Five B1G teams are among the last 16 standing in the NCAA volleyball championships. Purdue notched a tough five set victory over Tennessee in the first round (14-25, 25-14, 22-25, 25-22, 15-11) and gave #1 seed Louisville a decent challenge in the second round, but succumbed in straight sets, 19, 21, and 23. Purdue should be no worse that sixth in the preseason B1G rankings next year, and have good reason to think the future is bright.
But, let’s move on to the remaining teams. four of whom are playing each other in Sweet 16 matchups.
#2 Nebraska vs. #3 Oregon (10:00 CST, i.e., now)
Nebraska looked susceptible dropping two home matches (to Wisconsin and Minnesota, so both defensible losses) the last week of the season. And a season-ending injury to Kenzie Knuckles added to the pessimism. However, the Huskers overwhelmed Delaware State (15, 9, and 10) and withstood a challenge from a pesky Kansas squad (25-14, 25-18, 19-25, 26-24) to advance to their 11th consecutive Sweet 16.
Waiting to meet them are the Pac 12 runner-up Oregon Ducks. Oregon dropped non-conference matches against Penn State and Minnesota earlier in the season, but enter this matchup on a 15 match winning streak, and should pose a formidable challenge.
The winner will face the winner of Louisville/Baylor Saturday at 3:00 p.m. on ESPNU
#2 Minnesota vs. #3 Ohio State (11:00 CST, i.e., now)
The Gophers looked great in sweeping both Southeastern La. (21, 18, and 14), and Northern Iowa (18, 16, and 15). Then again, so did the Buckeyes, who swept Tennessee State (10, 14, and 15) and trendy upset pick USC (21, 17, and 16). These two met twice, with the road team emerging victorious each time, with the Buckeyes notching a sweep on 10/12 and the Gopher winning in four on 11/25.
The match will be a test of Minnesota’s excellent recent form—12-2 since the loss to OSU—vs. Ohio State’s overall talent. Taylor Landfair, the B1G’s POY, leads a potent Gopher attack, but behind Emily Londot, Gabby Gonzales and Mac Podraza, Ohio State has elite skill in all phases. The Buckeyes’ 0-4 finish to the regular season was perplexing, especially following a 14 match B1G winning streak prior to that.
The winner will face the Texas/Marquette winner Saturday at 5:00 on ESPN U.
#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 Penn State (5:00 CST)
Wisconsin overwhelmed Quinnipiac (15, 9, and 4) and TCU (9, 11, and 23), to make the Sweet 16 for a 10 straight season. Penn State also looked impressive, sending off UMBC (14, 17, and 12) and then defeating 5-seed UCF in four sets (19-25, 25-18, 25-2, 25-21).
To advance, PSU will have to hit their way through a tough Wisconsin defense. At attack led by Kashuana Williams, Allie Holland, and Zoe Weatherington certainly has that potential. Trouble is, UW, behind Sarah Franklin, Devyn Robinson, Danielle Hart, and Julia Orzol, can match Penn State’s attack and then some.
The Badgers have torn off 20 consecutive wins, but on 11/19, PSU did cause some uncomfortable moment for UW before falling in five sets: 19-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-18, 12-15. The third set saw UW nearly squander an 18-8 lead, and Wisconsin trailed 11-9 in fifth (after jumping out to a 7-3 lead) before they ended the match on a 6-1 run. No doubt Penn State would welcome another fifth set against the Badgers, and, given that that was PSU’s only loss in their last 10 outings, they might get their chance.
The winner will face the winner of Pittsburgh and Florida Saturday at 7:00 CST on ESPNU.