The 2021 NCAA volleyball season is well underway, and selections are about 50 days away — Sunday, Nov. 28. We decided to do something we have never done in college volleyball before, that is, project the 2021 NCAA volleyball 64-team bracket ahead of selections.
Easy peasy, right? Before we start, I want to make clear the process of how this was done. In this bracket projection, these picks are not necessarily my opinion on what my top 16 teams and at-large bids would be. Instead, I did my best to follow the committee's selection criteria and bracketing principles.
So, I picked my automatic qualifiers, at-large picks and top 16 seeds based on a combination of where things are now, the most recent RPI, the committee's criteria and where I think these teams COULD be by the end of the season. It is a guess as to how things will shake out.
While building the bracket, I followed the NCAA bracket principles to the best of my ability, meaning schools have to remain within 500 miles for the first few rounds if that’s a possibility (before flights can be arranged), and avoid conference matchups in the first round.
So yes, doing that all by hand was no easy task, but without further ado — here is my bracket projection with about 50 days to go before the real, final bracket is revealed:
2021 NCAA volleyball bracket predictions, 50 days from selections
(Stars denote automatic qualifiers)
|No. 1 *Texas vs. *Texas A&M-CC||No. 3 *Wisconsin vs. *Dayton|
|Miami vs. Rice||*Valparaiso vs. Creighton|
|Pepperdine vs. *UCF||Florida State vs. Coastal Carolina|
|No. 16 *Stanford vs. *Delaware State||No. 14 Tennessee vs. *Florida A&M|
|No. 9 Baylor vs. *SFA||No. 11 UCLA vs. *Hawai'i|
|Washington vs. Texas A&M||*UNLV vs. San Diego|
|Marquette vs. Iowa State||North Carolina vs. *Towson|
|No. 8 Minnesota vs. *Milwaukee||No. 6 Penn State vs. *Bryant|
|No. 5 *Kentucky vs. *UNCG||No. 7 Nebraska vs. *Denver|
|Georgia Tech vs. Michigan||Texas Tech vs. Kansas|
|Oregon vs. Syracuse||Western Kentucky vs. West Virginia|
|No. 12 Ohio State vs. *Princeton||No. 10 Purdue vs. *Bowling Green|
|No. 13 *BYU vs. *Loyola (Maryland)||No. 15 Utah vs. *FGCU|
|Colorado vs. South Carolina||*Northern Colorado vs. Florida|
|Illinois vs. *Fairfield||Ole Miss vs. *High Point|
|No. 4 Pitt vs. *UMBC||No. 2 *Louisville vs. *Austin Peay|
Here are my top four seeds:
I am pretty solid on these top four teams. I think you could order them in different ways as long as it is these four. The No. 1 Longhorns currently have no losses this season — they haven't slipped up. Logan Eggleston and Skylar Fields are phenomenal, they have five-returning All-Americans after making it to the title game and the No. 2 RPI in the country. This team is dominant and my projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The committee looks at win-loss record, strength of schedule, results vs. common opponents, head-to-head results, etc. So I looked at the same things.
Then we’ve got Louisville as the No. 2 seed. This is with a projection that the Cardinals win the ACC. They are currently undefeated, although they could drop a game to Pittsburgh this season, but other than that, they could cruise. This is one of the best blocking teams in the country with Amaya Tillman and Aiko Jones, they are battle tested, they have a great offense led by Anna Debeer, and they are the No. 3 RPI in the nation. With that in mind and the significance of their ranked wins so far this season, I project they will be strong the rest of the way and have a chance at the No. 2 national seed.
Wisconsin is the No. 3 seed. We know this team — they’ve been at the semifinals for the past two seasons. Dana Rettke leads the group and I’ve got them as the projected Big Ten conference winner. They did lose a shocker to Maryland, but they are pounding through every other ranked team. With Louisville winning the ACC, that would mean Pitt has some more losses, so the Badgers get the edge for the No. 3 seed.
Lastly we have Pitt as the No. 4 national seed. This team is undefeated as well thus far after a strong 2020 NCAA tourney run. Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee are pretty unstoppable. They’ve got the battle with Louisville for the ACC but they do hold the No. 1 RPI ranking. That is certainly valuable when it comes to seeding these teams.
The top 16 seeds:
The stars denote automatic qualifiers.
6. Penn State
12. Ohio State
It was difficult to order the top 16 seeds because I couldn't order them based on my personal opinion. I had to look at it through the eyes of the committee's criteria, and it was not based on just the data we have now, but also how I could see these these teams finishing at the end of the season. If you want to see my actual opinion as of right now, check out my latest Power 10 rankings.
Kentucky is pretty high up at No. 5 because I think the Wildcats will do pretty well the rest of the way in the SEC. Most of the Big Ten teams were tough to choose between, so Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota are pretty close together. Baylor at No. 9 is much higher than I view the Bears in my Power 10, but I know this team has a really high RPI ranking and will do well the rest of the season. UCLA is 10-2 so far and the two losses were really close calls to good teams. The Bruins got the head-to-head victory over Stanford as well. BYU is much lower due to strength of schedule, but the Cougars are still a national seed.
Tennessee might be a big surprise for most but I think the Volunteers could be a sneaky top-16 seed this year. The Vols are 12-3 on the season right now, but they boast a No. 7 RPI ranking. They have a big win over Baylor and a close five-set loss to Pitt.
Utah and Stanford were the last two picks for the top-16 national seeds, both are teams that have really significant wins already, an important criteria for the committee, and high RPI rankings at No. 13 and 16 respectively. Oregon, Washington and Georgia Tech were the first three outside of the top 16 with a 19, 36 and 12 RPI ranking, respectively.
Projecting the winners of every conference, here are 32 AQs in the NCAA tournament field. The remaining spots are given at-large bids.
|Big Sky||Northern Colorado||48|
|Big South||High Point||53|
|Ohio Valley||Austin Peay||189|
|Patriot League||Loyola (Maryland)||133|
|Sun Belt||Coastal Carolina||102|
|WAC||Stephen F. Austin||69|
Conferences with multiple teams in the projected bracket
|CONFERENCE||TOTAL TEAMS||TEAMS (AUTOMATIC QUALIFIER IN BOLD)|
|Big Ten||8||Wisconsin, Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan|
|ACC||7||Louisville, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Miami, Syracuse|
|Big 12||6||Texas, Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Iowa State|
|Pac-12||6||Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Colorado|
|SEC||6||Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M|
|WCC||3||BYU, Pepperdine, San Diego|