VB Opens NCAAs Against Iowa State
Purdue volleyball struggled to a five-set win at Maryland and a heartbreaking five-set loss at Ohio State, but they ended up in the field of 64 nonetheless. The Good Gals will play Thursday, December 1, at 5:30 PM ET against Iowa State, with the winner advancing to play either 15-seed Missouri (the equivalent of a top-4 seed in basketball, as only the top 16 are seeded in VB) or Northern Illinois on Friday, December 2, at 7:00 PM ET. Missouri is hosting these matches, so all three will be played in the Hearnes Center in Columbia.
Purdue Boilermakers (18-13, 8-12 and 10th in Big Tenteen), Massey #21
Strength of schedule: 5th
Record against Massey top 25: 3-9
Good wins: at #13 Stanford, vs. #4 Kansas, vs. #14 Michigan
Bad losses: at #92 Northwestern
Believe it or not, other than that, Purdue's worst losses were a five-set loss at home to #31 Kentucky and another five-set loss at #37 Iowa. We can now say that the Boilers are led by unanimous all-conference MB Danielle Cuttino and honorable mention all-conference MB Faye Adelaja. Cuttino ended up tops in the conference and 49th overall with 492 kills, 4th/47th in kills per set (4.03), 2nd/29th in points (538.5), and 5th/58th in points per set (4.41), while Adelaja was 3rd in the conference and 40th overall in hitting percentage (.365). S Ashley Evans rounded out conference honors, tops overall and 6th in the nation in assists (1,314 - Renata Dargan is 10th all-time at Purdue with 1,422) and 5th/40th in assists per set (10.77).
Purdue's stronger points turned out to be assists and kills, where they were 3rd in the Big Tenteen in both categories; surprisingly, despite being 6th in blocks, they were just 10th in blocks per set. Also unsurprisingly, the service game was a major issue, with the Boilers finishing 13th in aces per set and 11th in total aces.
The Boilers were an inconsistent team during the season, showing the ability to play to their opponents' level in just about every match. They were competitive in basically every match (all 4 sweeps were against top-10 teams), but had sets in most matches where they simply didn't reach their potential.
Iowa State Cyclones (18-10, 10-6 and 3rd of 9 in Big 12), Massey #23
Strength of schedule: 24th
Record against Massey top 25: 2-6
Good wins: vs. #5 Texas
Bad losses: none?
Iowa State is a good example of a decent team in a relatively weak conference: the bottom three teams are roughly Maryland-to-Northwestern caliber, and then there's two elites (Kansas and Texas), two more top-25s (Kansas State is the other), and two mediocre teams. The Cyclones basically beat the teams below them and lost to the teams above them - their other losses were at #44 Northern Iowa, at #51 Marquette, vs. #42 TCU, and vs. #43 Baylor. All four of those teams made the NCAAs.
The Cyclones really didn't have many standout individual performances: MB Alexis Conaway was 5th in the Big 12 and 144th overall at .320, and MB Grace Lazard was 13th and 279th in blocks per set (0.93). What they did do well was dig: 1st and 53rd in digs per set (16.25) and 2nd/116th in team digs (1,739). A key weakness for them is blocking: 8th/206th in blocks per set (1.91) and last/224th in total blocks (204.0).
Something Purdue will want to watch for is Iowa State's ability to stay with their opponents. The only two 0-3 losses they had were at Nebraska and at Marquette; they also showed an ability to sweep both marginal opponents and tournament-caliber opposition (Wichita State, Missouri State, at TCU).
15-seed Missouri Tigers (25-5, 16-2 and t-1st of 13 in SEC), Massey #24
Strength of schedule: 67th
Record against Massey top 25: 1-1
Good wins: vs. #9 Florida
Bad losses: vs. #55 Miami (NTM), at #103 South Carolina
In case you were wondering how a 25-win team got a 15 seed, that would be how: the SEC is basically Florida, then Missouri, Kentucky and Texas A&M, and then a bunch of teams between Maryland and Rutgers (although even Georgia, the 13th-place team, is just #172). As a result, Tigers fill in a lot of places in the SEC leaderboards that don't have Gators already there. In particular, MB Alyssa Munlyn was 1st in the SEC and 4th overall in hitting percentage at .430. Yes, that's a 4. Munlyn was also 2nd/35th in total blocks (142) and 4th/44th in blocks per set (1.28). OH Melanie Crow is the other Missouri player all over the top 10s: 4th/45th in aces (43), 2nd/28th in aces per set (0.43), 7th/114th in total kills (391), 5th/65th in kills per set (3.87), 7th/88th in points (467.0), and 4th/42nd in points per set (4.62).
