Pre-Tournament Men’s College Tennis Rankings: ACC & Big Ten
Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
Before the NCAA tournament starts, let’s review what has transpired this past regular season. I will grade each power 5-conference teams’ season on an A to F scale based strictly on what they accomplished in the regular season vs. what was expected of them this year. (Only the SEC has completed their conference tournament out of the Power 5 conferences).
Best Win: 6-1 vs Duke – Convincing score line over the biggest threat to them in the ACC
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Baylor – Yes it was in Waco but losing to the same team for a 2nd time in a matter of just over two weeks was not something you expect to happen to Virginia.
Team MVP: Colin Altamirano
Having perpetual astronomical expectations makes the grading process a bit tougher on Virginia. 3 losses during the regular season would be considered a mild disappointment for the Cavs. But the team regrouped impressively and ran through ACC play unscathed yet again in convincing fashion. They are one of the teams in America that is capable of winning the national title.
Best Win: 6-1 vs. Duke – Playing without Amerigo Contini, the Hokies announced their presence to the college tennis world as a top 15 team by dispatching Duke, sweeping all 6 singles courts after dropping the doubles point. This win catapulted their season forward.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Wake – The Hokies have no bad losses, this one is selected by default.
Team MVP: Hunter Koontz – only 2 losses all year. Rock in the middle of the lineup
About the best season possible for Virginia Tech. Nobody expected the Hokies to be as good as they have been this year by having only 3 losses all year and all to good teams. They vastly separated themselves from the middle of the ACC pack where they were expected to be and put themselves into the title contender pack.
Best Win: 4-3 vs TCU – The won over TCU was Wake’s first big win of the year and assuaged the hurt of losing back-to-back matches vs Texas and Virginia.
Worst Loss: 4-3 at NC State – The one loss to a team outside the top 30 and the loss that holds Wake’s ranking back from being even better than it is now. This loss to a feisty NC State team is what is keeping Wake out of the top 10. Bogaerts and Ho’s inability to win 3rd sets in this match was particularly disappointing.
Team MVP: Noah Rubin – Beat several top players and is the reason why Wake has moved above the 20-30 range where they had been stuck for a few years. He is truly one of college tennis’s top talents.
A good year was expected from Wake and they matched those expectations, but did not surpass them. Very dangerous team moving forward with Rubin at the top of the deck. Look out for the Deacs come NCAA tournament time.
Best Win: 5-2 vs Duke – Another team with their best win of the season being over Duke. UNC played a great match in their win over their hated rival. Brayden Schnur played impressively in his return from injury that day.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Louisville – Even without Schnur, a puzzling loss for the Tar Heels. Louisville took it to them in doubles and on 3 of the singles courts to wrap up the upset in fairly quick fashion.
Team MVP: Robert Kelly – The Freshman was a rock for the Tar Heels all season long in the lower part of the lineup and helped the Tar Heels survive the long absence of Schnur.
A very good year was expected from the Tar Heels and they have been mildly disappointing, not fully meeting those expectations. A lot of that blame goes to Brayden Schnur’s injury however so they are not graded as harshly based on that. With Schnur back, the Heels could be a very dangerous team in May.
Best Win: 4-3 at Illinois – Winning in Champaign is never easy. And through the year Illinois has proven to be one of the top teams in the nation, so Duke’s early season win their looks mighty impressive now.
Worst Loss: 4-3 at Georgia Tech – Even playing without Alvarez, Duke should beat Georgia tech every time. This loss was a very low note to end the regular season on.
Team MVP: Nicolas Alvarez –No brainer here. One of the best players in the nation already as a freshman. His signature win this year was the 3 set clincher over Noah Rubin to secure the Devils win over the Deacs.
Duke has been solid all year long. Nothing really spectacular but still very good nonetheless. The team has shown depth problems as of late and those will need to be corrected come tournament time. They have lost a bit of steam down the stretch.
