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Tourney time: Conference-by-conference breakdown as NCAA bids on the line

NCAA tourney preview: Stephen F. Austin's Maddy Bourque sets Kyanna Creecy
Tourney Time in the NCAA! Stephen F. Austin’s Maddy Bourque sets Kyanna Creecy/SFA photo

Our version of March Madness begins Tuesday when two conference tournaments get underway with automatic NCAA Tournament bids on the line. 

In the SoCon, UNC Greensboro plays East Tennessee State, and in the Patriot League, Navy plays Bucknell and Loyola Maryland plays American.

So it’s time to break it down, conference by conference. 

If the regular season is any indication, the world of NCAA Division I women’s volleyball is in for a wild five weeks, culminating with the NCAA Championship December 14-17 in Tampa.

On Wednesday, we’ll look at the Power 5, the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

Here, starting with the Patriot and SoCon and then the rest in alphabetical order, are all the rest (RPI rankings are from the NCAA posting of November 12):

Patriot League

Colgate (20-7, 13-3, 80 RPI) won the conference by two games over Army West Point (14-11, 11-5, RPI 114). The tournament opens Tuesday with third-seeded American playing sixth-seeded Loyola Maryland and fourth-seeded Bucknell taking on fifth-seeded Navy. Colgate and Army await for the semifinals Friday with the title match Sunday.

Only the tourney winner gets a bid. Click here for the Patriot League Championship website.


For the longest time we were enthralled with The Citadel, the last unbeaten besides Nebraska. The Bulldogs, having the best season in program history by far, won their first 23 matches, lost twice, and have won three since and stand at 26-2, 14-2 (RPI 92). They finished two games ahead of Mercer (16-11, 12-4, RPI 146). 

The tournament begins Tuesday when eighth-seeded East Tennessee State plays ninth-seeded UNC Greensboro. Seven other teams — Samford, Furman, The Citadel, Mercer, Chattanooga, Wofford and Western Carolina — are waiting in Friday’s quarterfinals. The semifinals are Saturday and the final Sunday. Only the winner gets an NCAA bid.

Click here for the SoCon Championship website.

American Athletic

SMU (21-6, 15-1 RPI 25) leads the overall standings by two games over Wichita State (19-7, 13-3. RPI 55). The Mustangs, who have won 11 in a row, will get the league’s automatic bid, barring a complete 0-4 collapse — and are playing for seeding. They have four matches left, two at home this weekend against North Texas, a rare, late-season non-conference match against West Coast-champion Pepperdine (RPI 36) and then finish the AAC season at Temple. Even if Wichita State wins out it won’t get an at-large bid.


FGCU (23-6, 15-1, RPI 57) won the regular-season by a game over Lipscomb (19-7, 14-2, RPI 75). Only the conference tourney winner gets a bid. FGCU opens its play Thursday against eighth-seeded Bellarmine and Lipscomb plays Stetson. The other matchups have North Florida vs. Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State vs. North Alabama. The semifinals are Friday and final on Saturday.

Click here for the ASUN Championship website. 

America East

UMBC (15-7, 8-2, RPI 56) won the six-team league by a game over New Hampshire (18-8, 7-3, RPI 112). UMBC plays Bryant on Friday and UNH plays Binghamton with the winners deciding the NCAA automatic bid on Saturday. 

Click here for the America East Championship website.

Atlantic 10

It would be a stunning development if Dayton (29-2, 18-0, RPI 22) didn’t win. The Flyers have won 24 in a row and finished two games ahead of Loyola Chicago (18-11, 16-2, RPI 52). But if the Flyers get upset, that would give the A10 two teams in the 64-team NCAA field.

The A10 tourney opens Friday when Davidson plays Saint Louis for the right to face Dayton in the semifinals, and then VCU faces Fordham to get a crack at Loyola. The final is Sunday. 

Click here for the Atlantic 10 Championship website.

Big East

This most-entertaining conference starts its six-team tournament on November 22. Before then the race still has to play out between Creighton (23-4, 14-2, RPI 11), Marquette (18-9, 14-2, RPI 23) and St. John’s (20-8, 12-4, RPI 54). 

Certainly Creighton and Marquette will get bids regardless. The remaining schedule includes Xavier at Creighton on Friday — Xavier upset Creighton in five on September 23 — and St. John’s at Marquette. Marquette won the first match in five. The regular-season ends this weekend.

Click here for Big East tournament info.

Big Sky

Sacramento State (19-9, 12-2, RPI 152) leads the regular season by two games over Montana State (17-7, 10-4, RPI 167), Weber State (17-8, 10-4, RPI 133), and Northern Colorado (15-10, 10-4, and the conference’s highest RPI at 121).

The tournament doesn’t start until November 22. Matches this final week include Sac State at Montana State on Thursday and Weber State at Northern Colorado on Friday.

Click here for the Big Sky Championship website.

