VB Beats IU Again, Faces ETSU in NCAAs
With the NCAA tournament starting this week, we’ll just do a quick recap of last week’s matches and go straight into tournament mode.
#14 Purdue 3, #40 Indiana 2 (25-23, 25-22, 20-25, 17-25, 15-10)
Purdue spoiled Senior Night for Indiana by capturing the last match ever in University Gym - 3000-seat Wilkinson Hall, one of two new venues in the conference (Ohio State’s Covelli Center is the other), will open in 2019. It was due to open for this season, which is why IU played so many road matches to start the season, but construction was delayed a bit and they didn’t get it done this year. It should be pretty nice (sigh).
With the long match and the rough fourth set, Shondell pretty much cleared his bench: Erin Williams played in two sets, while Shavona Cuttino, Olivia Van Zelst, and Joy Chen played in one. Sherridan Atkinson led the Boiler attack with 20 kills at .237, while Deyshia Lofton led four Hoosiers in double figures with 18 at .533. Bayli Lebo set an IU single-season record for digs, adding 28 to her total, while Marissa Hornung had 19 for the Good Gals.
#14 Purdue 1, #4 Illinois 3 (18-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-25)
The Boilers looked like they might pull off a shocker, leading 21-19 in the third set, but they couldn’t close the deal, and the Illini cruised to victory in the final set; while this was also Senior Night for Illinois, they’ll be playing up to four more home matches in the NCAA Tournament.
Atkinson led the Boilers with a fantastic finish to her regular-season career, hitting .423 with 26 kills and adding 11 digs for one last double-double. Jacqueline Quade led the Illini with 22 kills at .347. Again, a Purdue opponent topped the dig list, with Morgan O’Brien posting 25; Hornung had 16 for Purdue.
No real surprises in the final week of regular-season play. Minnesota finally lost a conference match, falling in five sets at Penn State; the other minor surprise was Indiana losing in four sets at Northwestern.
NCAA Tournament preview
As expected, seven teams made the field - everyone above .500 in conference play. Since volleyball only seeds the top 16 and then basically sorts everyone else geographically where possible, you can’t look at the field and figure out where someone was on the S curve, but we did find out that Michigan was not on the bubble and Maryland was one of the next four out, if memory serves. Despite losing head coach Steve Aird to IU, the Terrapins nearly hit .500 in conference play and hit the same spot in Massey’s ratings they had in 2017.
Note that all second-round matches are the day after the corresponding first-round match.
#2 Minnesota (25-3) vs #227 Bryant (22-12), 8 PM Friday
Minnesota got the 2 seed (Stanford was the 1) and will play all of their NCAA matches at home this season; they likely won’t face much competition from Bryant (Verdict: correct, Bryant topped 20 points only once in the sweep), the Northeast Conference champions. The Bulldogs do have a win over fellow tournament team Stony Brook, but they didn’t play any top-100 teams this year - expect a 3-0 Gophers win.
Expect a good match in the opener, as 18-13 Colorado faces 19-9 South Carolina. The Buffaloes are having a rough go of it in the Pac-12, as one might expect, but they held their own, picking up wins against Iowa, Washington, Oregon (in Eugene), and UCLA (in Los Angeles); South Carolina won at Maryland and home against Missouri (and beat Purdue’s first-round opponent in straight sets), but dropped their matches against Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky. Still, it’s good to see the SEC slowly growing in strength, even if this matchup favors Colorado (Verdict: not quite, as South Carolina advanced in five). Neither team should present a challenge for Minnesota.
#3 Illinois (28-3) vs #157 Eastern Michigan (21-13), 8 PM Friday
The longest winning streak in the conference belongs to Illinois, and they’ll carry that through the first four rounds in Huff Hall, opening against MAC champions Eastern Michigan. The Eagles won three straight matches, including a five-set win over hosts Miami, to take the MAC tournament and automatic bid (the RedHawks got in as well). EMU’s only top-100 match was at Michigan; the Wolverines swept them. The Eagles will likely do no better against a superior Illinois squad. (Verdict: They did not.)
