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Thursday, 4 December 2014

NCAA Women's Volleyball: YES! YES! YES!
Road to the 2014 National Championship set to begin

One of favorite times of the year is about to begin...nope not talking about the upcoming CFBPlayoff.  Grand slam curling action, nope!  The World Junior Hockey Championships, wrong again!  Don't get me wrong, I love all those sporting events but this one rings true to my heart a bit more.  The NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament!!!!  Ok ok so I know most people know nothing about it, nor probably care.  But I do!  I have played volleyball since I was a kid and love the sport.  It is without a doubt my favorite sport to play and I could watch volleyball all the time.  

As an aside, men, I would HIGHLY recommend giving this tournament action some view time.  Trust me!  You can thank me later...and I confident you will.  Ok, re-focus here...


For those unfamiliar with this tournament, here are few interesting stats to consider:

  • Penn State won last year's tournament, their 6th overall and 5th in the past 7 years (Dynasty?)
  • Penn State and Stanford are the most successful schools, each with 6 titles
  • Stanford has participated in a record 14 Championship Finals with 18 Final Four appearances
  • PAC-12 has the most NCAA Championships with 14
  • The 2014 Final Four will take place in Oklahoma City, OK for the 1st time
  • 32 conference champions automatically qualify with the remaining 32 teams receiving at-large bids
  • The 2013 Final Four teams (Penn State, Wisconsin, Texas, Washington) are all ranked in the Top 9 at the end of the season (with defending champ Penn State being the lowest at 9)
  • Last year, Wisconsin became the lowest seed to ever play in the Championship (Seeded 12)
  • Last year was the 1st time two teams from the Big 10 played in the championship game and the first time a championship final was contested without a PAC-12 school since 2009

This year could we see more of the same, with the traditional dominant teams making it to OK City (Stanford, Penn State, Washington, Texas) or can new powerhouse teams emerge and challenge them (Wisconsin, Florida State, North Carolina, Florida)?  Will the PAC-12 continue their domination or could we finally see an ACC or SEC school take home the championship?

Here are my predictions:

Ames, Iowa Regional

First Round
(1) Stanford over CS Bakersfield
Michigan State over Loyola Maramount
Creighton over Oregon State
(16) Kansas over AK Little Rock
(9) Illinois over Murray State
Iowa State over Western Kentucky
Miami over UCF
(8) Florida over Alabama St

Second Round

(1) Stanford over Michigan State
(16) Kansas over Creighton
Iowa State over (9) Illinois
(8) Florida over Miami

Regional Semifinal

(1) Stanford over (16) Kansas
(8) Florida over Iowa State

Regional Final

(1) Stanford over (8) Florida - 3 sets to 2.  Florida is coming off an 18-0 SEC season and just knocked off #2 ranked Texas last weekend.  They could give Stanford an unexpected challenge and could pull the upset if the Cardinal are not on top of their game.  Stanford is entering the tournament off their 1st loss of the season in the regular-season finale vs rival Washington.

Minneapolis, MN Regional 

First Round

(2) Texas over Northwestern State
Arizona State over Texas A&M
Colorado over Northern Colorado
(15) Colorado State over Denver
(10) Oregon over Santa Clara
Oklahoma over LSU
USC over Coastal Carolina
(7) North Carolina over Hampton

Second Round

(2) Texas over Arizona St
Colorado over (15) Colorado St
(10) Oregon over Oklahoma
(7) North Carolina over USC

Regional Semifinal

(2) Texas over Colorado
(10) Oregon over (7) North Carolina

Regional Final

(2) Texas over (10) Oregon - 3 sets to 1.  Texas is coming off a 15-1 Big 12 Championship season.  They do enter the tournament coming off a loss to Florida but that match had no impact on season-ending standings or rankings.  If anything, the match proved to be a pre-tournament feel with both teams just prepping themselves for the march towards the championship.  Oregon competes in the very competitive PAC-12, where 6 teams finished in the year-end Top 25.  This would also be a rematch of the 2012 NCAA Championship, which Texas won 3-0.  The 'Horns have been in back-to-back final fours and would like to erase last year's final four loss.  They are after redemption this year!

