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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | October 14, 2021

Predicting the NCAA volleyball tournament's 32 automatic bids

2021 NCAA volleyball bracket predictions, 50 days from selections

We're a little more than halfway through the 2021 college volleyball regular season, with plenty still to play for this year. But as selections get closer — they're on Nov. 28 — I looked into my crystal ball and predicted all 32 automatic qualifiers for the NCAA volleyball tournament.

There is a slim to zero chance that I go 32-for-32 here, but why not have some fun, right? Some conferences crown their AQ by way of conference tournament, and some use their regular-season champion. 

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Here are all 32 automatic qualifiers, predicted: 

America East UMBC 
American Athletic UCF
ACC Louisville
Atlantic 10 Dayton
Atlantic Sun FGCU
Big East Creighton
Big Sky Northern Colorado
Big South High Point
Big Ten Wisconsin
Big 12 Texas
Big West Hawai'i
Colonial Towson
Conference USA Western Kentucky
Horizon Milwaukee
Ivy Princeton
MAC Bowling Green
MAAC Fairfield
MEAC Delaware State
Missouri Valley Valparaiso
Mountain West UNLV
Northeast Bryant
Ohio Valley Austin Peay
Pac-12 UCLA
Patriot Loyola (Maryland)
SEC Kentucky
Southland Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
SWAC Florida A&M
Summit Denver
Sun Belt Coastal Carolina
WAC Stephen F. Austin
West Coast BYU

So there you have it, all 32 automatic qualifiers predicted in the middle of October. With so many more matches to come, I had to take into consideration whatever head-to-head matchups there have been and predict the winners for conference tournaments. Louisville was my pick out of the ACC with Pitt as a close second. From watching this team and with their level of competition and experience, I predict the Cardinals will beat out the Panthers for the conference title.

Out of the Big Ten, I am going with Wisconsin. It may seem silly if you look at the standings, considering Nebraska currently leads the Big Ten with a 7-0 record. But a lot of the best Big Ten teams have yet to play each other yet. If I am going to look out all the way to the end of the season, I predict Wisconsin will come out on top. The Badgers have the experience and a lot of standout new players, and I think after a surprise loss to Maryland, they won't have many more slip ups and will be a tough team to beat. 

I have No. 1 Texas winning the Big 12 for obvious reasons. Baylor is the only team that could give them a run, but I don't see that happening.

I have Western Kentucky winning Conference USA. This was a team that really impressed me in the 2020 volleyball tournament and one that I predicted to pull off a few upsets; I have high hopes for WKU this season as well. This is one of five teams in the NCAA hitting above .300 and the Hilltoppers have just one loss on the season. 

Out of the Pac-12 I have UCLA taking the crown. When I did my bracket prediction 50 days before selections, I originally picked Stanford. But the more I watch UCLA, the more I think the Bruins might come out victorious. They are tied for first place currently with Oregon in the Pac-12 with a 5-1 record. They have the head-to-head win over Stanford, fell in a close five-setter to Washington, and just took down Utah in a straight sweep. 

Kentucky was an easy pick out of the SEC. I don't think the Wildcats will run into much trouble the rest of the way. And same thing with BYU out of the WCC. I think the Cougars are a clear favorite to come out victorious and win the AQ. 

For some of the other conferences that are not ranked in the top 25, I heavily looked at their strength of schedules this season, head-to-head matchups and RPI to predict a conference winner. 

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