Creighton head coach Elmer Bolowich will return to Chapel Hill to face his former team when NCAA Tournament third round kicks off on Saturday with a tantalizing match between the Blue Jays (18-3) and North Carolina (15-1).
Bolowich, who compiled a 248-138-32 record and won a national championship with the Tar Heels, has had a lot of success building Creighton into a national power, but a national championship has eluded him thus far in five seasons.
His team this year may just be the group to bring him over the hump. Hermann Trophy favorite Fabian Herbers (15 goals, 15 assists) gets most of the ink, but he's surrounded by a talented cast of players like Timo Pitter, Ricardo Perez and Ricky Lopez-Espin on offense and Vincent Keller, Eric DeJulio and Connor Sparrow on defense.
North Carolina hasn't skipped a beat this season despite graduating three seniors who combined for 28 goals last season. Their biggest scoring threat, Rollins College transfer Tucker Hume, has spent most of the season coming off the bench, evidence of how deep and balanced a team they are.
Jamaican international Omar Holness, senior defenders Jonathan Campbell and Jordan McCrary and senior Raby George are the stars, but players like Union Academy alum Colton Storm, sophomore forward Zach Wright, redshirt freshman midfielder Andy Lopez, sophomore defender David October and sophomore forward Alan Winn are a big reason why they've been beaten only once and held scoreless just twice this season.
Saturday's game will be played at 7 p.m. and broadcast on ESPN3.com.
Sunday's slate of games:
Seattle at Syracuse, 1 p.m. (Live on SUSoccer.com)
The Redhawks (18-3) proved their national seed was no joke with a 1-0 shutout of UCLA's young and talented offense in the second round, but they'll have to get past German midfield maestro Julian Bueschner, English goal-scoring machine Ben Polk and the Syracuse Orange (14-5) to keep their historic season going.
David Olsen (15 goals, 1 assist) and Hamza Haddadi (10 goals, 2 assists) are the stars on offense for Seattle, but it was goalkeeper Shane Haworth who stole the show with his 10th clean sheet of the season against the Bruins. Syracuse fell to Georgetown in overtime in the third round last year. Seattle has never made it to the third round of the tournament in its Division 1 era.
Indiana at Wake Forest, 1 p.m. (Live on ESPN3.com)
Top-ranked Wake Forest weren't done any favors by the selection committee with Charlotte in the second round, but Jon Bakero delivered the lone goal of the game and goalkeeper Alec Ferrell and the Demon Deacons defense held Kyle Parker in check to set up a third round match with historic power Indiana.
If I know anything about college soccer, it's that you don't count out a team with eight national championships and a string of tournament appearances older than any of its players. Wake Forest on the other hand might be the most talented team in the field with freshman Jack Harrison, the aforementioned Bakero, midfielder Ian Harkes and clutch midfielder Jacori Hayes and senior Michael Gamble, who has been kept off the field lately with an injury.
Indiana has a couple of local players to keep an eye on in Union Academy alum Billy McConnell and Downingtown native Ben Maurey, a fifth-year graduate student transfer from Brown who scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over UConn in the second round. Tanner Thompson was the midfielder of the year in the Big Ten and it's not hard to figure out why while Andrew Gutman is one of the best left backs in the nation as a freshman.
Boston College at Georgetown, 1 p.m. (Live on GUHoyas.com)
Georgetown (16-2-2) has all the ingredients of a championship team with a talented and experienced core of players led by senior Brandon Allen, junior midfielder Alex Muyl, senior Union Academy alum Keegan Rosenberry and superstar in the making Joshua Yaro. The Hoyas, which also have Union Academy alums Brett Campbell (pictured above), Melvin Snoh and Jon Azzinnari on the team, ran the table in the Big East this year and then won the tournament to make it 11 games without a loss or tie against conference opponents. No team in college soccer is hotter than them right now - they've won 14 games in a row and haven't lost since the third game of the season.
Boston College (11-7) might look overmatched on paper, but they've been tested playing in the ACC and have a solid core of players with an international flair from the likes of Swedish freshman Simon Enstrom (9 goals, 3 assists) and junior Bermuda native Zeiko Lewis (5 goals, 8 assists).
Maryland at Notre Dame, 2 p.m. (Live on ESPN3.com)
Many of the stars from the 2013 championship game played between these two teams at PPL Park are gone - Patrick Mullins, Harry Shipp, Zack Steffen - but the teams match-up much the same way they did that chilly day in December. That's because the same coaches are roaming the sideline.
Irish midfielder Patrick Hodan and Terps playmaker Tsubasa Endoh, who were both on the field in that national title game, will lead their teams in ways that reflect the differing styles of their coaches while Union Academy alums will be on both sides of the field in Terps forward Sebastian Elney and Irish defender Patrick Berneski.
SMU at Akron, 4 p.m.
Akron is flying high after a complete 6-1 dismantling of Rutgers in the second round - the scoreboard read 5-0 after only 18 minutes - but SMU might be the most underrated team in the field.
One of only two non-seeded teams left, the Mustangs are led by sophomore Oklahoman Mauro Cichero (10 goals, 9 assists), senior forward Idrissa Camara (6 goals, 2 assists), American Athletic midfielder of the year John Lujano (1 goal, 3 assists) and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Michael Nelson (0.94 GAA, 9 shutouts). The team also has a local product on the roster in freshman Colten Habecker (Douglassville, Pa. / The Hill School) but he hasn't played this season after appearing in all 18 matches for the Mustangs last season.
Akron's offensive explosion against Rutgers was no fluke - the five-head offensive machine of Richie Laryea, Adam Najam, Sam Gainford, Stuart Holthusen and Victor Souto have combined for 42 goals and 31 assists.
UC Santa Barbara at Clemson, 6 p.m. (Live on ESPN3.com)
Clemson blew out in-state rival Elon 5-2 in the second round and will look to keep its banner season going against a talented UC Santa Barbara team that features one of the nation's top goalscorers in Nick DePuy (15 goals, 1 assist) and most talented freshman in Geoffrey Acheampong (3 goals, 10 assists).
Clemson has an experienced core of players led by senior defender Kyle Fisher, senior midfielder Paul Clowes (2 goals, 1 assist) and senior forwards Kyle Murphy (7 goals, 4 assists) and T.J. Casner (10 goals, 4 assists) that survived a brutal schedule with only two losses.
Ohio State at Stanford, 8 p.m. (Live on GoStanford.com)
All eyes will be on USMNT forward Jordan Morris as he tries to lead the Cardinal toward a College Cup (College soccer's Final Four) berth before possibly being enticed to sign with the Seattle Sounders. But Cardinal senior left back Brandon Vincent and freshman Amir Bashti, a San Jose Earthquakes Academy product, showed in Stanford's second round win, that they are far from being a one-man show.
Ohio State was bailed out by star goalkeeper Chris Froschauer, whose heroic penalty kick performance earned them the trip west after Dayton could not capitalize on its chances late in regulation and overtime. Kyle Culbertson, Liam Doyle, Zach Mason and company will need to be a lot better against Stanford in a battle of the 8 and 9-seeded teams in the tournament.