As we all know, we are now deep into conference play in the college volleyball season. We're about one month away from selections on Nov. 28th. Then it's time for the 2021 NCAA tournament.
We decided to look at the toughest tests remaining on some of the top national championship-contending teams' schedules this season. I mostly looked at the current top 10 teams and their toughest remaining opponents, as of Oct. 28. These are the matchups that could cause the most movement in not only the polls but also the seeding for the NCAA tournament. Note that all rankings are from the Oct. 25 AVCA poll.
1. No. 6 Nebraska vs. No. 11 Minnesota | Saturday, Oct. 30
After No. 3 Wisconsin's 3-0 stomping of Nebraska, the Big Ten race The Huskers will be coming off of a match against No. 3 Wisconsin earlier in the week, but before that match, they started out 10-0 in the Big Ten. So they are in the race to win the Big Ten and also keep up the hot streak that they have been on after they dropped three matches early in the season. With those three losses, the second half of the season will be super crucial for them, and there is no easy path through the Big Ten. This Minnesota team will be no easy foe for the Huskers — they have one of the best players in the nation in Stephanie Samedy and have taken down some great teams this season.
2. No. 8 Washington vs. No. 16 UCLA | Sunday, Oct. 31
The Huskies and Bruins are currently tied on top of the Pac-12 at 8-2, so this game has some big implications. They already played once this season and Washington barely escaped with a five-set victory, so it should be a good one again. Washington has a lower RPI than a lot of teams, but they do have the credibility of having made it to the national semifinals in the 2020-21 tournament. Either way though, the remaining Pac-12 challenges will be important for Washington. For UCLA, the Bruins are certainly a borderline seed for the tournament this season as well, so this is a big matchup.
3. No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Minnesota | Thursday, Nov. 4
Despite back-to-back losses against Wisconsin and Minnesota in Week 9, the Buckeyes are still ranked in the top 10 this season, and they have a quick turnaround before facing Minnesota again on Nov. 4. The Buckeyes will be looking for redemption this go-around and will need to prove their spot in the top 10. They will have a tough week against Minnesota and Nebraska.
5. No. 1 Texas vs. No. 10 Baylor | Friday and Saturday, Nov. 5 and 6
Oh boy, I hope you are excited about this one. Baylor is THE toughest remaining test for the Longhorns, who are still undefeated and ranked No. 1. They have been No. 1 all year up until this point, and although they did face some really good teams during the non-conference play, they have not faced a top-10 team in a while. Now, they will have Baylor, their Big 12 foe, twice. It is difficult to beat a good team twice. We will see Logan Eggleston and company vs. a Baylor team led by Yossiana Pressley. The Longhorns handled them with ease in the spring season, but that was before Baylor got the addition of Avery Skinner. If Texas gets past Baylor, the Longhorns could likely stay undefeated in the regular season.
6. No. 6 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Ohio State | Saturday, Nov. 6
The Big Ten is tough — Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State are all ranked in the top 15. So pretty much all of those are tough tests. Nebraska and Ohio State will face off for the first time this season here. If Nebraska were to get through Wisconsin, the Huskers could still be undefeated in the conference ... hence, a top matchup for sure against Ohio State. For Buckeyes, they will be coming off of another matchup against Minnesota this week and then the challenge doesn't end there. The Buckeyes will need to face Nebraska just two short days later. And this is a Nebraska team that is currently rolling in the Big Ten and producing a lot of wins.
7. No. 8 Washington vs. No. 15 Stanford | Thursday, Nov. 11
Here is another important Pac-12 battle. Stanford is another team that could be vying for a top-16 seed come tournament time. The Cardinal played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation and should be ready for the toughest of matchups all season long. Washington swept Stanford in an impressive win earlier in the season, so the Cardinal will be looking to change the narrative in their second matchup.
8. No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech | Friday, Nov. 12
Georgia Tech has entered my Power 10 rankings as the No. 9 team after Week 9, although the Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 14 in the AVCA poll. The Cardinals are still undefeated on the season, as they already got past multiple ranked teams, beating the likes of Pitt and Georgia Tech earlier in the season. But, their last two ranked matchups will be against Georgia Tech and Pitt again, so this one had to make the list.
9. No. 4 Pitt vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech | Friday, Nov. 19
Pittsburgh fell for the first time this season when the Yellow Jackets took down the Panthers 3-2 on October 10. That five-set loss dropped Pitt two spots in the rankings. Julia Bergmann and Mariana Brambilla came up big against Pitt, and now they will face them again. For the Panthers to stay in the top-five, they will NEED to beat Georgia Tech this time around.
10. No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 13 Penn State | Sunday, Nov. 21
Like I said earlier, Ohio State is currently still in the top 10, but they still have a LOT of tests left in the Big Ten. Penn State is certainly one of them. The Nittany Lions took down the Buckeyes already this season in a dominating sweep at Rec Hall. The Buckeyes still are ranked a lot higher, but Penn State already has the head-to-head win. They will face for a second time, and this time AT Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a lot to prove against this slate of Big Ten teams, and Penn State will be one of their last chances to do so.
11. No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 4 Pitt | Wednesday, Nov. 24
AH, the rematch. In the first matchup, Louisville came out on top in a five-set thriller, but Pitt was just a few swings away from winning. Now, we will see round two, for most likely a top-five matchup again. It doesn't get any better than this one. Star it on your calendar, then star it again.
12. No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 23 Florida | Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25 and 26
Although Florida is No. 23 in the rankings, don't write the Gators off so easily — Kentucky and Florida have long been the two best teams in the SEC, and rivals because of it. The Gators made it really far last season in the NCAA tournament with mostly the same lineup. In a rivalry game, I expect a good matchup.
13. No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Nebraska | Sunday, Nov. 26
At this point, the Badgers will have had to go through Minnesota and Purdue for the second time. Those are STILL tough matchups, but I could only choose so many for this list and the Badgers already swept the Gophers once this season. This Nebraska matchup will be the Badgers' second matchup against the Huskers — and on the last weekend of regular-season play.