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B1G Volleyball Weekly Update: Marquee Matchups Galore

Full review and preview of the week that was and the week to come in Big Ten volleyball:

Purdue Exponent

In terms of ranked showdowns, this coming week is the most stacked in the entire B1G season.

The conference race won’t be close to decided, but this could well be a week where a couple of teams make a move...or fall off the pace. Settle in Friday night for a BTN doubleheader (PSU @ Minn., OSU @ UW), make sure you return Saturday night for another great doubleheader (PSU @ UW, Purdue @ Nebraska) and remember to switch the TV to ESPNU for OSU @ Minnesota on Sunday.

5 matches, all ranked matchups, all six ranked teams involved.


Last Week’s Results:

Wed. 10/13: #12 Minnesota def. Northwestern: 25-20, 25-10, 25-14

MNW: Welsh-Ryan isn’t worth a damn in home court for basketball...but maybe this ass-whooping at Minnesota shows it’s worth something in volleyball? Yeowch.

Northwestern no answers, in particular, for Airi Miyabe, who every other kill it looked like was dunking the ball over some poor NU blocker. Temi Thomas-Ailara had some scorching kills and serves, but the ‘Cats were totally outclassed.

Wed. 10/13: Illinois def. Iowa: 25-12, 25-20, 25-20

Wed. 10/13: #9 Nebraska def. Indiana: 25-13, 25-15, 25-15

BRT: I was multi-tasking while this one was on, so I don’t have a lot of detailed observations. Except, perhaps, that this is exactly how you’d like these kinds of matches to go for Nebraska at this point in the season—straightforward enough that you can do some grading while they’re going on.

Fri. 10/15: Michigan def. Maryland: 25-15, 28-26, 25-20

Fri. 10/15: #3 Wisconsin def. Michigan State: 25-20, 25-10, 25-18

Wisconsin was intermittently engaged against an overmatched foe. Which means they won in a sweep, but in a way that still allowed Kelly Sheffield plenty of “teaching points.”

That said, regardless of the competition, if you hold your opponent to -.020, there is little to complain of defensively.

Fri. 10/15: #15 Penn State def. Rutgers: 25-17, 25-10, 22-25, 25-18:

Fri. 10/15: #7 Ohio State def. #6 Purdue: 25-23, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21

Sat. 10/16: Maryland def. Michigan State: 18-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-18

Sat. 10/16: #3 Wisconsin def. Michigan: 25-23, 25-15, 26-24

Michigan is a tournament-quality team. Wisconsin swept them on the road. And it was still a bit choppy. The Badgers had a clear edge in hitting % each set, but Michigan’s block let them stay in the first and third sets until the end. That said, Kelly Sheffield went a little deeper into the roster for the third set, giving 6’9” frosh Anna Smrek and soph. setter M.J. Hammill some game action in the third.

Sat. 10/16: #7 Ohio State def. Rutgers: 25-14, 25-20, 25-6

Sat. 10/16: #9 Nebraska def. Illinois: 25-21, 25-15, 25-19

BRT: I was at a wedding during this one, so I didn’t get to watch it. But my mother was also at the wedding, and was tracking the game on Twitter, so we could marvel at the stomping at opportune moments during the reception.

Seriously, this is a good win for Nebraska—I caught Illinois at Wisconsin last week (in person!) and was impressed with Illinois’ play. They took a set from Wisconsin, and came back from big deficits a couple of times in the match. It appears they had no such luck in Lincoln, and dang, that’s good to see.

Sat. 10/16: Northwestern def. Iowa: 25-20, 26-24, 25-20

MNW: Aaaaaand to the other end of the spectrum. Iowa is awful and remains so—Northwestern has, it looks like, finally moved itself into the middle tier of the Big Ten. This isn’t much, but it’s progress—finally—under Shane Davis.

Sun. 10/17: #12 Minnesota def. Indiana: 25-15, 25-16, 25-21

Sun: 10/17: #6 Purdue def. #15 Penn State: 25-23, 15-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-11

Awards and Kudos

Current Standings

Team of the week: Ohio State

The Buckeyes have won six matches in a row, erasing the sting of an 0-2 conference start. The two wins this week were equally impressive in different ways. Friday, OSU knocked off #6 Purdue in four sets in a match where, aside from a third set blip, the Buckeyes looked like the better, more dangerous team.

Then Saturday, OSU swept Rutgers like they were supposed to, with no sign of a letdown. Ohio State scored 75 points to Rutgers’s 39, and the 25-6 third set should spur discussion of a mercy rule. The Buckeyes have won 18 of their last 19 sets, and are looking dangerous.

Best match: Purdue over Penn State

I was going to skip this section because none of the first twelve matches of the week went five sets, but I should know better than to doubt Purdue at this point. For the fourth time in four weeks, Purdue is involved in the match of the week, this time a tense affair vs. Penn State. And, for the third straight week, the team that scored the most overall points lost. Penn State outhit Purdue .230 to .198 on the day, but Purdue was great in the fourth set (.359) and fantastic in the fifth (.45).