Best Win: 5-2 vs. North Carolina – The most impressive win by far for the Cardinals this season. Showed their ability to step up to a higher ranked opponent and win.
Worst Loss: 5-2 vs Drake – Tough to choose the 1st match of the season as the worst loss but the Cardinals do not have any glaring poor losses on their resume, so this one falls into the worst category by default.
Team MVP: Sebastian Stiefelmeyer – Bursting onto the scene in the fall with winning the All-American championship in Tulsa, Stiefelmeyer continued to impress this season in dual play and cemented his place as a top 10 player in the nation. His signature win was a close victory over Colin Altamirano.
Have to give Louisville a high grade based on the consistency of their play all season long. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat while still challenging the teams ranked above them.
Best Win: 4-3 at Florida State – Wins over Northwestern and Oklahoma State are other candidates but the win over FSU is more critical because it was in conference play and was on the road vs. a FSU team that was on fire at the time. Alex Lawson’s 3rd set breaker win over Jose Gracia sealed the dramatic win in Tallahassee.
Worst Loss: 4-2 vs. Columbia – Columbia is a good team but this loss cost Notre Dame a chance at the indoor nationals in nearby Chicago, losing on their home courts to an underdog Ivy League team has to count as a pretty big disappointment.
Team MVP: Quentin Monaghan – Starting in March, Monaghan gave the ACC another top player after he dismissed ranked opponent after ranked opponent and improved his ranking to #9 in the nation.
A bit of a drop-off was expected after losing Greg Andrews from last year but there were periods of the year where Notre Dame struggled. Ending the regular season in the lower 30s puts them on the right side of the tournament bubble, but one more loss here or there would have put their tournament chances squarely in jeopardy.
Best Win: 5-2 at NC State – Winning in Raleigh in fairly convincing fashion in a match that was supposed to be an absolute toss-up that slightly favored the home team qualifies as FSU’s best win of the season.
Worst Loss: 4-2 vs. Florida – I chose this loss as the worst loss of the season because it left FSU in the same position they have been for a number of years now, playing 2nd fiddle in their own state (3rd fiddle this year with the advent of USF). It was a massive match on ESPN3 and FSU had plenty of chances to win, but once again they failed to beat their archrival, in a match that was very winnable for the Noles.
Team MVP: Michael Rinaldi – His improvement to being a ranked player this season was a big part of FSU’s success.
Another middle of the road season for FSU as expected. They did not have any signature wins but did not have any terrible losses either. This team did what was expected of them but nothing more. How much longer will stagnation be accepted at FSU?
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Wake Forest – Massive win for the Wolfpack in a match they were big underdogs in. This win over a highly ranked team is single handedly keeping them in the NCAA tournament-ranking zone.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Harvard – This loss to Harvard cost NC State any chance of playing in the national indoor tournament and started their year off on a sour note.
Team MVP: Simon Norenius – One of the most underrated players on the ACC for a long time. Norenius racked up the wins in the lower part of the line-up, being almost a sure point for the Pack each match and while more losses crept into his record as he moved up the line-up he remained a critical player for the Wolfpack.
NC State was expected to have a better season based on the fact that Austin Powell and Robbie Mudge are seniors and this was their last chance to make a big impact in the ACC, but instead the team took a slight step back rather than steps forward. Next year will be a tough year for NC State
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Duke – Finally! The win that Georgia Tech was looking for all season. After several 4-3 heartbreakers, including one to rival and top 5 team Georgia, the Jackets finally secured a big upset in the last match of the regular season. It probably came too late to get an NCAA berth, but still a very nice win.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Louisville – This was the match that Georgia Tech desperately needed to keep any chances of the NCAA tournament alive and it was one that they should have won at home.
Team MVP: Christopher Eubanks – The 6’7 freshman had several very good wins during the season and provided a nice punch at the top of the lineup for the Yellow Jackets all season long.