The other match in Champaign pits Louisville against Dayton. The Cardinals pushed Purdue to five sets earlier in the year, and also swept surprise seed Central Florida in Gainesville over Labor Day weekend; they added top-100 wins over Duke and Miami (FL) in conference play, going 1-4 against top-25 teams (UCF the lone win, with losses to Florida, USC, Kentucky and Purdue) in non-conference play and falling to #8 Pitt in four sets. The Flyers are Atlantic-10 champs and boast a five-set win at home over Tennessee; like Louisville, they played a tough non-conference schedule (three losses to top-20 teams), but unlike the Cards, they didn’t have many challenges in conference play. They did win the one they needed to, knocking off VCU on the Rams’ home floor in the tournament final to secure a bid and keep VCU out. Louisville should win this one (Verdict: in straight sets) and press Illinois for a set or two, but the Illini will survive to host a regional.
#5 Nebraska (24-6) vs #88 Hofstra (25-7), 8 PM Friday
Nebraska got the 7 seed, which is probably a rough break for them since it puts them against Minnesota rather than Illinois in a potential regional final - Nebraska lost 1-3 both at home and away to Minnesota, lost 1-3 at home to Illinois, but beat the Illini in four in Champaign. They will cruise past the Pride (Verdict: yep), winners of the Colonial Athletic tournament. Hofstra’s best opponent was #52 Loyola Marymount, who beat them in four sets in Philadelphia in Temple’s season-opening tournament.
The second-round opponent might be something of a challenge, as #22 Arizona faces #27 Missouri in the other match in Lincoln. The Wildcats had a squishy-soft non-conference schedule but still dropped a five-set match at New Mexico State; conference play was the opposite, as they knocked off top-25 opponents Oregon, Colorado and Washington State on the road, adding another win over Colorado at home and topping #26 Utah and #28 UCLA (in straight sets) as well. The Tigers have the opposite resume, with a number of easy wins in a weaker conference plus wins over South Carolina at home and Florida (!) away, but they also lost to Ohio State on a neutral court and lost at James Madison. Arizona should take this one (Verdict: Incorrect. Missouri swept Arizona) and stay close to Nebraska but lose in four sets (Verdict: nope, three sets).
#6 Wisconsin (22-6) vs #119 Green Bay (20-10), 8:30 PM Thursday
Wisconsin got its Massey seed and a much easier first-round opponent in the Phoenix. Despite their gaudy Massey rating, the Horizon League champs have no quality wins and have some highly questionable losses, including sweeps at the hands of UAB and North Dakota, both 200-level teams. The Badgers should win this one and keep their in-state opponents under 45 points. (Verdict: The Badgers did sweep, but allowed 49 to Green Bay thanks to a 27-25 second-set win.)
The other match in Madison should be really good, as Northern Iowa faces Pepperdine. These two are separated by just two spots, with the Waves having the upper hand at #29. Pepperdine swept Loyola Marymount three times this season, two in the final week of play, and finished with a 3-2 win over San Diego - all this in the context of the massive fires around their campus. (There is an excellent article out there about how Pepperdine’s campus was built specifically to withstand fires, and in fact students sheltered in place since it was safer to do so than to try to evacuate on crowded highways.) Northern Iowa has a 3-2 win over Kentucky and a sweep of Creighton, both excellent non-conference wins, plus two wins over Illinois State, the last of which was in the MVC final. A five-setter sounds about right for this one, with Northern Iowa having a slight time-zone advantage and probably squeaking it out (Verdict: It did go five sets, but Pepperdine prevailed), then falling to Wisconsin on Friday.
#10 Penn State (23-7) vs #229 Howard (20-10), 7:30 PM Friday
Penn State got the #8 seed and will host the MEAC champions - in fact, this will be their second meeting this year, as they were swept in the same place on September 14. Howard also hosted Stanford and lost in three sets; as is generally the case for HBCUs, they did not fare well against reasonable opposition and didn’t play much of it. (Verdict: they did not fare well.)
Geography did Penn State a favor, as they’ll face the winner of the Syracuse-Yale matchup. The Orange are making their first NCAA appearance; they played some good teams in non-conference play, beating Iowa State in five sets in Ames and pushing USC to five sets at Marquette. In ACC play, they beat Louisville in five at Louisville, but lost at Pitt in 4 and home to Florida State in 5. They should have no trouble with untested Yale (Verdict: they did not), who pushed Central Florida to five sets in Orlando but didn’t play any other quality opponents. Penn State struggled at times in Big Tenteen play, so Syracuse might make them work harder than people might guess, but PSU should still prevail even if it goes five. (Verdict: PSU swept the Orange; if they’re going to struggle in the tournament, it won’t be at home.)
