justin Peters, K/C--Orange could come under the radar and catch some teams off guard due to this physical duo of an NAU chaser and UAFS star. Throw in Kansas female chaser Courtney Chediak and I think we've found our dark horse.

9. Michael Binger and Beto Natera (and Tye Rush), C--Ok. Sometimes a duo becomes a trio, but I wanted to focus on these three players on Brown. I'm not sure about Natera's second round pick of keeper Nebraska Huggins. Huggins has had periods of excellence, but is also prone to injuries and doesn't have terrific stamina--a red flag for fantasy tournaments. With Huggins being kind of unpredictable, the weight of this team will fall on three very predictable and consistent chasers. All three are talented across the board, with a wide-ranging skills set. How chemsitry develops between the trio, all from very different backgrounds, should be cool.

8. Tony Rodriguez and Devon McCoy, K/C--McCoy always gets the label of being a very emotional player, but so is Tony Rodriguez. On White, it'll be interesting to see how McCoy is used. I presume he'll only be the keeper/ball carrier when Rodriguez is resting and otherwise, he'll fill the "two" chaser spot.

7. April Gonzalez and Willis Miles, B--I kind of went over this in the QuidKid Focus, but I think these two beaters from different ends of the region could develop chemsitry quickly on Pink. Each beater plays in a way that could compliment the other's style very nicely.

6. Ren Bettendorf and Steve DiCarlo, K/C--A late addition to Snow Cup, Bettendorf has been huge for the Santa Barbara Blacktips this season along with chaser Ben Harding. Although "Ren-Snitchy" isn't nearly as catchy, DiCarlo could be making his biggest impact in the chasing game for Purple.

5. Logan Trudell and Chandler Smith, B--This two-male beater set needs to work well together if Vanessa Goh is going to repeat as Snow Cup champion GM. Although they may be tempted to beat offensively, I think it's smartest if Trudell and Smith hold bludger control conservatively. Both play terrific defense and it's not likely that Black's high-powered offense will need a ton of help to put points on the board.

4. Craig Garrison and Vanessa Goh, K/C--The headlining duo of the Black team, it's not hard to imagine this pair working really well together. Garrison is always looking to pass and Goh always finds a way to get open.

3. Keir Rudolph and Duston Mazzella, S/B--This could be the most important pairing of the tournament or it could be a flop. Rudolph is going to get his chances thanks to Mazzella, so it's matter of whether he can find his groove and push Grey through the brackets.

2. Daniel DePaula and Amanda Nagy, B--Two beaters that can cover a lot of ground while staying focused and remaining accurate. While the centerpiece of Blue's beating corps will be DePaula, the GM, and Nagy, Brian Vampola and Brendan Frisella could also contribute valuable minutes.

1. Kelby Brooks and Colby Soden, K/C--This is my favorite duo of the tournament. I see so much potential in both of these players. I think they'll work together well on both ends of the field, as well as in the huddle. With Brooks guarding the hoops and being the primary ball carrier, and Soden defending point and acting as the "two" chaser, the color Red may continue it's string of fantasy tournament victories. Besides Kelby-Colby and seeker Porter Marsh, there's not many big names, which will give Brooks and Soden the chance to take complete control.

My Prediction--Who's gonna win?!

Pool One--Red, Orange, Grey, Green, Blue
Green has to be the huge favorite in Pool One, but after them, it could go any way. Red and orange have the stronger chasing corps, Blue's beating corps is stacked and Grey has Keir Rudolph at seeker.
Pool Two--Purple, Pink, Black, White, Brown
This is the tougher pool. Black, White and Brown (in that order) are three of the toughest squads at this tournament, and I think Pink and Purple will just be too over-matched in the quaffle game.

Bracket Play
Quarterfinals Black def. Purple, Red def. Brown, Pink def. Green, White def. Blue

Semifinals Red def. Black, White def. Pink

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