The Big West Tournament kicks off this week as the top team in the land showed they can be beat last week. That gives some teams hope in the tournament who need to win this event in order to make the NCAA Tournament. Maybe the most intriguing part is a potential meeting between Hawaii and UC Irvine though, where it could essentially be a de facto play-in-game for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Regardless of the results, there should be some great volleyball on hand with five top 12 teams in action during this event.
Long Beach State 49ers
The 49ers are obviously the favorite here, although it isn’t as mythical anymore as Hawaii showed they can be beaten last week. The difference now though is that the matches won’t be played at Hawaii – one of, if not the, toughest places to play – but will be at Long Beach State’s home. The loss could also take some pressure off the 49ers and allow them to reset and not get complacent. If that does end up being the case, we could see a buzz-saw of a LBSU team this week, which would be bad news for everyone else. Add to it that Long Beach is 10-0 at home this season and 30-3 in sets, so we should see the best that the 49ers have to offer as they look to claim the Big West Tournament and the automatic NCAA Tournament berth – which they’d likely make regardless as an at-large should they fall.
POTENTIAL AT-LARGE CLASH:
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors & UC Irvine Anteaters
Beyond other teams trying to win the Big West, a potential semifinal meeting could be the most important match in the Big West Tournament. That’s because LBSU is likely in no matter what, and if Hawaii or UC Irvine were to get to the Big West Championship and play LBSU, they might be in win or lose. But the key is to get there, and sure enough the two teams who are likely in the best position for the final at-large spot would be slated to play in the semis assuming UC Irvine can take care of UC San Diego. That means that if that matchup happens, with everything else being so close and the two teams splitting their prior two meetings, this could be a de facto play-in match for that NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
6-seed UC San Diego (9-18, 0-10) at 3-seed/#5 UC Irvine (20-8, 6-4)
- Season series: UC Irvine, 2-0 (UCI 3-0 vs. UCSD; UCI 3-2 at UCSD)
- The block was the difference for the Anteaters in a pair of victories over UC San Diego prior, as they notched a combined 29-10 advantage in team blocks. UC Irvine was also more efficient offensively too, although it wasn’t as large of a discrepancy as the block. Neither team has been a stalwart in the serve department, so that might not be an x-factor as UCI looks to avoid the pressure of being the higher seed and not look ahead to set up that monumental match with Hawaii.
5-seed/#12 UC Santa Barbara (11-12, 4-6) at 4-seed/#11 CSUN (15-10, 5-5)
- Season series: Tied, 1-1 (CSUN 3-1 vs. UCSB; UCSB 3-1 vs. CSUN)
- These two played just a few weeks back on March 30 and 31, so should have strong scouting reports on each other. That should add to a competitive match that features two teams close together in play who will look to get a crack at LBSU in the semifinals. CSUN had the better offense in both previous meetings – although it wasn’t too far apart. The biggest key for UCSB in winning the second was a dominant serve, which allowed them to overcome some offensive deficiencies that made CSUN a better offensive unit all season long. That makes serve reception for Cal State Northridge the biggest factor in the match.
BYE TO THE SEMIS:
1-seed/#1 Long Beach State (24-1, 9-1)
- Season series vs. CSUN: LBSU, 2-0 (LBSU 3-0 at CSUN; LBSU 3-0 vs. CSUN)
- Season series vs. UCSB: LBSU, 2-0 (LBSU 3-0 vs. UCSB; LBSU 3-1 at UCSB)
- Long Beach State had plenty of success against both teams – although their sweeps with CSUN were a lot closer than the 3-0 set score indicates. They’ll obviously be a tough out as the top team in the country with an elite offense, serve, serve receive and a solid block to boot.
2-seed/#4 Hawaii (18-7, 6-4)
- Season series vs. UC Irvine: Tied, 1-1 (Hawaii 3-1 vs. UCI; UCI 3-1 vs. Hawaii)
- Season series vs. UCSD: Hawaii, 2-0 (Hawaii 3-0 vs. UCSD; Hawaii 3-0 vs. UCSD)
- Hawaii obviously had more success against the 6-seed than the team neck-and-neck with them in UCI, but it would benefit their resume to defeat UC Irvine in the semifinals. On the other hand, the Anteaters falling earlier may help as well just from a product of elimination. They’ve got an elite offense and a strong serve, but the question will be how do they fare away from home where they’ve only played eight of their 25 matches.