Well, we’ve made it to the final weekend of the Division I women’s volleyball regular season. Even through three months of play, there are still plenty of games that can affect the NCAA tournament before selections are revealed on Sunday — not to mention the four conference tournaments that will yield automatic bids this weekend.
Normally, we present the top five games to watch on the weekend. This time around we’re giving you what we think are the five games that have the greatest possibility of affecting the NCAA tournament field. These will focus on teams perceived to be on the bubble as well as games that could impact national seeding.
These presumptions on the NCAA tournament do not reflect the NCAA’s viewpoint.
Miami (FL) at Duke, Friday, 2 p.m. ET
One week ago, Duke looked like a safe bet for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. After a loss to North Carolina last week, the Blue Devils (15-11, 9-8 ACC) might need to win Friday in order to stay on the bubble.
Duke won a pivotal game against Notre Dame earlier this week which likely knocked the Fighting Irish off the bubble. The Blue Devils came in at 48th in the RPI this week and with one of the best wins of the year against No. 10 Pittsburgh. That said, a second loss to the Hurricanes (13-11, 9-8 ACC) — which were ranked 78th in RPI this week — could drop Duke quite a bit.
No. 15 Southern California at UCLA, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
This game has NCAA tournament implications on multiple levels. For UCLA (13-13, 8-11 Pac-12), a loss would drop the Bruins below .500 and four games below .500 in the Pac-12, making it extremely difficult to receive an at-large despite being 35th in RPI. That ranking has likely dropped since it loss to Colorado on Wednesday.
For the Trojans (20-10, 12-7 Pac-12), some sort of consistency would be a welcome sight heading into postseason play. After back-to-back losses to Arizona State and Utah, it might be time to wonder if USC even gets a national seed. Since they were named the No. 7 team by the committee on Nov. 4, the Trojans have lost three of five games.
No. 3 Minnesota at No. 7 Penn State, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
There’s little doubt these two teams will receive national seeds — likely to be in the top 10 — but this stands as the lone test for Minnesota (24-2, 18-0) to go undefeated in the Big Ten.
The Gophers and the Nittany Lions (22-6, 13-5) are legitimate national title contenders, and you can bet Hugh McCutcheon and Russ Rose will have their teams playing their best at the end of the season. The biggest stakes in this game are whether or not Minnesota still deserves a top-four seed in the tournament with a loss and how far can Penn State move up in seeding with a win.
Oklahoma at Kansas, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Kansas (15-11, 8-7 Big-12) is another team that seemed to be a safe bet in the tournament until Iowa State stunned the Jayhawks in Ames, Iowa, in straight sets on Wednesday. Now the season finale against Oklahoma sets up to be a potential play-in game for Kansas.
The Jayhawks were 35th in RPI to begin the week, but it’s loss to Iowa State (74th RPI) likely dropped them into the bubble range. They have two great wins against No. 4 Texas and No. 25 Baylor, but at .500 in conference and 12 losses, it’s tough to judge how much weight those wins have. A victory against the Sooners (16-11, 8-7), which are 75th in RPI, would likely give Kansas enough to make the field. Though, there’s little doubt Oklahoma will be upset-minded going to Lawrence.
Maryland at No. 6 Nebraska, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
There’s no other bubble team that could play itself into the tournament more than Maryland can this weekend. The Terrapins (17-13, 8-10 Big Ten) are ranked 53rd in RPI heading into road games against Iowa (77th RPI) and sixth-ranked Nebraska. There’s no question a stunning win at Nebraska would put the Terps in the tournament for the first time since 2005.
Of course, the defending national champions will want to send All-American seniors Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney out winners in the Devaney Center. Nebraska (22-6, 13-5) has won six straight and is playing its best right before the tournament.
Other notable games:
No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 7 Penn State, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Like Penn State, the Badgers (20-6, 13-5) are fighting for positioning as a national seed before the tournament field is revealed Sunday. A win at Penn State would be a resounding last statement.
No. 12 Purdue at No. 4 Illinois, Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
The Boilermakers (23-7, 12-7) might have lost seven games in the Big Ten this year, but it would be hard to see them not receive a national seed. Upsetting the Illini (27-3, 16-3) might earn Purdue a top-10 seed. A 13th straight win for Illinois could grant it a top-four seed and home court advantage through the regionals.