The B1G race turned into a bit on an unexpected rout as UW ended the season on an 18-match winning streak while Ohio State and Nebraska faded in the stretch.
- Wisconsin 19-1
- Nebraska 16-4
- Minnesota 15-5
- Ohio State 15-5
- Penn State 13-7
- Purdue 11-9
- Illinois 10-10
- Indiana 9-11
- Michigan 8-12
- Northwestern 7-13
- Maryland 7-13
- Michigan State 4-16
- Iowa 4-16
- Rutgers 2-18
- Wisconsin’s last three matches of the season were @Penn State, @Nebraska, and @Ohio State. They won all three. Despite heavy losses from last year’s national champions, this conference title was no fluke.
- Of those three matches, only Penn State pushed UW to a fifth set. The Nittany Lions were playing quite well down the stretch, going 7-1 in November. They are in Wisconsin’s regional, and the Badgers had better be really careful if they meet in the Sweet 16.
- Also playing great down the stretch was Minnesota. The Gophers also went 7-1 in November, losing only @Penn State, and gaining a road sweep of Nebraska and Ohio State last week. That strong close saw the Gophers surge into a tie for third in the conference with the Buckeyes, and pass them for a #2 seed in the tournament. Their possible Sweet 16 opponent? #3 seed Ohio State.
- Nebraska was in line for a share of the B1G title if they could’ve found a way past Wisconsin last week, but, instead, they had a week from hell. First, they lost DS/libero Kenzie Knuckles to a season-ending injury, then lost to Wisconsin, then lost to Minnesota in a match that Setter/DS Nicklin Hames missed as well. The Huskers did enough prior to last week to still earn a #2 seed in the tournament, and the might get Hames back. But losing Knuckles is a tough blow.
- The Big Ten Postseason Honors were announced this week. Ten schools were represented on the 18-player first team, with Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Minnesota each placing three on the team. Congratulations to Minnesota’s Taylor Landfair on being named Player of the Year. Unbelievably this is the sixth time in the last eight years that the B1G POY has been a Gopher.
SIX teams qualified.
FIVE are expected to make it out of the first weekend,
If seeding holds, FOUR will be involved in head-to-head showdowns in the Sweet 16, thus...
Getting THREE to the Elite Eight will be an accomplishment.
Getting TWO the Final Four will mean knocking off at least one #1 seed, but the B1G has sent two teams to the Final Four six of the last seven years, and eight of the last ten.
A B1G team has finished number ONE ten of the last sixteen years. They aren’t favored to do so this year, but that’s why they play the games.
WISCONSIN: Friday, 7:00 CST vs. Quinnipiac.
The Badgers grabbed a #1 seed so Quinnipiac should be an easy win, but the second round matchup will be Saturday at 6:00 CST against a P5 team that was above .500 in conference play (either TCU or Washington), so perhaps a bit tricky, especially if it’s Washington. The Huskies are a veteran squad and made the Final Four two years ago, and the Sweet 16 last year.
A Sweet 16 matchup would likely be against 4-seed Penn State or 5-seed Central Florida. Should the Badgers make the Elite Eight, they’d likely host either 2-seed Pittsburgh or 3-seed Florida. The Gators handed Wisconsin one of their three losses this year, beating the Badgers in a five set thriller in Madison back in September.
NEBRASKA: Thursday, 7:00 CST vs. Delaware State.
With a win Nebraska would get the winner of Miami (Fla) and Kansas Friday night at 7:00 CST. While Nebraska stumbled down the stretch and was hit by injuries, John Cook has led the Huskers to the Sweet 16 in 21 of his 22 previous seasons as head coach. (Please read that sentence again.) So, let’s assume they make it 22 or 23.
In that event, we could have a dynamite Sweet 16 showdown with 3-seed Oregon, who finished second in the Pac 12. Win that, and it’s very likely John Cook would have to get past 1-seed Louisville, who is coached by former Husker star player and assistant coach Dani Busboom Kelly. A tall order, to be sure, but John Cook has a resume full of impressive postseason achievements.
MINNESOTA: Friday, 7:00 CST vs. Southeastern Louisiana
The Gophers’ second round matchup would be 4:30 CST on Saturday against either Florida State or Northern Iowa. As noted above, should the Gophers make the Sweet 16, it’s quite possible they’ll face 3-seed Ohio State. The teams split the regular season series with each posting a road victory. The Gophers certainly had the better form down the stretch, but it would be a fantastic intra-conference showdown. Waiting in the Elite Eight would be overall #1 seed Texas, the national title favorites. Minnesota dropped a non-conference matchup in four sets in Austin back in September, so if the Gophers are going to send coach Hugh McCutcheon out with a Final Four appearance, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
OHIO STATE: Friday, 6:30 CST vs. Tennessee State
Despite the last season’s nosedive, Ohio State shouldn’t have any difficult winning the opener. The second round matchup would be Saturday at 5:00 CST against either High Point or, more likely, future B1G member USC. As noted in the Minnesota section above, if the Buckeyes make the Sweet 16, they’re likely to face the Gophers. Like Minnesota, Ohio State has already faced Texas this season, playing them on back-to-back nights to open the season in late August. Ohio State was only able to take one of seven sets. Two weeks ago, I would’ve said the Buckeyes looked primed to make some noise, but an 0-4 finish to the season tends to shake one’s confidence a bit.
PENN STATE: Friday, 6:30 CST vs UMBC
4/13 upsets are less common in volleyball than in hoops, so let’s assume the Nittany Lions make the second round. That would be Saturday at 5:30, likely against 5-seed Central Florida, which is a really interesting matchup. UCF actually had a higher RPI than Penn State despite playing in a pretty weak conference. The Golden Knights enter the tournament with a gaudy 27-1 record, but their best wins are over Kansas and Miami (Fla), who play each other in a 7/10 matchup. Given the way Penn State closed the regular season, you have to make them a favorite to make the Sweet 16 where a matchup with Wisconsin would likely await.
PURDUE: Friday, 3:00 CST vs. Tennessee
Purdue defeated Tennessee in four sets back in August. If they are successful again, they’ll almost certainly face #1 seed Louisville Saturday at 5:00 CST. The Boilermakers were swept by Louisville in September and, unfortunately, there is little reason to think Purdue would be likely to reverse that result in a rematch. But with Eva Hudson being named B1G frosh of the year, you have to think Purdue has better times ahead.