This is the first of a two-part series where we break down the details of two teams’ strengths and weaknesses to determine who might have the upper hand in a big match of the week. This SR breaks down the last major Big Ten match-up between #1 Penn State against #7 Minnesota.
- #1 Penn State (27-1, 17-1 Big Ten) at #7 Minnesota (25-4, 14-4 Big Ten)
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Saturday, November 25th, 8:30 Eastern Time/7:30 Central Time
- Big Ten Network
- Full TV and streaming schedule
How big is the match between #1 Penn State (27-1, 17-1 Big Ten) and #7 Minnesota (25-4, 14-4 Big Ten)? With the majority of the U.S. turning their casual fan focus to college basketball, and college football bowl season upon us, it is rare to find a volleyball match this late in the season actually televised, let alone televised live on BTN. This particular match will be on the Big Ten Network live. Not BTN+, and not tape-delayed at 2 in the morning when no one is watching. This match is huge for many reasons, and none are lost on us here at VolleyMob.
HOW BIG IS THIS FOR PENN STATE?
Because of Penn State’s schedule last week (hosting IU and at Rutgers), Penn State’s RPI number dipped from #1 to #4. It’s not PSU’s fault, but your strength of schedule will always drop when playing RPI #127 and #224, respectively. Their RPI number will most definitely rise if (and only if) PSU wins both matches this weekend (At Wisconsin, at Minnesota). Assuming a win at Wisconsin Friday night, this is the last regular season match worth watching for any conference before the NCAA Selection Committee decides who goes and who stays home. Nebraska has Iowa remaining on their schedule, so the assumption is a win for the Huskers. That means Penn State must win both because (1) Big Ten title on the line, and (2) #1 overall seed on the line. Pressure? Russ Rose will find a way to push his perennially exceptional program to be motivated once more.
HOW BIG IS THIS FOR MINNESOTA?
Minnesota will not lose their ability to host on opening weekend, win or lose. They have Rutgers the night before, so they can rest some of their big guns on Friday. The Golden Gophers are also not in contention for the Big Ten title, so that’s out. What’s the motivation? To spoil Penn State’s chance for a Big Ten title and keep the Nittany Lions from being the #1 overall seed, all in one match? Sounds good to me. Easier said than done, I’m afraid.
PENN STATE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
- First ball kill
Minnesota currently leads the Big Ten in digs per set (16.1) by a full dig. With Minnesota going fast, whether it’s in transition or serve receive, their athleticism keeps their opponents consistently on their heels. If the Fighting Russ Rose’s can terminate without extending rallies, this could be a quick one. Additionally, Penn State is not known for their floor defense, outside of libero Kendall White. PSU digs an average of 3+ digs less than Minnesota per set. Quick terminations will be the key.
- Slow down Samedy
No one has been able to effectively slow down Minnesota opposite Stephanie Samedy. Except for Illinois. I was courtside for Minnesota’s match at Illinois last Saturday, and my entire scouting report hinged on Samedy getting her kills. She did, but not as many as she usually does. She was forced into shots that you would expect more from a beach player than an indoor player; mostly sharp angle, some random off-speed swings, and most of Illinois’ defense was ready for it. The Illini adjusted their defense per rotation, depending on what each Minnesota rotation brought offensively. Add to that fact that Illinois is tops in the conference in blocks per set, and things broke down quickly for the Gophs. The win for Illinois could have been a sweep, had it not been for the fight that Minnesota showed in a set 1 29-27 victory. Penn State is tied with Illinois for the conference lead in blocks per set (2.96). Could the same thing happen?
MINNESOTA’S KEYS TO VICTORY
That’s it. Pass. Serve receive, free ball, defense, whatever. Samantha Seliger-Swenson (does no one call her Triple S?) is one of the best setters in the country. But even Alisha Glass would have difficulty distributing a varied and balanced offense with the way the Golden Gophers passed against Illinois. Minnesota goes fast to the pin, creating holes in which to attack, and their middles keep blockers honest. Triple S is the engine that keeps that machine going on all cylinders, and the pass needs to be there for that to happen.
- Who’s the L2?
I’m using Minnesota’s match against Illinois as the benchmark because I’m almost positive that everyone else they play will be using that match going forward for their own scouting reports. One glaring fact stuck out; the L2 (the second outside—in this case, the player opposite Alexis Hart) hit negative with only 4 kills in 4 sets. Neither Jasmyn Martin nor Brittany McLean had more kills than their setter. That’s a problem. A position that gets the ball as much as an outside should cannot have an attack line of 4-6-19. Ever. Once opposing teams see those numbers, more net defenders can be funneled to their other attackers, and tendencies become magnified.
Alrighty. Back to your sales and leftovers, people. We’ve got volleyball to watch.