Big South

High Point (21-6, 14-0, RPI 53) won the conference by two games over Winthrop (13-12, 12-2, RPI 177), which it swept in both their meetings. So clearly this is a one-bid conference.

The tournament begins Saturday with High Point taking on Presbyterian and Winthrop facing Gardner-Webb. The final is Sunday.

Click here for the Big South Championship website.

Michelle Ohwobete leads UCSB in kills
Michelle Ohwobete leads UCSB in kills/Jeff Liang photo

Big West

UC Santa Barbara (25-3, 15-1, RPI 34) pulled away and leads the conference by three games two to play over Hawai’i (19-8 12-4, RPI 69), Long Beach State (18-8, 12-4, RPI 70) and Cal Poly (18-10, 12-4, RPI 100). UCSB’s only league loss was at UC Irvine and it has won five matches in a row since. The final two days of play includes a regular-season-ending match between Long Beach at Hawai’i.

The tournament starts November 22 at Long Beach. Click here for the Big West Championship website.


Towson (23-5, 16-2, RPI 76), which has won 10 in a row, won the conference by a game over Delaware (22-4, 15-3, RPI 71). Those teams split five-set matches in late September. Towson’s other loss was to the Fighting Camels of Campbell (16-12, 13-5, RPI 151). The conference tournament starts Thursday with Stony Brook playing Charleston for the right to play Towson and Northeastern facing Campbell to get Delaware.

Click here for the CAA Championship website.

Conference USA 

In the past, we could always look forward to epic battles between Western Kentucky and Rice, but Rice left for the American Athletic. WKU (26-4, 16-0, RPI 21) dominated, finishing five games up on NM State (19-9, 11-5, RPI 82), Middle Tennessee (20-8. 11-5, RPI 106) and UTEP (20-8, 11-5, RPI 68). The only way CUSA gets two teams into the NCAA Tournament is someone has to upset WKU. And what an upset that would be.

The tournament quarterfinals are Friday. Click here for the Conference USA Championship website.

Horizon League

Wright State (19-10, 15-3, RPI 87) won the conference by two games over Green Bay (15-15, 13-5, RPI 195) and Milwaukee (21-11, 13-5, RPI 119). Wright State and Milwaukee play Saturday against the Friday winners of Milwaukee vs. Cleveland State and Northern Kentucky vs. Oakland, respectively. The final is Sunday. It’s winner take all.

Click here for the Horizon League Championship website.

Ivy League

Yale (19-3, 14-0, RPI 64), riding a 15-match winning streak, ran away from the pack, finishing three games ahead of Princeton (14-8, 11-3, RPI 115). Princeton plays Brown on Friday, followed by Yale vs. Harvard. The final is Saturday and it’s winner take all.

Click here for the Ivy League Tournament website.

Metro Atlantic 

Fairfield (20-6, 16-2, RPI 160) won by two games over Quinnipiac (19-9, 14-4, RPI 222). It’s one and done as Fairfield awaits the Friday winner of the match between Marist and Iona and Quinnipiac gets the winner of Niagara vs. Rider.

Click here for the MAAC Championship website.


Western Michigan (27-2, 17-0, RPI 39) has been the team to beat all year, but this promises to be a great tournament that starts Saturday in Kalamazoo. First the league has to finish the regular season, which includes six matches Wednesday and they will factor into tournament seeded after WMU, which has won 17 in a row. Ball State (16-12, 13-4, RPI 128) finished second to WMU in the West, while Buffalo (22-7, 12-5, RPI 93) and Ohio (17-12, 12-5, RPI 83) are tied for the East lead. Buffalo plays at Akron on Wednesday and Ohio is at Kent State.

You would have to assume that if WMU loses in the tournament it will get an at-large. Click here for the MAC Championship website.


Coppin State (24-4, 13-1, RPI 145) won by two games over Howard (15-13, 11-3, RPI 179). The eight-team tournament that starts Friday includes South Carolina State, Maryland Eastern Shore, Norfolk State, Morgan State and North Carolina Central. The semifinals are Saturday and Sunday’s final is on ESPNU.

Click here for the MEAC Championship website.

Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa (23-6, 17-0, RPI 40) has won 18 in a row and would have to be considered for an at-large if it doesn’t win the tournament. Everyone else is one and done. Drake is second (21-8, 14-3), four games up on Southern Illinois, UIC and Valparaiso. After Wednesday’s last regular-season matches, which includes Drake at UNI, the tournament begins Sunday. The final is on November 22.

Click here for the Missouri Valley Championship website.

Mountain West

Utah State (22-5, 15-1, RPI 16) leads the league by a whopping five games. And the Aggies, who have won 12 in a row, are assured of an at-large NCAA bid. Three teams are tied for second, New Mexico (18-9, 10-6, RPI 120), Colorado State (16-11, 10-6, RPI 67) and Fresno State (16-11, 10-6, RPI 163). There are three more regular-season playing dates before the tournament starts November 22. The only way the MWC gets two teams in is if Utah State gets upset.

