Editor’s note: If you follow us on Twitter @vbmagazine you know that while matches are being played we are all over it. That’s because of Ed Strong, who handles our account on game day. Ed is an NCAA volleyball aficionado with great recall and able to explain any scenario. Here, he breaks down the NCAA Tournament bid situation with a look at teams that have a realistic shot at winning spots in the 64-team field that will be announced November 28:

Thirty-two of the 64 spots in the NCAA DI volleyball tournament are automatic bids. One of those has already been clinched (hi, Brown!) and the other 31 will be decided in the next 12 days: 23 conference tournaments and eight more regular season champions besides Brown winning the Ivy League.

The other 32 spots are for at-large teams, which we’ll discuss today. In most of the conferences we’re covering, one of the teams already locked is going to win the automatic bid – it doesn’t really matter who. For example, the ACC with five locked teams has really only locked up four at-large bids because someone has to win the conference. If every team listed as “should be in” or better makes the tournament, that would cover 27 of the 32 at-large bids, leaving just five for “on the fence”, “on the outside looking in,” and “longshots”.

Near-lock: Team just needs to avoid disaster. At this stage, this usually just means one more win.

Should be in: Fairly self-explanatory. Would make a projected bracket now and most scenarios result in this team getting in, but far from all do.

On the fence: True bubble teams that can easily be in or out.

On the outside looking in: Probably would not make the tourney as of now, but generally controls their own destiny if they win out or pick up a key upset.

Longshots: An at-large bid seems mathematically possible but very unlikely, requiring one or more big upsets, lots of other bubble teams losing, and/or a very favorable judgment by the selection committee.


Locks (5): Louisville, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State

North Carolina (20-7, 9-7 ACC, RPI 28) — The high RPI and no remaining potential bad losses makes this look like a lock, but not 100% convinced by this resume, which isn’t as good as RPI wants to believe it is. Perfect non-conference slate includes a good win at Michigan and a bunch of mildly-useful wins. The loss to Virginia on opening weekend of ACC play hurt a lot, and the Tar Heels are 0-5 vs all the upper-tier ACC teams. UNC probably is in even with an 0-2 finish (vs Miami, at Duke) but wouldn’t feel fully safe on selection day. One more win (you know you want to beat the Devils for the third time this year!) and there’s no doubt.

On the fence:
Syracuse (16-12, 5-11 ACC, RPI 41) — A lot of competitive losses to elite teams make the Orange seem to pass the eye test. But their only two top-50 wins came a long time ago against teams that were not expected to be anywhere near this good (at Mississippi State, Ball State-N) – their best win since October started is Wake Forest. With two matches to go (vs Duke, at NC State), Syracuse likely controls their own destiny: 2-0 and they’re in, 0-2 and they’re out. A 1-1 finish leaves it fully in the hands of the committee and what other bubble teams do elsewhere.

Notre Dame (11-13, 8-6 ACC, RPI 40), Duke (15-11, 6-10 ACC, RPI 60), NC State (14-12, 8-7 ACC, RPI 68)

BIG 12

Locks (2): Texas, Baylor

Should be in:
West Virginia (17-7, 6-6 Big 12)– There’s a lot to like about the under-the-radar Mountaineers. A non-conference sweep of Michigan, a combined 4-2 mark against the rest of the Big 12 bubble, and nothing even close to a bad loss. With their remaining series vs Texas Tech and at TCU, a 3-1 finish clearly does the trick, but given how much of a scare TCU just gave Baylor, that may be a bit easier said than done. 2-2 is still probably enough.

On the fence: 
Kansas State (15-8, 6-6 Big 12, RPI 36) — Some mildly useful non-conference wins but nothing eye-catching, 4-2 against the Big 12 bubble. Splits with both TCU and Oklahoma are not helpful. Getting a win at Texas would almost immediately lock them in, but assuming that doesn’t happen, the series to close the year vs rival Kansas is an elimination series – neither team could afford 0-2. Is 1-3 enough? Maybe…

Iowa State (16-9, 8-6 Big 12, RPI 45) — Clinched at least a .500 record in league play with non-conference wins over Ball State and Syracuse makes this resume look better than K-State’s at first…but then you remember that Iowa State somehow got swept by Iowa. Only one series remaining and it’s at home vs Baylor: win one and the Cyclones are good as gold. The more likely scenario? 0-2 and Iowa State waits for the rest of the bubble to sort themselves out.

