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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | March 17, 2021

No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Florida and No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Minnesota volleyball, previewed

Florida volleyball's Thayer Hall previews the upcoming top-10 rivalry series against No. 3 Kentucky

We are about halfway through March, so bring on all of the madness that comes with it. Don't worry, volleyball will not be overshadowed by March Madness for us. Not with the huge SEC and Big Ten top-10 showdowns we have coming up this weekend. 

Here they are, previewed:

No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Florida | 1 p.m. ET on Friday, March 19, on SEC Network + and 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 20, on SEC Network +

Kentucky volleyball

The Wildcats just moved to 16-0 on the season. Not one single loss. They have been ranked No. 3 for the majority of the season in the AVCA rankings, just behind Wisconsin and Texas. In my Power 10, they have been slightly lower, and for one reason only: they haven't played very tough competition. That is no one's fault, as the majority of teams are playing only in-conference schedules due to Covid-19. But, I wanted to see this team against tougher competition before moving them up. Now, they have that chance. 

Florida will be the Wildcats' first top-10 matchup this season. You can add some rivalry to that as well, since these are the two best volleyball teams in the SEC.

The Gators have won 11 straight matches going into this series. The majority of their offense last season came from Thayer Hall. Now, you can count on a duo of Hall and T'Ara Ceasar pretty much every match. The Gators had two wins over Missouri last weekend. In the first one, a five-set win, Hall and Ceasar each notched 24 kills apiece. Holly Carlton has stepped up offensively as well. 

The Wildcats have some very experienced talent in Madison Lilley at setter, Gabby Curry at libero, and Ali Stumler and Avery Skinner as the main offensive threats. They are balanced and receive contributions from their star freshman class as well, including Skinner's younger sister, Madi. 

Here is how the two teams matchup, statistically: 

TALE OF THE TABLE
  ATTACK  
.363 Percentage .296
15.1 Kills/set 14
  SET  
13.7 Assists/set 13.3
  SERVE  
1.6 Aces/set 1.5
109 Errors 148
  RECEPTIONS  
.8 Errors/set .8
  DEFENSE  
14.6 Digs/set 14.5
  BLOCKING  
2.6 Blocks/set 2.9

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Minnesota | 8 p.m. Thursday, March 18, on BTN and Sunday, March 21, on BTN

Minnesota volleyball

Top-ranked Wisconsin has been the team to beat all season long and have been ever since they fell in the 2019 national title game to Stanford. They returned almost all of their starters from the national title game, and they add even more weapons. Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Molly Haggerty and Grace Loberg all returned. And now they have Lauren Barnes, who stepped up as the starting libero, and consistent points from freshman Devyn Robinson. 

We know they are good, hence the No. 1 ranking. However, due to postponements this season, they have been idle for the past three weeks, and they have yet to play a top-10 opponent. 

Minnesota, on the other hand, has. They split the series with No. 5 Nebraska a few weeks ago, and although they didn't play for two weeks in a row, they did resume last weekend. This is another team that made it to the national semifinals last season. And similar to Wisconsin, they return a few stars from that 2019 team as well as adding on a premiere freshman talent in Taylor Landfair. These teams have pretty similar DNA. 

And throw aside all of that, it is still a top-five Big Ten matchup, with the top dog, or Badger I should say, getting tested for the first time this season. How exciting is that?

Here is how they matchup, statistically: 

TALE OF THE TABLE
  ATTACK  
.351 Percentage .236
13.8 Kills/set 13.2
  SET  
12.4 Assists/set 11.9
  SERVE  
1.6 Aces/set 1.3
89 Errors 54
  RECEPTIONS  
1.3 Errors/set 1.3
  DEFENSE  
13.1 Digs/set 16.8
  BLOCKING  
2.6 Blocks/set 2.7

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