The first round/quarterfinals kick off tomorrow in the NCAA Tournament, as the UCLA Bruins face off against the Harvard Crimson on one end of the bracket while UC Irvine and Ohio State go toe-to-toe. The Bruins may have a bit of an edge in the tournament, as they have the luxury of playing it on their home court in Pauley Pavillion, but that should lead to a strong showing from the fans to get the event energized and underway.
#3 UCLA (24-7, AT-LARGE/MPSF) VS. #17 HARVARD (13-13, EIVA CHAMPS)
|#||Conf. Rk.||#||Conf. Rk.|
|Kills Per Set||13.02||1st||11.37||3rd|
|Assists Per Set||12.23||1st||10.68||3rd|
|Opponent Hitting %||.235||1st||.241||2nd|
|Blocks Per Set||2.40||4th||2.10||5th|
|Digs Per Set||8.28||3rd||9.79||2nd|
|Aces Per Set||1.72||2nd||1.32||6th|
OFFENSE: ADVANTAGE UCLA
While Harvard has the player averaging the most kills per set coming into this one in Brad Gretsch, UCLA has the players who rank two through five. They have tons of balance and an elite setter in Micah Ma’a who can cause plenty of problems both in facilitating for that offense and being aggressive for kills of his own. That’s shown in their team .350 hitting percentage – good for second in the country – while Harvard has been an above average unit, but not one that compares to the balance and power of the Bruins.
DEFENSE/SERVE RECEIVE: ADVANTAGE UCLA
The Bruins have a slight edge in opponent hitting percentage, but that gap seems wider knowing that UCLA has faced a tougher schedule and conference filled with high-octane offenses. The Crimson total more digs, which could either represent a stronger floor defense or the fact they get less terminations so more are available, while UCLA notches more blocks. The Bruins also have the better serve receive, and should in this one factoring in how good the Bruins serve is, bringing us to our next category…
SERVING: ADVANTAGE UCLA
UCLA has induced a risk-reward serve style, where they let it rip and don’t care about serve errors, instead opting for high ace numbers and putting their opponent out of system. It will likely produce a high amount of points for Harvard based on those errors, but when it’s in play it should cause some problems for the Crimson as well. On the flip side, Harvard hasn’t been one of the better aggressive serving teams in the country, which could play right into strong passing and offense for UCLA.
UCLA has the added luxury of playing this whole NCAA Tournament at home in Los Angeles at Pauley Pavillion. That means they should have a strong fan support and will be comfortable with their setting and arena, likely taking some pressure off of the big moment for them – not to mention that they are 17-1 at home this season against just 6-6 on the road.
Christian Hessenauer – Senior Opposite
- 3.40 kills per set, .321 hitting percentage, 1.46 digs per set, 0.89 blocks per set, 0.23 aces per set
Hessenauer is the leader offensively for UCLA among a balanced attack, but he’s also important to the team defensively where he nears a block per set. His importance was seen earlier in the season when he was out for a few matches with injury and the team struggled but had success in his return. In total for the year, the Bruins are 0-2 without him and 24-5 with him.
Brad Gretsch – Senior Middle Blocker/Outside Hitter
- 3.48 kills per set, .323 hitting percentage, 1.58 digs per set, 0.51 blocks per set, 0.15 aces per set
The 6’6″ Gretsch ranks 21st in the country in kills per set, and he does so efficiently as well. He plays a piece in the defense too with over 1.5 digs per set and half a block per set. Without the team balance that UCLA has to surround Hessenauer, Gretsch has to be on his ‘A’ game in this one. Just like UCLA’s player to watch though, Gretsch was out with injury earlier this season as well, and Harvard has been completely different with or without him, going 12-6 with him in the lineup and 1-7 with him not playing.
PREDICTION: UCLA, 3-0
It’s important to note that Harvard has been a much different team than when they started the year with some injuries – notably to Gretsch – and were just 1-8 overall. If you look at their just conference numbers, they are up across the board, including a .284 hitting percentage, which more accurately shows who they are. That should keep them close throughout, but UCLA has enough firepower and balance in addition to the home court advantage to win this one in a sweep where Harvard never goes away.