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NCAA Tournament Roundtable - Part I
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This weekend, the NCAA Division I Tennis Championships get underway. 64 men's and women's college tennis teams will head to campus venues around the country to compete in first- and second-round action. The winners will make up the Sweet 16 and head to Athens, Georgia, to compete for the team championship May 18-23.

Hopefully you can get out to watch some of the action this weekend, but there are plenty of places to get your fill of championship college tennis:

  • The NCAA Division I tournament central websites (men, women) have brackets, results, news and photos.
  • The Intercollegiate Tennis Association is the governing body of college tennis, and they have great features and information this time of year.
  • The College Tennis Today blog always has you covered with analysis and insights - including previews of many of the regionals.
  • Texas College Tennis is a wealth of information - especially if you are a numbers junkie.
  • Lisa Stone of Parenting Aces will be covering the tournament in Athens this year - doing interviews for two podcasts that will air during the Final 16.
  • As always, Colette Lewis will provide coverage of NCAA tennis at ZooTennis.com.
  • We will be making predictions for all the matches over at our sister site - SLAM.tennis.
  • There are several college tennis message boards, including College Tennis Talk and the Women's Tennis Forum, as well as school-oriented sites. You can see a good list over at College Tennis Today.

And, of course, we would be remiss if we did not remind you of the SLAM/TRN May Madness Bracket Challenge, presented by Tennis Warehouse.

 

TennisRecruiting.net invited some of our college tennis contributors to answer some questions about college tennis and the NCAA tournament. Today, in Part 1, we see their comments on a pair of questions. We will hear more from them in Part 2 on Friday.

 

Questions and Answers

 

Q) While I might not call it parity, there were a lot of intriguing story lines in college tennis this season. There were no undefeated teams on either the men's or women's side - with all the big women's teams suffering at least two losses. The Vanderbilt women won their first-ever SEC regular season title, while Wake Forest and Virginia are hoping for a rubber match in the NCAA Tournament Final as Brian Boland's last collegiate match. What do you think were the best stories to close out the regular season?

 

Colette Lewis, ZooTennis.com

On the women's side, Vanderbilt's two 4-3 wins over No. 1 Florida certainly merit a mention, allowing the Commodores to claim both the regular season and tournament SEC titles, something they did not do in their run to the 2015 NCAA title. And Texas Tech should take a bow for its first Big 12 tournament title, beating 2016 NCAA team finalist and Big 12 preseason favorite Oklahoma State in the final, their second win over the Cowgirls this season.

 

Granger Huntress, Texas College Tennis

I don't know if it was the best or worst story at the end of the year, but the Texas Tech men's run was some inspired tennis. This team really came along at the end and deserved to be in the tournament. In the last week of the season, they won three matches over top-16 teams. If the committee can move people in or out based on what they consider strength of schedule, then why ignore the fact that this team was almost 20-places better than those being considered. I hate that some teams load up on creampuff double headers, and I think we will see more of this as time goes on.

 

Jeffrey McMillan, Tennis Atlantic

There were countless great stories to close the NCAA tennis season - plenty in the big conferences for sure - but for me the best story came from the Big East on the men's side. The Butler Bulldogs had not been to the NCAA tournament in a decade, but in the Big East tournament they went on a dramatic nerve-wracking run to book their place in the NCAAs. As the #3 seed they ran off three straight 4-3 wins over Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette - documented on twitter by great celebration videos after each win. Their reward for the clutch play? A date in Columbus with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

 

Tony Minnis, College Sports Weekly host

I would have to say Vanderbilt Women's Tennis winning their first ever regular season SEC Championship - and then following it up by winning the SEC tournament. This was a tremendous feat seeing as they defeated the top-ranked Florida Gators twice in consecutive weekends.

 
 
 

Lisa Stone, ParentingAces.com

I loved following the conference tournaments this year. There were so many close matches - especially in the finals - and it was great to see the battles going on around the country. During the regular season, too, I had fun watching teams do well that didn't necessarily have a recent strong performance history.

 

Marc Lucero, Co-founder and Director of Tennis, RAMP Tennis Academy:

Being an admitted SoCal homer, I am especially in tune to how our local teams are doing. Watching the Pepperdine women stumble out of the National Team Indoors and take a lopsided loss to Ohio State in Arizona a week later, it seemed that they might be struggling to deal with the weight of new expectations after a breakout 2016 season. But they responded by running the table the rest of the way - including wins over USC and Stanford to combine with a win over UCLA in February to complete the sweep of the three traditional California powerhouses - no offense to the Cal Golden Bears.

On the mens side, it would be tough to ignore the USC-UCLA rivalry. Those two schools combined to make an epic prematch hype video for the last match of the regular season - which UCLA won. They played again just a week later in Ojai for the PAC-12 tournament title - with Brandon Holt coming through in the last match on to lift the young Trojans to the conference title in front of a standing room only crowd at one of the best events in tennis anywhere.