An improvement from a year ago but still it was a season of almost for Georgia Tech. They almost had a splendid year but instead will more than likely be sitting at home come tournament time again this year. Watch out for the bunch from Atlanta next year though.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Texas Tech – At the time of Alejandro Augusto’s comeback win over Huga Dojas to send the match to doubles where Clemson would eventually win (different format because of the rain at Blue/Gray) this win did not seem that big. But as the season wore on and Texas Tech continued to soar up the rankings, this win got bigger and bigger.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. NC State – A lot to chose from here. Could have gone with the tone setting losses to Memphis or Auburn but I went with the loss to NC State because of how close Clemson was to the win at home. Leading the whole match, the Tigers could not finish the deal and the nail was put into the coffin for any NCAA tournament chances after losing to NC State.
Team MVP: Luke Johnson – Ran through the ACC for a few matches, beating all comers. He was the only player on the team who consistently showed up during the entire ACC season.
A very disappointing year for the Tigers. A slight drop-off was expected after the departure of Dom Maden, but looking at the returning roster this was thought to be a bubble tournament team at worst. But instead it is highly likely that Clemson will finish 2015 out of the top 75.
Best Win: 6-1 vs. George Washington – Yes I’m serious
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Pepeprdine – This was the tone setting loss for the Hurricanes. Blowing set leads on courts 5 and 6 cost Miami what would have been an important ranked win and maybe could have sent the season in a different direction entirely.
Team MVP: Christian Langmo – Only player on the team that showed decent improvement as the season went on, culminating in a huge win over #4 Ryan Shane of Virginia.
An awful year all around. This was expected to be an improvement year with the addition of Piotr Lomacki. The Hurricanes registered no wins worth anything at all and had a string of several 7-0 losses in ACC play in a row. Miami needs a change ASAP if they want their tennis program to get back on a respectable level.
Boston College does not award men’s tennis scholarships so they cannot be considered in this season recap.
Best Win: 4-2 at Texas A&M – Without Farris Gosea, the Illini had just come off a huge in itself over Texas in Austin. With only 1 day of rest the Illini went into College Station and knocked of the upstart Aggies in impressive fashion.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Minnesota – A low note to end the regular season on, it was the first “bad” loss that the Illini accumulated all season.
Team MVP: Aleks Vukic – The Freshman lost only 2 dual matches all season long and was a rock in the middle part of the lineup all season. The Illini have had critical contribution from all players but Vukic has been the most solid of them all.
A very good season from Illinois. They have positioned themselves very well for the NCAA tournament and Big Ten Tournament. This is the best team that Illinois has had probably since their national title team of 2003. The NCAA tournament will determine if this season can be bumped up to an A+.
Best Win: 4-3 vs Texas – Even though the Longhorns would get revenge later in the season in Austin, tis win was still a very important one for the Buckeyes and kept them on track for another top 10 season.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Tulsa – Tulsa had already established themselves as giant killers after their big win over Southern Cal, so Ohio State should have been ready for the challenge of going into Tulsa but instead they left with a 5-2 loss that set their ranking back and the season in general back.
Team MVP: Mikael Torpegaard – The Danish Freshman became a pretty stable part of the top of the lineup as the season went on. His signature win being over Andrew Harris of Oklahoma.
The 2015 season was a slight step back for Ohio State, but considering the loss of Peter Kobelt from the year before, the step back was not all that unexpected. Who knows what this team could have done if Hugo Di Feo had been cleared to play this year by the NCAA.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Illinois – A huge win for Minnesota tennis, beating a perennial Big Ten power and boosting themselves into the top 25 and announcing their legitimacy to the otherwise unknowing college tennis world.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Harvard – After winning doubles, losing 5 of 6 singles courts vs a team that Minnesota should probably beat was disappointing. This loss held back their ranking for much of the season as well and kept people from considering them a legit Big Ten threat.
Team MVP: Matic Spec – His emergence at the #2 spot as the season wore on ended up being the key for Minnesota. He complimented Leandro Toledo’s strong play at #1 by being a very strong #2 giving Minnesota a formidable top 2.