With Grace Cleveland (.028) struggling much of the day, Caitlyn Newton (26/4/63, .349) came up big to keep Purdue in the match, saving the best for last. She had fourth set kills to get the serve while trailing 22-23 and to win the set 25-23. In the fifth, she contributed seven kills, including Purdue’s last three points of the match. All in all it was a great match in a great environment, and Purdue avoided falling too far off the pace.

MNW: I just wanted to add how damn raucous that Purdue atmosphere was. Looking like a real hoot to attend—great fan participation, great traditions, ton of energy.

What else?: Nebraska

Is Nebraska the clear conference favorite or the beneficiary of a soft early schedule? Both. The Huskers are 8-0, in sole possession of first, and have won 24 of their 26 sets in B1G play. At the same time, the road win over Penn State is the only match Nebraska has played against a ranked B1G foe thus far.

In their last twelve matches, they will have seven such showdowns, starting this Saturday vs. Purdue.

This week’s schedule (all times Central):

Wed. 10/20: Rutgers @ Maryland (5:00, BTN)

Must win for Maryland. Will win for Maryland.

Wed. 10/20: Michigan @ Indiana (6:00, BTN+)

Must win for Michigan. Will win for Michigan

Wed. 10/20: #9 Nebraska @ Iowa (7:00, BTN+)

8-0 vs. 0-8. What do you think will happen?

Wed. 10/20: Illinois @ Northwestern (7:00)

Oh. Wait. This one is interesting. Northwestern is not a pushover, a loss wouldn’t be fatal to Illinois, but it would really be all that great, either. The first matchup went five. Let’s say it does again.

Wed. 10/20: Michigan State @ #7 Purdue (7:00, BTN)

Purdue gets a breather before a huge Saturday night showdown in Lincoln.

Fri. 10/22: #14 Penn State @ #12 Minnesota (6:00, BTN)

Match of the week #1 (of 5). Loser picks up third conference loss and would likely need to run the table to win the conference. Penn State has had some moments, but unless Erika Pritchard is back, it would seem Minnesota has the slight edge. Maybe. This looks like it will go five.

Fri. 10/22: #6 Ohio State @ #3 Wisconsin (8:00, BTN)

Match of the week #2 (of 5). The two highest-rated teams in the conference face off. The teams are on a combine 13-0 run in conference play, winning 39 of 42 sets in the process. You can pick nits with each, but the B1G champ is probably going to get to host a regional, and each of these teams have the roster, and home court advantage, to turn that into a Final Four run.

Sat. 10/23: Michigan @ Illinois (3:00, BTN+)

Don’t overlook this one. Illinois is basically #27 this week and Michigan is #29. If each wins Wednesday, then the winner is likely looking at a spot in the top 25. Illinois’s resume is (slightly) better, and is at home, so let’s give them the nod.

Sat. 10/23: Michigan State @ Maryland (6:00)

The second of what should be two “free space” matches for Maryland this week. 5-5 at the midway point might be mildly disappointing given the upset over UW to start the conference season, but, looking ahead, there are several more chances for quality home wins. The RPI is at 62, with room to climb. Don’t count them out just yet.

Sat. 10/23: #14 Penn State @ #3 Wisconsin (6:00, BTN)

Match of the week #3 (of 5). Based on what happened the night before, either/both of these teams could be fighting to avoid an 0-2 weekend. Or to keep the pressure on Nebraska. Penn State pushed Purdue to five sets in a rabid road environment, so they won’t be intimidated. But Wisconsin is the better team. Badgers in four.

Sat. 10/23: Iowa @ Northwestern (7:00)

If the Wildcats are able to knock of Illinois on Wednesday, then this could conceivably be for a chance to be part of a four-way tie for 7th. The RPI (#110) is way off the pace, but there would be opportunities to notch important home victories down the stretch. So far, they’ve been close. Getting over the hump would send that RPI up in a hurry.

Sat. 10/23: #7 Purdue @ #9 Nebraska (8:00, BTN)

Match of the week #4 (of 5). It’s not just that Nebraska is undefeated, it’s been the quality of play lately. 24-2 in their last 26 sets, including 15-0 at home in conference play. But...this is the first ranked school to head to Lincoln since Louisville came to town, and that was a sweep for the Cardinals. Nebraska is in a much better spot now, and will get the win, but Purdue will make them work for it.

Sun. 10/24: Rutgers @ Indiana (1:00, BTN+)

Indiana will probably win, but Rutgers will only get a couple better shots at a conference win.

Sun. 10/24: #6 Ohio State @ #12 Minnesota (4:00, ESPNU)

Match of the week #5 (of 5). ESPNU should have a heck of a spotlight match to show everybody else what we already know: this is the best conference in America for VB. Samedy, Landfair and company host Emily Londot, Rylee Rader, and the rest of a Buckeyes squad facing their second consecutive road match against elite competition.

The Buckeyes opened conference play with two road matches against ranked foes. And started 0-2.

They haven’t lost since.

6-4 at the mid-point would look disappointing to the untrained eye. No matter, the call here is that the Buckeyes rally for a huge road win.