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Selection Monday: The bracket, the road ahead and predictions

For the 33rd consecutive season, Indiana has a spot in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament.

It clinched its bid with a 4-3 Penalty Kick victory over Michigan at Ludwig Field in College Park on Sunday afternoon. That extended its consecutive appearances to 33, the longest active streak in the country. 

Roman Celentano makes a save in the PK shootout against Michigan. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

The NCAA released the official tournament bracket on Monday afternoon. IU, after winning the Big Ten double, was named the No. 5 National seed, just one spot away from being a guaranteed host up until the College Cup.

“I think the five-seed, we deserved,” IU sophomore defender Jack Maher said. “As a whole, we have such a young team, but that’s been one of our strengths.”

What does this mean?

As a top-eight National Seed, IU is guaranteed to hose two games assuming it wins its first two matchups.

IU will play Sunday afternoon at Jerry Yeagley Field against the winner of an opening round fixture between Kentucky and Loyola-Chicago. That match is to be played in Lexington.

Kentucky and IU played each other back in October to the tune of a scoreless draw after 110 minutes. The defense of Kentucky did a stellar job using its size and speed to cut off the IU attack down the flanks and didn’t allow IU to play anything into the box.

It was perhaps one of the most frustrating offensive performances of the season for IU. But if there were any bright spots, it was the play of IU’s defense and the play of freshman goalkeeper Roman Celentano.

Since that match, IU’s 7-1-1 and revenged that lone loss with a victory over Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. 

Loyola-Chicago and IU have never played in men’s soccer but Loyola is fresh off a victory over previously perfect Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final. 

The Road Ahead

The NCAA Tournament inevitably never goes as planned and certainly is never straight chalk. Last year, IU was the only top-four national seed to make the College Cup. 

But it never hurts to look at how things could potentially work out. 

This region is in the bottom left hand portion of the bracket, opposite of No. 1 overall seed Virginia on the same side.

The four national seeds are No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 5 Indiana, No. 12 St. Mary’s and No. 13 Michigan. 

With the addition of Maryland, three of the four Big Ten teams in the tournament are in the same region of the bracket. 

This has the potential to be the toughest region in the entire field. No ranked team is safe from anyone in their first matchup of the tournament.  

“Super happy with the seeding,” midfielder Joe Schmidt said. “We’re on a really strong side of the bracket.” 

If IU were to win its first match, it would welcome a school from California to Bloomington out of the likes of St. Mary’s, California or UCSB. 

The winner of that Sweet 16 matchup would advance to the Elite 8 where it would play the remaining squad from the other side of the region. 

Even though Wake Forest is the top-seeded team in the region, Michigan is perhaps one of the strongest teams in the field behind its dynamic offensive duo of Jack Hallahan and Nebojsa Popovic.

Wake Forest will host any potential quarterfinal matchup given its seed if it remains in the tournament. If it exits and IU is still alive in the quarterfinals, IU would be the next team to host.

Predictions

Here comes the fun part. There’s never an easy answer to these predictions, but I’ll give it a whirl.

Round of 32:

No. 5 Indiana def. Kentucky

Indiana mobs goalkeeper Roman Celentano after winning the PK shootout. Celentano made two saves during the shootout. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

California def. No. 12 St. Mary’s

No. 13 Michigan def. Notre Dame

No. 4 Wake Forest def. Maryland

Sweet 16:

No. 5 Indiana def. California

No. 13 Michigan def. No. 4 Wake Forest

Elite 8:

No. 5 Indiana def. No. 13 Michigan

Final Thoughts

This region is anything but a cakewalk. There are multiple teams that could make an argument for getting out of the bracket and advancing to Cary, NC for the College Cup. IU and Wake Forest are the likely odds-on-favorites but it’s college soccer; anything is possible.

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