Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hot Topics Round-Up

You would expect that with the return of competitive games and the arrival of the spring season, the quidditch community would have new things to argue about. However, ignited by an official IQA Gameplay announcement, the forums have come alive with several favorite topics as well interesting new ideas and proposals. The QuidKid is here to examine each of these issues from a new angle and lend my own opinions!

Match Structure
Seeker Floor
I've always advocated for a longer seeker floor and was thrilled when I first saw a five minute floor used way back in the finals of 2011's Brotherly Love Cup. The IQA would follow suit, establishing a five minute seeker floor at World Cup V the next month. World Cup VI progressed further, creating a ten minute seeker floor. Still, critical pool play games ended way too early, with snitches returning to the fields before the 15 minute mark too often. It's undeniable that gameplay and the overall spectator experience at a quidditch tournament has grown immensely over the past three years, and I would argue that a large part of the credit goes to the annual five minute increases to the seeker floor. Why would the seeker floor not increase to accommodate more athletic players that execute more complicated gameplay that takes longer to develop between two evenly matched teams? Furthermore, if something (like the annual five-minute seeker floor increase) has been working well, why stop it? A 15 minute seeker floor has worked excellently at two of the biggest tournaments of the year--the Western Regional Championship and Diamond Cup--and hopefully, it will also be used at World Cup VII.

Off Pitch Seeking
In quidditch's earlier years, off pitch seeking was a fun-spirited, accepted part of the game, that was especially fun to explain to quidditch newbies. There have been plenty of thrilling, "Kodak moments" created by the triumphant returns of a successful off pitch seeker, but the cameras have not captured the utter disappointment of the losing team. To the losing team, a game ending off pitch snatch feels as if they have been cheated out of a fair chance to win the game. Not to mention, paid spectators could feel as if they have been cheated out of their money. Quidditch tournaments aren't being held at scenic campuses that resemble Hogwarts anymore like Middlebury and Chestnut Hill, and many campuses and tournament venues can't handle high speed and/or physical chases between a snitch and two seekers off pitch. In my opinion, the snitch should be released on the pitch at the end of the fifteen minute seeker floor. 

Timeouts and Halftime
I wouldn't be entirely opposed to one timeout for each team. It would take a good, assertive head referee to make sure teams weren't exceeding their one-minute time limit and the game could resume in a timely manner. I don't like the idea of a halftime though. Quidditch games are meant to be more or less continuous and while timeouts can provide a quick breather and a chance to talk strategy, a halftime would completely disrupt rhythm and delay tournament schedules further. I've pushed back on the idea of any game stoppages for a while, but I do see that there are benefits for both teams and spectators to allowing one short timeout for each team. 

Tournament Structure
FIFA World Cup Style Bracket
At first I really loved the idea of a FIFA World Cup style bracket for our own IQA World Cup. In FIFA's World Cup, teams advancing from the group stage are slotted into specific, predetermined slots in the knockout stage (bracket play). Pot one teams expected to go undefeated in pool play could prepare for teams they might face in the Round of 32 and the Sweet Sixteen in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. There would be certainty and predictability for the bracket instead of the frenzied 
overnight point differential calculations and anxious waiting. With win-loss records becoming more important, teams would have no reason to run up the score.

But, as I began to think more, I decided the current system of determining bracket play seedings is the best for quidditch. In quidditch's premier event, outscoring opponents by as many points as possible should be fair game. Regional championships are supposed to select the teams who deserve to play on the world stage. At World Cup VI, Texas and UCLA dominated, going into matches looking for a shutout and 100+ points. They executed defense to perfection and scored early and often, earning the top two seeds that ensured that they wouldn't meet before the finals. In a FIFA World Cup style bracket, the bracket's seeding wouldn't reflect the performance of teams besides basic win-loss records. It would have been impossible to distinguish the almighty 4-0 UT squad from Penn State, who also went 4-0 in pool play. With more reliable score reporting and a dedicated staff, issues related to point differential calculations shouldn't be a problem anymore. 

