NCAA news, notes and some scheduling suggestions as conference play starts

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Just six teams remain unbeaten in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball after four weekends of non-conference play.

That’s a testament to the coaches — especially the ones at the top — who aren’t afraid to schedule tough. In our sport, the best play the best (hey, college football and your damn rent-a-wins, and basketball, take note, please).

But as we head into the league seasons, some observations, news and notes.

Changes need to be made.

On one hand, it’s great to have seen such fantastic volleyball so early.

On the other, it’s absurd that some teams are almost excluded from being a top four NCAA Tournament seed.

For example, last year Texas was told its loss to Florida — the first weekend! — was the deciding factor in why the Longhorns didn’t get a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.

This season, Texas is 5-3 and its three losses are at Wisconsin, at Stanford and at home to Stanford. Texas could run the table in the Big 12 this year and still not get a top seed.

Minnesota is 6-2 with road losses to Oregon and Stanford. The pressure is on the Gophers in the Big Ten — as if it wasn’t already in that league — to almost win out to get a top-four seed.

Here are two solutions for equity.

First, the NCAA selection committee should give a lesser weight to matches played before conference season begins. Maybe multiply by .7. Whatever, But the NCAA Tournament seeding should not be determined by early season matches. 

Second, start conference play at least one week earlier and then have a break at midseason for some non-conference, made-for-TV matches. For example, who wouldn’t want to see one of those Stanford-Texas matches in late October?

Imagine a four-team tournament, like the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge, in midseason. Fans would love it, TV would love it and it would be good for the sport.

Along those lines, and I hear this from coaches all over, start NCAA practice earlier.

Two weeks is not enough time to get ready for the season, especially not the way everyone travels and schedules in the early going.

We are lucky that the sport is growing, ESPN and its platforms embrace NCAA volleyball more and more, and the girls coming out of club are so ready to play important roles from the get-go. So anything that ensures that the best continue to schedule the best should be encouraged.

Big Ten rules: Unbeaten and No. 1 BYU and No. 2 Stanford seem to be a cut above, but after that it’s all B1G. Start with six teams in the top 10 and, of course, the defending champion in Nebraska.

The conference opens play Wednesday and a match with those aforementioned top-four implications when No. 4 Penn State goes to No. 7 Minnesota. Penn State is 9-1 with its only loss to Stanford.

Ohio State plays at No. 6 Wisconsin and Rutgers goes to Maryland.

Action continues Friday with unbeaten and eighth-ranked Illinois at No. 16 Purdue, No. 3 Nebraska home for No. 18 Michigan, Michigan State at Iowa and Northwestern at Indiana.

Pac-12 rivalries get it going: The league has seven teams in the top 25.

There are three matches Wednesday at Stanford heads to Cal, No. 23 Utah plays at Colorado and the two Los Angeles rivals go at it when No. 17 UCLA goes to No. 14 USC.

Thursday, No. 13 Washington is home for No. 22 Washington State, No. 12 Oregon gets Oregon State and Arizona State goes to Arizona.

The Pac-12 had some milestones last week at Arizona coach Dave Rubio got his 500th win in Tuscon and Washington State’s Claire Martin broke the school record for blocks, getting her 469th … Oregon’s August Raskie (12.35) and Stanford’s Jenna Gray (12.32) rank third and fourth in the NCAA in assists per set.

Big 12 goes 17-4: The league finished the preseason strong, especially when you consider that two of those losses were by Texas to Stanford. This is a conference that, by season’s end — discounting Texas at the top — could have a very different look in the standings than in years past.

It starts Wednesday with Texas at Kansas State, No. 19 is home for Texas Tech, Iowa State goes to West Virginia, and Oklahoma is at TCU.

Worth noting is that Baylor has been all banged up and came out of the preseason 8-3. And Iowa State may be 7-6, but it has losses to Oregon State, Utah, Creighton, Nebraska, Iowa and Syracuse (in five), so don’t sleep on the Cyclones.

ACC goes topsy-turvy: Well, not Pittsburgh, the league’s only ranked team. The Panthers (11-0), one of those unbeaten teams, have not only picked up where they left off last year, but seem even stronger. There are just nine teams hitting .300 or better in the NCAA and Pittsburgh leads at .317. Georgia Tech got out of the preseason 11-2 and the biggest surprise is Boston College and first-year coach Jason Kennedy at 11-2. BC might not have played the toughest preseason schedule, but the Eagles were 7-23 last year, 4-16 in the ACC.

