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.
It doesn't get much bigger than this in regular season play.
Two matches between top-five nationally ranked teams highlight this weekend. No. 1 UC Irvine and No. 3 UCLA meet with first place in the MPSF on the line, while No. 2 USC and No. 5 Stanford play each other with both teams trying to bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Check out the top five matches from around the nation to follow this weekend.
1. No. 1 UC Irvine (18-3, 14-3 MPSF) vs. No. 3 UCLA (19-4, 13-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Irvine, Calif.
What to know: Three weeks after UC Irvine upset then-No. 1 UCLA in five games at the Wooden Center, the two teams will meet again in conference play with significant postseason ramifications on the line. The Anteaters enter the weekend in first place in the MPSF and lead the second-place Bruins by a half-match. Beyond the race for the MPSF regular season title, this match has also implications on the NCAA Tournament. Both UCLA and UC Irvine will likely be among the teams that the NCAA Tournament selection committee has under consideration for the Final Four. Two of the seven pieces of criteria the selection committee uses to determine tournament seeding and the lone at-large bid is head-to-head record and record against other teams under consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Along with the postseason ramifications, this match will feature two of the top offensive teams in the nation. UC Irvine leads the MPSF with a .367 attack percentage, while UCLA is third in the conference with a .347 attack percentage.
2. No. 2 USC (16-4, 12-4 MPSF) vs. No. 5 Stanford (14-5, 11-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: USC's home match against another top five nationally ranked team will have a throwback feel as the match will be played in North Gym instead of the Galen Center. North Gym, which has a seating capacity of 1,000, was the original home court for the Trojans when the program began in 1970. USC last placed in the North Gym during the 2006 season before moving to the more spacious Galen Center. However, a previous-contracted event at the Galen Center resulted in the Trojans moving back to North Gym for the next two weeks. This will be the second time this season that USC and Stanford will play each other. Trojans outside attacker Tony Ciarelli had a season-high 28 kills as USC upset then-No. 1 Stanford in five games in February. USC is also on a nation-best 12-match winning streak, and if it wins both its matches this weekend it would be on the program's longest winning streak since 1991. Stanford returns to the court following a 23-day layoff between matches. The Cardinal in its last match was upset on its home court by Hawai'i.
3. No. 10 Ohio State (14-8, 4-3 MIVA) vs. Loyola (16-10, 7-3 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7:05 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio - Big Ten Network
What to know: For the first time in recent history, a MIVA match will be nationally televised live. Ohio State will play host to Loyola in a conference match that will air on the Big Ten Network. Loyola has won four MIVA matches in the last 10 days to jump into second place in the conference standings. In addition, Loyola rallied from a two-game deficit to upset No. 6 Lewis on Tuesday -- the Ramblers first victory against a top 10 ranked team this season. The Buckeyes enter this weekend having lost two of their last three matches since their bye week. Ohio State coming out of its bye week lost to Ball State -- their first loss to the Cardinals in four years -- and then split a two-match series against Quincy. The Loyola-Ohio State match will also feature two of the top opposites in the conference. Ohio State outside attacker Shawn Sangrey leads the nation with a 4.91 kills per game average, while Loyola outside attacker Joseph Smalzer is fifth in the MIVA with a 3.57 kills per game average and was named the AVCA National Player of the Week on Tuesday.
4. No. 7 Penn State (16-3, 9-0 EIVA) vs. Princeton (7-7, 5-5 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Princeton, N.J.
What to know: The EIVA top freshman will go up against the conference's dynasty. Princeton and its freshman outside attacker Cody Kessel will play host to Penn State on Friday. Kessel leads all freshmen in the nation with a 3.91 kills per game average, including a season-high 31 kills in a five-game victory against Juniata last week. However, the first time Penn State and Princeton played this season Kessel was held to eight kills in a three-game loss. Penn State, the 13-time defending EIVA championships, has already clinched a berth to the four-team EIVA Tournament. In addition, the Nittany Lions are five wins away from their fourth consecutive undefeated season in conference play.
5. No. 10 Long Beach State (11-12, 6-10 MPSF) vs. Hawai'i (7-16, 4-14 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Honolulu.
What to know: Hawai'i's last gasp effort to make a run at a spot in the MPSF Tournament will be this weekend as it opens a two-match series against Long Beach State. With four matches remaining in its conference schedule, Hawai'i is in 11th place and three matches behind Long Beach State for the final berth in the eight-team conference tournament. In addition, Hawai'i is on a four-match losing streak, including losing two matches to seventh-place Cal State Northridge last week. The Warriors have failed to qualify for the MPSF Tournament twice since joining the conference in 1994. Long Beach State travels to Hawai'i after upsetting No. 4 BYU in five games last week to split their two-match series. That victory also snapped a four-match losing streak for the 49ers and was their second MPSF victory in almost one month.