Late Sunday night (and without a typical NCAA announcement show being streamed), NCAA announced the 2016 Tournament entrants. It turns out that because of the addition of an extra automatic bid to a new conference, an extra 7th team (and more importantly for Cal in the stacked MPSF conference, still two at-large bids) will make the postseason field this year as compared to the past few years when the field was expanded from 4 teams to 6 teams back in 2013.
I wish this information was more readily available online prior to tonight. My prevopis exhaustive internet search did not see anything on the field expansion for 2017. It also doesn’t help that the official NCAA bracket still just lists 4 teams in the championships while leaving no space on the play-in games. I sincerely apologize for overhyping that MPSF semifinal game vs. UCLA as a must-win back on Friday (Cal certainly would have locked up a berth and the 2nd seed with a victory there). Cal lost that heartbreaker in double OT to the Bruins after leading for most of regulation. I am so surprised/relieved to see that the Bears have a shot to win a NCAA championship this year still.
Nevertheless, the important news is that the California Golden Bears (20-4) are now officially in the hunt for NCAA title No.14. Cal’s 13 NCAA championships are the most by any school currently; although the last Cal national title came in 2007.
USC (23-1) defeated UCLA to win the MPSF automatic berth and earns the top overall seed. UCLA (25-2) earns the No.2 seed in the tournament for being ranked 2nd in the country. No.3 Cal takes the other at-large bid which thankfully is still a thing.
Other automatic bids goes to Harvard (24-6), Bucknell (23-4), UC Davis (23-5) from the new water polo conference, and Pomona-Pitzer Colleges (21-8).
The play in games (dates and time are not yet announced) will be Bucknell at Harvard with the winner playing at UC Davis. The winner between Bucknell/Harvard and UC Davis (where the UC Davis Aggies are by far the favorite) will face USC in the semifinal on December 3rd from Spieker Aquatic Center.
The other December 3rd semifinal to take place in Berkeley will be between UCLA and the winner of a play-in game between Cal and Pomona-Pitzer. Cal will host that play-in game on December 1st at a TBD time. While playing an extra match will be physically taxing, the hope is that the Bears can rely on their depth to get the win over Pomona-Pitzer.
The NCAA championship match (and there will also be a 3rd place match) will take place on December 4th from Spieker Aquatic Center in Berkeley, CA.
TL;DR? Cal Golden Bears are 3 wins (all at home) away from a NCAA championship. Cal has shown that they are right there with USC and UCLA as contenders for this title. The lone loss by USC this year came from a 10-8 loss to Cal in the MPSF Invitational back in September that took place in Berkeley. USC has played much better water polo as of late and beat Cal late in the season. Bears also pushed two time defending champs UCLA to the brink just this past Friday despite being 0-3 against the Bruins in 2016.
The NCAA semifinal and final will certainly be streamed online (and we will certainly have gamethreads for them should the Bears make it there).