2016 NCAA VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
- Rounds 1 & 2: December 1-3
- Regional Rounds (3 & 4): December 9-10
- Semifinals & Final: December 15 and 17
- Full bracket
The first wave of matches in the 2016 NCAA Volleyball tournament are wrapping up tonight. What have we learned in the first two days of action?
1. The Big Ten is For Real
Running at or near the top of the RPI rankings all year, the Big Ten is the only major conference have all of its tournament teams win their first round matches. That’s especially impressive considering the Big Ten entered the tournament tied with the Pac-12 for most entrants, with 8 qualifying teams.
In fact, the Big Ten is an incredible 31-4 in sets this year, with the only set losses being in Michigan’s 3-1 win over Oregon and Purdue’s 3-1 loss to Missouri, both in round 2. The Big Ten is 10-1 in matches with every team sweeping their first-round matches and Wisconsin already sweeping its second round battle. A look at conference records so far, sorted by most wins:
And here’s the numbers for all conferences represented:
2. Creighton Living Up To Preseason Hype
To start the 2-16 season, Creighton earned its highest-ever AVCA rank: 18th. The team promptly went on to drop its season opener to Wichita State, then lost 3 of their next 5 to drop to 2-4 just a few weeks into the season. The Bluejays eventually dropped from the rankings with a 10-6 non-conference schedule, and an 18-0 run through the Big East wasn’t enough to move back to that 18th spot.
But Creighton might have proved those preseason expectations right with the first gigantic upset of the tournament so far. The Bluejays beat Kansas, the #5 seed that was actually considered underrated at that spot after winning the Big East over Texas. The rub for Creighton now, though, is that both of their wins have come in 5-setters. Can Creighton persevere through those early tests that pushed them to their limit? Or will the experience playing in the clutch prove incredibly valuable? The next round will provide an answer, with Creighton running up against Michigan, which is 6-1 in sets so far in two wins.
3. Rematches a Sure Thing… Mostly
The first round of matches offered four replays of regular season matchups. Predictably, those matchups went about the same way the second time – with one major exceptions.
Minnesota crushed North Dakota 3-0, just like they did on September 16th. Michigan topped American 3-0 in a carbon copy of their September 9th meeting. Creighton beat UNI, but the 3-2 marathon match was much more tense than the 3-0 Creighton blowout at a neutral site back on September 2nd. But Ohio State, which lost to Missouri State 3-2 back on September 9th, broke the tend with a 3-0 trouncing. That revenge win sent Ohio State to the second round, where they’ll face Kansas State for the first time this year.
The Kansas-Creighton rematch in round 2 also changed results, with Creighton avenging a 3-2 loss in September.
4. Maybe Kansas Isn’t What We Thought They Were?
The flip-side of the Creighton section is the reflection on Kansas. The Jayhawks looked like a national power with just 2 losses on the year and a Big 12 title over the top of last year’s NCAA runners-up Texas. But the loss to Creighton raises the question of whether we were wrong to be surprised that the selection committee still chose Texas as the #4 seed and relegated Kansas to #5.
The Jayhawks won the Big 12 by one game – that was by virtue of splitting their matches with Texas and staying perfect against the rest of the conference, while Texas dropped one on the road to Iowa State. But outside of that number (admittedly the most important one, conference record), the numbers do favor Texas. Kansas barely scraped out a 3-2 win at home against the Longhorns while Texas cruised to a 3-1 win in the meeting in Austin. Texas’s loss to Iowa State was also a 5-setter. Meanwhile outside the conference, Texas had much tougher sledding, playing eventual #1 Nebraska, #3 Wisconsin and tournament participants Oregon, Lipscomb, Colorado State, Wichita State and Texas A&M. Kansas played only tournament teams Creighton, Northern Iowa and Purdue outside the conference, losing to Purdue and beating the other two.
The Big 12 title still belongs solely to Kansas in what was a great season for the Jayhawks. But the debate over the 4- and 5-seeds seems now to be settled, especially with a few more wins from Texas.
5. Big 5 Conferences dominating
Members of the “major” NCAA Conferences are rolling so far, with the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and SEC combining for a match record of 27-8. Of those 8 losses, 4 have come to other Big 5 teams (Iowa State to Purdue, Oregon to Michigan, Purdue to Missouri and Washington State to Wisconsin). Only 4 mid-major teams have knocked off a Big 5 team so far: UNLV (over Utah), SMU (over Texas A&M), Hawaii (over USC) and Creighton (over Kansas).
Meanwhile three other mid-major teams moved on with wins over other mid-majors. BYU (over Princeton), Coastal Carolina (over James Madison) and Boise State (over WKU). Coastal Carolina and Boise State face Big 5 teams in the next round, as do Creighton, SMU and Hawaii. That leaves only one mid-major vs mid-major match in round 2: BYU vs UNLV.