NCAA

The terms ‘committees’, ‘RPI and ‘Strength of Schedule’ are constantly thrown around when determining what women’s volleyball teams should make the NCAA Tournament. With it being November already, the tournament is right around the corner.

The Big Ten is once again one of the strongest conferences in volleyball, meaning more Big Ten teams likely will get into the tournament. The battle for the Big Ten title will be important for NCAA Tournament seeding, and with four top-10 teams, the conference winner will most likely get a top-four seed.

“I think winning the Big Ten is harder than winning the national championship,” head coach John Cook said on Monday.

Who’s in:

No. 7 Wisconsin (13-1 Big Ten)

The Badgers always find a way to lose to Ohio State in any sport, as the Buckeyes upset Wisconsin 3-1 on Nov. 8. Despite the upset, Wisconsin is still leading the Big Ten and swept Minnesota and Nebraska already, along with a 3-1 win against Penn State.

Winning the Big Ten almost automatically guarantees a top-four seed come NCAA Tournament time. Wisconsin is the conference leader, but still has rematches against Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State. The advantage of being one of the top four seeds is having home court advantage until the Final Four.

No. 5 Minnesota (13-1) 

The Golden Gophers’ one loss in the Big Ten would usually give them a great chance at being a top-four seed as well, but in 2019, there are at least four teams above Minnesota. This forces the Gophers to be in the fifth-to-eighth seed tier.

Minnesota is 13-1 in the Big Ten, but still plays Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin again before the regular season ends. Winning at least two of those three matches gives Minnesota a very compelling case for a coveted top-four seed. 

No. 6 Nebraska (12-2)

For the Huskers, they are somewhere in the seventh-to-10th seed area for now. The win over No. 8 Penn State gives Nebraska a boost over the Nittany Lions.

Nebraska’s non-conference schedule is weaker, which hurts its RPI ranking, the rating percentage index used by the NCAA. The Huskers are eighth in RPI, which can determine its seeding, but the Huskers still travel to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

No. 8 Penn State (12-2) 

The Nittany Lions are the last Big Ten team guaranteed to be in the tournament. Penn State has been its usual self, winning the games it should, but it does not have a win yet over the other top Big Ten teams.

The Nittany Lions beat No. 2 Pittsburgh back in September but are still looking for a win against the Big Ten’s top-three. Penn State plays Wisconsin and Minnesota on back-to-back nights to finish off the season. As of now, Penn State is somewhere in the ninth-12th seed range.

Who’s probably in:

No. 16 Purdue (8-6) 

The Boilermakers are almost guaranteed a spot at the moment. Purdue does not play any of the top-four Big Ten teams, which gives it an easier route to a higher seed.

That higher seed gives Purdue a potential shot at hosting NCAA tournament matches, a huge chance for the Boilermakers to make a little run. Still, Purdue has two matches against Michigan, and those matches will go a long way in where it is seeded.

No. 23 Michigan (10-4) 

The Wolverines fall below Purdue because they do not have a signature win yet. The Wolverines came close to upsetting both Minnesota and Wisconsin, but fell short in both matches.

Michigan only has one match against Minnesota and two against Purdue left for a chance at that signature win. If Michigan wins one of those three matches and wins its other three remaining matches, the Wolverines will make the tournament and have an outside shot at home-court advantage.

No. 25 Illinois (7-7) 

This was by far the toughest team to put on here. Somehow Illinois is 12-11 and still ranked this week. One thing the NCAA seems to love is quality losses, and the Fighting Illini have that.

They’ve lost to No. 23 Michigan (twice, both in four sets), No. 6 Nebraska (in five sets), No. 7 Wisconsin (in five sets), No. 8 Penn State (in five sets) and No. 5 Minnesota (twice, both in four sets)

The quality losses extend into the non-conference, but the losses have kept the Fighting Illini’s season afloat. The tough schedule and close games seem to be rewarded by the NCAA, which means that any good win will now help Illinois’ case. Illinois’ next match is home against Penn State before finishing the season on an easier note. 

If Illinois wins out, they are a shoe-in and a potential cinderella. The tough losses have helped them out and show how talented the Fighting Illini are this season.

Work left to do:

Ohio State (6-8) 

An upset does wonders for a team’s tournament stock, and for Ohio State, it gives them a chance at the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes are currently 47th in RPI.

That’s the lowest RPI for any Big Ten team on this list, but if the Buckeyes can steal another match and win the matches they are supposed to, Ohio State can be the eighth team from the Big Ten to make it.

There are still many questions on seeding, and who will make the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten, but those questions could be swiftly answered. This week alone, there are big matches all over the conference as the Badgers travel to Minnesota for conference supremacy.

“It’s an exciting time and a lot of big matches happening,” Cook said. “I think it’s what you want at the end of the Big Ten, for that to shake out.”

Either way, the Big Ten will most likely send at least half the conference to the NCAA Tournament which marks another great year for the premier conference.

sports@dailynebraskan.com