Louisville, which tied for the league title last year, is 7-4, but its losses were to Florida, USC, Purdue and Kentucky.

Things get going Wednesday with a full slate, including Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech, Louisville at NC State, which finished tied with Miami for third last year, Georgia Tech at Syracuse and Duke at Florida State.

SEC surprises: The biggest is Alabama (12-1), ranked No. 25 for the second straight week as the Crimson Tide made its first appearance ever in the AVCA poll.

Kentucky’s 0-3 start was surprising, but the No. 20 Wildcats are now 6-4 and, well, a team no one wants any part of when hitting on all cylinders. Missouri always seems to fly under the radar, but the Tigers are 10-2. And Georgia, a team that came on strong last year, is 9-2.

Florida is 9-3 and ranked No. 11, but the Gators have not been crisp this season as a lot of new parts are put into the mix.

Want a surprise: Tennessee. The Vols and new coach Eve Rackham are 9-3 with wins over Michigan State, San Diego and Ohio State. The only losses were to another surprisingly strong mid-major in East Tennessee, at San Diego and in five at Dayton. Last year, the Vols finished 12-15 overall, 5-13 in the SEC.

Wednesday’s schedule pits Alabama at Missouri and Arkansas at Texas A&M, with four matches on tap Friday, including Ole Miss at Florida, Tennessee at Auburn and LSU at Georgia.

West Coast Conference power: BYU (10-0) is No. 1, but how about Portland (12-0)? There are two unbeatens in the West Coast Conference and San Diego, even at 3-6, is ranked No. 24 in the AVCA Poll and No. 7 in the VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll. And don’t sleep on Loyola Marymount.

Portland is ranked No. 2 in NCAA hitting percentage at .308.  The only other team not from a power-five conference bettering .300 is Florida Atlantic, ranked sixth at .302.

BYU is simply loaded, with some of the top players in the nation at their respective positions, starting with outside Roni Jones-Perry, libero Mary Lake, setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich and outside McKenna Miller.

The league schedule begins Thursday with BYU home for Pacific, Portland at home against Pepperdine and San Diego at home for Saint Mary’s. And LMU, which goes to Gonzaga, has quietly gotten off to a 10-1 start, losing only to Cal Poly and scoring wins over Auburn, American and Kansas.

California power hitters: Two of the best are about 94 miles apart.

UC Santa Barbara’s Lindsey Ruddins, who led the NCAA in kills per set last season, is currently third at 5.56 per set. Cal Poly’s Torrey Van Winden, who had an absolutely fantastic preseason for the Mustangs, is averaging 4.57 kills per set.

Speaking of Cal Poly, the Mustangs, who went 10-1 in the preseason, get their Big West season going Tuesday when UC Davis visits San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly lost only to Pittsburgh and has victories over LMU, UCLA (twice) and Wichita State to its credit.

This and that: California Baptist leads the Western Athletic Conference in hitting percentage (.233), opponent hitting percentage (.159), assists (12.44) and kills (13.62) …

Bradley is 10-2. Last year the Braves finished 10-22 overall, 3-15 in the Missouri Valley. Speaking of the Valley, Missouri State, 7-6 in the preseason, enters having won its last 34 conference matches, a streak started September 20, 2016 …

There were two new entries into this week’s VBM Mid-Major Poll. You may not have noticed No. 23 East Tennessee State, but the Bucs of the Southern Conference are 11-3 with wins over Clemson, Duke, Tennessee and Washington State. ETSU is ranked 17th in the NCAA in kills with 699. FYI, Bryant of the Northeast Conference leads with 809, Houston of the American Athletic Conference is second at 766 and Charlotte of Conference USA is third at 754 ..,

Stephen F. Austin of the Southland Conference is in the VBM Poll at No. 25. The Ladyjacks (13-2) have won 10 in a row …

Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson leads the NCAA is kills (236) and kills per set (5.90). The next closest in Emily Stroup of Ole Miss, who had 247 kills. Reanna Richardson of Charlotte is third with 245 …

Other individual stats of note include UNLV’s Mariena Hayden leading with 45 aces, 1.16 per set, Reed Copeland of Wyoming leading with 79 blocks, 12 solo, and LMU’s Tess Reid leading the nation at 12.98 assists per set …

Coastal Carolina’s weekend matches at Georgia State and Georgia Southern have been postponed as the team has relocated in various locations as a result of Hurricane Florence. These matches will be rescheduled later in the season …

A reminder that later Tuesday we’ll have the national POW (players of the week) roundup.

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