Best of Three Series
Super Bowl/March Madness vs. World Series/NBA Finals/Stanley Cup Playoffs. Quidditch has always taken the side of the NFL Playoffs and the Big Dance before, but with the unpredictability of a game-ending, thirty point swing, single elimination can be, well, maddening. Luckily, at World Cup VI, we didn't have many major games that were clearly won by the lesser team on a snitch grab in a short game. BGSU-Miami comes to mind, but 1) BGSU proved themselves in the later rounds of the tournament and 2) Matt Ziff of Miami admitted that the Hurricanes hadn't taken BGSU seriously enough. World Cup VI bracket play worked perfectly with fun upsets, but very few deserving favorites getting screwed by a quick snatch. Could it all fall apart at World VII? Sure. I can definitely imagine anger and skepticism about how the WCVII bracket plays out. But, until that's a problem, or World Cup finals matches are in snitch range year after year, there's no reason to switch from single elimination brackets at regionals and World Cup.

Alternative Tournament Format
Although it's not a hot topic in the quidditch world right now, I've been thinking a lot about how an alternative tournament format could work for regular, non-IQA run, 16 team tournaments such as Turtle Cup or the upcoming Capitol Cup. The format is based on the Sochi Winter Olympics Women's Ice Hockey Tournament and is designed to facilitate more competition between the top tier teams. It's easiest to explain through an example. 

Say, in a 16 team tournament, the teams are ranked from 1-16 using the IQA standings or a coaches vote or whatever.  The top eight teams are placed into pools A (#1, #4, #5, #8) and B (#2, #3, #6, #7) and the bottom eight teams are placed into pools C and D in the same way. Teams in pools A and B are guaranteed spots in bracket play so they are not penalized for having a tougher pool. However, only the top two teams in pools C and D advance to bracket play, giving the less experienced or lower ranked teams a reason to play hard games and fight for a chance to play the powerhouses. This leaves us with 12 teams. Proceed using a standard NFL Playoffs bracket with the top two teams in pools A and B getting byes in the first round. Being blownout doesn't help any team and winning 150*-0 over a non-World Cup qualifier is really useless, especially for a top-tier team with hopes of getting to the final four at World Cup. I would love to see this tournament format in action, as I think it would produce much more exciting games and interesting results in pool play, while still sustaining a fair bracket.

Other Announcements
Global Games Selection Committee
Thank you to everyone in the Mid-Atlantic who voted for me! Sadly, I was not elected to the Global Games Team USA Selection Committee. I wish the selection committee luck with a very difficult task and I assure you that I'll be back in 2016! #JackthePhan2016

Video Contest
Here are the current standings for my Video/Gamefilm Contest! Alex Wilson and Arkansas have a well deserved lead right now for the $50. I was very happy with Miami's decision to release film from Swamp Cup and Southern Regionals this past weekend, so expect them to climb up the charts in the coming weeks. Also with the Gold Medal Invitational and Southwest Regionals this weekend, I think we're going to be seeing some more great video very soon!
Alex Wilson (Arkansas) 32
Drew Wasikowski (Texas A&M) 9
Peter Lee (Lost Boys) 6

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Beantown Brawl Preview

With a massive snowstorm preventing Maryland and NYU from attending, the Beantown Brawl had to shrink to a ten team tournament divided into two pools of five. In my mind there are four championship contenders (BU, NYDC, Tufts and Emerson). I gave reasons why each of these teams is going to come away victorious and reasons why they'll fall short. For the remaining teams, all of which I think have a shot at advancing to the finals, I previewed in standard quidditch tournament preview style.

Pool One
Boston University
Why BU Will Win: Five words. The tournament is in Boston. BU has been virtually unbeatable in the Northeast dating back to last year. It's only when they leave their home field that they've fallen apart. There are very few uncertainties or variables about BU's performace on the field. Brendan Stack has been running that fast break offense since World Cup V, with weapons such as all-around chaser Michael Powell, beaters Max Havlin and Katrina Bossotti, and athletic chaser Blake Parsons only strengthening BU. While other strong teams with complex offensive plays and pieces that need to work together like clockwork will struggle to shake off the winter break rust, BU's offensive production mainly depends on the unquestioned athletic ability and chemistry between Stack, Powell and Parsons. The indoor nature of the tournament will also benefit BU's high-speed passing attack.

