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.
The biggest weekend of non-conference matches is being overshadowed by a match-up between the top two teams in the nation.
No. 1 UCLA will play host to No. 2 UC Irvine as the Bruins attempt to extend their first-place lead in the MPSF. In addition, No. 6 Penn State and No. 7 Lewis travel to the West Coast looking to beat MPSF teams in non-conference play.
Check out the top five men's volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend.
1. No. 1 UCLA (17-2, 11-1 MPSF) vs. No. 2 UC Irvine (15-3, 11-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: There couldn't be more intriguing story lines for this match between the top two teams in the nation. UC Irvine coach John Speraw will face UCLA with him being considered one of the leading candidates to replace Hall of Fame Bruins coach Al Scates, who will retire at the end of the season. This match could also have significant ramifications with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Head-to-head record is among the seven pieces of criteria used by the committee to determine NCAA Tournament seeding and the lone at-large bid. More immediate, though, a UCLA victory could give the Bruins a commanding lead in the MPSF. UCLA has a one-and-half match lead over second-place UC Irvine with nine matches remaining in the MPSF regular season.
2. No. 3 Penn State (13-2, 6-0 EIVA) vs. No. 5 USC (11-4, 9-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles
What to know: Thirty years after Penn State defeated USC in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, the two teams will meet in a non-conference match. Penn State coach Mark Pavlik, who was a member of that 1982 Nittany Lions team, and his Nittany Lions will play a road match against the Trojans for the first time in program history. Penn State is the highest ranked non-West Coast team but lost to No. 10 Pepperdine on Thursday to snap its nation-best 11-match winning streak. USC is on a six-match winning streak, including five victories against nationally ranked teams. This match will also feature two of the top freshmen in the nation. USC setter Micah Christenson is fifth in the nation with an 11.08 assists per game average. In addition, Penn State middle attacker Aaron Russell is in the nation's top 20 and leads the Nittany Lions with an 1.16 blocks per game average.
3. No. 7 Lewis (13-3, 3-1 MIVA) vs. No. 8 Long Beach State (9-8, 5-7 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: Long Beach State and Lewis will close out the Active Ankle Tournament in a rematch of one of the biggest non-conference upsets from last season. Lewis will travel to Long Beach State's home tournament for the second consecutive year. The Flyers last season defeated the 49ers in five games. Lewis enters this weekend on an eight-match winning streak. It also has defeated two MPSF teams this season -- Pepperdine and Hawai'i. Long Beach State has won four of its last six matches, including a five-set victory against UC Santa Barbara last week.
4. No. 5 BYU (13-4, 9-3 MPSF) vs. No. 11 Pacific (6-12, 4-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Provo, Utah
What to know: The campaign for BYU outside attacker Taylor Sander to win National Player of the Year continues as BYU opens a two-match home series against Pacific. Sander returned to the court following a month-long absence with a hand injury and had a team-high 34 combined kills in two victories against Pepperdine. Sander prior to his hand injury was leading the nation in kills per set average. Pacific defeated UC San Diego last week to snap a four-match MPSF losing streak. Pacific is also a half-match behind Cal State Northridge for the final spot in the MPSF Tournament.
5. No. 12 Cal State Northridge (7-10, 4-8 MPSF) vs. No. 15 Loyola (10-9, 3-3 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Northridge, Calif.What to know: Loyola in the midst of a potential starting setter controversy will play Cal State Northridge to conclude its West Coast road trip. Coach Shane Davis midway through Loyola's five-game loss to Cal Baptist on Wednesday benched starter Matt Mirick and moved outside attacker Joseph Smalzer to setter. Smalzer had 27 assists to help Loyola rally from a two-set deficit before losing the decisive fifth game. This will be the second time this season that Loyola and Cal State Nothridge have played each other. The Matadors swept the Ramblers in the seventh-place consolation match at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational in January.