Sunday, April 29, 2007

NCAA MVB Final Four Preview

The NCAA Men's Volleyball Final Four selections are in, so now it's out to Columbus, Ohio for the championships next weekend. IPFW, Penn State, UC Irvine and Pepperdine will have a chance to take home the title.

Don't worry, I won't take this time to rant about why the MPSF deserves a third spot in the final four. I'm just making my picks and going over the match ups.

Semifinal #1
(1) Pepperdine vs. (4) Indiana Purdue - Ft. Wayne
Thursday, May 3 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Pepperdine went more than three months without a loss. I wonder if Head Coach Marv Dunphy even remembers what it's like to lose. He got a harsh reminder of it in the MPSF championship game when UCI downed the Waves in a five-game thriller. Pepperdine still picked up the top seed, as they should. They'll face the MIVA champion IPFW Mastadons, who beat Final Four host Ohio State convincingly in the the conference final (30-22, 30-27, 30-26).

Mastadons setter Colin Lundeen ran an efficient offense to win the MIVA, as the team hit .344 against the Buckeyes. IPFW has kep the pressure on their opponents all season long, outhitting their opposition .306 to .197 on the season. To keep all opponents to such a low hitting percentage tells me two things: 1. They have an aggressive offense that keeps their opponents off-balance; and 2. They don't play any quality opponents in the MIVA. Call it west-coast bias if you want, but I'd still be suiting up and taking the court if I had gone to an MIVA school instead of USC.

IPFW took care of most of their opponents (14 of 22) in 3-game sweeps this season. Watching their match versus Ohio State last night, the Buckeyes couldn't seem to phase them. C.J. Macias gets the majority of the sets for this offense, and he's averaged 4.68 kpg on the season. Josh Stewart is a threat to block a few balls (1.52 bpg).

The Mastadons have Final Four experience - they faced eventual-champion UCLA in the semis last year - as they prepare for their 10th Final Four this season. This is a complete team that has dominated their opponents all season long, and I'm giving them absolutely no chance whatsoever to win this match. I don't think they can win one game versus Pepperdine. They'll be lucky to break the 20-point barrier in all three games.

Pepperdine is the Queen Mary and IPFW is the S.S. Minnow.

Outside hitter Paul Carroll will bring the thunder from down under to Columbus. He's averaging 5.57 kpg, and is the first option for setter Jonathan Winder (1147 assists this year). Winder has plenty of options though, as Greg Gaudino (2.09 kpg), J.D. Schleppenbach (2.74 kpg) and Jon Grobe (2.41 kpg) all have had big games this season. In the middle, big man Tom Hulse is often confused with an eclipse; he's capable of blocking the sun.

The undertow will grab hold of the Mastadons and pull them out to sea, allowing Dunphy and Co. to advance to the finals.

No Joshin' pick: Pepperdine d. IPFW, 3-0

Semifinal #2
(2) UC Irvine vs. (3) Penn State
Thursday, May 3 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

The Anteaters started the season 9-0 before being derailed by Pepperdine on their home court in a sweep, launching the Waves' 23-match win streak. They're a complete team. They don't have any gaps in their line up. Jayson Jablonsky can mash the Molten from anywhere on the court, and libero Brent Asuka just doesn't let the ball drop. Add in a healthy dose of Matt Webber and the efficient hitting of Aaron Harrell (.439 hitting %).

On the season, the Anteaters as a team hit .352 while holding opponents to .224. That's a big gap. Their block isn't as impressive as Pepperdine, but they can scrap for every single point. That scrappiness is why you can never count them out of a match, especially after coming back from the dead to defeat Pepperdine for the MPSF championship in Malibu this weekend.
I need to disclose a bias before I get into the other side of the net. Penn State outside hitter Alex Gutor and I played high school volleyball together and is a good friend of mine. His Nittany Lions have made the final four every year he's been there, and this - his senior year - is his last shot at a national title. We were the only two on our high school team to ever play DI volleyball, and I didn't last beyond a year and a half. I would love to see him bring home an NCAA title, and from a fan's perspective, that's the team I'm rooting for this Final Four.
Penn State is a difficult team to rate because they don't play any ranked opponents hardly ever. At least IPFW faced Ohio State in their conference final. The Nittany Lions dominated unranked Saint Francis (30-28, 30-16, 30-27) for their 19th EIVA championship.

PSU faced UCI back in March, when the Lions left Happy Valley for the OC. Both teams played very well, but Irvine pulled it out in four games. I was surprised by how much Penn State owned the blocking battle (17.0 to 10.0). Irvine's home court may have been a factor, but State didn't seem phased when they beat UC Santa Barbara at Santa Barbara just two days before.

Matt Anderson (4.37 kpg) and Alex Gutor (4.08 kpg) get the majority of the sets from Luke Murray. When it comes to blocking, the Lions take it to the Max. Twice. Max Holt and Max Lipsitz are averaging 1.17 and 1.04 bpg, respectively. However, the Lions only outhit their weak schedule .334 to .244 on the season. I would have thought they'd be able to have a more dominant offense while quenching the opposing attack a little better.

I want to pick Penn State to win this match. I really do. I want Gutor to get that championship. And I think this will be a much closer game than the one played in Irvine earlier this spring. But after Irvine knocked off Pepperdine in Malibu after trailing 0-2, the same team that ended their own nine-game win streak to start the season, I can't go against the Anteaters. Sorry, Alex, but four Final Fours is still pretty impressive. I'm proud of you, man.

No Joshin' pick: UC Irvine d. Penn State, 3-2

NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship
(1) Pepperdine vs. (2) UC Irvine
Saturday, May 5 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

This rematch of the MPSF championship match should draw some ratings for ESPN. This will be a closely contested match, just like yesterday's. Irvine has had a fantastic season. Four of their five loses on the season all occured against top tier teams in the toughest places to win (two to Pepperdine, one at UCLA, one at BYU). The fifth loss came at home to Pacific.

But Pepperdine will have revenge on their mind. If they are capable of getting up 2-0 on Irvine, they are capable of finishing the job without having to go to a fifth game. Marv Dunphy is a proven winner as a coach, and he'll bring home a sixth title to Malibu, and the Waves second in three years.

No Joshin' pick: Pepperdine d. UC Irvine, 3-1.

(See list of NCAA Men's Volleyball Champions)


Anonymous said...

Excuse, I can help nothing. But it is assured, that you will find the correct decision.

Anonymous said...

What curious question

Anonymous said...

It is reserve, neither it is more, nor it is less

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