#15 Purdue (23-8) vs #59 East Tennessee State (28-6), 5:00 PM Friday
The Boilers slipped out of the seeds by not adding any quality wins to their shocker at Penn State; they still have a very winnable matchup in the early game in Lexington. The Bucs took down Tennessee in five and beat Washington State in five at Western Kentucky, so they’ve got the talent to pull an upset, but I just don’t see the Good Gals falling to a first-round opponent. Shondell will have the team focused, and they’ll get the second-round matchup with host Kentucky, beating ETSU in five. (Verdict: Not even close. Purdue had one close call in set one, then blew the Bucs off the court in set two and closed nicely in the third, sweeping ETSU.)
#9 Kentucky got the 10 seed and will face Murray State. The Wildcats lost to Creighton, USC and Northern Iowa in Los Angeles to start the season, then lost at Texas on September 7. They haven’t lost since, going a perfect 18-0 in conference play (Vanderbilt doesn’t field a team, but even with 13 the SEC doesn’t try a round-robin schedule). UK beat Tennessee twice in four sets and swept Florida, as well as winning 3-0 at Louisville, so they’re definitely capable of putting away anything less than a stellar effort from the Boilers. Murray State dropped their first three conference matches, then won the last 16, but the Ohio Valley Conference isn’t very good at volleyball, and the Racers didn’t play anyone nearly as good as UK this year. Wildcats in three (Verdict: correct), then the Good Gals put up a valiant effort but fall in five. (Verdict: um.)
#17 Michigan (22-9) vs #127 Navy (23-8), 4:00 PM Friday
Navy’s making their first NCAA appearance. They’re not very good. Let’s respect their service for our country and simply say Michigan wins in three sets. (Verdict: Michigan in three.)
Pitt got the 12 seed and will face Iona in the other match on Friday. The Panthers dominated a weak ACC, losing just once (on the road to #58 Duke). They also cleaned up in non-conference play, beating Cal Poly in four, Pepperdine in three, Oklahoma in four, and Washington in three. In a tougher conference, the Panthers would likely have been either unseeded or a Final Four-caliber team. They’ll look like the latter against the overmatched Gaels (Verdict: Pitt in three, so I got that right), but remember that Michigan swept Purdue in Ann Arbor and beat Wisconsin in four sets in Madison - if there’s an upset to be had in the second round, the Wolverines might just be the squad to do it, so let’s go with UM in five. (Verdict: Michigan in five, hit this one perfectly.)
Following the tournament
ESPN networks (2/U/3) will cover the tournament again this year (EDIT: at least from the regionals onward; some first- and second-round matches will be shown by smaller providers). Links for stat trackers and video aren’t up yet, but I’ll add them here when I get them.
4 PM: Michigan vs Navy in Pittsburgh (TV: ESPN3; stat tracker) - Michigan wins 3-0
5 PM: Purdue vs East Tennessee State in Lexington (TV: ESPN3; stat tracker) - Purdue wins 3-0
7:30 PM: Howard at 8 Penn State (TV: Penn State; stat tracker) - Penn State wins 3-0
8 PM: Bryant at 2 Minnesota (TV: BTN2Go; stat tracker) - Minnesota wins 3-0
8 PM: Eastern Michigan at 3 Illinois (TV: BTN2Go; stat tracker) - Illinois wins 3-0
8 PM: Pepperdine at 6 Wisconsin (TV: BTN2Go; stat tracker) - Wisconsin wins 3-1
8 PM: Hofstra at 7 Nebraska (stat tracker) - Nebraska wins 3-0
7 PM: Syracuse at 8 Penn State (TV: BTN; stat tracker) - Penn State wins 3-0
7 PM: Purdue at 10 Kentucky (TV: SEC+; stat tracker) - Kentucky wins 0-3
7 PM: Michigan at 12 Pitt (TV: ESPN3; stat tracker) - Michigan wins 3-2
8 PM: South Carolina at 2 Minnesota (TV: BTN; stat tracker) - Minnesota wins 3-0
8 PM: Louisville at 3 Illinois (TV: BTN2Go; stat tracker) - Illinois wins 3-1
8 PM: Missouri at 7 Nebraska (TV: BTN2Go; stat tracker) - Nebraska wins 3-0
Feature image courtesy of PurdueVB on Twitter