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NCAA Roundtable: Upsets and Predictions

After more than a week of rest and preparation, the NCAA Division I Tennis Championships finally begin today.

Men’s and women’s first- and second-round matches will be taking place on campuses across the country this weekend. (men’s bracket, women’s bracket).

The winners of each site will advance to the Sweet 16, which is being hosted by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina May 17-22.

The top-seeded Wake Forest men have a chance to capture the program’s first title on their home court at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex. The Demon Deacons made their deepest NCAA run last year by reaching the quarterfinals.

The Vanderbilt women are the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, and are trying to capture the program’s second title after winning it all in 2015.

Make sure to check out our sister site - SLAM.tennis - for details on every NCAA match, and to keep track of the SLAM/TRN May Madness Bracket Challenge, presented by Tennis Warehouse.

Last week, in Part 1 of our NCAA Roundtable, our comprehensive panel discussed the top storylines and best venues to attend this weekend. Today, it’s prediction time.

Q) What teams in the men's and women's draws are your dark horse picks to make a deep run? Are there any upsets you see in either draw?

Colette Lewis, Zoo Tennis

“It’s always tough to guess which seeded hosts won’t make it to the final site, but there is almost always one, and often two. The Georgia men have been one of the most disappointing teams this season after returning all the starters from last year’s team, which reached the semifinals. The Bulldogs have had injuries, but at the close of last season, who would have predicted they would be on the road for this year's regionals? With the team now healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took out Oklahoma in Norman to reach the Final 16 for the 15th year in a row. On the women’s side, I could see Central Florida denying Miami a trip to Wake Forest, and Florida State ending Florida’s title defense in the regional final.

“As for dark horses, I think the Pepperdine women, who reached the ITA Team Indoor final, have suffered in the ITA rankings due to their weak conference. I don’t believe anyone thinks the Waves are actually the 13th best team in the country, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the Final Four. And of course, Stanford, the No. 15 seed, is always a threat regardless of their seeding. But a tough round of 16 match against No. 2 seed North Carolina looms for the Cardinal. My dark horses on the men’s side are both from the Lone Star state: No. 9 TCU and No. 11 Texas.

Julie Wrege, Tennis Recruiting Network

“Since Wake, UCLA and Ohio State all won their respective championships with little or no problem, one might expect these teams to cruise to the Final Four. But I see the Georgia Bulldogs - with four players in the NCAA singles draw - upsetting the Buckeyes in the round of 16 and doing more damage going forward in the draw. On the women’s side, Stanford, Stanford, Stanford!! Don't ever count Lele Forood's teams out when it come to ‘the big prize.’”

Bob Bayliss, Former Notre Dame Men’s Coach

“On the women's side, Pepperdine is better than advertised and fully capable. The top seeds, though, have outstanding coaches, and this makes the role of a dark horse more difficult. Find me anyone better than Vanderbilt’s Geoff Macdonald, North Carolina’s Brian Kalbas and Georgia Tech’s Rodney Harmon and I'll buy you a steak dinner. Those guys have the knowledge, experience and charisma to take their respective teams all the way.

“In looking for a dark horse on the men’s side, you can't go wrong counting on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs just won the SEC tournament and come into the fray with confidence and experience.”

Bobby Knight, College Tennis Today

“On the men’s side, I’ve got the 1, 2, 3, and 5 seeds in the semis. But if a double-digit seed busted through, I’d put my money on Texas being that team. It’s tough to call the Pepperdine women a dark horse since the Waves were No. 1 in the USTA poll for several weeks, but I like them to make it to at least the semifinals and wouldn’t be surprised to see them playing for the title. The two non-hosts that I have making the final site are the Tulane men and the Illinois women.”

Lisa Stone, Parenting Aces

“The Michigan women could cause an upset in the early rounds and make it to the championships at Wake Forest. The Wolverines have had a great year, though Stanford is certainly on a roll with its recent win over UCLA. On the men's side, I would never count out Georgia and Virginia. Both schools have a long-standing winning culture and are known for bringing their best tennis when it counts most.”

Harry Cicma, Sports Anchor and Former ATP Player

“On the men’s side, I like Notre Dame and Columbia as the two dark horses. Notre Dame coach Ryan Sachire has great experience on the courts and has momentum on his team’s side as it entered the Top 25 national rankings just in time for the tournament. Also, Columbia coach Bid Goswami’s Lions also have the firepower at No. 16 in the nation. Both programs could end up in the Elite Eight of the championship.”

