Hi everybody! This is the first volleyball article since August, but we’ll be throwing them at you weekly for the rest of the season. Before we get into anything else, just know that you have a ton of chances to catch televised volleyball this week.
TONIGHT’S lineup is:
- Illinois @ #6 Ohio State: BTN—5:00 CDT
- #9 Minnesota @ Iowa: ESPNU—6:00 CDT
- #3 Nebraska @ #12 Purdue: BTN—7:00 CDT
And Friday you can catch:
- Northwestern @ Rutgers: BTN—5:00 CDT
- #13 Penn State @ Maryland: BTN—7:00 CDT
While Saturday offers up:
- #3 Nebraska @ Illinois: BTN—6:00 CDT
- #12 Purdue @ #9 Minnesota: BTN—8:00 CDT
And Sunday don’t miss:
- #5 Wisconsin @ #25 Michigan: ESPN2—Noon CDT
Moving on, if you just want to laugh at some of my preseason thoughts feel free, but I wasn’t TOO far off on most of them. Anyway, this week I’m giving you the B1G standings and a quick capsule on each team. By next week, we will have reached the halfway point in conference play and I’ll try to get a couple other “writers” on board to offer team specific thoughts.
- #3 Nebraska (RPI: 4) 8-0
- #6 Ohio State (RPI: 3) 7-1
- #5 Wisconsin (RPI: 7) 7-1
- #12 Purdue (RPI: 25) 6-2
- #9 Minnesota (RPI: 9) 5-3
- #13 Penn State (RPI: 18) 4-4
- #25 Michigan (RPI: 27) 4-4
- Illinois (RPI: 69) 4-4
- Maryland (RPI: 113) 3-5
- Indiana (RPI: 101) 3-5
- Northwestern (RPI: 44) 2-6
- Michigan St. (RPI: 106) 1-7
- Iowa (RPI: 97) 1-7
- Rutgers (RPI: 181) 1-7
Quick Capsules (In my personal power ranking order)
TIER #1: FINAL FOUR THREATS, AT LEAST
NEBRASKA: The Huskers do appear to be the class of the conference, but just barely (i.e., a five-set home win over Ohio State on September 24). How is Nebraska doing it? Here are the B1G stats. #1 in opponent hitting %. #1 in opponent assists. #1 in opponent kills. #3 in blocks (slackers). #1 in opponent service aces. #1 in digs. At least one fall sport in Lincoln knows how to play defense. Even a shared B1G title would seem likely to earn them the right to host a regional. (National #4 San Diego is only 8th in RPI, and playing in the WCC won’t help). Since the five-setter with the Buckeyes, Nebraska has won 18 of their last 19 sets. The home loss to #7 Stanford feels like a long time ago.
Good wins: #22 Pepperdine, @#18 Creighton, @#16 Kentucky, OSU, @Michigan, Penn State
OHIO STATE: If you weren’t paying attention, maybe you sold you stock after OSU’s 1-3 start. That was a mistake. Here were their opponents (with current ranking): #1 Texas, #1 Texas, #4 San Diego, @#2 Louisville (which OSU won). The two losses since then? @#8 Pittsburgh and @#3 Nebraska. The Buckeyes have won six straight and just swept Minnesota on the road last week. This team is legit and ready to take the next step after a couple of tough Sweet 16 exits the last two years.
WISCONSIN: If the Badgers have looked a little shaky at times, it is only when compared against past expectations (three straight conference titles, three straight Final Four appearances, 2021 national title). Both nonconference losses went to five sets and the three set loss @Minnesota has been followed up by six consecutive wins. They seem a tick behind OSU and Nebraska at present, but they also have plenty of new faces, and it’s quite possible Kelly Sheffield is taking a page from John Cook’s book and emphasizing improvement over the course of the season. The schedule is certainly backloaded as they will face Nebraska twice and Ohio State once (regrettably their only meeting) in coming weeks.
Good wins: #19 Marquette, @#16 Kentucky, Penn State, @Purdue
TIER #2: SWEET 16, MAYBE MORE?