Obstacles to the Championship: The obvious answer here is that BU's lack of depth will catch up to them. But, unlike many analysts, I don't see lack of depth being a huge problem for BU as long as it's not 100 degrees. They convincingly beat Emerson in the Northeast Regional Championship finals after a whole weekend of games and a physically taxing semifinal against RIT. They've figured out how to play and how to win big games with limited depth. If BU loses the Beantown Brawl, it will be because the Terriers are not familiar with other championship favorites such as NYDC. Maryland, an unfamiliar team, dropping out of the Brawl certainly raises BU's odds for the championship. BU can beat Emerson, but we can't be sure that they will have the same success against the Capitalists, especially with such little video available. Tufts also poses an unfamiliar threat, because astonishingly, BU is yet to have played the revamped 2013-14 Tufts team at a major tournament.
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
NYDC Capitalists
Why NYDC Will Win: NYDC has been flying under the radar due to semifinal losses at both Turtle Cup and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. If you take away those losses to Tufts and Villanova, which both came under extreme/weird circumstances, NYDC has run the table. They've already beaten many of the potential dark horses in the Beantown Brawl like the Gee-Gees and Macaulay. While the injury of James Hicks and the absences of John Gaffigan and Tony Greco aren't good for NYDC at all, it will force Michael Parada to run the offense most of the time. The situation isn't ideal for the Capitalists, but with extra minutes, Parada has shown at fantasy tournaments that he is certainly capable of a huge and explosive weekend if he can stay healthy. If any team in the country can handle losing three of their top keepers for a major tournament, it's NYDC. Alex Linde and Steve Minnich could also make appearances with the green headband. Otherwise, NYDC's seeking is arguably the best at the tournament, they begin their day against Carleton and the Maple Rush and they've added beater Michael Musatow formerly of VCU over the winter transfer season to strengthen their beater lines.

Obstacles to the Championship: The snowstorm. While the snow has prevented Maryland from trekking up to Boston, NYDC will still be attending the Brawl, but without some key players. Beater Robby May can't make the drive, putting pressure on the Capitalists' new beating addition to have a stellar NYDC debut. As I mentioned, Tony Greco, who was expected to be a key piece in the absence of Hicks and Gaffigan, is unable to get up to Boston. Being incomplete at major tournaments can be dangerous, especially with a major test against BU lurking during pool play. 
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
QC Boston: The Massacre
QC Boston finally came together at the Northeast Regional Championship, blowing through the pool of death. With Victor Viega at the helm, the Massacre's former collegiate stars slotted perfectly into the wing chaser roles showing outstanding playmaking and explosive scoring. The games against Hofstra and Rochester, now available on Rogue Sports TV's YouTube channel, are especially telling of the Massacre's full potential. Although they won't get to exact revenge on NYU, the team that eliminated QCB in the quarterfinals at regionals, QC Boston was given a favorable pool, with winnable matchups against Carleton and the Maple Rush. However, the Massacre will be missing chaser Matt Lowe, beater Bobby O'Neil and possibly chaser Zach D'Amico too. Subtracting the firepower of Lowe and D'Amico and the regularity of having O'Neil in the beating rotation, QCB will really have to fight to get past the Canadian squads.

Carleton University & Maple Rush
A pair of the Canadian contingent heading down to Beantown, Carleton and Maple Rush are a somewhat unknown factor in the first pool. Neither team played the NYDC Capitalists when the silver and black community team attended Trial by Fire and neither team has journeyed into the States yet this season. Carleton was a trendy pick for best Canadian team this fall, before they fell short to the Gee-Gees in the Canadian Regional Championship finals. Carleton has encountered more problems over winter break, losing several key players. The second best team in Canada will enter Boston with a severe lack of female beater depth and seekers. For a team that kept the same core of players together for a long time, roster losses could be difficult to overcome. Maple Rush is led by power keeper Jamie Lafrance and speedy wing chaser Brian Wong. Lafrance carried Maple Rush to snagging the last Canadian qualification spot, putting up 29 goals over the one-day Canadian Regional Championship. Wong impressed at Snow Cup, using his speed to compliment ball carriers in an off-ball role. With a veteran beating presence and a good one-two punch in the quaffle game, Maple Rush is in a position to pull off a big upset.

