Notes on the road to San Antonio …
Mick Haley was right. USC’s head man was the most outspoken critic in the loud chorus of those denouncing the NCAA Selection Committee’s Pac-12 snub. Haley’s Trojan’s—ranked number one in both the coaches’ and media polls—was deemed just seventh-best by the NCAA committee. USC travelled to Honolulu and won two 5-set thrillers, first over Hawaii on the Rainbow Wahines’ raucous home court, then somehow found enough in the tank to hold off up-and-coming Pepperdine. The Trojans’ reward is a five-time-zone trip to San Antonio, where they’ll face another power, third-seed Illinois. Don’t bet the house against USC this season.
BRUINS BREAK THROUGH
UCLA was another team ranked higher by the coaches and media than by the committee. All the Bruins did was travel east to knock off two storied programs. First, UCLA ended four-time defending champion Penn State’s incredible 26-match tournament win streak, dating back to a 2006 loss to Washington in Seattle. The Bruins then handled Texas—the committee’s overall number one seed. UCLA caught a break when Florida State upset powerhouse Purdue, then got past overrated Iowa State to reach Thursday’s semis. A UCLA/USC Final? It could happen.
NOT-SO-BIG TEN AND TWELVE
Many grumbled when it seemed the selection committee rated the Pac-12 lower than the 12 teams in the Big Ten and the nine teams (Oklahoma State doesn’t offer volleyball) in the Big 12. Perhaps Texas (ranked #1), Nebraska (#2) and Iowa State (#4) were all so overrated in a not-so-subtle effort to give them easier draws on the road to San Antonio, where the fans from those three teams would have packed the Alamodome. But both conferences came up short, except for #3 Illinois, which might be the third or fourth best team in the Big Ten. Last Friday, of course, was when the smug grin was wiped off the Big Ten’s face: after getting a ridiculous nine teams into the tournament, seven advanced to the Sweet Sixteen … where six promptly lost in the space of a few hours. More proof, in my opinion, that California, Washington and Oregon all should have been among the 16 seeded teams (and Stanford didn’t belong.) Over the past two seasons, only 2 of the 8 teams the committee has picked to reach the Final Four have actually made it.
HOME COURT DISADVANTAGE
All four regional sites—Minneapolis, Honolulu, Lexington and Gainesville—got lucky: the home teams—Minnesota, Hawaii, Kentucky and Florida—all reached the Sweet Sixteen. Only Florida made it to the Elite 8, and none advanced to the Final Four.