Football No.1 FSU vs No. 11 Santa Clara: Championship game preview
The NCAA Tournament Championship game will be played tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2). Top seeded Florida State Seminoles (ACC) will meet 11th seed Santa Clara Broncos (WCC) for all logs.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at this huge game.
These are real questions asked by real people in the sense that they are real questions (they end with a question mark) and I am a real person (I wrote all the questions down).
Who are the players to watch for Santa Clara?
The Broncos are the strongest at the top. SCU is seventh in the country in scoring with 2.6 goals per game (FSU is fifth with 2.7). They have a strong front line with seniors Kelsey Turnbow and Julie Doyle and rookie Sally Menti. The other player who will feature prominently in the attack is second-year attacking midfielder Izzy D’Aquila. Turnbow is 13th nationally in goals per game while D’Aquila is 24th. For context, FSU doesn’t have a single player ranked in the top 150 nationwide goals per game.
Redshirt rookie Marlee Nicolos will start in goal for the Broncos. Nicolos has allowed eight goals in 11 games for an average of 0.78 goals against.
What problems will this strong attack present for the defense of the State of Florida?
FSU’s defense has been pretty good this year. FSU has a .453 goals against average which is eleventh nationally (SCU is 49th
The Noles kept a clean sheet against Virginia in the semifinals on Thursday. However, there were issues for the back row in UVA play. Specifically, Virginia forward Rebecca Jarrett has terrorized Seminole defenders on several occasions with her speed down the left flank (at least in the first half). FSU head coach Mark Krikorian made a halftime adjustment to help Kirsten Pavlisko. The Noles moved center-back Emily Madril to overtake Team Jarrett. This tactic worked like a charm to solidify FSU’s defense in the second half.
Santa Clara is just as good if not better than the Cavaliers. However, the Broncos do differently from UVAs. Where Virginia burned FSU with pace, the Broncos lack a player with Jarrett’s raw speed. While certainly not slow, SCU beats teams with speed and skill. Specifically, they’re much better finishers than what we’ve seen from the Hoos. They might not create as many chances as UVAs, but they will bury the chances that they get at a much higher rate. They also don’t need a lot of space to shoot dangerous shots on goal. FSU defenders will need to be particularly tight in their scoring in this game as the Broncos are able to exploit even the smallest spaces to threaten the goalkeeper.
On the other hand, what problems does the FSU present for Santa Clara?
There is a lot of. If the Seminoles are playing at their best, the possession attack they are employing is extremely difficult to manage. This forces the teams to defend themselves much longer than usual and it minimizes the opportunities of the opposing teams as they don’t have as much of the ball and therefore cannot create as many chances.
The Seminoles are also one of the deepest teams in the country. Yujie Zhao was a third All-American team without starting a single game this year. Because of this depth and their style of possession, the Noles can exhaust teams in a 90-minute game.
You said “If the Seminoles are playing at their best”. What are you worried that they don’t have their A game?
FSU has been in a bit of a slump. Florida State hasn’t scored since the 69th minute of the Sweet 16 game against Penn State – and that was a penalty. FSU hasn’t scored in-game since the 62nd minute of the Penn State game. That’s 248 scoreless minutes in the course of the game. The Seminoles must find a way out of this crisis as they can’t rely on suppressing the powerful Bronco attack.
FSU must also be ready to play from the opening whistle. In the last few games against Duke and Virginia, the Seminoles seemed to be making their way into the game. That won’t reduce him against Santa Clara as the opportunistic Broncos have the firepower to move forward quickly if the Noles are a bit lethargic early on.
Are there other keys to the game?
There are a couple. Florida State will be able to generate some opportunities in this game, but they need to finish them better. This has been a problem for FSU recently and is the main reason for the recent drought. Specifically, the Noles have to do better with set pieces. In particular, the corner kicks were not threatening enough. Florida State will have a physical advantage in this game as the taller Bronco is just 5’8 (GK Nicolos and forwards Turnbow and Doyle) while the taller defenseman is just 5’7. FSU has 5’10 Kristen McFarland and 5’10 Gianna Mitchell in the front position and they can bring the athletic 5’8 Jaelin Howell for some save chance. The FSU must take advantage of this sizable advantage on Monday when it has decisive opportunities.
On the other hand, the Seminoles must play a defense without error. Santa Clara has a dangerous offense but they’ll be significantly less threatening if they can’t take advantage of Seminole’s mistakes in the back. SCU scored three goals in the semi-final victory over North Carolina. The Broncos have scored at least two of those goals as a direct result of back errors by Carolina defensemen. If the Noles make similar mistakes, they’ll likely call with goals the same way the Heels did on Thursday. Without these mistakes it will be much more difficult for SCU to secure good opportunities against Seminole’s solid back line.
If Santa Clara wins, it will be because
FSU continues the drop in goals and SCU capitalizes on at least one big defensive error of the Seminoles.
If the State of Florida wins, it will be because
The Seminoles find a way to increase possession in midfield and limit SCU’s offensive opportunities.
I will take FSU 2-1. Santa Clara is certainly good enough to be successful, but the State of Florida is too talented to be denied at this point. There will be chances for the Broncos, but the defense with some stellar saves from Cristina Roque will be just good enough to deliver Tallahassee the third championship in seven years.