Pool Two
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
Tufts University
Why Tufts Will Win: Tufts showed what they are capable of at Turtle Cup, beating Penn State, UNC and Richmond en route to their marathon victory over NYDC. At Turtle Cup, the young, energetic squad from Boston looked complete at every position, with no gaping holes, and three very solid chaser lines. Every blemish on Tufts' résumé seems to have an asterisk. The Turtle Cup finals blowout against Emerson was tainted by Tufts' fatigue from the NYDC game and their quarterfinal loss at the Northeast Regional Championship was without chaser/seeker BJ Mestnik to catch the snitch against RIT. Tufts has shown that they can compete with NYDC, and as I mentioned earlier, Tufts hasn't played an official game against BU yet, so I wouldn't rule out an upset there either. Tufts' beating trio of Michael Sanders, Nora Mueller and Matthew Carderelli is very underrated, and can provide a big boost in the seeking game. With the tournament being played just outside Boston, Tufts is one of the few, lucky teams that won't have to worry about travel and can enter pool play in a good place mentally.

Obstacles to the Championship: Obstacles for Tufts starts with their brutal pool play schedule of Macaulay, RIT Emerson and the Gee-Gees. Escaping that pool undefeated seems unlikely even for a tournament favorite. I mentioned that Tufts' major losses have come with an asterisk of some sort. Well, Tufts' "asterisk" at Beantown Brawl is the absence of Ethan Sturm. With such a young team trying to shake off the rust from nearly three quidditch-less months, Sturm's absence could throw off their focus this weekend. In addition, besides BJ Mestnik, Tufts' seeking has been very inconsistent, needing every ounce of support possible from their beaters to secure a snatch. Rebounding from a potential pool play loss will be key for Tufts, as well as how they handle the pressure should they go 4-0 on Saturday.
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
Emerson College
Why Emerson Will Win? They've done it before! I don't think people who weren't in attendance at Turtle Cup understand just how big and even miraculous that tournament victory was for Emerson. If Emerson can win Turtle Cup after driving all night, dropping their first game in heartbreaking fashion and missing very important pieces, there's no reason they can't repeat that performance at Beantown with some more stout zone defense. Although they will be missing new keeper Kevin Estavanik and Sean Cardwell, keeper and captain of ECQ from 2011-13 Max Blaushild will be joining Emerson. Blaushild will be worked into Emerson's double defensive keeper rotation with David Fox and Tyler Trudeau, providing a veteran presence. Turtle Cup absentees Pablo Calderon-Santiago and Jackson Maher will try to provide passing outlets for the keepers on the wings. We all know what Fox is capable of, but it is impossible to understate the importance of a key snatch from Tyler Trudeau or a bludger-control-reversing catch from Aaron Wohl to Emerson's chances.

Obstacles to the Championship: Emerson's critics have been quick to jump on their less-than-stellar passing game, citing too many overthrows and missed catches. On an indoor field, Emerson's passing will come under a microscope, as they won't be able to use poor weather conditions to their advantage. Aside from Tyler Trudeau's snatch against Maryland in the Turtle Cup quarterfinals, Emerson's seeking hasn't performed well in the clutch this season, failing to catch the snitch in two tournament finals versus BU and in regulation and OT against the NYDC Capitalists at Turtle Cup. In the nightmare scenario that the Beantown Brawl's venue has any problems that will force physicality to be limited (like bad "carpet" turf or walls too close to the field), Emerson's biggest asset--Fox's physicality--is diminished. Either way, Fox's stamina will be tested as Emerson faces a tough pool play schedule (RIT, the Gee-Gees, Tufts and Macaulay).
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
Rochester Institute of Technology
RIT's reputation as a physical powerhouse is pretty much solidified in the Northeast now, and teams will be prepared for their hard hitting players. RIT's defense is very organized and does not shy away from initiating physical contact or slowing down the pace of a game. Shane Hurlbert is RIT's go-to scorer and playmaker in the half court offense. For RIT to hang with tournament favorites and pool play foes Tufts and Emerson, Hurlbert will need a performance similar to his four goal game against BU in the Northeast Regional Championship semifinals. Finally, RIT will need to deal with the loss of beater Kyle Savarse, who will be chasing from NYDC. Savarse was an anchor to RIT's defense and one of the best beaters in the Snow Belt.
Photo by Michael E. Mason/IQA Staff
Macaulay Honors College
Macaulay is dangerous because they can throw many different styles of play at their opponents and they have a scary seeking rotation to close out games. Whether it's a speedy, passing-first chaser line or powerful driving point player, opposing defenses have to be able to handle Macaulay's many styles. Macaulay is only 16-10 and does not have a signature win this season, exiting the Northeast Regional Championship in the quarterfinals versus Emerson and losing to NYDC in an early season BAQC match. However, with a seeking corps led by Andrew Zagelbaum that single-handedly clinched World Cup VII qualification with a 60*^-40 win over Syracuse, Macaulay could make some noise this weekend.

