Purdue, Washington triumph over projected top seeds and shake up picture for NCAA tournament
Two upsets involving top teams last week could have implications for the NCAA tournament seedings.
When the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Committee released its Top 10 on Nov. 1, Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Stanford were 1-2-3-4.
Given that the top four seeds host regionals if they survive first and second rounds, those slots are coveted.
So two weeks later, you'd think fans in University Park and Lincoln must be busy making tailgate plans. After all, neither Penn State nor Nebraska has lost since. Both teams are 15-1 and the Big Ten rivals will not face each other again during the regular season.
But hold the hummus. It may be too soon to place your order for that tailgate party. Minnesota was upset by Purdue 3-1 on Friday. And Stanford took its first loss in Pac-12 play, 3-1 to Washington on Saturday.
A check of this week's RPI shows Penn State still at the top, but Florida has moved into the second slot, followed by Kentucky. Minnesota is No. 4 despite the loss; Texas is fifth and Nebraska sixth. Stanford is in seventh.
RPI is just one factor the committee considers. But for the last two years, the top four teams per the end-of-the-season RPI have been one and the same as the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament.
So while Stanford still looks like a good bet to win the Pac-12 behind a 15-1 conference mark with four matches left, the Cardinal aren't shoo-ins to host. Of course, they didn't host last year and won the national championship as the No. 6 seed.
Another notable: Minnesota's regular-season finale is against Penn State.
While the AVCA poll doesn't come into play with the selection committee, Penn State remained No. 1 with all 64 first-place votes this week. Texas is 2 followed by Florida, Stanford and Nebraska.
Missouri State (24-5) debuted in the poll at No. 25 a day after clinching the Missouri Valley Conference title by winning its 17th straight game. The last time the program was ranked in the poll was in 2003.
We're at the point where we're counting down the season and Selection Sunday when the bracket is revealed. Set your watch for Nov. 26, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
espnW player of the week
Hard to have a better weekend than Purdue, which upset Minnesota and Wisconsin before two sold-out crowds in its home gym. It marked the first time in history the Boilermakers defeated top-10 opponents on consecutive days (Minnesota ranked 5, and Wisconsin, 10).
The balanced Boilermakers attack included 28 kills by Danielle Cuttino, who also accounted for 10 of Purdue's 15 blocks on the weekend. The senior earns her second espnW national player of the week honor (she also won Sept. 14, 2016). Purdue (20-7, 10-6) moved up to No. 15 in the poll.
Cuttino, an Indianapolis native, is part of a recent lineup shuffle that has moved her from the outside to the middle. We talked to her about:
The historic weekend: "We hold each other accountable, and we played like every point was the last point. That was our mentality going in."
Moving back to middle: "I haven't played there since my sophomore year. That's the first position I played and one I'm comfortable with. At first, I was like, 'Oh, God! I hope this works.' I hadn't practiced it all year. And it worked."
Being better: "You feel like you're working hard all the time and working as hard as you can. You leave practice tired and sweaty. But I think that when you're the person everybody is looking up to, you have to work as hard as you can because that makes everybody else work as hard as they can. When I got put back in the middle, I had to work as hard as I could because I was so behind."
Playing alongside her sister, Shavona, a redshirt sophomore middle blocker: "We've been playing together so long, I can't imagine not playing with her. It's fun because we go to school and it's a time when you're supposed to find yourself. You're not going to see your parents and family every day, but just having her here is like having my home away from home."
Sister time: "We'll do a face mask once a week, sometimes when we travel and are staying in a hotel. Or we'll get our nails done, too."
What's next: "I want to play overseas, and I want to do some sports broadcasting and stay in the sports world."
Fave athlete: "Kevin Durant."
Netflix binge: "I'm just finishing 'Pretty Little Liars.' I have Netflix and Hulu. I watch a lot of stuff on TLC, too. I watch a lot of reality TV."
Back to the Boilermakers: "More than anything I want to host (first and second rounds). I've always wanted it for us. We're so close. We can really do it if we play the same way we are and if we come with the same mentality every match -- the one we had this weekend."
While another round of Texas and Kansas is on the schedule this week, perhaps the most overlooked team in the Big 12 is Baylor.
When these Bears had early losses to Florida State, College of Charleston and Hawaii, it looked to be a ho-hum season. But since a 6-3 start, Baylor has gone 15-2.
The Jayhawks swept the Bears on Oct. 18; since then Baylor has won 15 straight sets, including a Saturday sweep over the Jayhawks, their first win over Kansas in five years.
Rewarded in the poll, Baylor jumped from 23 to 19. Kansas (21-5) is 16.
Last week's AVCA national player of the week, Yossiana Pressley, a freshman, led the way with 19 kills on a .410 attack effort. Baylor swept the Big 12 weekly awards for the first time in school history. Pressley was named the top offensive player and freshman for the third straight week. Middle hitter Shelly Fanning was named defensive player of the week.
If you're counting, that's four wins over ranked opponents for Baylor (Iowa State twice and BYU are the others).
Perhaps even more staggering: Senior Katie Staiger, the team's first-ever All-American, has sat out four of the last five matches. The second-teamer, whose 698 kills in 2016 set a single-season school record, continues to rest from a mid-season injury. She saw minimal time in the first set against Kansas.
The Bears (21-5, 11-2) sit in sole possession of second place in the Big 12 with three matches left. They trail Texas (21-2, 13-0) by two but host the Longhorns on Nov. 25.
Mean Green history
If you had perennial favorite Western Kentucky penciled in as Conference USA regular-season champ, add an asterisk.
North Texas has a share of the regular-season title for the first time in its history after a straight-set victory over Middle Tennessee on Saturday. The Mean Green won their 14th straight match behind the highest attack percentage in school history (.600), committing just two errors the entire way. But it was the win three nights earlier that was the real news.
That's when North Texas rallied past Western Kentucky in five, snapping a 38-match conference win streak by the Hilltoppers.
Alexis Wright's 18 kills were a team high for the Mean Green, followed by Amanda Chamberlain with 14 and Holly Milam with 12. All are seniors.
"Someone told me 'You don't have to be fancy, just do what you do,' and I always write 'relax' on my wrist," Chamberlain said. "I was just breathing through the plays and I knew that I know what I'm doing."
The hard work isn't over for North Texas, the top seed in the Conference USA Tournament, which starts Friday. The championship is Sunday in Bowling Green where North Texas has never won. WKU holds a 19-2 record in the series.
Matches to watch
No. 16 Kansas at No. 2 Texas: The Jayhawks haven't won in Gregory Gym since a five-setter back in 2003, a drought of 13 straight. But they had match points in Lawrence before falling 18-16 a month ago. A win here on Wednesday and the Longhorns clinch at least a share of their 10th Big 12 title.
No. 8 Michigan State at Michigan: The teams have split the series for the past seven years. The Spartans, who took the first meeting, have won three straight and are a juggernaut in the Big Ten, having defeated Minnesota, Wisconsin twice and Ohio State.
No. 14 USC at No. 4 Stanford: The top two teams in the Pac-12 square off in Maples Pavilion on Wednesday. While the Cardinal suffered a setback at Washington last week, they can clinch a share of the conference title by beating the Trojans. A sweep of the Los Angeles teams -- Stanford plays UCLA on Thursday -- would give the Cardinal the title outright. How good is Stanford's Kathryn Plummer this season? The sophomore's 5.41 points per set rank fifth in the NCAA.