Seattle, WA Regional

First Round

(3) Washington over New Hampshire
Hawaii over Duke
Kansas State over Utah
(14) Nebraska over Hofstra
(11) Arizona over Yale
BYU over Seton Hall
Alabama over Samford
(6) Florida State over Jacksonville

Second Round

(3) Washington over Hawaii (Possible upset warning here though. Hawaii has beaten the Huskies on their home court in the tournament before.  Watch out!!)
(14) Nebraska over Kansas State
(11) Arizona over BYU
(6) Florida St over Alabama

Regional Semifinal

(3) Washington over (14) Nebraska
(11) Arizona over (6) Florida St

Regional Final

(3) Washington over (11) Arizona - 3 sets to 0.  The Huskies just look too strong to be beaten, especially with having home court advantage all the way to OK City.  Hawaii could give them a scare in the second round with perhaps a 3-2 Huskies win.  But if that does happen, Nebraska and Arizona should be worried.  The early scare could be the motivation and wake-up the team needs to elevate their game and coast to the Final Four.  Remember, the Huskies just beat the #1 team in the country (Stanford) at home to end the regular season.  They are ready for a deep championship run.

Louisville, Kentucky Regional

First Round

(4) Wisconsin over Western Michigan
Marquette over Illinois State
Ohio State over Lipscomb
(13) Kentucky over Oakland
(12) UCLA over LIU Brooklyn
Long Beach State over San Diego
Dayton over American
(5) Penn State over Sienna

Second Round

(4) Wisconsin over Marquette
Ohio State over (13) Kentucky
Long Beach State over (12) UCLA
(5) Penn State over Dayton

Regional Semifinal

(4) Wisconsin over Ohio State
(5) Penn State over Long Beach State

Regional Final

(5) Penn State over (4) Wisconsin - 3 sets to 2.  The 2013 NCAA Championship re-match everyone wants to see from this region.  Overall, this region is probably the weakest, minus these two teams.  I cannot envision a different regional final.  The 28-2 Badgers vs the 30-2 Nittany Lions.  The up and coming Big 10 Champs vs the dynasty.  Can the Badgers finally knock off Penn State and become the Big 10 powerhouse team of the future?  Or will Penn State continue their dominance and again prove why they are one of the best volleyball programs in history?  This is a neutral court game so no advantage to either team playing in Kentucky.  I would have to think the difference in this game will come to coaching.  Penn State's Russ Rose is the best in the business...and Penn State has beat the Badgers already this season.

FINAL FOUR

National Semifinal

(5) Penn State over (1) Stanford - 3 sets to 2.  The rematch of the epic regional final clash last year, also won by Penn State.  Stanford had a 2 sets to 0 lead in that match and could not close the deal.  You know Stanford would love to get the rematch with their rivals in the final four.  And they should get it!  Unfortunately, I see a similar end result for the Cardinal.

(3) Washington over (2) Texas - 3 sets to 1.  Both of these teams played in the Final Four last year.  Both lost in the national semifinal.  Both remember that feeling.  Both want to redeem that loss and play in the championship this year.  One is going to be disappointed twice over.  I expect close sets, like 25-23 or 27-25 or maybe even a 32-30 type of match.  The Huskies just look like the better team all season.  I think playing in the ultra competitive PAC-12 is going to be the difference here.  Washington has played high caliber tournament teams all season (10 PAC-12 teams made the tournament this year!! 10!!) where the Big 12 is still not as competitive top to bottom.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

(3) Washington Huskies over (5) Penn State Nittany Lions - 3 sets to 2

Even me, a huge Penn State fan, has a hard time seeing the Nittany Lions win back to back to back 5 sets matches.  This feels like the year of the PAC-12 and the Huskies are the class of the country.  Huskies fans have been heart broken in the past with Final Four losses last year and 2006.  They won their only championship in 2005 but time to start a new chapter.  They have the character building disappointment of last year, the battle-tested year of PAC-12 play, the confidence of being the only team (so far) to beat Stanford and get to play their regional games at home.  All that adds up to a national championship for the Huskies!