Southwest Regional Preview I - Bottom of the Bracket Takeaway

In this installment of Southwest Regional preview articles, Beto Natera takes a look at Bottom of the Bracket and addresses how he thinks these teams will fare.

In the first tournament action the Southwest region saw in 2014, the second tier of teams in the region gathered in Austin, Texas for the Bottom of the Bracket (BOTB) Tournament hosted by the University of Texas Quidditch program. BOTB was the one tournament the Southwest saw this season outside of Cowboy Cup where the outcome was in little doubt. The addition of Austin Quidditch (AQ) to a field that included no other team with any sort of track record of success made the outcome a foregone conclusion.

If we take a look at the scores, AQ went through pool play without any team getting within a hundred points of it once the snitch was pulled. A quarterfinal matchup yielded a 120*-20 victory over the Osos De Muerte (Baylor’s B-team). A semi-final date with the Sharknados (Texas State’s B-team) resulted in a 130*-0 shellacking doled out by the home team. An 80*-40 victory brought AQ its first tournament victory of the season as it managed to pull the snitch against Oklahoma State University (OSU) in the final. Apart from its game against OSU, AQ was dominant and emerged as a lock to punch its ticket to Myrtle Beach at the Southwestern Regional Championship on Feb. 22. The rest of the day’s slate of games gave us an idea who will claim the last few qualification slots for World Cup VII from the Southwest. Here are five things I learned from the sidelines of BOTB.

1. Oklahoma State University will qualify for World Cup VII.
The bottom of the Southwest is kind of a crapshoot. In the best case scenario, we will have 12 World Cup qualification slots as a region. If you operate on the assumption that Texas A&M University, Lone Star Quidditch Club, the University of Texas (UT), Baylor University, the University of Arkansas, Texas State University and Louisiana State University will all qualify, only five spots remain. Based on its performance throughout the year, Austin Quidditch should easily lock up a trip to the World Cup at the Southwest Regional Championship. That leaves four spots open for 15 teams.

Well, make that three. Oklahoma State is for sure going to grab one of those spots. Its display against AQ in the final, losing 40-80* on an AQ snitch grab, separated this team from the rest of the pack. An 80*-70 overtime victory against the Silver Phoenixes demonstrated OSU’s ability to grind out close games. Undefeated heading into the final, OSU was able to display a level of consistency from game to game that no one, AQ excluded, was able to demonstrate all tournament. Beater Mark Denker was the best beater not wearing an AQ uniform. Chaser Hayden Applebee provided big stop after big stop for the Cowboys while putting in some time at seeker. In all, this team may not be challenging for a title come April. However, I do expect it to compete in Myrtle Beach and maybe stick around for the second day of the tournament.

2. AQ is the best B-team in the nation and should make bracket play of World Cup VII.
Apart from the final, the whole day was a cakewalk for AQ. So, as a fun little exercise, let us quickly go over Austin Quidditch’s season resume. A victory over the University of Florida at the Wolf Pack Classic, a 9-5 record and a tournament victory to top it all off. This isn’t the resume of your typical B-team. AQ has numerous players—keepers Michael Cantu and Jeremy Avelar to name a few—who would make a huge difference if they were on Boston University or University of Maryland. Pair this with the solid seeking provided by the duo of Taylor Risinger and Zachary Pickett, and we have a well-rounded team that can compete at a surprisingly high level for a B-team. These are players who can contribute against elite opposition but are relatively unknown outside the Southwest.

I bring this up because I have arrived at the conclusion that AQ is clearly the best B-team in the country. Not only that, I’ll go so far as to say it would likely make a regional final if the same team were transplanted into the weakened South or Midwest regions. If only we had a way of seeing how AQ would do against out-of-region opposition…. OH WAIT. THAT WORLD CUP THING. AQ has gotten to a point where elimination in pool play shouldn’t be an outcome for it as it was at World Cup VI. Instead, the expectation for this team should be nothing short of qualification for bracket play at Myrtle Beach and a first-round victory on day two.

3. Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU), the Osos de Muerte, Texas Tech University and the San Marcos Sharknados are way behind the rest of the region.
A combined 7-10 record against the caliber of opposition present at this tournament isn’t exactly encouraging for this quartet of teams. With both the Osos and the Sharknados in their first year of existence, qualification for World Cup was never really part of the agenda. However, for both Texas Tech and OBU, qualification is the next step they must take if they hope to improve as programs. OBU was 1-3 on the day, ending its tournament run with a 140-70* beating at the hands of in-state rival OSU. The game ended on a suicide snitch grab by OBU which helped make the score seem a little closer when it really wasn’t. Apart from beater Chandler Smith and chaser Tylor Mclaren, OBU had little going for it and was stymied by the physical OSU defense. Texas Tech, on the other hand, went 2-2 on the day, crashing out of the tournament on a snitch grab against the Sharknados. Texas Tech’s victories came against OBU and a depleted Sam Houston State University (SHSU), neither of which was particularly impressive. What we are starting to see in the Southwest is the establishment of a third tier of teams within the region. We have our elite teams (A&M, LSQC, UT, Baylor), followed by a group made up of AQ, LSU, OSU, Arkansas and Texas State University. After that second group, we have a plethora of teams with varying ceilings. University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) and Wichita State University could potentially beat out teams from the second or even first tier. University of Houston (U of H) and the Silver Phoenixes could potentially beat one of the second group of teams. However, based on the results from these past six months, I don’t see this quartet of teams having the ability to knock out someone from that second group, something that has to happen if any of them hope to qualify for World Cup VII.

4.  U of H isn’t reaching its potential.
The University of Houston, led by chaser Hank Dugie, stumbled out of bracket play at BOTB with a 120*-90 overtime loss in the quarterfinal to the Silver Phoenixes. Despite Dugie recovering from a knee injury, U of H should be doing much better than its 1-6 record on the season indicates. Keeper Kelby Brooks has shown the ability to be an offensive sparkplug but consistency eludes him. Fellow keeper Cameron Alexander has the size and speed of a difference maker at the position but has yet to develop the distribution skills to make the Cougar offense hum. The thing is, this team always seems to bring a lot of athletes to tournaments. Take chaser David Engleman Reaver for example. He’s fast, able to make a tackle and seems to have good stamina. However, this team simply hasn’t demonstrated the ability to function as a unit, which has hindered it all year. Consistency has also been a problem for this squad. An 80*-50 pool play victory over the Silver Phoenixes gave the program its first official win of the season. However, it followed up that success with a close loss in the quarterfinal to the same opponent. Unless there is a drastic level of improvement from now until Feb. 22, the Cougars may end up sitting at home instead of qualifying for World Cup VII.  

5. The final three spots in the Southwest will be fought between U of H, Silver Phoenixes, Loyola University, Wichita State University, UTSA and Sam Houston State University.
In this group of teams we have the 2013 D2 World Cup winners (SHSU), a team ranked in the top 10 of many polls as of two months ago (UTSA), a two-time D1 World Cup participant (Silver Phoenixes) and a team with an upset victory over Kansas University this season (Wichita State University). UTSA, depending on the drop-off in performance resulting from the losses of keeper Craig Garrison, beater Jacob Wilson and utility player Chris Scholz, is a wildcard. The same can be said for Wichita State. With a 6-5 record on the season, the vast majority of teams attending the Southwest Regional Championship have yet to see this squad. A victory over Kansas may seem nice, but a 100*-40 loss to OSU brings some doubt as to its chances to actually compete within its new region. Loyola, a last minute drop out from BOTB, has a 5-5 record with all of its victories coming against Tulane University or the University of Southern Mississippi. That is enough to make me a little skeptical about its chances at qualification. Then we have the Silver Phoenixes and U of H. These two teams seem to be evenly matched as their pair of games at BOTB were both decided by a snitch grab. Sam Houston State, on the other hand, went winless on the day, losing every game but one on a snitch grab and subsequently being eliminated from bracket play. However, with a somewhat depleted roster, SHSU was able to hang with its opponents through most games. If a few snitch grabs go its way, it could potentially sneak into World Cup. In the end, these six teams are the ones I am expecting to compete for those final spots.