(Photo: Jonathan Diego/WCSN)
The first round of the NCAA tournament starts today with fourth seed Arizona State (19-7) taking on fifth seed Michigan (29-6) at the Spieker Aquatic Center in Los Angeles, CA. Both teams have played each other once this season with ASU winning that matchup 8-5.
The Sun Devils were on hot-streak towards the end of the season, by winning 10 of 11 games. However, that streak ended in a big defeat to No. 2 UCLA 16-6. Now, ASU needs to bring back the momentum they had earlier to compete with the Wolverines.
Players to watch
ASU: Mia Rycraw – Playoff water polo is very different than the regular season. One game could decide the season. Usually in these scenarios, whichever team has the better goalie will win the game. Rycraw has been an absolute stud this season in the cage for ASU. She leads the MPSF conference with 265 saves. Today she will have a tough battle against Michigan’s isolation offense that opens up star outside attacker Ali Thomason. If Rycraw can shut down the outside shots, then ASU will be in a good position to advance.
Michigan: Ali Thomason – She is the star of the Michigan team. She leads the wolverines with 90 goals this season, which is 40 more than anybody else on her team. When she finds a shooting lane, it is very difficult to defend her shot. However, Thomason was scoreless the last time she played ASU. Michigan will look to do something different on isolation plays to get her in open space to shoot.
The Sun Devils will rely heavily on their zone defense scheme throughout the game. This scheme has worked well for ASU all season, because it shuts down top shooters, which is bad news for Michigan’s Thomason. The zone defense of Arizona state is also effective because it leads the way to the counter attack on offense.
In order to beat the zone defense, Michigan will have to drive players around to create open space. This is one thing that Michigan does really well. The Wolverines are notorious for creating isolation plays that open up outside shooters and create miss-match plays with centers. Michigan will have to move players around frequently or else it will be tough to get their top players in scoring position.
Despite ASU winning comfortably the last time they played Michigan, this time will be very different. It is not often a team can shut out the other’s star player two times in a row. Thomason will have her looks on cage. Plus, Michigan is coming off a tournament victory in the CWPA championships, which is good momentum for this weekend. However, ASU has had a tougher schedule, which can be a big factor coming into this game.
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