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Jacob Myers | NCAA.com | November 2, 2018

NCAA volleyball: Penn State at Nebraska highlights this week’s top 5 games we’re watching

The weekend’s volleyball action begins with a slugfest in Lincoln between two historic programs. Outside of that, it’s not the usual top-tier programs but there are plenty of road games that will test some of the best teams in the country.

Here are the five games we’re watching in Week 11 of the women’s college volleyball season.

No. 7 Penn State at No. 8 Nebraska, 8:00 p.m. ET, Friday, Big Ten Network/BTN2Go

This game has to be circled every time these two programs and all-time great coaches play. What makes this game even more intriguing this go-round is that both are firmly outside of contention for the Big Ten championship. Nonetheless, it’s a game that deserves attention.

The Cornhuskers have lost four of their last five, which started in a loss at Penn State, but all four losses have come against top-10 teams and only one has been at home. The Nittany Lions are also coming off a stunning loss to Purdue at home. The matchup to watch will be in the middle with Penn State’s freshman middles Kaitlyn Hord and Serena Gray against Lauren Stivrins and freshman Callie Schwarzenbach. The winner of that matchup could decide which team comes out on top.

No. 15 Southern California at No. 16 Oregon, 11 p.m. ET, Friday, Pac-12 Networks

It’s easy to forget sometimes how talented other teams are in the Pac-12 because No. 2 Stanford has been so dominant in the conference. Two of those teams will be on the same court this weekend in Eugene.

The Trojans (16-7, 8-4) will certainly look for revenge after losing in straight sets on its home court to the Ducks (15-7, 8-4) on Oct. 7. USC had a season-high 21 errors for a three-set match to Oregon’s 11 and hit .200 to the Ducks’ .296. Khalia Lanier and Brooke Botkin will need to be at the top of their game to come out of Eugene with the win. The matchup to watch here will be how the Trojans account for Ronika Stone in the middle while still being able to defend Lindsey Vander Weide and Willow Johnson at the pins.

No. 20 Missouri at South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET, Friday, SEC Network+

With Kentucky’s win over Florida on Wednesday, the Missouri Tigers (20-4, 10-2) are tied with the Gators for second in the conference and own the head-to-head tiebreaker. They won’t play each other again. But there are plenty of quality teams in the SEC this year, which includes the Gamecocks (15-6, 6-5).

Now, South Carolina has lost four of its last five, but the Gamecocks have been excellent at home. And this is certainly a game against a top-25 team that can put them back on the right track. Missouri’s second-best SEC attack is led by Kylie Deberg and middle Alyssa Munlyn. The Gamecocks will be forced to play well at the net, which starts with Mikayla Robinson and Mikayla Shields.

No. 21 Arizona at No. 18 Washington State, 10 p.m., Friday

Again with the Pac-12, this league might not have several top-10 teams like the Big Ten, but it’s strong from top to bottom. And Arizona and Washington State are no exception.

These two teams are two of the best surprises of the season. The Cougars (17-5, 8-4) are on a bit of a roll as winners of four straight without arguably its best hitter. Taylor Mims has missed the past five games with a lower-leg injury that occurred in mid-October. Since then, 6-foot-4 outside McKenna Woodford and 5-foot-8 outside Penny Tusa have been outstanding. For the Wildcats (17-7, 6-6), their success predicates on Kendra Dahlke, the Pac-12’s leader and player ranked fourth in the NCAA in kills per set (5.05).

No. 14 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin, 1 p.m. ET, Sunday

With both of these teams losing on Wednesday, this matchup might not be as exciting on paper, but one could argue it has greater implications now. For two clear-cut NCAA tournament teams, a late-season skid is the last thing they want.

The Wolverines (18-6, 7-6) beat then-No. 16 Purdue at home this season, but they’re searching for another signature win in star outside Carly Skjodt’s senior season — especially following an upset loss at Indiana. The Badgers (16-5, 9-4) are going to be disappointed with their home loss to No. 3 Minnesota. On the bright side, middle Dana Rettke had a career-high 30 kills in four sets. It will be interesting to see how Michigan tries to slow her down in a pivotal match for both teams

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