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Mavric, August 13 in Husker Volleyball
Preseason polls are out. Huskers come in at Number 2, behind Stanford.
Five Big Ten schools in the Top Ten. Amazingly tough conference.
Others receiving votes and listed on two or more ballots: Missouri 100; Utah 56; Colorado State 51; UCF 45; Pepperdine 36; Florida State 33; Hawai'i 13; Northern Iowa 13; TCU 10; UCLA 7; Cincinnati 6; Rice 6; South Carolina 6; Texas State 6; Loyola Marymount 4; Colorado 3; Kansas 2
Not much of a difference in the initial rankings with how the season ended last year. If you overlay the final poll of the 2018, it doesn’t take a lot of manipulation to come up with the pre-season poll. In fact, Louisville is the only team in the top 25 in the pre-season that wasn’t in the final top 25 of 2018. Not sure if this is a lack of imagination on part of the voting coaches, or if teams at the top are just doing a good job of recruiting and training to maintain the status quo.
Stanford at the top is not surprising to anyone. They had 5 All-Americans on the floor against Nebraska in the finals and return all of them with the exception of middle blocker Tami Alade. Then they go out and get an All Pac-12 middle transfer from UCLA. Then they go out get the no. 1 recruiting class for 2019. The Color Cardinal are stacked and loaded.
While the Pac-12 is a tough conference, it clearly isn’t the grind at the top that the B1G is. Stanford is a cut above everyone else. But you have to admire the Color Cardinal. They don’t duck anybody. Stanford opens non-conference play with a couple of ho-hum opponents, then they have Florida, Texas, Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska and BYU to close out the non-conference portion of their schedule. All pre-season top 10 teams. Almost like a B1G schedule in the middle of October.
The Pac-12 has 5 other teams in the top 25 occupying positions 11-25 and 2 other schools receiving votes. Last year was a quagmire for Pac-12 teams in the bottom half of the top 25 with each taking turns beating up on each other. At one time, there were 7 teams ranked from 14-25 with two others receiving votes. Oregon and USC ended tied for 2nd in conference with 13-7 records. This year, it will be slightly different as Oregon has the horses to break out of the pack and hang around the top ten most of the year. For the other schools……… it’s more of the same mosh pit with the weekends characterized by 5 set matches and plenti-o-upsets.
Nebraska at no. 2 is not as clear cut as Stanford is at no. 1, but is largely there because of the “Cook Factor” and the reality the Huskers have made 4 final fours in a row. Plus they did have the No. 2 recruiting class behind Stanford.
The top five B1G schools that finished in the top 10 last year, are also ranked in the top 10 this year. There might be some disagreement on who slots where, but putting Minnesota at no. 3 makes sense if you’re just looking at the number of returning All-Conference players. However, after experiencing the growing pains of replacing a POY caliber setter in 2018 for the Huskers, I believe that Minnesota replacing Seliger‑Swenson, Illinois replacing Poulter, and to a lesser extent Penn State replacing Weiskircher is going to be tougher sledding than people might expect. Particularly in the first half of the season. I would probably flip Wisconsin and Minnesota. I would probably also swap Penn State and Illinois as the orange & blue lost All-American middle Bastianelli in addition to Poulter.
Michigan and Purdue are also included in the top 25, but no other B1G team is even receiving votes. The B1G will be a deeper conference this year and I expect teams like Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan State to compete for tournament berths with Iowa and Indiana as dark horse picks.
In 2017 the SEC was a two team conference with no one else in the picture. Last year, the two teams were challenged a bit. And while it is still Kentucky’s and Florida’s conference to lose this year, there are even more teams getting into the competitive mix. Look for Tennessee, Missouri, and South Carolina to be in the top 25 discussion along with LSU and their no. 10 recruiting class. And it won’t be long before aTm and their 200 + million dollar athletic budget starts participating in the volleyball ARMS race. The SEC is an improving conference as opposed to …………….
The ACC is again down to Pittsburgh and Louisville with the Panthers gunning for a hometown visit to the final four. And while Florida State is a consistent presence in the NCAA tournament, this conference, surprisingly, is not a very good volleyball conference. The ACC has one final four appearance in tournament history (Florida State in 2011) which is the same as UT@Arlington. If Dani Busboom can somehow maneuver through the pig sty that IS Louisville Athletics (The Bird Cardinal), she could have a chokehold on this conference for years to come.
Texas again has a lot of returning talent, again has a highly regarded recruiting class, again is the prohibitive favorite in the B12, again is ranked in the top ten, and again will find a way to squander a title run. Texas did win the title in 2012, but are 1 – 7 in final fours since 2008. Baylor also is a very athletic team, however, they are maddeningly inconsistent. They will beat a top 5 Wisconsin team, then within 24 hours lose a match to something called UT@Rio Grande Valley formally known as Pan American University (go fightin’ Vaqueros????). With a year of seasoning along with a good recruiting class, a young Kansas squad should also compete for a tournament slot. It will be interesting to see how TCU’s top 5 recruiting class translates to the court. Iowa State is another possible tournament entry albeit more of a long shot.
BYU is again in the top 10 and has a chance to make a statement early in non-conference play with matches against Stanford, Texas, and Marquette. Last year I called the West Coast Conference the “Conference That Sucks” because BYU was plowing through it effortlessly. That depiction was sorely inaccurately as the West Coast Conference placed 4 teams in the Tournament and 2 (San Diego and BYU) made the 2nd weekend (the sweet 16). It appears that BYU, Loyola Marymount, and San Diego are again in contention to make the Tournament with Pepperdine being a team to watch. There is little to no depth to this conference after those 4 teams.
The Big West and the Big East are similar to the ACC in that there are one or two contenders will be in the top 25 all season long but the remainder of each conference is largely non-competitive. Cal Poly is the bell cow of the Big West with perhaps Hawaii providing some competition. The Big East has Marquette and Creighton and ……….nobody else. The advantage of a weak conference is that a team can post an inflated win – loss record and get an inflated ranking. The disadvantage of a weak conference is that the AVCA poll will punish the hell out of a team than finally succumbs to a loss in said weak conference, at least they did last year.
The AAC doesn’t have a team in the top 25 but has two teams that made the NCAAs last year in UCF (undefeated in league play) and Cincinnati (the team with the best player in the nation – Jordan Thompson - assuming she doesn’t go pro after her electric performance on team USA in the VNL and the Olympic Qualification Round Robin). Tulane will also compete for a tournament spot as they made the finals of the 2018 NIVC (the women’s volleyball equivalent of the NIT) and had a top 25 recruiting class. Wichita State was down last year after having to replace multiple All-Americans on the 2017 squad, but I don’t anticipate the Shockers will be down for long.
The remaining conferences (including the Missouri Valley) are probably represented by a single entry i.e. the conference winner in the NCAAs. Missouri State and Northern Iowa have the potential to get multiple berths from The Valley, but it is not likely.
A more detailed look at the B1G teams will occur when the B1G announces their pre-season rankings. Is a 6’01” transfer from Auburn enough to replace Poulter at setter and feed Prince and Quade at Illinois? Does Coyle from Iowa recover from her knee injury to be able to lead the Hawkeyes to a Tournament berth? Do new facilities and a top 5 recruiting class propel Ohio State into the top 25?
But back to the national discussion briefly and specifically as it relates to the Huskers. The pre-season poll looks to be more of the same from last year. Nebraska at no. 2 is a good start for the Huskers but will be hard to hold on to with the competitiveness of the B1G.
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