Granger Huntress, Texas College Tennis

“Obviously Stanford is a dark horse on the women's side. But I would also add Florida to that list. On the men's side, if you have to go outside the top eight, I think TCU and Texas could both be dangerous. At first glance, I like Virginia and Georgia to upset on the men's side.”

Dalton Thieneman, Cracked Racquets

“With TCU’s loss of No. 55-ranked Alastair Gray, Dartmouth’s regional could open up on the men’s side if it pulls off the shocker in Fort Worth. Being one of only two teams to defeat Wake Forest this season, Florida was an intriguing team even before the NCAA draws were released. Given the depth of their roster, don’t be surprised if the Gators shock the world and take home the title.

“On the women’s side, South Carolina has the right matchups to make a deep run. The Gamecocks could face No. 7 Georgia in the Sweet 16, a team they pummeled 4-1 in Athens earlier this season. Florida State is another battle-tested team with six top 50 wins this season. The Noles could play in-state rival Florida in round two, but with a convincing 4-1 win against the Gators earlier in the season, look for the draw to open up and FSU to take advantage.”

Joey Dillon, College Contributor

“For the first time in years, the men's draw is fully anyone's game. I think the top five seeds can argue their case for the title. The USC, TCU and Florida men have the potential to really shake up the draw. Although the No. 10 seed, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Trojans in the Elite Eight or even further given their momentum following their Pac-12 tournament final run. On the women's side, Stanford is the No. 15 seed so they're a dark horse on paper. However, they're also Stanford and the hottest team in the country. I also think Pepperdine has the tools to make a Final Four run.”

Chris Halioris, CollegeTennisRanks.com

“For the men, I definitely like Georgia as the best upset possibility in the first two rounds. They've got Walker Duncan back in the singles lineup and now have the the team that beat Ohio State 4-0 back on the courts. The Bulldogs will give Minnesota and Oklahoma all they can handle. As far as a dark horse deep run, if we are considering teams outside the top eight, I like USC. The Trojans lost eight matches this year but every one of them was to a top five team (UCLA, Stanford, Wake Forest, Ohio State). They are definitely dangerous.

“For the women, I think Michigan at No. 15 seed Stanford is a possibility. Michigan finished strong with the Big Ten Conference tournament title and could make a push. But getting Stanford is a tough draw. If you're looking for the big upset chance I think Syracuse is dangerous. If the Orange get hot, they might find a way out of Oxford in Ole Miss' pod. Syracuse beat No. 4 seed Georgia Tech this year and also played No. 3 seed Duke to a 4-2 match.”

Tony Minnis, College Sports Weekly host/Former LSU Women’s Coach

“On the women’s side, I am going to have to go with Pepperdine. The Waves may have one of the most talented teams in the country and reached the top of the polls after reaching the finals of National Indoors. They only lost two matches all year and seem ready for a nice run.

“On the men’s side, I am going to have to go with TCU. The Horned Frogs have been on a roll toward the end of the season, winning 15 out of 16 matches, and seem to be primed to make a deep run again in the tourney.”

Sonny Dearth, Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia)

“Given the Stanford women’s incredible history in this tournament, I don't know how the Cardinal can be called a dark horse. But at No. 15, Stanford seems very much underseeded. Presuming North Carolina advances through two rounds in Chapel Hill, that round-of-16 clash against the Cardinal could be memorable. Pepperdine seems way better than No. 13, given that the Waves were No. 1 in the USTA poll late this season. I also think Florida State, given the confidence of a victory over Florida early in the season, will threaten the No. 9 Gators again in the second round.

“On the men’s side, if Michigan, at 15, gets by Notre Dame in Ann Arbor, I see the Wolverines giving No. 2 UCLA all it can handle on Tobacco Road and perhaps pulling an upset.”

Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic Writer/College Tennis Today Contributor

“The most dangerous No. 3 seed I believe is the Oregon men. With TCU missing Gray due to injury, the Ducks could pose the Horned Frogs a serious challenge in round two. A couple of No. 2 seeds I believe will upset the host school are Tulane and Georgia. Tulane plays in the Tallahassee regional and should get past Alabama before facing off with Florida State in the second round. Georgia should not overlook Minnesota by any means, but I expect UGA to put together their pieces and knock off Oklahoma and advance to Winston-Salem.

