The Final Four is set, with three matches left in the 2018 Men’s DI-II season. That brings us into the NCAA Semifinals as we get a match between the top team for basically the entire season (LBSU) and the two-time defending National Champion (Ohio State) for a spot in the title match. These two nearly met for the championship a season ago, but LBSU lost in this round to BYU. Now we get to see the matchup, that not only features two great teams, but the last two AVCA Players of the Year.
#6 Ohio State (25-5, MIVA Champs) vs. #1 LBSU (26-1, Big West Champs)
|#||Conf. Rk.||#||Conf. Rk.|
|Kills Per Set||13.37||1st||12.87||2nd|
|Assists Per Set||12.36||1st||12.18||2nd|
|Opponent Hitting %||.210||1st||.181||1st|
|Blocks Per Set||1.85||7th||2.45||2nd|
|Digs Per Set||9.36||5th||9.43||2nd|
|Aces Per Set||1.84||1st||1.83||1st|
OFFENSE: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Ohio State has the quantity while LBSU has the efficiency. You can say that LBSU’s kill and assists per set numbers are lower because they find more points with the block, so have less to go around, but having almost 700 less attack attempts could also lead to a higher hitting percentage. Therefore we call this one a wash as both offenses have great setters with a superstar outside hitter among other All-American options for balance down the lineup.
DEFENSE: ADVANTAGE LBSU
The 49ers have the top defense in the country, which circulates from a balance of a strong block and floor defense combined together to produce a .181 opponent hitting percentage – only behind King. Compare that to the Buckeyes, who leave something to be desired in terms of blocking, and you find yourself with the clear advantage going to Long Beach State defensively.
SERVING: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Each of these teams are neck-and-neck in aces. If you factor in serve errors, LBSU has an edge (4.35 per set vs. 5.29 per set). That can be seen one of two ways though; (1) LBSU garners similar success with less error, or (2) Ohio State is more aggressive and can put teams out of system with added risk of a point given away. Still, the 49ers would slightly be favored for efficiency, but the Buckeyes have recorded seven or more aces in all five of their postseason matches so far, including eight or more in four of the five. How they’re serving lately makes this a tie.
SERVE RECEIVE: ADVANTAGE LBSU
This goes along with LBSU’s defensive strengths as well, as they have arguably the top passing team in the entire country. That bodes well for their chances considering Ohio State’s serve. Plus, the Buckeyes haven’t been as solid in serve receive, meaning the gap in this detail of the game could be a critical determining factor. In total for the season, LBSU’s opponents are averaging just 0.78 aces per set while Ohio State’s are at 0.87, plus the aspect of passing to give the setter their most options seems to favor the 49ers as well.
Nicolas Szerszen (Ohio State) – Senior Outside Hitter
- 3.75 kills per set, .386 hitting percentage, 2.15 digs per set, 0.38 blocks per set, 0.56 aces per set
- The 2016 AVCA National Player of the Year has revved it up down the stretch of this season after another remarkable year. He steps his game up in the postseason and NCAA Tournament too, totaling 3.94 kills per set on a .338 mark, 2.39 digs per set and 0.94 aces per set in the teams’ five NCAA Tournament matches in 2016 and 2017. So far in 2018 he’s added 4.5 kills per set on a .500 hitting percentage in eight sets.
TJ DeFalco (Long Beach State) – Junior Outside Hitter
- 3.61 kills per set, .375 hitting percentage, 1.84 digs per set, 0.65 blocks per set, 0.55 aces per set
- The reigning AVCA National Player of the Year has been even better this season in leading his team to a one-loss season. To keep it that way he will need to be better than he was in the Final Four last year against BYU, when he was held below his normal efficiency (.231) while owning five serve errors and low block/dig numbers. It’d be a smart guess that he more than makes up for it and effects the game by filling up the stat sheet.
PREDICTION: LBSU, 3-2
Don’t doubt the heart of a champion, and although LBSU has been the clear choice for #1 all season, at this stage Ohio State will not be an easy pushover. They’re playing at their best right now too, so should have enough that they could pull the upset and at least take the 49ers to their limit. Overall though, Long Beach State just has so much balance and has been able to fend off the other top teams so far this season. Their defense and passing ability should be critical as well. Not to mention that they are playing closer to home and may have a better contingent of fans in support of them as they look to roll on to the National Championship match on Saturday night.