Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NCAA | Volleyball tournament’s best first-round matchup could be in Seattle

Sure, Washington plays Alabama State. But before that, Michigan vs. LSU looks plenty interesting
  • next: Michigan vs. LSU | December 6 | 5PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Alabama State @ #3 Washington | December 6 | 7PM


As the 2013 Division 1 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament begins, the first round will feature 32 matches, with the top 16 teams hosting three other schools at each location.

In many cities, fans will delay arriving until the second match of the night begins, since the later match features the home school. But in Seattle, there is every reason to arrive plenty early, because the undercard could be a great show.

Of all 32 matches, Washington has far and away the greatest disparity between its own RPI (3) and its opponent’s RPI, Alabama State (278). The RPI, remember, is the NCAA’s ranking of all 332 D1 teams, with 1 the highest. The champions of all 32 D1 conferences—including Alabama State—earn automatic bids to the tournament, even if their RPI is lower than 64.

But what’s the closest RPI spread between first round foes? Well, that would be LSU (30) and Michigan (33), two teams that will also be playing in Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena Friday night. On paper, at least, it could be one of the most competitive matches of the first round.

-photo courtesy University of Michigan Athletics

Using RPI and a bit of instinct, here’s Volleyblog Seattle’s top five most interesting first round matches:

5. MICHIGAN STATE vs OHIO @ Lexington
The Spartans started the season 17-1, including wins over Penn State and Nebraska. Since then, they were 4-10, with their only victories against lower-tier teams. Ohio has won 11 of its past 12, and has an early-season win against Oregon, and narrow 3-2 losses to tournament teams North Carolina and Michigan. Michigan State could be in trouble.

4. WICHITA STATE @ (14) KANSAS
Kansas drew arguably the toughest first-round opponent of any seeded team. Wichita State is 28-6 and has an impressive 35 RPI. The Shockers’ Ashley Andrade has the third-highest hitting percentage in the nation (.468). Kansas (23-7) is coming off a loss to Oklahoma in which the Jayhawks were outblocked 14-4 and hit just .170. The winner of this match faces the Creighton/Arkansas winner; unseeded Creighton’s RPI is a lofty 16.

3. LSU vs MICHIGAN @ Seattle
Both teams struggled this year in tough conferences. Michigan returned most of a team that went all the way to last season’s Final Four, losing in the semis to eventual National Champion Texas. LSU freshman Briana Holman is a big-time blocker (1.55 blocks/set) who will be tested by Michigan’s 6-4 Jennifer Cross (hitting .319).

2. NORTH CAROLINA vs CALIFORNIA @ Madison, WI
This is the third year in a row that the Tar Heels and Bears will meet in the tournament; the past two seasons, North Carolina has prevailed. This season, Cal is riding a five-match losing streak, four of those to teams that are also in this year’s postseason, and all without injured star player Adrienne Gehan. North Carolina has just four losses—all to the ACC’s other three tournament-bound teams (Duke—twice, Florida State and Miami.) Gehan may be back to help answer the question: can a second-tier Pac-12 team compete with a first-tier ACC team on a neutral court?

1. OREGON vs MIAMI (FL) @ Lincoln, NE
Miami’s new head coach is Keno Gandara, formerly on Jim McLaughlin’s staff at Washington. Oregon’s Jim Moore likes to have long, animated conversations with officials during matches, a habit Gandara openly chafed at the past few seasons. Both teams have had recent success after up-and-down seasons; the winner of this match likely gets to take on Nebraska on the Huskers’ home court. Last year, the Ducks beat the Huskers in Omaha.


FIRST ROUND MATCHUPS:

venue
seeded host team
RPI
opponent
RPI
Austin
(1) Texas
2
Texas St
104
University Park
(2) Penn State
1
LIU Brooklyn
88
Seattle
(3) Washington
5
Alabama St
278
Columbia
(4) Missouri
4
IUPUI
114
Gainesville
(5) Florida
3
Jacksonville
89
Los Angeles
(6) Southern Cal
7
N Hampshire
206
Stanford
(7) Stanford
6
Hampton
192
Lincoln
(8) Nebraska
9
Fairfield
154
San Diego
(9) San Diego
14
UCSB
60
Minneapolis
(10) Minnesota
11
Radford
157
Honolulu
(11) Hawai’i
17
Idaho St
102
Madison
(12) Wisconsin
15
Milwaukee
77
Champaign
(13) Illinois
20
Morehead St
95
Lawrence
(14) Kansas
13
Wichita St
35
Lexington
(15) Kentucky
10
Duquesne
93
Durham
(16) Duke
12
Charleston
65





venue
higher RPI team
RPI
lower RPI team
RPI
Austin
Texas A&M
31
UTSA
46
University Park
Utah
26
Yale
39
Seattle
LSU
30
Michigan
33
Columbia
Purdue
27
Central Ark
44
Gainesville
Florida St
19
Ga. Southern
73
Los Angeles
Colorado St
21
CS Northridge
41
Stanford
Oklahoma
18
Alabama
34
Lincoln
Oregon
25
Miami
52
San Diego
Arizona
24
N Mexico St
91
Minneapolis
Iowa St
23
Colorado
48
Honolulu
BYU
29
Arizona St
49
Madison
North Carolina
22
California
38
Champaign
Marquette
8
Louisville
42
Lawrence
Creighton
16
Arkansas
36
Lexington
Michigan St
28
Ohio
40
Durham
Georgia
32
American
45


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