Missouri was solid in blocks (2nd/41st, 288.0) and blocks per set (4th/27th, 2.59), and they were 2nd/17th in hitting percentage (.274 - Florida led the country at .335). They weren't that high up in digs per set (9th/221st, 14.13), probably because they didn't really play a lot of sets (note the increase in per-set rankings above). They certainly were able to put away weaker competition, so even though they aren't likely to see any of it in the tournament, they're not a team you can play your B game against and expect to take sets.
Northern Illinois Huskies (25-5, 17-1 and 1st in MAC West), Massey #53
Strength of schedule: 150
Record against Massey top 25: 0-2
Good wins: see above
Bad losses: vs. #130 Utah Valley
The MAC tournament champions fall about where they deserved to be: up against the weaker of the SEC co-champs. The MAC is definitely a lower-tier conference in volleyball, with the Huskies and Redhawks the only teams remotely approaching tournament caliber. (Miami, who has wins over both Missouri and Northern Illinois, will play Oregon in Ann Arbor, with a rematch against the Wolverines waiting in round 2 - UM beat Miami 3-0 in August.) The Huskies and Redhawks split their meetings, with the host winning each match 3-0 (the second match was the MAC final at NIU).
NIU has a couple of quality blockers in MBs Jenna Radtke (1st/74th in total blocks, 128; 1st/76th in blocks per set, 1.16; 2nd/24th in hitting percentage, .385) and Meg Wolowicz (2nd/120th in total blocks, 118; 2nd/113th in blocks per set, 1.10). Radtke and OH Mary Grace Kelly also made the MAC top 10 in aces (Radtke 3rd/101st with 37, Kelly 5th/110th with 36) and aces per set (Radtke 4th/105th with 0.34, Kelly 7th/123rd with 0.33), and DS/L Anna Brereton joined them on the aces leaderboard with 34 (7th/139th).
While it's worth noting that aces in particular are much more common against weaker competition, in general, the Huskies were all over the MAC leaderboards as a team ... but they were unable to do much of anything in 0-3 losses to Iowa, Hawaii and Washington, essentially the only quality competition they faced this year outside of Miami.
Purdue vs. Iowa State, Thursday at 5:30 PM
I think this one will come down to Purdue's ability to avoid attack errors - as a young team, they seem to struggle more with teams that are able to cause problems for them at the net. If Cuttino and OH Sherridan Atkinson can find open shots, that will create opportunities for Adelaja, MB Blake Mohler, and OH Azariah Stahl, and that could mean a long afternoon for the Cyclones. Purdue has had a tendency to play about one bad set per match, and if that comes after they've lost a close set, Iowa State might be able to hold them off. Massey says 3-2 Purdue, but they'll have to play well to make that happen - the Cyclones have had a nice run of success (8 of their last 9, with the lone loss a five-setter at #4 Kansas), and that can boost a team when they find themselves in a tough situation.
Northern Illinois at Missouri, Thursday at 8:00 PM
While I think some degree of Missouri's success comes from playing in a weaker conference, it's hard to see Northern Illinois presenting much of a challenge as a true road team. If the Huskies had a match that showed they could approach their conference numbers against better opposition, I'd be inclined to trust Massey's 3-1 Missouri prediction, but I suspect this will be a sweep. It doesn't help that NIU hasn't been to the dance since 2011 and Missouri was in it last year (reaching the second round before losing to Kansas). It's no shame to lose at a seeded team, though.
Second Round, Friday at 7:00 PM
I like Missouri as 3-2 winners against either Purdue or Iowa State. I think both teams might take them on a neutral court, but seeded teams (almost always) play at home for a reason, and I fully expect Missouri to advance to what should be a regional at 2-seed Minnesota - remember, this year the NCAA is determining regional sites after the sub-regionals are complete, which I assume means the top remaining seeds will host (so as to avoid lower attendance at sites where a local team isn't playing - a wise choice, if you've ever seen an NCAA hockey regional you know what I mean).
If you're a die-hard volleyball fan, which of course you are because you read this far, then you might also watch the NIU-Missouri match, which will be on SEC+. Sorry, WatchESPN sucks of course, so I can't link to it for some reason.
Purdue's site says that Friday's match will be aired on either ESPN3 or SEC/SEC+, but doesn't say what determines that. I'm assuming it's a d20 roll in Bristol. I'll try to post a quick update if the Good Gals win so that you can easily watch online if you have access to whichever network carries it.
Just like before, Purdue team image by John Underwood, courtesy of Purdue Athletics