After a regular season full of surprises day in and day, out, who could have expected anything else from the NCAA Division I women’s volleyball selection committee?
And surprises there were Sunday night as the NCAA unveiled the 2019 bracket.
Purdue got the No. 16 seed, meaning it stays home and Marquette, which was certainly in the running for one of the top 16 spots, goes to Purdue.
First-round play begins either Thursday or Friday all with an eye on getting to the national semifinals in Pittsburgh on December 19. Click here for the NCAA bracket.
Here are the 16 teams that will be hosts for the first and second rounds. The top four seeds, should they win their first two matches, get to be the hosts for the regionals.
Michelle Durban, the chair of the NCAA selection committee, is the Deputy Director of Athletics for Student-Athlete Well-Being and the senior women’s administrator at Samford in Birmingham, Alabama. Samford won the Southern Conference and plays Louisville at Western Kentucky.
Durban and the committee were using an updated NCAA RPI, which was made available on NCAA.com after the selection show.
“I think we did a good job based on the parity we saw this year in the volleyball world from one week to the next. There seemed to be an upset every weekend that definitely made the job more difficult this year,” said Durban, the former volleyball coach at Samford.
“But I think it will be a really good tournament because of it.”
Big Ten-champion Wisconsin plays Illinois State, an upset winner in the Missouri Valley. The winner gets the winner of a UCLA, an at-large from the Pac-12, versus Notre Dame, an at-large from the ACC.
Durban said the numbers backed up moving Wisconsin into the top four.
“Based on the parameters that are set forth by the NCAA selection process, Wisconsin checks the most boxes,” Durban said. “Then Nebraska, then Pitt.”
The announcement Sunday night capped a remarkable three days for Wisconsin. Friday night the Badgers went up 2-0 at Penn State but lost in five. Then Saturday, Wisconsin won at Rutgers to clinch a share of the Big Ten title and soon after Minnesota beat Penn State to give the Badgers the title outright.
“Would we rather have one of the top four seeds than not? Absolutely,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “With that said it really doesn’t mean anything right now.
“You’re guaranteed one match. That’s what you’re guaranteed. You’re guaranteed an opportunity. If we’re able to get to the second weekend, and you’re playing at home, oh, man, we’re stoked about it. You want to play in front of your home fans.”
Sheffield said he was glad the committee recognized that Wisconsin “had more wins against teams in the top 10 than any team in the country. The committee clearly valued that.”
Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher was taking it all in stride. His team went unbeaten in the ACC.
“I did think we had a chance after Penn State beat Wisconsin,” Fisher said. “I thought we had a chance, but I’m not stunned.
“I’ve been coaching long enough to know not to spend too much time thinking about it and just worry about what we can control.”
“I think it’s really scary that Cincinnati has arguably the best player in college volleyball,” Fisher said. “We know it will be tough to advance to the sweet 16. I don’t know a lot about Howard or VCU so I’m gonna get to work.”
Things to consider include Florida State, yet again, being sent to Florida. Penn State will be heavily favored as it plays Princeton, and then, presumably the winner between American and Towson. Pittsburgh can still play four of the six matches at home should the Panthers get that far.
The Big Ten got the most teams, seven, and commanded much respect from the committee.
The Pac-12 and SEC got six each.
Durban addressed the last four in and last four out.
“Illinois had two top-25 wins and an impressive overall body of work. The Big Ten gives them some credit automatically,” Durban said. “VCU had a top-50 win and went 9-1 in their last 10 and had no losses below 100.
“Washington State had two top-10 wins including one last night (at Washington) and three total top-25 wins. Wright State had four top-50 wins, no losses below 100 and the Horizon League was the sixth-best conference overall in the RPI system.”
Washington State is ranked 49th in the newest RPI. Northern Kentucky, which won the Horizon League tournament, and Wright State are the only programs in the NCAA field for the first time.
Durban had evidence for the last four out.
“Cal is 10-10 and was 3-7 in the last 10, which was one of our parameters. They were 0-6 to finish the year and their RPI ended at 48,” Durban said.
South Dakota’s schedule hurt it and so did losing in the Summit League tournament semifinals despite an RPI of 38.
“There was a ton of discussion about them but we just felt we couldn’t put a team in that had no top-50 wins and who lost in their conference semis.”
Stanford, of course, has won two of the last three national championships and is considered by many the pre-tournament favorite. The Cardinal play Summit League-champion Denver, which took Colorado State of the Mountain West to five on Saturday. The Stanford-Denver winner plays the Georgia-Cal Poly winner.