Minnesota had a great regular season. Before the win over Illinois they were about a B in grading but the massive win over Illinois boosted the season in so many ways, from ranking to national perception and positions them well for the NCAA tournament coming up.
Best Win: 4-3 at Vanderbilt – Early season win that positioned Northwestern for good things in 2015. Strong Kirchheimer’s 3rd set breaker win at #3 sealed the dramatic win in Nashville over a strong SEC team.
Worst Loss: 4-1 at Rice – A loss that came out of nowhere quite frankly. I don’t know if the Wildcats weren’t ready or the underestimated the Owls but this was a bad loss in every way for Northwestern.
Team MVP: Alp Horoz Pips Sam Shropshire for this award because of his overall solidness at the #6 position. Horoz evolved as one of the best #6 players in the Big Ten and had critical wins in several Northwestern’s close wins.
A very solid season for Northwestern overall. A few 4-3 losses kept the season from being anything more but the Northwestern team kept their heads above water and have gave themselves a good chance to do something more in the tournament.
Best Win: 4-2 vs. Oregon – This win showed that Indiana was a solid team and was ready for Big Ten play. By knocking off a middle-tier Pac 12 team who had higher ambitions, Indiana boosted their own ambitions.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Michigan State – Disastrous loss. Perhaps the single most critical loss for any team in the country when it is all said and done. This loss to an unranked and unthreatening Spartan team could very well cost Indiana a spot in the NCAA tournament. It has certainly put them squarely on the bubble when a win could have all but cemented their spot in the NCAA’s.
Team MVP: Sven Lalic – Had a few critical wins that gave Indiana close wins, most notably the win over Penn State. Lalic held down the middle part of the lineup well and bridged the top to the bottom nicely.
Overall a pretty decent season from Indiana. A definite improvement from 2014. However if the loss to Michigan State costs them a spot in the tournament, the season will look a lot less successful than it looked just last week before the loss.
Best Win: 4-1 vs. USF – This win was the crown jewel of Penn State’s glittery early season success. It announced their presence to the college tennis world and led many to believe that big things were coming from Penn State tennis this season.
Worst Loss: 5-2 vs. Penn – While the with over USF was a sparling jewel, the loss to unranked Penn was the ugly smudge that signaled that the upcoming season was going be more complex than it first appeared. Penn State would follow with several other bad losses (to VCU, to UNC-Wilmington and to Michigan State).
Team MVP: Tomas Hanzlik – Remained steady in the middle of the lineup despite the turbulent waters of the Penn State tennis season.
A harsh grade on the surface but this season went south so quickly that it should be graded low. I don’t know if it has ever happened before that a team that qualifies for the Indoor National Tournament in February misses the NCAA tournament in the same season, but the Nittany Lions could do just that. An early season top 20 ranking was flushed down the drain with several bad losses. Barring a few upsets in the Big Ten tournament, Penn State will finish 2015, a season that began with such promise, in extremely disappointing fashion.
Best Win: 5-2 at Indiana – Played the roll of ultimate spoiler in Bloomington. Potentially crashing the Hoosiers NCAA tournament chances in the last match of the regular season.
Worst Loss: 4-3 at Western Michigan – An inexcusable loss to the MAC team from Kalamazoo for the 2nd straight season. This loss torpedoed any chances that Michigan State had to turn their season around starting in Big Ten play.
Team MVP: Gijs Linders – Absorbed many body blows in the season at #1 but despite those losses was able to end the season on a strong note, accumulating a few wins.
Not having JP Mullane for much of the season hurt the Spartans, but still the team underperformed and did not come close to the NCAA tournament in the end. They did somehow manage to get the #7 seed in the Big Ten tournament and that boosts the grade a bit. Could finish the season outside the top 75.
Best Win: 4-2 vs. Wichita State – Only win over a ranked team all season for Iowa. Signaled a potential break through year early on for the Hawkeyes.
