Friday, April 11, 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 offtheblockblog.com and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.


The postseason is here. Even for the majority of conferences that haven't started their conference tournaments yet, there will be a postseason feeling to this weekend's matches to close out the regular season.

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

UCLA Athletics
No. 3 BYU (18-6, 18-4 MPSF) vs. No. 10 UCLA (17-10, 14-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: Everything is on the line for the Bruins in their season finale. UCLA faces a virtual must-win situation to avoid missing the MPSF Tournament for the first time in its program history as it plays host to first-place BYU. The Bruins enter the weekend tied for sixth place in the conference, but a loss could drop the team into ninth place and out of the eight-team MPSF Tournament. After climbing to No. 1 in the national coaches poll in early February, UCLA has gone 4-6 in the final two months of the regular season. However, the team picked up back-to-back victories in its last two matches, including a five-game upset victory against No. 7 Long Beach State last week. This match will also feature the top servers in the conference and potential front-runners for the Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Server of the Year. UCLA outside attacker Gonzalo Quiroga leads the conference with 49 aces and a 0.49 aces per game average, while BYU outside attacker Taylor Sander is second in the MPSF with a 0.42 aces per game average. BYU despite its two road losses last week to No. 10 Hawai'i has already clinched the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the upcoming MPSF Tournament.

Prediction: BYU def. UCLA in five games

No. 1 Loyola (23-1, 13-0 MIVA) vs. Ohio State (11-14, 6-7 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Columbus, Ohio
What to know: Loyola in its regular season-finale against Ohio State has a chance to do something no MIVA team has accomplished in more than 30 years. The Ramblers with a victory will finish the MIVA regular season undefeated -- becoming the first MIVA team to have a perfect conference season consisting of at least 10 matches since Ball State in 1979.  Outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke leads Loyola and is among the conference leaders with a 3.62 kills per game average, including having 10 kills and 10 digs in a sweep against the Buckeyes earlier this season. Ohio State has clinched the No. 5 seed for the upcoming MIVA Tournament. This is also the first time since 1962 that the Buckeyes will not be a top-four seed in the MIVA Tournament.  Freshman middle attacker Driss Guessous, though, is second in the conference with a .450 attack percentage and has double-digit kills in the last three matches.

Prediction: Loyola def. Ohio State in four games

UCI Athletics
No. 4 Stanford (18-7, 15-7 MPSF) vs. No. 6 UC Irvine (17-9, 14-8 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Irvine, Calif.
What to know: As unlikely as it may have seemed midway through the season, UC Irvine and Stanford will play each with both teams needing a victory to get a home match for the upcoming MPSF Tournament. The Cardinal and the Anteaters started the season in the bottom half of the MPSF, but recovered in the final two months to move into the conference's top five. Stanford enters its weekend road trip on a conference-best nine-match winning streak, while UC Irvine has won eight of its last nine matches. In addition, the Cardinal is second in the nation with a .336 attack percentage and has hit at least .300 in its last five matches. Outside attacker Brian Cook is also in the nation's top 20 with a 3.63 kills per game average. UC Irvine outside attacker Zack La Cavara leads the team and is among the conference leaders with a 3.15 kills per game average.

Prediction: Stanford def. UC Irvine in five games

Hawai'i Athletics
No. 2 Pepperdine (16-6, 16-6 MPSF) vs. No. 9 Hawai'i (15-10, 14-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Malibu, Calif.
What to know: If Hawai'i is going to earn a spot in the MPSF Tournament it will have to overcome its biggest challenge all season by winning on the road. Hawai'i opens a two-match road series against Pepperdine in eighth place in the MPSF and must win at least one of the two matches to be have a chance for a spot in the postseason. The Rainbow Warriors are 4-6 on the road this season and have not won a road match against the Waves since 2010. Hawai'i kept its postseason hopes alive last week with two home victories against first-place BYU. Outside attacker Sinisa Zarkovic had a team-high 34 combined kills in the two wins and was named the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week. Pepperdine enters this series needing one win to be assured it will earn a home match of the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals and can lock-up the No. 2 seed with a series sweep.

Prediction: Hawai'i def. Pepperdine in five games

Pfeiffer (13-11, 10-4 CC) vs. Mount Olive (14-11, 10-4 CC)
Mount Olive Athletics

Match vitals: 3 p.m. Saturday in Misenheimer, N.C.
What to know: The two teams that won the last four Conference Carolinas Tournament championships will now meet for a spot in the title match and to be a step closer to a NCAA Tournament berth. The No. 2 seed Pfeiffer following its first-round bye will play host the No. 3 seed Mount Olive in the Conference Carolinas Tournament semifinals. Mount Olive defeated Lees-McRae in four games in the quarterfinals. The Trojans had three players finish with double-digit kills in the victory, including outside attacker Steven Cruse who had a match-high 21 kills. In addition, Mount Olive outside attacker Angel Dache was named the 2014 Conference Carolinas Player of the Year after leading the conference with a 4.11 kills per game average during the regular season. Pfeiffer, the two-time defending conference champions, earned a top-two seed for the conference tournament ahead of Mount Olive because it held the head-to-head tiebreaker. In addition, Pfeiffer had two players earn First-Team All-Conference honors earlier this week -- outside attacker Sonny Hirini and setter David Specian.

Prediction: Mount Olive def. Pfeiffer in five games

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