“Denver’s gonna be tough and nasty and (Tom) Hogan knows how to coach and they play fast,” said Stanford coach Kevin Hambly, whose team has won 11 in a row. “And whoever comes out of Georgia-Cal Poly, I’d say the same thing. Good athletes, they play fast tempo, and they’re going to challenge us with their systems.”
Stanford spent much of this season without star senior outside Kathryn Plummer, who is back at full strength. Freshman outside Kendall Kipp has been out with an injury, but Hambly said she’s all ready to go. She just hasn’t cracked the lineup since the Cardinal has been playing so well.
Purdue coach Dave Shondell was pretty excited to get that last spot in the top 16.
“I thought going into the week that if we won our last two on the road we’d have a 50-50 shot, but then the RPI needle didn’t move,” said Shondell, whose team finished 21st in the RPI.
“We haven’t hosted since 2011 … we were always finishing fifth or sixth in the Big Ten and they just didn’t want to give that many opportunities to the Big Ten. And plus RPI. So, yeah, I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised and I love being at home.”
Purdue, which finished fifth in the B1G, plays Wright State, and the winner gets the Marquette-Dayton winner.
“Here’s what I know,” Wisconsin’s Sheffield offered. “There are as many teams in this tournament that can get to a second weekend than ever before. There are probably as many teams that can get to a final four than ever before. And there are as many teams that can win a national championship than ever before.
“You’re just thankful to be in it, you’re hoping to be healthy and let’s go.”
Streaks: Five teams have just one loss and they’re all riding winning streaks.
Conference USA-champion Western Kentucky is 31-1 and has won 27 in a row.
The Southland’s Stephen F. Austin is also 31-1 and has won 24 in a row.
Western Kentucky 31-1, won 27 in a row.
Colorado State of the Mountain West is 29-1 and has the longest winning streak, 28.
ACC-champion Pittsburgh is also 29-1 and has won 18 in a row, all in conference play.
And the Big 12’s Baylor is 25-1 and has won nine in a row.
Four teams have three defeats, WAC-champion NM State (27-3), which has won 19 in a row; Big West-champion Hawai’i (24-3), which has won 11 in a row; Rice of C-USA (26-3); and Big 12 co-champion Texas (21-3).
Hawai’i plays Big Sky-champion Northern Colorado and the winner faces the winner of San Diego and Wright State. This is the first time Hawai’i is hosting since 2013.
Family ties: There are at least three sets of sisters in the tournament.
Lauren Stivrins is a junior at Nebraska, while Amber is a freshman at Louisville.
Pittsburgh has junior Chinaza Ndee, while Onuchi Ndee is a freshman for American.
And Northern Iowa is coached by Bobbi Peterson, whose daughter, Baylee, is a defensive specialist for UNI, while Baylee’s twin, Sydney, is the libero for Texas …
There are husband-wife teams.
Mark and Leisa Rosen, who have been at Michigan for 21 years and took the Wolverines to the 2012 NCAA national semifinals …
Missouri is coached by the first-year team of Josh Taylor and wife Molly (Kreklow), who was an All-American at Mizzou. They replaced a husband-wife team, Wayne (Molly’s uncle) and Susan …
Iowa State’s Christy Johnson-Lynch has as her volunteer assistant Joe Lynch.
Jen Greeny, who played for the Cougars, is the Washington State head coach and Burdette Greeny is the associate head coach …
Shondell’s top assistant at Purdue is his brother, John …
Penn State head coach Russ Rose has son, Chris, on staff as a volunteer assistant. He’s the one prowling the sidelines all match long …
History: Since USC won the first NCAA championship in 1981 — the same year Texas was winning the last AIAW title — only a handful of schools have won it all.
Especially in the last 15 years when titles have gone only to Stanford (two of the last three years), Nebraska (in 2006, ’15, ’17), Penn State (2007-10, 2013-14), UCLA (2011), Texas (2012), and Washington (2006).
For that matter, the only other teams to win it all are Long Beach State (1989, 1993, ’98), Hawai’i (1982, ’83, ’87), USC (1981, 2001, ’02), and Pacific (1985, ’86).
It’s worth noting that Stanford has won the most titles, eight, and has lost in the championship match the most times, also eight. Penn State has seven titles and finished second three times. Nebraska, which has five titles, has lost in the final match four times. UCLA and Texas also have four runner-up finishes.