University of Ottawa's Gee-Gees
The Canadian champions, UOttawa's Gee-Gees are carrying the hopes of Eastern Canada into the States to try to prove that they belong in the conversation come April. Gee-Gees' quaffle players Jon Parent and Alex Gouldreau will look to lead the Gee-Gees offense into a tough defensive pool that includes the likes of RIT and Emerson. Facing more organized defenses and more aggressive beating duos, the Gee-Gees offense might get off to a slow start against RIT, but will need to come back stronger against Macaulay and Emerson before closing out their pool play schedule with Tufts.

My Prediction
Pool One: BU 4-0, NYDC 3-1, QCB 2-2, Maple Rush 1-3, Carleton 0-4
Pool Two: Tufts 2-2, Emerson 2-2, RIT 2-2, Macaulay 2-2, Gee-Gees 0-4

Quarterfinals: BU def. Gee-Gees, Emerson def. QCB, Tufts def. RIT, NYDC def. Macaulay
Semifinals: BU def. Emerson, NYDC def. Tufts
Finals: BU def. NYDC

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quidditch Coaches Poll 2/11

World Coaches Poll
1. Texas A&M University (315)
2. Lone Star QC (280)
3. Baylor University (273)
4. Lost Boys QC (261)
5. University of Texas-Austin (223)
6. Boston University (205)
7. University of Maryland (171)
8. Bowling Green State University (148)
9. Emerson College (144)
10. Florida's Finest QC (83)
11. Arizona State University (71)
12. University of Kansas (70) 
13. NYDC Capitalists (49)
14. University of Miami (41)
15. Texas State University (33)

Top Five Others Receiving Votes: Louisiana State University (32), University of Arkansas (28), Michigan State University (25), Ball State University (19), Tufts University (15), 

Regional Coaches Polls
1. Florida's Finest (29)
2. University of Florida (22) 
3. University of Miami (21)
4. University of South Florida (9)
5. Eastern Florida State College (6)

1. Texas A&M University (39)
2. Lone Star QC (29)
3. Baylor University (28)
3. University of Texas-Austin (16) 
5. Texas State University (6)

1. Lost Boys QC (35)
2. Arizona State University (27)
3. Northern Arizona University (22)
4. University of California-Los Angeles (13)
5. Santa Barbara Blacktips (4)

Due a lack of major competition since the beginning of the spring semester, regional polls were not taken for the Eastern Canada, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest or Northeast regions.

Voters: Brad Armentor (Lousiana State University), Evan Bell (Santa Barbara Blacktips), Patrick Callanan (University of Rochester), Clay Dockery (New York Badassilisks), Hank Dugie (Cougar Quidditch), David Fox (Emerson College), Kyle Jeon (New York University), David Hoops (Ohio State University), Erin Mallory (University of Maryland), Michael March (Miami University), Brain Nackasha (Eastern Florida State University), Cody Narveson (University of Minnesota), Stephen Nettles (Rollins College), Jordon Parisher (Texas State University), Sean Pretti (Arizona State University), Brandon Scapa (Universtiy of California-Los Angeles), Alex Scheer (University of Toledo), Ethan Sturm (Tufts University), Tyler Walker (Ball State University), Tad Walters (Loyola University), Drew Wasikowski (Texas A&M University); 