Click here for the Mountain West Championship website.


The top four teams made the tournament, including Sacred Heart (12-14, 11-3, RPI 288) and Fairleigh Dickinson (13-16, 11-3, RPI 310), which tied for first. In the tournament that starts with semifinals Friday, Sacred Heart plays LIU and FDU faces Saint Francis U, which is 15-10 and the only team in the eight-team conference with an overall winning record.

Click here for the Northeast Conference Championship website.

Ohio Valley

The league race is still undecided. Eastern Illinois (23-4, 13-3, RPI 73) leads, a game ahead of Southeast Missouri (20-7, 12-4, RPI 127), with Morehead State and Lindenwood three games back. EIU finished the regular season with back-to-back home matches against Western Illinois, while Southeast Missouri is home for two matches with Lindenwood.

The tournament starts Monday with quarterfinals, the semifinals are Tuesday and the winner-take-all final on Wednesday.  

Click here for the Ohio Valley Conference Championship website.


Southeastern Louisiana (26-4, 17-1, RPI 98) won the regular-season by a game over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (21-9, 16-2, RPI 162). The only other team in the eight-team league with a winning record is HCU (18-12, 13-5, RPI 169). The tournament in Corpus Christi starts Thursday with HCU and fourth-place McNeese waiting for Friday’s quarterfinals. Southeastern and TAMUCC get byes into Saturday’s semifinals and the winner-take-all final is Sunday.

Click here for the Southland Conference Championship website.


Alabama State (17-12, 16-0, RPI 225), which went 1-12 in pre-conference, hasn’t lost since. Prairie View (18-12, 13-3, RPI 258) finished second, just ahead of Florida A&M (16-13, 12-4, RPI 249). The quarterfinals are Friday, the semifinals Saturday and the winner-take-all final on Sunday on ESPNU. 

Click here for the SWAC Championship website.

The Summit League

Omaha (13-13, 12-4, RPI 139) finished its regular season and is a half game up on South Dakota (17-9, 11-4, RPI 111), Denver (12-11, 11-4, RPI 172) and Kansas City (20-7, 11-4, RPI 148). South Dakota plays at South Dakota State tonight, and Wednesday Kansas City is home for St. Thomas and Denver entertains Oral Roberts. So seeding for the tournament is still to be decided. Action gets underway Sunday with the winner-take-all final on Tuesday.

Click here for The Summit League Championship website.

Sun Belt

This has been a season-long battle among the top teams as they head to Foley, Alabama, for the tournament that starts Wednesday. Coastal Carolina (19-9, 14-2, RPI 63) won the East by two games over James Madison (19-8, 12-4, RPI 24). Texas State (19-8, 12-4, RPI 35) and Troy (14-12, 12-4, RPI 77) and South Alabama (21-7, 12-4, RPI 37) tied for the West lead.

JMU, Texas State and South Alabama could all get at-large bids if they don’t win, which would be a first for the conference to have three teams, or, if a dark horse emerges, four.

Texas State, Coastal, South Alabama and JMU are already into Friday’s quarterfinals. 

Click here for the Sun Belt Championship website.

West Coast

Pepperdine (18-6, 14-0, RPI 36) has won 17 in a row and clinched the title and the NCAA automatic bid that goes with it. The Waves were first in.

Now the WCC has to hope for the best from Loyola Marymount (18-6, 11-3, RPI 49) to get a second team in. LMU needs to win its last two matches against Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara to stay in consideration for an at-large. San Diego (15-10, 11-4, RPI 65) will become the first team to make the NCAA national semifinals one year and fail to make the tournament the next since defending-champion Stanford in 2020/21 (Worth noting: Stanford finished 2-8 in the COVID-marred spring of 2021. Before that, another team coached by Kevin Hambly, Illinois, played in the title match in 2011 but didn’t make the tournament in 2012. Before that it was USC in 1986).

Pepperdine has a non-conference match at SMU (RPI 25) of the American Athletic Conference on Monday that, with a victory, could help its NCAA tourney seeding.


Stephen F. Austin (27-3, 16-0, RPI 38) ran away with the title, finishing three games ahead of Grand Canyon (20-7, 13-3, RPI 96). The only way the WAC can get two teams in is for someone to upset SFA, which is riding a 16-match winning streak.

The tournament quarterfinals are Thursday at Utah Valley. Click here for the WAC Tournament website.

The WAC also provided us with the first coaching change of the season. Seattle U fired Michelle Cole on Monday after four seasons and this was her best, with double the number of wins from the year before. Seattle finished 8-19 this season, 3-13 in the WAC, giving Cole a four-year record of 18-58.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: “A national search for a new head coach will begin immediately,” the school said in a news release. Seattle U has never made the Division I NCAA Tournament but made it in Division II in 2003.

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