“One of the dark horses I believe is fully capable of winning it all is the Texas A&M men. The Aggies will be smarting after their loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament championship and will be motivated for the NCAA tournament. Getting past potential matchups with Stanford and then host Wake Forest back to back would not be easy, but A&M is a team that could do it.”

Matt Stachowiak, Cracked Racquets

“On the men’s side, I think Florida has a shot to make a pretty deep run in the tournament as a dark horse. It won’t be easy, but the Gators always play well outdoors and they got a taste of what the courts are like in Winston-Salem when they played Wake Forest earlier this season. On the women’s side, my dark horse would be Stanford. It’s hard to actually consider the Cardinal a dark horse with all the history of their program, but they enter the tournament as the No. 15 seed! Coach Forood’s team understands how to proceed through a major tournament like this. Don’t be shocked if Stanford is one of the last few teams standing.”

Rick Limpert, College Contributor

“I'm not sure you can even call Georgia and Virginia ‘dark horse picks’ on the men's side, but this is apparently one year you could do just that. Both teams are on the road for the opening two rounds, but they are both dangerous. Western Michigan has had a fantastic season as the Broncos are 22-4 overall and are riding an 11-match winning streak, tied for the third longest active winning streak in country. The Broncos went a perfect 7-0 in the MAC regular season, winning their 24th conference title, and then picked up two more wins in the tournament, claiming the program's 12th tournament title as well. The Broncs may be the hottest team in the country. For the women, keep and eye on Virginia and Michigan.”

Q) Which teams do you think will be holding the trophy on the final day as NCAA champions in both draws?

Lewis: “Let me just say in advance that my record as a prognosticator is spotty at best. I think top seed Wake Forest is an excellent team, in peak form, but I’m going with UCLA for the men’s title. The Bruins haven’t lost since the Indoor final in February, and as impressive as they were throughout their undefeated Pac-12 season, in the conference tournament in Ojai they reached another level.

“While I think the ACC is the better women’s conference and has a host of contenders, I am going with SEC champion Vanderbilt, who looked at the top of its game during the conference tournament. The Commodores’ Astra Sharma, who clinched the NCAA title for Vanderbilt in 2015, finds herself in a different position this year as a senior leading the top-seeded team, but I think she’s up to the task.”

Bayliss: “If I had to pick a winner for the men, I'd go with either Wake Forest or UCLA. Not because of the outstanding records each has achieved, but because both have been there before and have stayed the course throughout the season. It should be the Wake home crowd pitted against the depth of the Bruins. UCLA fans still remember that only a slight touch of the net while sliding to put away a volley cost them the title in 2013. The Deacons have had 2018 circled on their calendars for several years.

“In the women's event, I have already extolled the virtues of the Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Georgia Tech coaches. Each has the talent needed to win, but the Tar Heels won the Team Indoors in February and live pretty close to Winston-Salem so they get my vote. But only by a whisker.”

Wrege: ”Wake has a team led by upperclassmen and it dominated the ACC regular season and the ACC Championships. Since the Deacs host this year's NCAAs, and they have only lost two duals, both on the road, I can't see any team in the men's field taking the trophy out of Winston-Salem.

“Unlike the men's bracket, I see as many as six to seven women's teams with a good chance to take it all. In my earlier comments I mentioned the Stanford Cardinal, and I certainly think that Coach Forood's team will be ready to play if they reach Winston-Salem.

“As many of you know, I am twice a Georgia Tech alum and former tennis coach there - so expect me to be biased. The Yellow Jackets have wins over Duke and UNC, both in the bottom half of the draw along with Stanford. An expected match with Pepperdine in the round of 16 could be a stumbling block for Tech, but provided they get by that match I see them playing Vandy in the Final Four. Coach Harmon's teams play great doubles, as exhibited by the No. 1 ranked doubles team in the nation of Paige Hourigan and Kenya Jones. Winning the doubles points in these later rounds may just be enough to give his team the trophy.”

Can Host Wake Forest Win Its First NCAA Title?
© Wake Athletics

Knight: “I’ve got the Wake Forest men winning it all at home. The Demon Deacons have risen to the occasion time and time again this year and, with everyone pretty healthy, I don’t see them being stopped. On the women’s side, I’m going to take another ACC school that will be playing close to home - North Carolina. The Heels have a ton of depth and, once they get past Stanford in the Sweet 16, they’ll put the hammer down and bring home their first NCAA Championship back to Chapel Hill.”

