Thursday, November 19, 2015

College | Washington volleyball’s prospects as the NCAA Tournament looms

UW’s balance and passing will be key
  • #2 Washington def. Oregon State 3-0 (25-19, 25-10, 25-21)
  • Fri, Nov 20 | 4:00PM | #2 Washington @ Oregon

Washington has the tools to make a deep NCAA Tournament run
-Volleyblog Seattle file photo by Leslie Hamann
It’s that time of year. The same question every day.

How do we think Washington will do in the NCAA Tournament?

The short answer: just fine.

The Huskies (25-2, 15-2) are currently ranked #2 in the nation by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), a poll of 64 Division 1 head coaches. The #1 team is USC (27-1, 15-1); its only loss was to Washington on October 30. UW’s only two losses were on the road at USC and Stanford (18-6, 12-4), teams the Huskies defeated on return matches at home in Seattle.

After last night’s 3-0 win over Oregon State in Corvallis, Washington has just three remaining Pac-12 matches: at Oregon (14-12, 8-9) this Friday, at Utah (9-18, 3-13) next Wednesday, and at home next Saturday against Washington State (15-14, 4-13.) The Ducks are on the tournament bubble, since teams with a losing overall record are not eligible. Likewise, the Cougars could come into Alaska Airlines Arena needing a victory to be tournament-qualified. Last season, a record 10 Pac-12 schools made the cut.

If UW wins its final three matches, it can share the Pac-12 title only if USC loses at least one more match. The Trojans are at #23 Arizona (17-11, 7-9) tomorrow, at #24 Arizona State (19-8, 8-8) Sunday, and finish at home against #11 UCLA (21-5, 12-4) Wednesday and California (9-18, 3-13) next Friday. Thanks to the Pac-12’s much-lamented unbalanced schedule, USC only played #7 Stanford once this season, a 3-2 win in Palo Alto.

When choosing the 64 teams for the NCAA Tournament, the committee relies heavily—though not exclusively—on RPI rankings. As of Monday, Washington was ranked #6, calculated 50% by its W-L record, 25% by its opponents’ W-L record, and 25% by its opponents’ opponents’ W-L records. As usual, the Huskies are downgraded by the relatively weak records of its nonconference opponents, despite the boost it gets from winning almost all of its tough Pac-12 matches.

The tournament selection committee would be wise to downplay Florida’s #4 RPI: the Gators (20-5, 12-4) are currently the fourth-place team in the SEC. Likewise, Kansas (23-2, 12-2) is overrated with a #5 RPI, thanks to the perennial weak competition in the Big 12. Currently, Minnesota (24-3, 16-1) has the #1 RPI, Texas (23-2, 13-1) is #2, and Southern Cal is #3. Texas, by the way, was swept October 28 at TCU (18-8, 8-6), and—like Kansas—plays in the underachieving Big 12.

Washington will unquestionably be one of the top 16 seeds when tournament brackets are revealed one week from Sunday. That means they will host the first two rounds, likely drawing teams from throughout the nation. The danger is that the committee will ship #8 Hawai’i (23-1, 13-0) to Seattle for the fourth time in the past six postseasons. The Rainbow Wahine, playing in the Big West Conference, have an RPI of only 27.

The real fun comes when the committee seeds the top 8 teams for the four Regionals. The top team in the Pac-12 will go to San Diego. Texas will certainly be assigned to Austin. Minnesota is a near-lock for Des Moines. Which means either Washington or USC will probably head for Lexington.

It’s the next four seeds that make it interesting. Would the committee send either Penn State (24-4, 13-4) or Nebraska (23-4, 14-3) to the same regional as Washington? Penn State just lost back-to-back matches to Minnesota and Michigan (18-10, 8-9). The November 28 Penn State @ Nebraska match could hold a clue.

As of today, USC, Washington, Minnesota and Texas would be reasonable choices to reach the Final Four in Omaha, with Nebraska, Penn State and Stanford with reasonable shots to emerge. Last season, BYU went all the way to the Finals, and could again be a factor.

And could UW go all the way? No team has two better middle blockers. Few, if any, teams serve, pass and play defense like the Huskies. As always, passing is absolutely key, and can make up for the fact that UW has more solid depth than absolute greatness at the pins. That, however, can get you to the Final Four.

  • In Washington’s 3-0 win last night against Oregon State, setter/opposite Bailey Tanner saw limited action. Reportedly “under the weather,” her time on the bench gave freshman Destiny Julye a chance to shine at opposite (8 kills, 0 errors, 12 attempts; .667) and sophomore Jade Finau plenty of quality minutes at setter (13 assists, 2 aces, 4 digs.) But balance was key, as the Huskies got terrific offense from sophomore opposite Crissy Jones (9 kills, 1 error, 19 swings; .421) and sophomore outside Tia Scambray (10 kills, 1 error, 19 swings; .474). Sophomore outside Courtney Schwan (9 kills, 3 errors, 26 attempts, .231) also looked solid.
  • Michigan’s 3-1 victory last night over #4 Penn State was the Wolverines’ first-ever win on the Nittany Lions’ home court. It came on the heels of Michigan’s upset over #4 Ohio State in Columbus, a win that ended a miserable 1-6 Michigan skid.

1 comment:

  1. I'm just so impressed with this TEAM. I honestly didn't think they would be anywhere near a 25-2 record with Krista leaving but they really seem to have each other's back. The graphic during the OSU game showing all 4 outsides with similar kill numbers said it all for me.. they are a team. Cassie and our ability to keep balls in play will be huge in the tourney. Hawaii just has to be hating the disrespect they get and having to face the Huskies early in every tourney.


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