Worst Loss: 4-2 at Cornell – This loss blew a chance to get another ranked non-conference win and cost them a chance to position themselves nicely before Big Ten play.
Team MVP: Leftis Theodorou – Accumulated a good record playing at #3 and #2 for Iowa. Was the most likely player for Iowa each match to get a win for the team. A strong season for the freshman, good things to come for him in Iowa City.
2015 was a step forward for Iowa tennis. Expectations are fairly low for Iowa tennis and having the team in the top 75 for most of the season is an accomplishment. The success wore off as Big Ten play went on, but there are signs of improvement for the program.
Best Win: 4-3 at Michigan State – Only win over a competitive team all season for Wisconsin.
Worst Loss: 4-1 vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay – No disrespect meant to UWGB, but this should never ever happen.
Team MVP: Josef Dodridge – Actually won a decent amount of matches at #1 in the middle part of the season vs. Big Ten competition, enough to get the honor of team MVP.
A horrible year for Wisconsin tennis. Could not beat any teams with a pulse and lost to some very poor teams. Wisconsin tennis has taken many large steps back in recent seasons, as the other sports in the Badger Athletic Department continue to achieve great success. The Sweet 16 appearance team of Marek Michalicka and Moritz Baumann feels a millennium away at this point.
Best Win: 4-3 at Denver – At the time this was an encouraging win and led some to believe that Nebraska was going to be a decent team in 2015.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Wisconsin – Only truly bad loss for Nebraska tennis in 2015. Every other loss is to ranked teams and teams that you would expect to beat Nebraska. Losing to the Badger train wreck is inexcusable.
Team MVP: Dusty Boyer – Finished 2015 with an impressive 3 set win over Mikael Toregaard of Ohio State, this added to his already impressive list of wins over Matt Hagan of Iowa and Leonard Stakhovksy of Penn State making him a decent #1 for the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska did not have many expectations entering 2015 and they did nothing during the season to indicate that there should have been any to begin with. A very ho-hum nondescript season for Nebraska tennis, it did not reach terrible depths but it also was not very successful.
Best Win: 6-1 vs. Memphis – A shocking display of tennis from Michigan. The one match of the season where the Wolverines played good tennis on all courts and swept aside a Memphis team that will probably be participating in the NCAA tournament.
Worst Loss: 4-0 at Nebraska – Getting swept by a subpar Cornhusker team was the first real indication that not only was this Michigan team a big step back from previous Michigan teams but also that they were simply a bad tennis team (all losses before this had been to decently ranked teams).
Team MVP: Runhao Hua – The Freshman from Shanghai had by far the best year of any Michigan Wolverine. He provided a winning record at the #3 slot and was the only player that other teams scouted for when facing Michigan this season. Hua will be the foundation of the next few years for the rebuilding of Michigan tennis.
A tough year was expected for Michigan in 2015 so it is impossible to give them too low of a grade despite the horrendous overall record (only had 6 wins all year). There were few positive signs but with coach Adam Steinberg at the helm you have to believe that things in Ann Arbor are going to get sunnier soon. The night is always darkest before the dawn and it’s hard to imagine a darker year of Michigan tennis than 2015.
Best Win: 6-1 over IUPUI – This was a tough one. The other options were wins over Dayton, Eastern Illinois and Morehead State….
Worst Loss: 5-2 at DePaul – A very poor loss for any team that is in a power 5 conference.
Team MVP: Diego Acosta – His win over Aron Hiltzik alone gives him team MVP.
After having a breakthrough year in 2014 by making the NCAA tournament, Purdue fell to abysmal depths in 2015. They were the worst team out of all power 5-conference teams who give men’s tennis scholarships. There were guys playing at the lower parts of the lineup who should not be on any D1 team let alone on a Big Ten team. Will there be any answers for next year? What happened ion 2015?
Check back in the next few days for the grading recap of the Big 12, Pac 12 and the SEC.