Penn State Women's Soccer vs Iowa, B1G Semi-Finals, Coffey (17)

MIdfielder/forward Sam Coffey (17) dribbles the ball down the field during Penn State women’s soccer’s Big Ten Tournament semi-final game against Iowa on Thursday, April 15, 2021 at Jeffrey Field. Iowa beat Penn State 1-0.

With the NCAA Tournament field set, Penn State is entering a crucial week of preparation leading into the 2021 College Cup, where it will play nonconference games for the first time in nearly one and a half years.

The Nittany Lions enter the tournament ranked No. 9 in the nation, but they have been relegated by the selection committee to one of the unseeded play-in matches during the first round of the tournament.

In fact, all four Big Ten teams that heard their names called during Monday’s selection show ended up seedless and in the first round play-in.

Meanwhile, of the 16 teams given a first-round bye and an official seeding, nine of them came from either the ACC (four), SEC (three) or Pac-12 (two).

Those three conferences each have five total teams in the College Cup selection, while the Big Ten earned one less.

The selection committee seeded teams from the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 conferences over the Big Ten, which begs the question — how does Penn State stack up against the best teams from outside the Big Ten?

Goal scoring

One of the most important attributes of a tournament team is its clinical ability to find goals, which fits the “survive and advance” nature of one-legged tournament play.

En route to winning its 20th Big Ten regular-season title, Penn State scored an average 2.69 goals per game in 2021.

No. 7 Arkansas and No. 3 UCLA only scored 2.43 and 2.20 goals per game, respectively, while conquering the SEC and Pac-12 regular seasons.

In the ACC, No. 1 Florida State surpassed the blue and white’s average with 3.09 goals per game during an undefeated 11-game regular season in the fall.

Arkansas finished the season with 12 unique scorers on the year, while the Seminoles and Bruins garnered nine scorers. Penn State had only seven unique finishers in 2021.

In collective goal scoring, only the Seminoles rank higher than the Nittany Lions among regular-season champions.

But in terms of individual star power, the blue and white shines.

Redshirt sophomore Ally Schlegel scored 0.85 goals per game for Penn State and is tied for No. 7 in the nation with 11 goals in the 2021 campaign.

The only other team in the NCAA Tournament with a more prolific scorer is North Carolina with Brianna Pinto, who found twine on 13 of her chances in the fall.

Among players with 10 appearances or more this season, Penn State’s Schlegel is the only player in the College Cup that ranks inside the top 10 (specifically, No. 5) in goals per game.

MORE SOCCER COVERAGE

Quality chance creation

A team’s offensive efficiency is measured by and perhaps most directly linked to goal scoring, but a side’s offensive ability is even more specifically evaluated by how many shots on target a team takes per match.

Goals originate from the creation of quality shots. Any time a player manages to take a shot that reaches the goal, that represents a quality effort, as only shots that go on target have a chance of turning into goals.

Of all four conference-champion squads, Arkansas leads with 8.79 shots on target per game, which places the Razorback at fifth across all of Division I soccer in shots on goal average.

Florida State sits just behind Arkansas in second with 7.82 shots on goal per game during the ACC season. The Nittany Lions ride close behind the Seminoles in this metric with 7.62 shots on goal per game, which is just 0.2 shots less.

UCLA lacks in the quantity of chances created, producing 6.6 shots on goal per game in the Pac-12 season, a whole shot behind Penn State.

In terms of individual performances this season, Penn State has the standout creators among the conference champions.

Blue-and-white senior captains Frankie Tagliaferri and Sam Coffey have claimed nine assists each this season.

Only Arkansas’ Anna Podojil matched that feat this season, while UCLA, Florida State and Arkansas all failed to have two players with more than five assists.

Defensive prowess

On defense, the nation's top-ranked team in Florida State stands head and shoulders above its competition, conceding a little over half of a goal per game (0.55).

Meanwhile, Penn State and UCLA allow a comparable 0.85 and 0.73 goals per game, respectively, but Arkansas allowed its SEC opponents to score 1.36 goals per game.

The Razorbacks’ defense only afforded opponents 4.5 shots on target per game, which is lower than Penn State and UCLA, but those chances were converted into goals far more frequently than its contemporary conference champions.

When it comes to quality shot prevention, the Seminoles naturally excel considering its low goals conceded per game statistic. Florida State only allowed ACC opponents 2.6 shots on target per game.

When goals and shots on target allowed by defenses are compared, the true quality of opponents in the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 is revealed, as well as a statistics that assesses how susceptible a team is to conceding a score per quality chance.

For example, the Seminoles only allowed 2.6 shots on target per game as mentioned before but, on average, an offense that takes at least five shots (4.83 specifically) on target could score at least one goal against Florida State.

For Penn State, Big Ten opponents needed 6.18 shots on target on average to score a goal on the Nittany Lions.

In the Pac-12, the Bruins’ opposition took nearly seven (6.91) shots on target for every goal that their opponents scored.

SEC teams opposite of a suspect Arkansas defense could score a goal for every 3.32 shots on target.

MORE SOCCER COVERAGE

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.