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
Get ready for tonight’s NCAA Championship final between Texas and Stanford. Here are five big storylines to watch out for:
Height Vs Power
The key battle is strength-on-strength, with Stanford’s huge height advantage going up against a very physical Texas hitting game.
The Cardinal have one of the tallest rosters nationwide, with three key contributors over 6-foot-6. That includes outside hitter Kathryn Plummer (6’6″), middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris (6’6″) and opposite hitter Merete Lutz. That trio absolutely crushed Minnesota’s highly-touted attack last week, combining for 34 kills and 15 blocks between the the three players. Stanford also only played two players below six foot on Thursday, with most of the team in the 6’3″ range.
Texas, meanwhile, has overcome height disadvantages by beating teams in physicality at the net. Without playing anyone over 6’4″ last week against Nebraska, Texas matched the Huskers in kills with 43 and also outblocked the defending national champs 10-4. The Longhorns beat down Nebraska at the point of attack, hitting .321 to just .182 for the Huskers. Chief in that effort were 6-foot-4 outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu (who hit .378 with 15 kills agianst Nebraska) and 6-foot-3 middle blocker Paulina Prieto Cerame (who was .259 with 12 kills).
As we noted yesterday, the 2016 tournament has suggested it’s better to be on the rise in the NCAA tournament than to enter the tourney as queens of the hill. Both Stanford and Texas had to upset higher-seeded teams on their way to the finals, but have proved to be red-hot and less predictable, as their rosters were still gelling as the tournament moved forward.
The similarities between the two teams are striking. They both hold some of the longest running win streaks in the NCAA. Interestingly enough, the last loss for both teams came just over a month ago, on November 12. On that day, Texas dropped a 5-setter to Iowa State on the road, while Stanford also lost a heartbreaker to a conference rival, falling 2-3 to UCLA at home. Including 5 tournament wins apiece, Stanford is on a 9-match win streak since, and Texas hs won 8 straight.
No Conference Title, No Problem
In another interesting statistic neither team was the champion of its conference and both had to settle for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Those Nov 12 losses were the deciding factors, too. Texas split with Kansas in Big 12 play, but Kansas went undefeated outside of the Texas match, meaning the Longhorn loss to Iowa State cost them a share of the conference title. Stanford also finished one game back after getting swept by UCLA. A win in that Nov 12 match would have pulled things into a tie for the Pac-12 title with Washington, but Stanford swept Washington in regular season play.
True Neutral Site
In contrast to last year’s NCAA final, which featured Nebraska playing in front of a home crowd in Omaha, this year’s final is on true neutral turf. Columbus, Ohio is more than 1,000 miles away from either team’s home campus, and neither team travels there regularly for conference play. In fact, outside of Thursday’s semifinals, neither team has played a match in Columbus since well before any of the current roster was playing collegiately.
A win for Stanford would be the 7th NCAA title in program history, tying the Cardinal with Penn State for the most all-time. It would also be the first NCAA Championship for Stanford in more than a decade, with the last win coming in 2004. Texas has only won the NCAA Championship twice, with the most recent coming in 2012. A win would move them into a tie for 5th all-time in program titles, joining Hawaii, Long Beach State and USC with 3 apiece.