Thursday, March 22, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: March 23-25

by Vinnie Lopes | Off the Block editor

Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007. For top five matches to follow every Friday and Saturday during the regular season, go to Off the Block at offtheblockblog.com.



Less than a month from the start of the conference tournaments, teams will be jockeying for postseason seeding in several critical match-ups this weekend in college men's volleyball.

No. 4 BYU will attempt to take sole possession of first place in the MPSF as it travels to play No. 9 Long Beach State. In addition, Grand Canyon will try to continue its shocking run through the MIVA and upset Loyola in a two-match weekend series.

Check out the top five men's volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend:


1. No. 4 BYU (17-4, 13-3 MPSF) vs. No. 9 Long Beach State (10-11, 5-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: BYU has a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the MPSF by the end of the weekend if it can sweep its two-match series against Long Beach State. BYU is on a six-match winning streak and is a half-match behind first-place No. 1 UC Irvine -- who is idle this week. A big reason for the Cougars rise in the MPSF standings is the return of outside attacker Taylor Sander from a hand injury. Sander has at least 15 kills in four of the six matches since returning to the court. Long Beach State enters this weekend on a three-match losing streak, including a home loss to last-place UC San Diego last week.  In addition, the 49ers are on a seven-match losing streak to the Cougars dating back to 2008.


2. Loyola (13-10, 4-3 MIVA) vs. Grand Canyon (14-9, 5-1 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Phoenix, Ariz.
What to know: The two biggest surprise teams in the MIVA will face each other in a two-match series that could be critical for determining conference tournament seeding. Grand Canyon after being unanimously picked to finish in last place in MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll has a half-match lead on No. 7 Lewis for first place in the conference. In addition, Grand Canyon returns home after sweeping a two-match series against IPFW last weekend -- which was the Antelopes’ first road conference wins since joining the MIVA in 2010. Loyola was picked to win the conference in the MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll, but is in fourth place midway through the MIVA season. This match will also feature two of the top outside attackers in the MIVA. Grand Canyon outside attacker Ben Ponnet is third in the MIVA averaging 3.97 kills per game, while Loyola outside attacker Mike Bunting is fifth with a 3.49 kills per game average. 

3. Hawai'i (7-14, 4-12 MPSF) vs. Cal State Northridge (8-13, 4-10 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: Hawai'i and Cal State Northridge will battle for the final spot in the MPSF Tournament as they open a two-match conference series Friday. With four weeks remaining in the regular season, Hawai'i trails Cal State Northridge by one match for eighth place in the MPSF -- the final berth to the eight-team MPSF Tournament. Both teams enter this series on losing streaks. The Warriors are on a two-match losing streak and have nine of their last 10 MPSF matches, while the Matadors are on a three-match losing streak -- including a non-conference loss to Harvard. The series finale between Hawai'i and Cal State Northridge will also be nationally televised in ESPN3. This is the first time this season that a men's volleyball match will air on an ESPN network.

4. No. 2 USC (15-4, 12-4 MIVA) vs. George Mason (7-11, 3-4 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles
What to know: If USC is to make a run at a spot in the four-team NCAA Tournament, its non-conference match against George Mason may have greater significance than at initial glance. A team's non-conference record is one of the eight pieces of criteria that the NCAA volleyball selection committee uses to determine seeding and the lone at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. USC is 3-0 in non-conference play and holds an edge in that category over other projected teams in Final Four consideration -- UC Irvine, BYU, UCLA, Stanford, Penn State and Lewis. However, a loss to George Mason in its non-conference finale could result in USC no longer holding the edge in the category at the end of the season. The Trojans are on a nation-best 10-match winning streak, including a sweep of its cross-town rival UCLA last week. George Mason coming off of a bye week has won three of its last four matches and is in sixth place in the EIVA.

5. No. 8 Penn State (14-3, 7-0 EIVA) vs. NJIT (8-11, 3-2 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Newark, N.J.
What to know: The New Jersey Institute of Technology on its team's Facebook fan page posted a one-word status to promote its home match against Penn State: believe. There's going to need to be a lot of believing -- and then some -- for NJIT to upset Penn State. Penn State, the 13-time defending EIVA championships, midway through its EIVA season has yet to lose a set. The Nittany Lions also have a chance to join the 2009 Penn State team as the only teams in NCAA men's volleyball history to go an entire conference season without losing a game. NJIT is 1-28 all-time against Penn State with the one win coming in 1998. Penn State since that upset 14 years ago has not lost to NJIT and has only dropped two games against the Highlanders.
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