Friday, April 6, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: April 6-8




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 conference tournaments are still two weeks away but this weekend will have a postseason feel because of all the big matches with conference tournament seeding implications.

No. 3 UCLA will play No. 4 BYU and No. 1 USC will play No. 2 UC Irvine with all four teams still in contention for the MPSF regular season title. In addition, No. 7 Penn State and No. 10 Ohio State look to move closer to clinching their conference regular season titles.

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

1. No. 3 UCLA (20-5, 14-4 MPSF) vs. No. 4 BYU (20-5, 16-4 MPSF) 
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: Coach Al Scates' final regular season home matches during his 50-year Hall of Fame career could not get any bigger. UCLA and BYU will open a two-match weekend with both teams having a chance to finish the weekend in first place in the MPSF. BYU is tied with UC Irvine for first place and can clinch the conference regular season title if it sweeps the series at the Wooden Center. In addition, UCLA enters the weekend in fourth place in the MPSF but could end the weekend with a share of first place if it sweeps the series. BYU has won nine of its last 10 matches, including two victories against Cal State Northridge last weekend. A big reason for the Cougars' success has been the play of outside attacker Taylor Sander. Sander after missing all of February with a hand injury returned to the court and had a nation-high 176 combined kills during March. UCLA last weekend split two conference matches -- getting upset at UC San Diego and then sweeping then-No. 1 UC Irvine. The Bruins in their loss to the Tritons were without their starter setter Kyle Caldwell because of an Achilles tendon injury. However, Caldwell returned to the court for the UC Irvine match and had a match-high 68 assists as he guided the Bruins to a .378 attack percentage in the victory.

2. No. 1 USC (19-4, 15-4 MPSF) vs. No. 2 UC Irvine (20-4, 16-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: The nation's top offensive team will go up against the nation's top defensive team as USC will play host to UC Irvine. UC Irvine leads the nation with a .363 attack percentage, while USC leads the MPSF holding opponents to a .191 attack percentage. The Trojans also are on a nation-best 14-match winning streak -- their longest winning streak in more than 20 years -- and a half-match behind the Anteaters for first place in the MPSF. UC Irvine lost to UCLA in three games last week to snap its eight-match winning streak. The team rebounded from the loss, though, and defeated No. 6 Pepperdine in five games on Thursday. This will be the second meeting this season between USC and UC Irvine. The Anteaters in the first game out-hit the Trojans .333 to .234 and won in four games.

3. No. 7 Penn State (18-3, 10-0 EIVA) vs. Harvard (16-3, 8-2 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pa.
Penn State will have a chance to clinch its 13th consecutive EIVA regular season title if it can defeat the nation's biggest surprise team this year: Harvard. The Crimson, which were picked to finish the EIVA in sixth place in the conference's preseason coaches poll, are in second place and two-and-half matches the Nittany Lions for first place. Harvard has won nine of its last 10 matches, including upsetting Cal State Northridge in March. Penn State remains undefeated in the EIVA play after last week surviving multiple match-points in a five-game victory against Princeton and rallying from a one-game deficit to beat George Mason. The two comeback victories kept the Nittany Lions' conference winning streak intact at 53 matches. Penn State is also 3-0 all-time against Harvard and has never dropped a set to the Crimson.

4. No. 10 Ohio State (17-8, 7-3 MIVA) vs. Grand Canyon (15-13, 5-4 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Columbus, Ohio
What to know: Ohio State and Grand Canyon will conclude their two-match conference series after the Buckeyes won the opener in five games to remain in first place in the MIVA. Ohio State outside attacker Shawn Sangrey in the victory had a match-high 24 kills. This was 12th time this season that Sangrey had more than 20 kills in a match -- the most of any player in the nation. In addition, the Buckeyes out-hit the Antelopes .261 to .171, including holding Grand Canyon to a -.100 attack percentage in the fifth game. If Ohio State wins tonight, it will be one match away from clinching its sixth consecutive MIVA regular season title -- a feat that no program has achieved in the conference's 53-year history. Grand Canyon enters tonight in fourth place in the MIVA. However, the Antelopes will likely have to win one of their remaining three MIVA matches to finish the season in fourth place and host a MIVA Tournament quarterfinals match.


5. No. 9 Lewis (20-6, 6-3 MIVA) vs. Ball State (11-8, 4-5 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Romeoville, Ill.
What to know: Lewis and Ball State will renew one of the most heated rivalries in the nation. The Ball State and Lewis rivalry in the last five seasons has featured everything from a player having to be restrained from starting an on-the-court fight during a match to the Cardinals eliminating the Flyers from the MIVA Tournament in the 2007-09 seasons. This match tonight will also have increased significance because of the conference tournament seeding on the line. Lewis lost two conference matches last week to move into second place in the MIVA. The Flyers because of tie-breakers will now likely have to win their three remaining MIVA matches to have a chance to win the conference regular season title. Ball State is tied for fifth place in the MIVA and one-match behind Grand Canyon for fourth place -- the final seed that is guaranteed a home match in the MIVA Tournament. 

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