 

Julie Wrege, TennisRecruiting.net

I watched the finals of the men in the ACC Tournament, and in the doubles you could see and feel the determination of the Virginia men. Having lost the doubles point to Wake Forest during the season, they were not going to lose it this day.

The match was knotted at 3-3 and came down to No. 5 singles - pitting Virigina's senior JC Aragone against the taller 6'10" Wake Forest junior Christian Seraphim. You could just feel that there was no way Aragone was going to lose this match - his final match and Coach Boland's final match in the ACC Tournament. It definitely was a match that I will not soon forget.

 

Joey Dillon, College Contributor

I think the TCU men stand out the most to me. They're incredibly hot right now - on a 14-match win streak - and tore apart the Big 12. I didn't think it could happen after their loss to Utah State in January. For the women, Vanderbilt taking out Florida - not once but twice - was eye-opening. I had penciled in a near-flawless season for the Gators, but Vanderbilt came out with both the SEC regular season and tournament crowns.

 

Rick Limpert, College Contributor

With several schools going through coaching changes, I'm sure these open positions - and who will ultimately fill them - will be the talk at first and second-round sites around the country. But there is tennis to be played and teams and players with a lot to prove. The Wake Forest men were edged by Virginia in the ACC Conference Championship, but they received the top seed in the NCAAs and Virginia the No. 2. The Georgia men took the SEC crown - and Manny Diaz's young squad might be peaking at the right time.

The story once again this year for the women is that the tournament is wide open. As many as seven or eight teams could contend for the title. Is this the year an unseeded team pulls a couple of big upsets?

 

Bobby Knight, College Tennis Today

The resurgence of TCU was a good story. Their roster was ravaged by injuries, so after starting 5-4 - which included a loss to Utah State during the Kick-Off Weekend - many figured the season was a lost cause. However after losing a nail-biter to No. 1 Wake Forest they came back and won 14 straight to claim a second straight Big 12 Championship. Cameron Norrie and Alex Rybakov went a combined 36-2 in dual-match play giving TCU the most rugged 1-2 combo in the country.

Another great story was Florida Gulf Coast. As the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic Sun tournament, the Eagles knocked out top seeded North Florida in a semifinal match that started just before midnight and finished at 3:15 a.m. early Sunday morning. The Eagles came back the next day and knocked off Lipscomb, who themselves were playing after 2 a.m. the night before, to win the title and league's automatic berth.

On the women's side, I thought both Vanderbilt and Massachusetts had compelling stories. Vanderbilt was just 9-5 at the midpoint of the season, but they finished on an 11-match winning streak - which included not one but two wins over No. 1 Florida. Those two wins propelled Vanderbilt to both the SEC regular season and conference tournament championships.

UMass head coach Judy Dixon announced before the season that she was retiring after 25 years at the helm of the program. Massachusetts hadn't won a conference title since 2001, but the Minutewomen put it all together down the stretch and defeated the top seed VCU to win the Atlantic 10 Championship.

 

Sonny Dearth, Daily Press

Given Virginia's recent success and the nationwide hunger for better performances by Americans on the pro tour, Brian Boland's swan song is the top storyline. Since UVA and Wake Forest are in opposite halves, they could play their rubber match for the championship, with former Boland assistant Tony Bresky coaching the Demon Deacons. ...

VCU's Daryl Monfils got out of his older brother Gael's long shadow last weekend, delivering a 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4 win - an upset, in my opinion - over fellow senior Jacob Dunbar on line 1 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando to send the Rams to the Atlantic 10 championship with a 4-3 victory over Richmond. In my opinion, Dunbar is the best player in Spiders history. ... Another top storyline is the fact that the South Carolina State's women's program is being suspended for financial reasons despite its incredible success - including another Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship.

 

Scott Treibly, USTA Collegiate Division The final weekend of conference championships offered lots of amazing tennis. The Georgia men won another SEC title, and the Utah State men won the first Mountain West title for their university. The North Carolina women won a an epic 4-3 battle over Georgia Tech to defend their ACC title. Look out for Rodney Harmon's Yellow Jackets - because they are only going to get better.

Coach Boland and Virginia showed why they have won the last two National Championships - beating Wake Forest 4-3. Out West in Ojai the Stanford ladies won the first-ever (what took so long?) PAC-12 Conference Tournament Team Championship, and USC defeated UCLA 4-3 in what might have been the best atmosphere of all the conference championships. The Ohio State men and women both dominated the Big 10, Todd Petty continues to do amazing things at Texas Tech and, after a slow start, the TCU men look ready to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

 

Q) This past Tuesday evening, the NCAA Division I brackets were announced on selection show specials (men, women), and, as usual, the opening rounds take place on campus. If you could pick just one venue to attend this weekend, where would you want to be?