Thieneman: “I have a good feeling about the Ohio State men. With Mikael Torpegaard leading the way, the Buckeyes are one of the most experienced teams in the country. Look for OSU to avenge its NCAA Indoor loss to UCLA in the Final Four and upset No. 1 Wake Forest at home to take the title.

“On the women’s side, I’m taking Vanderbilt to storm through the field. The Commodores have 12 Top 25 wins this season. Vanderbilt has gone undefeated since a surprising 4-3 loss to Mississippi State in March, and should be holding the trophy when it’s all said and done.”

Dillon: “The men's winner could easily be seven teams. My degrees lean towards Ohio State, which even though is the No. 3 seed, are not being talked about. The Buckeyes have a deep team that is looking for that elusive outdoor crown. However, if I’m a betting man, I can't look away at the hosts, Wake Forest. I was really impressed with the Deacs’ ACC run, and with them hosting, it's almost a perfect match. On the women's side, the winner of the potential UNC-Stanford match is my pick. With the lineup and how well they're peaking, it's really hard to pick against the Tar Heels at the moment and I think this is their chance for their first NCAA title.”

Dearth: “I've got to figure home-court and home-state advantage play a big role here. If ever Winston-Salem can hit peak volume for college tennis, it will be now. Rev up that Deacon mascot on that motorcycle. I'll take the Wake Forest men over Ohio State in a highly competitive final, and the North Carolina women edging Vanderbilt to avenge a 4-3 loss in Chapel Hill.”

Stone: “For the men, I have to go with UCLA. They have been so close in recent years, and they are poised for the big win in 2018. For the women, I have to pick UNC. The Tar Heels finished the regular season with a win over No. 4 seed Georgia Tech and No. 3 seed Duke, so they are in a winning mode going into the tournament.”

Cicma: “Wake Forest is looking to set history, and I believe the Demon Deacons are the most hungry team entering the tournament with a lot to prove. They will rise to the challenge and hoist the trophy. On the women’s side, North Carolina and Duke have been vying for the top spot, and while the Tar Heels are currently No. 2 in the national rankings, I feel they will peak at the right time and end up as national champions.”

Minnis: “On the women’s side, I am going to have to go with North Carolina. The Tar Heels won the National Indoors and also the ACC, which has been the toughest conference in the 2018 season. I also think it will be an advantage for them playing at Wake Forest, which is in their backyard.

“On the men’s side, I am going to go with host Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have had an outstanding year, winning the ACC and coming in the tournament as the No. 1 team in the country. I definitely think that hosting the Sweet 16 should provide a home court advantage that should help an already-talented team.”

The Tar Heels Are NCAA Title Contenders
© UNC Athletics

Huntress: “UCLA over Texas A&M on the men's side. I'm going with a couple of schools that play good doubles to go along with their solid singles lineups. For the women, I will take Vanderbilt over North Carolina. I know that is chalk, but these two squads are so good.”

McMillan: “After it is all said and done, I believe that Wake Forest will win the national championship on the men's side. This year's Wake team has the feel of a team of destiny and that it is finally their time to cement themselves as a nationally elite program with their maiden national title. They have fought through so much this year already and have shown incredible fortitude in winning the ITA Indoors and the ACC.”

Stachowiak: “I believe the Wake Forest men and the Vanderbilt women will both be holding the trophy on the final day as NCAA champions. Sure, they are both the No. 1 overall seeds, so I’m not necessarily going out on a limb. But anyone I have talked to since the beginning of the season knows I have been all-in on the Demon Deacons this year and I just really like Vandy’s draw.”

Limpert: The stars are aligning for the Wake Forest men. The Demon Deacons have experience, great leadership and playing at home for the duration cannot be overstated. Their most difficult competition could come from the Pac-12 in the form of Stanford and UCLA in the later stages of the tournament. Like I said earlier, I see seven teams that are capable of winning the women's championship. I'm not sold on top-seeded Vandy, so maybe the No. 2 seed North Carolina edging Georgia Tech.”

Halioris: “I love to pick underdogs, but I don't know how you get away from picking Wake Forest for the men. The Deacs are the No. 1 team, they are healthier now than they have been all year and they're playing at home. Clearly the title is theirs to lose.

“The women are much tougher to pick in my opinion, but I'm going to go with Duke. The Blue Devils stack up well against both North Carolina and Vanderbilt. If you look at the UTRs for the lineups the three teams submitted, Duke holds a 4-2 advantage over both of them in singles.”


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