Only Regional Votes Cast: Jacob Barrett (Florida Gulf Coast University), Mitch Cavender (Lost Boys QC), Cooper Davis (Northern Arizona University), Tim Derrick (University of Florida), Blain Falone (University of South Florida), Craig Garrison (Lone Star QC), David Gilbert (Baylor University), Sean Pagoada (Florida's Finest), Sarah Sherman (University of Southern California), Alex Wilson (University of Arkansas), Tristan West (San Jose State University);

Monday, February 10, 2014

Diamond Cup Breakdowns: A&M-LBs

Texas A&M vs. The Lost Boys
Pool Play

Can Offense Win Championships?
In the weeks leading up to Diamond Cup, the Eighth Man published an article showing how Texas A&M tore apart UTSA defense. The Lost Boys were ready for Texas A&M's terrific offensive positioning, matching it with two to three hoop defenders and tight defense. As expected, Texas A&M moved the ball well, challenging the Lost Boys at the hoops. In response, the Lost Boys contested A&M's shots, drives and alley oops, but Texas A&M was just (in the spirit of the Olympics) higher, faster and stronger in the chaser game. The Lost Boys put up a good, organized defensive effort and didn't get blown out of the water like UTSA, but Texas A&M was clearly more athletic.

If the Lost Boys are going to win World Cup VII, they are going to win it with offense and seeking. During their World Cup VI run, UT went into games looking for total domination, including shut outs. That kind of performance doesen't look likely for the Lost Boys, even with a complete roster. Against teams like Texas A&M with close to perfect execution on their passes, there is only so much that Chris Seto, Peter Lee and company can do. Delivering big bone-crunching hits around the hoops just isn't the Lost Boys' thing. What's important is that they stay organized and contest these shots, drives and alley oops like they did against Texas A&M. If they do this in the chaser game, they will likely be able to stay in snitch range of any team in the country for Steve DiCarlo.

Key Performers
The obvious first choice as a key performer in this game is Alex Browne. Browne shined all tournament long, but his performance in this game kept the Lost Boys within snitch range of the number one Aggies. Texas A&M looked very human on defense when Browne was in control of the offense and the Lost Boys beaters would clear out the point defender. For more, check out what I wrote about Browne in this week's Weekend that Was.

Overshadowed this season by the addition of Peter Lee this summer, beater Michael Mohlman has been playing at the same high level of his teammates while receiving way less attention. At the beginning of the game, the Lost Boys failed to take bludger control and Mohlman anchored the defense with the one bludger. Keeping A&M in check for the duration of his shift, Mohlman came in later in the game as a keeper. With a full roster, the Lost Boys utility players like Mohlman have been sticking to their main position, but at Diamond Cup many were forced to play their alternate positions. Mohlman will definitely be a key piece in the beating rotation in April, but he could also be a valuable weapon at keeper and chaser.

Texas A&M's most effective beating pair against the Lost Boys was Casey Faulhaber and Maddie Franklin. Playing the majority of the middle of the game, Faulhaber and Franklin held bludger control adding support to Texas A&M's defense, and more importantly, decreasing the influence of the Lost Boys beaters. Faulhaber and Franklin are looking like the perfect back-up beating pair for Texas A&M. With seven years of experience combined, they are reliable and smart. Faulhaber has an absolute cannon and Franklin is comfortable in the front or the back providing lots of versatility. What this means for the rest of the country is that when A&M's first line comes out of the game, there's no dropoff in ability or talent. In addition, two distinct beater lines are pretty much a necessity for a World Cup title run and the fact that Faulhaber and Franklin have been excelling is only another sign that Texas A&M is well positioned for April.

Also, Texas A&M chaser Joe Wright would have certainly been among the rising A&M players I wrote about recently if an injury hadn't kept him out of Lone Star Cup. Wright came back strong at Diamond Cup--especially during a mid-game shift against the Lost Boys--and I also wrote about him in this week's Weekend that Was.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Diamond Cup Breakdowns: Baylor-UT

With the large amount of gamefilm that came from Diamond Cup thanks to Alex Wilson, Drew Wasikowski and Peter Lee, I'm starting a new series where I'll try to break down three major things I noticed from each game.