MINNESOTA: Losses to Ohio State and Purdue are understandable, but a home loss to Northwestern raised some eyebrows (though underestimate the Wildcats at your peril). Look, Stephanie Samedy was a two-time B1G POY and you don’t just replace the magnitude of her contributions. There’s plenty of talent on hand. It will be interesting to see if it gels down the stretch. Better health would help, too.
Good wins: #14 Baylor, #11 Florida, #20 Oregon, Wisconsin, @Michigan
PURDUE: As indicated by the relatively low RPI, Purdue didn’t play the most challenging non-conference schedule as this was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year. The loss was defensible (@#2 Louisville), but the best win was over Utah who isn’t ranked. The Boilers seem like a lock to make the tournament, but they just got swept at home by Maryland, and the remaining schedule is likely notably harder than the first eight B1G matches were. A Sweet 16 appearance seems like the ceiling.
Good wins: Minnesota
TIER #3: TOURNEY BOUND, MAYBE THE BRACKET WILL BREAK THEIR WAY
PENN STATE: The post-Russ Rose era got off to a 12-0 start, but has hit a 3-4 rough patch. The only road conference win was a five-setter at last place Iowa and losing to Michigan at home (in a sweep no less) seems to suggest PSU is a not a threat to make a deep run this year. Check in three weeks from now. If the Lions are going to make a move, the upcoming schedule provides some opportunity to do so.
Good wins: #7 Stanford, #20 Oregon
MICHIGAN: Michigan is pretty much living off of the road win in Happy Valley. The non-conference record (11-1) was fine, but featured little that would boost the RPI. The Wolverines are winning the ones they’re supposed too, and that should be enough to earn a bid. Little reason to think they’ll do more than win a match, though.
Good wins: @Penn State
TIER #4: IMPROVEMENT BETTER COME SOON
ILLINOIS: There’s an ugly neutral court loss to Illinois State (RPI: 187) really hurting the Illini RPI number, and five-set losses to Purdue and @Wisconsin don’t earn any bonus points. Given that the last two losses—@Penn State, @Minnesota—were sweeps, Illinois may have already peaked, which wouldn’t be good, given that this week sees matches @OSU and vs. Nebraska.
MARYLAND: Maryland is 0-4 at home in conference play (including losses to Indiana and Michigan State) and 3-1 on the road, including @Northwestern and @Purdue. Maybe more importantly, though, they lost their first five conference matches and have won their last three, all by sweep. There are really bad losses (see the RPI), but a 2-0 record this week in home matches with Penn State and Northwestern could see that RPI shoot up considerably.
NORTHWESTERN: A neutral court sweep of #22 Pepperdine is buoying the RPI, but a 2-6 conference record is hard to ignore. One of the two wins was @Minnesota—also terrific for the RPI—but getting swept at home by Maryland takes some of the shine off. This week—@Rutgers, @Maryland—needs to see two wins for any tourney talk to continue.
TIER #5: LET’S JUST GET THIS OVER WITH
INDIANA: Yes, they’re 3-5 in conference play, above Northwestern and tied with Maryland. And yes, they won @Maryland back on September 25. But the other two wins are Iowa and Michigan State, and they already lost the return match in Iowa City. They’ll be favored to beat Rutgers in 10 days, but they might not win another match the rest of the season beside that.
MICHIGAN STATE: A road win over Maryland while the Terps were sleepwalking their way to an 0-5 start in conference play is enough to give Sparty the nod as the best of the 1-7 teams currently tied for last. Yeah, they lost @Rutgers in five, but they close the season hosting Iowa and Rutgers and should avoid the basement.
IOWA: They beat Indiana in Iowa City and have been feisty in five set losses to Penn State and @Purdue. With two matches left against Rutgers and a chance to clip Maryland at home on the right night, maybe they make a move for 11th? That’s the clear ceiling, though.
RUTGERS: Sadly, they’re just not very good. There’s a five set home win over Michigan State and...seven losses, all by sweeps in their other conference games. On November 4 Iowa comes to town. That maybe be the only chance Rutgers has of notching a win the rest of the way.