The most intriguing first round matchup tomorrow features the Ohio State Buckeyes and UC Irvine Anteaters – two teams stacked right next to each other in the latest VolleyMob Top 20 Power Rankings. The Buckeyes had to take down King in the play-in-game to get here, but made quick work of King (3-0) for their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament victory. As they look to keep rolling, UC Irvine will look to hush the contingent that thought Hawaii should be in over them, while also dousing the two-time defending champs.
#6 OHIO STATE (24-5, MIVA CHAMPS) VS. #5 UC IRVINE (21-9, AT-LARGE/BIG WEST)
|#||Conf. Rk.||#||Conf. Rk.|
|Kills Per Set||13.36||1st||12.68||3rd|
|Assists Per Set||12.36||1st||12.03||3rd|
|Opponent Hitting %||.204||1st||.257||3rd|
|Blocks Per Set||1.89||7th||2.60||1st|
|Digs Per Set||9.41||5th||8.41||5th|
|Aces Per Set||1.84||1st||0.92||6th|
OFFENSE: ADVANTAGE OHIO STATE
Both teams have elite offenses, but Ohio State’s pushed out slightly better numbers throughout. It won’t be a one-sided edge for the Buckeyes, but their star-power and three players who average over three kills per set makes them different than a UC Irvine team with less from the top three but more balance through four. Regardless of the small edge for the Buckeyes though, we should see both teams put up solid offensive stats.
DEFENSE/SERVE RECEIVE: ADVANTAGE UC IRVINE
Ohio State posts a much better opponent hitting percentage, but here is where the schedule comes into play. The MIVA is a strong conference, but if we’re just isolating it to facing offenses, UC Irvine having to play four matches against two of the best in the country in LBSU and Hawaii plus others leads to that number being more distanced. Still, it would probably favor Ohio State, but what shifts this to advantage Anteaters is that UC Irvine has one of the top blocks in the country. That not just leads to defense but scoring points, which should make for a powerful clash with the Ohio State offense. Additionally, UC Irvine has been better in serve receive, where Ohio State’s biggest weakness lies.
SERVING: ADVANTAGE OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes let it rip from the service line with a risk-reward style. It’s not quite to the extremities of UCLA, but it does produce a high ace total and can keep opponents out of sorts when it’s on and in-play. That rivals UC Irvine, who utilizes more of a conservative approach from the line because they know with their elite block they can afford for their opponent to possess the ball a few more times without risking a serve error. It’s another clash in styles, but overall Ohio State has the edge here.
Ohio State has championship DNA, as they have not only won back-to-back National Championships but their last six NCAA Tournament matches. They have plenty of experience in the event and won’t be bothered by the moment. Compare that to UC Irvine, who will be in their first NCAA Tournament since 2015 when only the UC Irvine senior class was on the roster as freshmen. That might be an important piece early in the match as the team’s try to settle in.
Nicolas Szerszen – Senior Outside Hitter
- 3.72 kills per set, .383 hitting percentage, 2.16 digs per set, 0.38 blocks per set, 0.59 aces per set
Szerszen has fantastic numbers across the board and can do everything well for this team. Not to mention he’s been pivotal in pushing this team to back-to-back titles. In fact, in 2016 and 2017 he logged 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. He added onto his postseason success against King in the play-in-game, throwing down 14 kills in just three sets on a .619 hitting percentage and four digs, four aces and two blocks.
Scott Stadick – Sophomore Middle Blocker
- 2.08 kills per set, .418 hitting percentage, 0.34 digs per set, 1.32 blocks per set, 0.04 aces per set
The seven-footer will have his hands full against the powerful Ohio State offense in this one, but he will also be critical in slowing it down with his blocking ability. In total for the season he is second in the country in blocks per set. He also won’t have high volume of offense, but what he does get a hold of usually falls as he’s been very efficient at collecting his kills. If he gets rolling on both ends, Ohio State will have more difficulty offensively and in defending a UC Irvine attack with three other players ahead of Stadick in kills per set.
PREDICTION: OHIO STATE, 3-2
These two teams on paper look about as even as it could be, so the edge goes to Ohio State with experience and a championship pedigree. Since both teams have strong offenses and different successes defensively, the serve game will be critical. The Buckeyes will have the more aggressive serve in the match to go against a strong serve receive team while UC Irvine will have the more conservative serve against an Ohio State team who has struggled at times in serve receive. Due to the fact that they aren’t ultra-powerful there though, it may be easier for the Buckeyes to stay in-system in the match, which also could give Ohio State the slight edge in what we project a five-set victory. Take it with a grain of salt though, as that could easily change and the Anteaters could find themselves victorious.