 

Minnis: I am going to go with Cal-Berkeley! The men and women are both hosting what should be solid regionals, so there is an opportunity to see high quality tennis on both the men and women's side. I also like the atmosphere at Cal, the courts are located in the middle of the campus and it's a real neat and close atmosphere. You feel really close to the action and a part of the matches.

 

Our experts were impressed with Vanderbilt's SEC runs
courtesy, Vanderbilt Athletics
Lewis: Columbus. Having indoor courts available during this wet spring is always a plus, and with both the Ohio State men and women hosting, there would be plenty of tennis to watch. But the main reason would be to get an idea how angry the program's supporters are that the NCAA Tennis Committee denied the No. 2-ranked women's team the second seed in the tournament.
 

Stone: I think I say this every year, but I love going to Athens to watch the matches at Georgia. That venue is a college tennis fan's dream come true! The staff at UGA does an amazing job of not only promoting college tennis but also ensuring the fans have a great time. I'm sad they won't be hosting the Championships for a while after this year.

 

McMillan: Being a huge fan of college tennis, being at any venue in the upcoming weekend would be amazing for me. But if I had to select just one venue to attend in the opening weekend, I would have to choose Stillwater, Oklahoma. Not only would I be able to see the grand Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center in Stillwater that was recently selected to host the 2020 NCAAs but I would also be able to see both men and women's tennis as both teams landed the right to host regionals. On the men's side there could potentially be one of the best second round matchups in the whole tournament between a rejuvenated Illinois team and the host Cowboys. That will end up being one of the matches of the tournament and one that I would love to see in person.

 

Knight: I'd be headed to Gainesville to watch a potential second-round showdown between Florida and Georgia Tech. Florida had an up and down year but finished on an upswing, while Georgia Tech showed it was capable of hanging with the big boys in several close losses. This might be the time for Georgia Tech to have a breakthrough and make it back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

 

Dillon: I'd take myself to Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State has a great venue hosting both teams, and the crowds always show up. The women's team has a potential enticing matchup with Arkansas, who like to show up on the biggest stage. The men's regional could have OSU-Illinois, where the Illini - if they bring their "A" game - could potentially grab the upset.
 

Dearth: Lubbock, Texas, where the Denver Pioneers will try to take the next step: a win in the NCAA women's tournament. Since current senior Maureen Slattery of my hometown, Newport News, Virginia, joined the team, they have owned the Summit League and gradually improved on the national scale. Now she and Julia O'Loughlin have qualified for the NCAA doubles tournament, and Denver (ranked 38th by SLAM.tennis) plays Southern California (20th) in the first round.

 

Huntress: I think it would have to be Gainesville. You got a great women's team hosting, although I don't think they'll be challenged. Then on the men's side you have Georgia Tech and Chris Eubanks possibly getting a shot at Florida.

 

Limpert: Gainesville, Florida, would be my pick for the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play. Baseball legend Ernie Banks was famous for saying, "Let's play two." That is what you get in Gainesville as the University of Florida is playing host to both men's and women's action. The Florida women are the top seeds, but they could get a tricky match on Sunday in the second round against their in-state rival - the Hurricanes of Miami. The Florida men come in being the No. 15 seeds - and they could have their hands full with a peaking, Georgia Tech on Saturday.

 

Can Alfredo Perez and the Gators hold off Georgia Tech?
courtesy, Florida Athletics
Lucero: I think this is a no-brainer. The Stanford men return to hosting - only to have the highest-ranked team not hosting - Michigan - visit the Farm and will be potentially standing between them and a berth in the Sweet 16.
 

Treibly: I would go to the campus of Oklahoma State and the Greenwood Tennis Center. I bet they will have it rocking for both the men's and women's NCAA matches. The Arkansas vs. Wichita State match on the women's side as well as the Illinois vs. Drake match on the men's side offer great first round drama, and you know when Oklahoma State plays the environment will be electric.

 

Wrege: The minute the men's bracket was announced I knew that I would want to be in Gainsesville, Florida, where the Gators would be hosting the first two rounds. Should both Florida and Georgia Tech get through their first round matches, Coach Kenny Thorne of Georgia Tech will meet his close friend Coach Bryan Shelton of Florida. Besides growing up in the USTA Southern Section together and both attending Georgia Tech at the same time, they coached at Georgia Tech together for several years - Shelton the women and Thorne the men - before Coach Shelton moved to Gainesville to take over the men's team.

This will be the first time they have coached opposing squads. These two coaches are two of the nicest people I have ever known, and it will be interesting to see how their teams compete in this contest of their similarly-ranked teams.

 

More on Friday

Come back this Friday - the first day of competition - to see answers that our panelists gave to more questions. We ask our panelists to talk about potential upsets - and to name their national champions.

 
 

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Colette Lewis has covered topflight junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Read her weekly column, follow her on Twitter, and and find more of her daily commentary at ZooTennis.
 
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