Baylor 150*-UT 40

Fear the Zone
As some of you might know, I am a huge fan of Duke basketball. Last Saturday night, Duke took on Syracuse in THE most exciting college basketball game of the season. Trailing by three with less than five seconds left, Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon nailed a three pointer from behind the arc to send the game to overtime. Syracuse ended up winning in overtime and claimed the number one spot in this week's AP rankings, but round two of the new rivalry between Duke and Syracuse is only a few weeks away. I know my Blue Devils can beat Syracuse, but boy am I scared of their famed 2-3 zone defense. For the entire game, Syracuse's guards danced around the key intimidatingly, forcing Duke to play primarily around the perimeter. If Duke hadn't made 41% of an absurd 36 three-point attempts, the game wouldn't have been close.

There is no three point line in quidditch though, and even if there was, Baylor's signature hoop defense blocks every long shot. Baylor's beaters (and point defender) do the exact same job as Syracuse's guards. Wielding a bludger, Baylor's front beaters use sharp motions and fakes to put immense pressure on the ball carrier and generally make them feel uncomfortable. To the ball carrier, it seems as if there's nowhere to go. To quote the signature line of Philadelphia 76ers play-by-play announcer Mark Zumoff, Baylor's beaters "lock all windows and doors."

The performances of beaters David Gilbert and Tim Brestowski were especially impressive, and I wrote about them in this week's Weekend that Was on the IQA website.

UT's younger, inexperienced players panicked because any mistake in their passing game was immeadietly taken advantage of by Baylor. Often, a missed catch or overthrown pass by UT would translate into ten points by Baylor. When a UT chaser would be beat and the Longhorns would try to reset, the absence of that extra offensive player would essentially doom Texas. Without that extra outlet, Baylor's beaters would amp up the pressure, and anyone except Augie Monroe, even experienced players like Aryan Ghoddossy and Ryan Davis, looked helpless. 

Messy Texas
The UT team that took the field against Baylor performed unlike any UT team I've seen before. Whether it was the high-pressure Baylor defense or some unrelated inside issue, there was a noticeable lack of whatever-made-UT-so-great-last-year. Baylor caught the Longhorns off guard badly at the beginning of the game, jumping out to a huge lead--on the scoreboard and emotionally. Maybe fatigue from a grueling schedule finally caught up to the reigning world champions, but UT never bounced back. The defense seemed lackadaisical at times, with some failed tackles and too much standing around. Baylor's beaters completely outclassed UT's beaters, a discouraging performance for a group that seemed to be making progress. Newer players who came in later in the game like mid-drift chaser Paden Pace showed aggression and motivation, but sloppiness translated to illegal contact and cards.

When I analyze UT's games against the Lost Boys and LSU, I'll list plenty of positives for this Longhorn team. The wins over the Lost Boys and LSU should not be forgotten. UT's impressive performance in pool play made their sound defeat at the hands of Baylor that much more shocking. I was 100% on the UT bandwagon going into Diamond Cup, convinced that their newer player had the characteristics--including physicality, aggression, motivation and guidance from the Longhorn veterans--to win. Knowing how UT's captains can use defeats as added motivation, I'm certainly not ready to count UT out of title-contention for World Cup VII and even the Southwest Regional Championship.

Get Lucky
Did anyone else notice how many long and mid-range shots Baylor drained? Baylor is obviously one of the better shooting teams in the country, but each shot they made seemed more miraculous than the last. The shots were ricocheting off the sides of the hoops, flying in from weird angles, threading through traffic and going inches above the outstretched hands of UT's keepers. As the game wore on, I kept wondering whether Baylor's luck would run out. 

This raises a greater question. Does the 150*-40 final score in this Baylor-UT game truly reflect the performances of both teams? While I'm not going to discount Baylor's goals because they looked lucky, repeating that shooting performance would be very difficult. 

This raises yet another greater question. Is Baylor's offense too dependant on long to mid-range shots? Long shots are huge momentum boosters (the crowd absolutely loves it--remember Dan Daugherty at WCVI?!), but if Baylor's shooters go cold, will their offensive production and scoring tank? When they run a two-male beater/two-female chaser set, it looks like they are extra dependant on unleashing long shots. Ironically, a simple "Baylor" hoop defense would challenge Baylor's offense by taking away the threat of shots from distance.