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.
Just about the only thing wilder than last weekend's BYU-UCLA servegate controversy is all the conference tournament scenarios that hinge on this weekend's results.
Five MPSF teams enter the final week of the regular season still having a chance to claim at least a share of the MPSF regular season championship. In addition, six of the seven seeds in the MIVA Tournament remain undecided as the teams meet this weekend for their regular season finales.
Check out the top five men's volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend:
1. No. 1 USC (20-4, 16-4 MPSF) vs. No. 11 Cal State Northridge (11-16, 7-13 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: USC after opening the season as Final Four long-shots with four new starters now has a chance to repeat as MPSF regular season champions. The Trojans enter the final week of the regular season in first place in the MPSF and can win the title out-right and get the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament if it wins its remaining matches against No. 8 Long Beach State on Thursday and Cal State Northridge on Saturday. USC is on a nation-best 15-match winning streak -- its program's longest winning streak in more than 20 years -- and defeated then-No. 2 UC Irvine last week to take sole possession of first place. However, if USC loses to Long Beach State or Cal State Northridge, it could create havoc in the MPSF standings and the regular season would likely end with a four-way tie for first-place. Cal State Northridge needs to beat Pepperdine on Thursday or USC on Saturday to clinch the final spot in the MPSF Tournament. The Matadors have lost three of their last four matches -- including a five-game loss to No. 5 Stanford last week.
2. No. 3 UCLA (21-6, 15-5 MPSF) vs. No. 5 Stanford (18-6, 15-5 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.
What to know: No MPSF weekend match will have bigger conference tournament seeding implications than the regular season finale between UCLA and Stanford. The Cardinal and the Bruins enter this weekend tied for fourth place in the MPSF, but both still have a chance to finish without at least a share of the MPSF regular season title if USC loses one of its remaining matches. Teams that finish in the top four of the MPSF get to host a conference tournament quarterfinals match, while the fifth through eighth-place teams have to open the tournament on the road. This match will also feature two of the top setters in the nation. Stanford setter Evan Barry leads the nation with a 11.88 assists per game average. In addition, UCLA with setter Kyle Caldwell, has helped guide the Bruins’ offense to the third highest attack percentage in the nation at .334 -- .003 attack percentage points behind second-place Stanford.
3. No. 4 BYU (21-6, 17-5 MPSF) vs. No. 7 Penn State (20-3, 13-0 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Provo, Utah
What to know: The most intriguing and anticipated non-conference series when the schedules were released in the fall now has massive NCAA Tournament implications. Penn State will travel to BYU for a two-match series with both teams needing to sweep the series to improve their NCAA Tournament seeding or chances at an at-large bid. Among the eight pieces of criteria the NCAA Tournament selection committee uses to determine the four-team field is record among teams that qualified or under consideration, which Penn State and BYU are both projected to be. The Cougars return home following the whole servegate fiasco at UCLA and splitting the two-match series against the Bruins. If BYU does not win the MPSF Tournament and get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, this weekend's series will have big implication on whether it receives the at-large bid. Penn State clinched its 13th consecutive EIVA regular season title on Saturday after rallying from a two-game deficit to defeat Harvard. If Penn State can sweep the series against BYU it will likely sure-up the NCAA Tournament No. 3 seed and be in contention for the No. 2 seed -- assuming it gets through the EIVA Tournament.
4. No. 9 Lewis (21-6, 7-3 MIVA) VS. Grand Canyon (15-14, 5-5 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Romeoville,, Ill.
What to know: Ohio State has a chance to clinch the MIVA regular season title if it beats IPFW on Friday, but an equally intriguing conference match-up this weekend is Grand Canyon traveling to Lewis for a two-match series. The Antelopes -- which were unanimous pick to finish the conference in last place in the MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll -- are one win away from clinching the No. 4 seed in the MIVA Tournament and hosting their first postseason match in program history. Grand Canyon, though, has lost its last four conference matches, including a five-game road loss against Ohio State last week. Lewis still has a chance at the MIVA regular season championship. However, for that to happen Lewis will have to win both matches against Grand Canyon coupled with an Ohio State loss to IPFW.
5. No. 15 Harvard (17-4, 9-3 EIVA) vs. NJIT (10-15, 4-6 EIVA)
Match Vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Newark, N.J.
What to know: The next big sanity coming from Harvard is vol-sanity. Harvard on Monday moved into the AVCA Top-15 Coaches Poll for the first time in its program history after almost upsetting Penn State last week. Harvard,in the midst of its best season in program history, has the second-fewest losses in the nation and is 3-1 against West Coast teams. In addition, the Crimson are in second place in the EIVA and can clinch a spot in the four-team conference tournament if they win their match against the Highlanders. NJIT, with four conference matches remaining, is one-and-half matches behind St. Francis for fourth place and the final spot in the EIVA Tournament.