The first NCAA Tournament match for the 2018 men’s season kicks off tonight in the play-in-game between Ohio State and King. It represents a home match for the MIVA champions as they host the Conference Carolinas champions and a spot against UC Irvine in the First Round on the line. Let’s take a deep dive into the match as we preview the action ahead.
#6 Ohio State (23-5, MIVA Champs) vs. #16 King (23-5, Conf. Carolinas Champs)
|#||Conf. Rk.||#||Conf. Rk.|
|Kills Per Set||13.3||1st||11.48||2nd|
|Assists Per Set||12.3||1st||10.88||2nd|
|Opponent Hitting %||.203||1st||.146||1st|
|Blocks Per Set||1.88||7th||2.35||1st|
|Digs Per Set||9.5||4th||9.91||2nd|
|Aces Per Set||1.82||1st||1.57||3rd|
Offense: Advantage Ohio State
The Buckeyes have one of the top offenses in the entire country, and while King puts out a solid unit, Ohio State is on a whole different level. They have a trio of athletes over three kills per set and one of the top setters in the country in Sanil Thomas. They’re not just powerful and balanced, but they’re efficient too and can go toe-to-toe with anyone in regards to this unit in the country.
Defense/Serve Receive: Advantage King
Ohio State’s biggest weakness this season has been serve receive. They also lack a top notch block and while they own a solid defense overall still, King has proven to be an elite unit on that end this season. Part of their statistical advantage on defense comes from an easier schedule, but even if you knock down their stats taking that into regard, the Tornado should have a slight edge here.
Serving: Advantage Ohio State
While the Buckeyes may have some holes in serve receive at moments in the game, they provide plenty for their opponent with their ability to let it rip from the service line. On an off day the powerful serve can cause extra serve errors, but the flip side is even when they’re not logging a barrage of aces they are still pushing teams out of system. If King shows weakness in serve receive, the Buckeyes should feast from the service area in this one.
Ohio State obviously owns the experience factor here as they’ve won back-to-back National Championships and played five matches in the NCAA Tournament with their group of upperclassmen. On the flip side, King is appearing in its first ever NCAA Tournament, as they are hungry to get in the win column in the event. Another key piece to this is that it won’t be in Pauley Pavillion on neutral court, but instead in Columbus at Ohio State where they’ve been dominant at home.
Nicolas Szerszen – Senior Outside Hitter
- 3.69 kills per set, .376 hitting %, 2.19 digs per set, 0.56 aces per set, 0.38 blocks per set
Szerszen won National Player of the Year as a sophomore and is in the running this year, as a likely first-team All-American. He’s got elite numbers across the board and can absolutely thump the ball. In his last two years pushing the team to a pair of National Titles, he’s posted 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 too, so you know he will be at his best in the spotlight again.
Jeff Sprayberry –
- 3.70 kills per set, .294 hitting %, 1.43 digs per set, 0.38 aces per set, 0.26 blocks per set
Sprayberry and his teammate Kiel Bell each total over three kills per set, meaning they are carrying a big load for the offense and will need to be on their ‘A’-games against Ohio State. He’s been on it plenty this season and lately too, totaling 4.2 kills per set on a .386 hitting percentage, 1.2 digs per set and 0.7 aces per set during the Conference Carolinas Tournament, as he looks to keep rolling in a potential All-American vs. All-American battle on the pin.
Prediction: Ohio State, 3-1
Ohio State has added motivation now that they were surprisingly pushed to the play-in-game, although at this stage of the season where everyone is competing to keep playing, that may not be the difference. What does help though in this match is that it will be in Columbus where Ohio State is 13-1 on the season. Not only have they been more comfortable on their home court, but their attacking serve should limit the King offense enough to where their offense can take over, even against one of the top defenses in the country. They also have the experience as back-to-back National Champions, and while King has enough to possibly take a set in this one, the Szerszen effect should be in full-force to lead the Buckeyes to victory.