The nice thing about winning is you get to keep celebrating. Today, a day after defeating Western Michigan in the MAC final - the first in program history, UB's Women's Soccer team and their fans gathered around computer streams at 4:30 to watch the NCAA selection show and learn Buffalo's next opponent.
It didn't take long for UB's name to drop. In a tournament format that tries to build first-round pairings thanks to geography, Buffalo will play #2 seed Penn State this Friday at 7:30. Penn State is the closest team to Buffalo of the 64 in the tournament.
The #15 seed for UB is perhaps a little low - though the 2013 MAC Champion Western Michigan Broncos were similarly 15th before their upset of Marquette. After their win on Sunday, Coach Burke told me he expected to be a 13 or 14 seed in the tournament despite UB's RPI in the mid-40s. When the new rankings came out this evening, the Bulls had jumped a full 17 places, all the way up to 32. Early in the year, an RPI of 67 was good for the best in program history, and now the Blue and White have more than halved that number.
In basketball world, a conference champion with an RPI in the low-30s would usually be good for a 7-11 seed, but it seems the MAC's reputation, or the committee's preference for geographic pairings, or a mix of both, worked together to pit UB against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are 17-3-0 on the year, and prior to the Big Ten tournament were in line for a #1 seed in the bracket, but have now dropped to #6 after losing 1-0 in an upset to Northwestern Wednesday. The Nittany Lions' other two losses came on the road to North Carolina and at home to Rutgers, both by one goal.
Defensively, UB and Penn State have similar numbers: Buffalo has surrendered 13 goals in 21 games, Penn State 14 in 20. Five of UB's goals-against, though, came against Virginia Tech with midfielder Ashley Evans in net, while PSU has fewer shutouts on the season. Offensively, the #2 seed has scored 46 goals on 20% fewer shots than UB's 36 on 345 shots.
A look at the team stats reveals that Penn State plays a more defensive game in general, though it should be noted their schedule is tougher than UB's. The Lions are led individually by Frannie Crouse' nine scores, but have a full six players with five or more on the season. In net, Britt Eckstrom started all 20 games for a .63 goals against average and seven shutouts (the whole team had eight). By comparison, Laura Dougall's 20 games have yielded a .38 GAA and 13 shutouts.
A look at the two teams shows squads that are far closer than #2 and #15 seeds usually are. Penn State has slightly better offensive and equivalent defensive numbers than the Bulls, numbers perhaps dampened by a more difficult schedule, but does not seem on paper to be leaps and bounds ahead of UB.
In 2013 Western Michigan claimed the MAC title, traveled to #2 seed Marquette, and headed on to the second round of the MAC tournament. On Friday at 7:30 Buffalo has the chance - and maybe the matchup - to do it, too.