Friday, September 20, 2013

Pac-12 | Volleyball power ratings for week four

Washington on top, but it's time for the Pac-12 to cut out a week of nonconference play
  • #3 Washington def. Coppin State 3-0 (25-4, 25-11, 25-18)
  • next: Cal State Northridge at #3 Washington | September 20 | 7PM


The match started ugly. Coppin State’s Chelsee Sauni and Washington’s Cassie Strickland traded service errors. A Krista Vansant kill made it 2-1, Huskies, as Jenna Orlandini stepped to the service line.

-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
Eighteen points later, Orlandini was still serving. Washington built an incredible 20-1 lead, on the strength of four more Vansant kills, two Kylin Muñoz kills, four Melanie Wade block assists, two Orlandini aces and six Coppin State hitting errors. By the time UW had wrapped up the set at 25-4, the Huskies had not substituted a single player … only three of its players had even served.

This mismatch against a 3-10 team out of Baltimore from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is increasingly typical of the Pac-12’s questionable decision to add a fourth week to its nonconference schedule. Teams throughout the conference have struggled to find competitive matches this week, leaving the schedule dotted with opponents like Loyola Maryland, Prairie View A&M, Wofford, Alabama State and Louisiana-Monroe. Last season, the Pac-12 was 31-1 during the fourth week of nonconference play, and should have a similar record this week.

The schedule is weak for several reasons. With the introduction of the Pac-12 Network, conference matches are scattered throughout the week. The conference is one of the last to announce its schedule, so Pac-12 teams are reluctant to plan matches in eastern or central time zones the weekend before conference play. Last season , Washington had to cancel a match at Penn State when the conference announced the Huskies would have an early-in-the-week opener against Washington State.

The original decision to expand nonconference an extra week included hope that the nation’s top two conferences—Pac-12 and Big Ten—would schedule each other during week four. But Big Ten teams are rarely willing to travel west, and particularly not just before their own conference play begins.

The West Coast Conference has several strong teams, but—like several other leagues—it starts conference play this weekend, and is therefore not available. Pickings are so slim that Oregon and Colorado have simply scheduled … NO ONE AT ALL this week.

Besides hoped-for television matchups, the fourth week was supposed to give teams a chance to enhance their postseason RPI with wins against other top-ranked teams. Instead, we see Pac-12 teams playing not to lose—and getting little benefit from victories against low-RPI teams like Coppin State.

There is a cost to all this: Cutting a week out of the conference schedule means each school misses two matches a year against other Pac-12 teams. No school is hurt more this year than Washington, where—for the first time in 36 years—Oregon will not visit Seattle. The Huskies and Ducks have a passionate rivalry, and last season’s 5-set heart attack win against national runner-up Oregon in Alaska Airlines Arena was the Huskies’ most entertaining match of the year. The announced crowd for Coppin State was 1,300. The Ducks would have drawn 6,000 or more and a significant television audience. The Huskies also miss a road match in Corvallis this season, where Washington hasn’t lost since 2001.

It’s time for the Pac-12 to either figure a way for a marquee Pac-12/Big Ten week four matchup, or jettison this failed experiment.



Tonight’s match with Cal State Northridge of the Big West Conference should be much more competitive. The Matadors are 9-2, with a 3-0 loss to Creighton and a narrow 3-2 loss to UCLA, both ranked teams. Natalie Allen is the big weapon for CSUN, averaging 3.44 kills per set. The match could hinge on serving: Washington leads the nation in aces per set, while Northridge has sometimes struggled with serve receive. As a team, Washington is hitting .339, second-best in the nation. Northridge ranks a very respectable 27th, at .287.

WEEK FOUR PAC-12 POWER RANKINGS …


CONF
ALL

1
Washington
0-0
7-0
Win against Big Ten stalwart Illinois offered glimpse of Vansant’s potential; Wade looking steady in the middle
2
Arizona St
0-0
8-1
ASU’s football team benefited from poor officiating against Wisconsin; the volleyball team was the victim of a questionable call against Illinois. Devils answered with 3-0 sweep of Texas.
3
USC
0-0
9-1
Trojans the latest victim of Cinderella San Diego … could face the Toreros again in December during Sweet 16 at Galen
4
Stanford
0-0
6-2
Everyone knows Cardinal are a monster team; opponents worry that losses to Florida and Texas will awake sleeping giant.
5
Arizona
0-0
7-2
‘Cats 5-match win streak ends with a respectable 3-1 loss at Hawai’i, without Jane Croson. Croson and Madi Kingdon will be a load.
6
UCLA
0-0
9-1
Bruins last three wins include 5-set nailbiters against CS Northridge and Long Beach St. Next up: @ USC.
7
California
0-0
7-2
After 7 straight wins, Bears fall hard to Kansas State and UC Irvine. Next up: Stanford.
8
Utah
0-0
9-1
Utes fall from the unbeaten ranks with heartbreaking loss to revived rival BYU, a team more similar to Pac-12 play than Utah’s other nonconference opponents.
9
Oregon
0-0
7-3
Ducks’ nonconference record is worse than it looks: did poorly against good competition, and vice versa. Next up: OSU
10
Oregon St
0-0
7-2
Beavers’ nonconference record mirrored the Ducks; a bit of a test tonight at Long Beach State.
11
Colorado
0-0
8-1
Buffs trained during preseason at the USOC in Colorado Springs. No gold medals, but have won 8 in a row.
12
Washington St
0-0
11-0
Only in the Pac-12 can one of the nation’s few remaining undefeated teams be ranked so low. A creampuff preseason schedule proves WSU is better than average, but little else so far.



95-16



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