Friday, April 4, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5 Previews + Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.

No. 2 BYU and No. 10 Hawai'i two-match conference series highlights this weekend's slate of matches. In addition out in the East Coast, Penn State and Harvard will meet in a battle for first place in the EIVA.

Check out what to know and the predictions for the top college men's volleyball matches this weekend.

Player: Geoff Powell, Lewis -- Powell had a career-high 32 kills to lead Lewis from a two-game
Coach: Derek Schmitt, Erskine -- Schmitt in his second season with Erskine led the Fleet to the Conference Carolinas regular season championship for the first time in program history. Erskine will also be the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Conference Carolinas Tournament.
What to know: The No. 1 seeds for three of the four conference tournaments have been set with two weeks remaining in the regular season. The EIVA is the only conference yet to have have a team clinch the No. 1 seed. 

No. 2 BYU (18-4, 18-2 MPSF) vs. No. 10 Hawai'i (13-10, 11-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Honolulu
What to know: Hawai'i players and fans remember all too well how things ended the last time it played BYU. The Rainbow Warriors and Cougars will open their two-match conference series in the first meeting between the teams since the controversial ending of their postseason match last season. As the No. 8 seed in the 2013 MPSF Tournament quarterfinals, Hawai'i had seemed to fight off a match-point and force a fifth-game overtime against the No. 1 seed BYU. However, the Rainbow Warriors' game-tying kill was overturned because of a back-row attack violation and the Cougars won the match en route to winning the MPSF Tournament. BYU now enters this conference series having already clinched the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage for the upcoming MPSF Tournament. Outside attacker Taylor Sander also had back-to-back matches last weekend with more than 20 kills and was named the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week. Hawai'i with four remaining regular season matches is in ninth place in the MPSF and one-match behind No. 9 UCLA for the final berth to the MPSF Tournament.

Here is that controversial call:

Prediction: BYU def. Hawai'i in five games

PSU Athletics
No. 12 Penn State (17-5, 8-1 EIVA) vs. No. 15 Harvard (12-6, 8-2 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Cambridge, Mass.
What to know: Coach Mark Pavlik has repeatedly said in recent weeks that outside attacker Aaron Russell is one of the top three outside attackers in the nation. Russell will now have an opportunity further back-up his coach's comments and move Penn State a step closer to an EIVA regular season title as the team travels to Harvard. The all-conference junior enters the weekend leading the EIVA with both a 4.01 kills per game average and a 0.56 aces per game average. In addition, Russell has at least 15 kills in three of the Nittany Lions' last four matches, including a match-high 16 kills in a sweep against George Mason on Saturday. Harvard is in second place and a half-match behind first-place Penn State in the EIVA standings. Middle attacker Caleb Zimmick also is among the conference and national leaders with a 1.11 blocks per game average. In addition, this will be the first meeting between the teams at Harvard since the Crimson upset the Nittany Lions last season. That road loss snapped Penn State's 61-match conference winning streak dating back to 2008.

Prediction: Penn State def. Harvard in four games

No. 3 Pepperdine (15-6, 15-6 MPSF) vs. No. 8 USC (15-9, 14-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Malibu, Calif.
What to know: Pepperdine setter Matt West and USC setter Micah Christenson have gotten use to going up against each other. The two All-Americans have spent their careers competing for everything from starting spots on U.S. National teams to now seeding positioning for the upcoming MPSF Tournament. Pepperdine is in second place in the MPSF and a win against the Trojans can help the Waves move a step closer to locking down a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. West is also third in the conference with an 11.33 assists per game average and has guided the Waves offense to a .302 attack percentage this season. USC playing in its regular season finale is in seventh place and can clinch a postseason berth with a victory. In addition, Christenson leads the conference with an 11.74 assists per game average and has helped USC win four of its last five matches.

Prediction: Pepperdine def. USC in five games

No. 6 Long Beach State (16-7, 13-7 MPSF) vs. No. 9 UCLA (15-9, 12-8 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: If history is an indication, All-American outside attacker Taylor Crabb should have big offensive performance when Long Beach State travels to UCLA. Crabb has more than 20 kills in each of Long Beach State's last two matches against UCLA, including a season-high 29 kills in a four-game victory against the Bruins in February. The senior has also led the 49ers in kills the last 10 matches and has a nation-best with a 4.80 kills per game average. Long Beach State enters this conference match needing a victory to remain in position for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and a home match in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals. UCLA is coming off of a four-game road loss to BYU on Saturday to finish March going 2-5 and dropping into eighth place in the MPSF standings.

Prediction: Long Beach State def. UCLA in four games

No. 14 IPFW (17-6, 6-5 MIVA) vs. Ohio State (10-13, 6-6 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Columbus, Ohio
What to know: IPFW has a chance to accomplish a feat it hasn't achieved in seven years but will need to get a road victory against Ohio State. With a win, the Mastodons can clinch at least the No. 4 seed for the MIVA Tournament and their first home postseason match since 2007. IPFW enters this road match on a two-match losing streak to drop into fourth place in the conference but defeated Ohio State in five games earlier this season. The team also has not won a road match at Ohio State since upsetting the Buckeyes in the 2007 MIVA Tournament championship match. Ohio State won both of its home matches last week against Lindenwood and Quincy to jump into fifth place and a half-match behind IPFW for fourth place in the MIVA. In addition, Ohio State is attempting to avoid becoming the first Buckeyes team since 1961 to finish outside the top four in the MIVA standings.

Prediction: IPFW def. Ohio State in five games.

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