Wisconsin will face one of its toughest tests all season in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday as the Badgers (18-2-2) take on DePaul (16-0-4) in Madison.
The undefeated Blue Demons are coming off a season where they captured their first ever regular season Big East title as well as the Big East Tournament championship. DePaul will come into the contest on a hot streak—much like the Badgers, who have not been beaten in nine games.
It was certainly a curious choice by the NCAA to match up two clearly strong teams who have just two losses combined.
“We were surprised by the seeding because they are one of the undefeated teams in the country and they just won the Big East and we just won the Big Ten, so to have two such close teams playing each other is a little interesting,” said head coach Paula Wilkins. “But we’re excited for the challenge for a team that is undefeated.”
A large part of DePaul’s low seed as an undefeated team may come from their relatively weak schedule. The Big East is not exactly a power conference. The No. 18 Blue Demons are the only team that made the final top 25 rankings before the tournament. The next closest team was Georgetown, who finished ranked No. 45. Georgetown is also the only other Big East team in the NCAA Tournament.
It is also worth noting that in the contest between DePaul and Georgetown, the teams played to a 3-3 tie. The Blue Demons may have an undefeated record, but they have not shown they can compete with elite teams.
In addition, DePaul was very nearly bounced from its conference tournament in the first round by a Marquette team that finished 10-8-3. The game went to a shootout where the Blue Demons were able to escape with a victory.
On the other side, the Badgers may also have been hurt by a mediocre strength of schedule. The Big Ten was tough bottom to top, but in the end, just two teams in addition to Wisconsin made the tournament—Penn State (17-2-2) and Rutgers (12-5-1). The Badgers defeated Rutgers 1-0, but the Scarlet Knights finished ranked No. 43 after hobbling down the home stretch.
In addition, the Badgers fell 2-0 to Penn State, the Big Ten regular season champs. The Nittany Lions earned a two seed in the tournament and finished ranked No. 6. In other words, the Badgers have beaten good teams, but like DePaul, have yet to win against an elite squad.
DePaul’s offense will be led by Elise Wyatt and Abby Reed, who have scored 11 and 12 goals, respectively. Alexa Ben, who has nine goals and 11 assists, will also add to the Blue Demons’ attack. Reed’s 12 goals led the Big East and Ben’s 11 assists were the second highest mark in the conference. Reed has also notched seven game-winning goals on the campaign.
On the defensive end, Alejandria Godinez will do the goalkeeping for DePaul. She earned a 0.79 goals against average, the best in the Big East, and collected six shutouts during the season.
The storyline of this game will be the high-powered DePaul offense against the swarming Wisconsin defense. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Genevieve Richard and the stingy Badger backline have not allowed a goal in six games. The DePaul offense has been shut out just one time this year, in a game they still managed to win in a shootout.
Wisconsin kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the McClimon Sports Complex.