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NCAA Volleyball Tournament: What we know and what we don’t

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A look back at the first two rounds and forward to who plays next in the sweet 16

I have to admit; after the first and second round of volleyball, I was burned out on volleyball. I watched a ton, I wrote a lot and I was ready for a day away. That has never happened before. But I am back, and I am pumped about the sweet 16 because I could not guess what will happen next, and that’s exciting! Of course, you wouldn’t be reading this if I didn’t at least give it a shot here, but first, let’s talk about what happened in the round of 32.

Bottom Right of the bracket

Let’s start in the bottom right bracket: UC Santa Barbara took Texas to five sets in Texas. The crowd sure played a role in bringing the Texas team back from the loss they were charging towards. The Texas coaching staff made a big decision mid match; they changed liberos. Sure, the rules say you can change which player wears the different color jersey after every set, but to do it and inside an elimination match is gutsy, and very rare. It was also, in retrospect, the right choice. Interesting to see who starts as the libero against Louisville.

Louisville gave us our first true upset of the tournament. They beat the #15 seed Western Kentucky.

Still in the bottom right the UCF vs Florida match was not terribly competitive. Florida won in three sets hitting .390 as a team while UCF hit .140 as a team. The difference in those hitting percentages tells so much about this match and the difference in these teams, not competitive.

The last match in that region Minnesota vs Creighton sure was competitive. Creighton was up 2-1 in sets and the score was 24-22 in the fourth. Odds were far far far in Creighton favor with a rally scoring format. They needed just one side out, just one. MN won 26-24 and went on to win the fifth set. Incredible. I still have trouble understanding how Creighton didn’t win.

They didn’t choke or make a lot of mistakes, rather MN dug deep, wouldn’t let Creighton terminate the ball in those last few points of the fourth set and won. They still believed they could win, and they did.

Coach McCutcheon said something about his MN team in the postgame press conference. He said, “this win and come back from being down like we did doesn’t give us any points in the next round but it does give us a place to go when we are down again. It gives us confidence.” Powerful!

Top Right of the bracket

Just above in the top right of the bracket was another upset, a big one, Cincinnati eliminated #6 Pittsburgh. One of the main stories of this tournament up until last weekend was that Pitt was under-seeded and would have to beat Stanford and Penn State to get back home to play for the national championship.

They didn’t even get to that point in the tournament. Cincy played great, tenacious and really played as a team. They had lost to Pitt earlier this season. In that first meeting, Pitt shut down the Bearcats offense. Specifically they shut down Cincinnati’s star, Jordan Thompson. In the second round of the tournament Thompson was great but so was the whole team.

Now Cincinnati gets a shot at Penn State on Friday. PSU dropped the first set to Towson but looked in full swing for the next three. They won in four.

Also in this region, Utah upset #14 BYU. Upset is really not the best word here: Utah destroyed them. I didn’t see this upset coming. The match was not competitive as BYU could not stop Utah’s offensive machine and the scores went, 25-15, 25-15, 25-15.

Utah meets Stanford who also won easily in the round of 32. They beat Cal Poly in three. Stanford looks strong and any injury to star outside hitter, Kathryn Plummer, had earlier in the season is not affecting her now. She looked strong with 17 kills on 35 attempts.

In the top left bracket

Baylor hasn’t been challenged yet at the overall #1 seed. They won easily against the storied USC program. They meet Purdue in the sweet 16 who won in four over a talented Marquette team. Purdue is a good blocking team with a great right side hitter, Grace Cleveland. I look forward to watching Baylor’s amazing outside hitter, Yossiana Pressley perform against their block.

I thought the match Kentucky vs Michigan would be competitive, it really wasn’t. U of M ended the B10 season looking strong, fast and like a team nobody wanted to meet in the tournament. But then, against Kentucky, Michigan looked slow and out of sorts. Kentucky, on the other hand, looked strong. I hadn’t seen them much this season. I saw during the season they had some surprising loses to teams but I couldn’t see why as I watched them play Michigan. Leah Edmond is great as is their setter, Madison Lilley! UK meets Washington in the sweet 16. There is a real shot for the #9 Kentucky to win.

The Washington vs South Carolina match was competitive. I thought WA looked like the better team from the start but SC played well and challenged the WA defense. Washington won 25-23, 26-24, 25-8. Talent won out, despite the great effort from South Carolina.

Bottom Left of the bracket

Nebraska fans sweated it out in their match against Missouri. Mizzou won the first set. So you thought it was just NU having a slow start. In the second set, when they looked better and were in the lead when there was a collision between Lexi Sun, who was getting kills, and libero Kenzie Knuckles, and Sun has to come off the court. Most fans probably thought the end has come.

NU has very few subs on their bench. But Nebraska won the second set, Sun was ok and the match goes on. Next, set three is going well for Nebraska, the Huskers are beginning to block the two very different, but very talented, Mizzou outside hitters, but the set is back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It just kept going and Nebraska fans were sweating. Huskers win 32-30.

The fourth set went much more Nebraska’s way. You could say it was vintage Nebraska volleyball. Set three seemed to tire Mizzou out, and there was less fire from them in set four. Nebraska meets Hawaii in the next round. Hawaii won efficiently against San Diego.

Texas A&M vs Rice was a great match. It only went four sets but there was a lot of volleyball and a lot of talent displayed. A&M won and faces Wisconsin. They have a fabulous outside hitter, Hollann Hans. She elevates well, has a fast arm swing and really reaches. I don’t know how she’ll fair against the 6’8’’ and 6’4’’ Wisconsin block but I’m sure excited to watch!!

You can see the Regional matches online and on TV Friday and Saturday

Baylor vs. Purdue Friday Dec. 13 12 p.m. ESPNU

Washington vs. Kentucky Friday Dec. 13 2:30 p.m. ESPN3

Wisconsin vs. Texas A&M Friday Dec. 13 2 p.m. ESPNU

Nebraska vs. Hawaii Friday Dec. 13 4:30 p.m. ESPN3

Texas vs. Louisville Friday Dec. 13 4 p.m. ESPNU

Minnesota vs. Florida Friday Dec. 13 6:30 p.m. ESPN3

Penn State vs. Cincinnati Friday Dec. 13 8 p.m. ESPN3

Stanford vs. Utah Friday Dec. 13 11 p.m. ESPNU