On the outside looking in:
Kansas (12-11, 4-8 Big 12, RPI 39) — If Kansas does actually end the year at or near 39 in RPI, they should be fine. But this is another RPI-friendly schedule – multiple matches that add to RPI’s calculation of SOS without being truly meaningful wins. The Jayhawks have been sinking for quite a while after a great start, and a home series this weekend vs TCU is the last thing a bubble team wants to see – wins don’t really move you up, but a loss would really hurt and the Frogs are playing better now than they had been. At least a 3-1 finish is needed, maybe more.

Texas Tech (15-10, 5-7 Big 12, RPI 48) — A road win at Baylor is better than anyone on the bubble can offer, but it’s only one result. TTU is 1-5 against the rest of the Big 12 bubble, split with Oklahoma and an array of decent non-conference wins are offset by a loss at Colorado that looks a lot worse now than it did at the time. Texas comes to town on Thanksgiving weekend, but the more important series is this week in Morgantown – a 2-0 trip to WV would keep TTU from needing a win vs Texas to have a chance.


Locks (6): Wisconsin, Purdue, Nebraska, Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State

Illinois (17-10, 9-7 Big Ten, RPI 30) Illinois probably is the least likely to miss of anyone on this list, but there’s just not quite enough for a lock yet. Nobody on the bubble can match the Illini’s marquee road wins at Purdue and Penn State. The only loss outside the top 25 is Colorado, who was playing a lot better at the time and still isn’t a truly bad loss. Really, the only reason this isn’t a lock is because the remaining schedule contains some landmines: just beat Indiana on Friday and we’ll call it good.

Should be in:
Michigan (15-10, 8-8 Big Ten, RPI 35) — Beating Minnesota (almost twice!) is a big deal, and that sweep of Florida State on opening weekend is incredibly valuable now. Nothing even remotely resembling a bad loss. Like Illinois, the plan here really just needs to include one more win – but unless they beat Purdue and/or Illinois, both Northwestern and Michigan State have looked more dangerous in the past few weeks than they did early on, so the Wolverines can’t just hit cruise control quite yet.


Locks (4): UCLA, Washington, Utah, Oregon

Stanford (14-10, 9-7 Pac-12, RPI 29) –It feels very strange to have to write a blurb about the Cardinal at all. But recently losing five out of six including an 0-2 trip to the Arizona schools doesn’t look great, even if yes, Stanford was significantly shorthanded on that road trip. 4-8 vs the top 25 without any truly bad losses makes this incredibly likely. Colorado and USC are both teams that could beat Stanford if everything breaks right and would cause a significant drop in RPI — just win one and you’re safe, Stanford. Even with just a win over Cal, you’re probably fine, but let’s not sweat that, OK?

Should be in:
Washington State (17-9, 11-5 Pac-12, RPI 38) — A lackluster non-conference performance left the Cougars with a lot of ground to make up in league play…which they 100% have done. Wazzu has wins vs Washington and at Oregon, and the worst loss isn’t bad at all at UNLV (RPI 72). With three tough matches left (vs Oregon, at Utah, at Washington), winning any of those three plus not losing to Oregon State and there’s no reason to sweat on Selection Sunday.

On the outside looking in:
Arizona State (14-13, 7-9 Pac-12, RPI 51) –The fact that Arizona State even made it onto this list is remarkably impressive. As of mid-October, ASU was 8-10 with their best win coming against … The Summit League’s Omaha, probably? Since then, the Devils are 6-3 with big wins against UCLA, Utah and Stanford. Four losses outside the top 70 is far from ideal (at UNLV, USC, Arizona, and Georgia at Nebraska) but not a dealbreaker without a truly awful one. There’s only one chance for a marquee win left in round two with the Bruins. Just going 3-1 by winning the other three (at USC, at Oregon State, at Arizona) gives them a shot if the committee is willing to judge them primarily based on results in the second half of the year, but the odds don’t seem great.

Colorado (14-11, 5-11 Pac-12, RPI 71), USC (11-14, 7-9 Pac-12, RPI 70)


Locks (4): Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State

Should be in:
South Carolina (14-11, 6-9 SEC, RPI 34) The Gamecocks’ laundry list of good wins (Kentucky, UCF twice, Rice, Washington State) seems to indicate they shouldn’t have to be on this list at all. However, all five came at home, losses to Santa Clara and Alabama are pretty bad, and the huge win over Kentucky is the only useful thing South Carolina has done in SEC play (second-best SEC win is Georgia). Just winning one more match would seal the deal, but that’s far from guaranteed with just a pair at a Florida and one vs Arkansas to go.

Texas A&M hopes it can celebrate an NCAA bid/Bailey Orr, Texas A&M Athletics

On the fence:
Texas A&M (12-12, 5-9 SEC, RPI 37) — TAMU has fallen a lot to even be on the fence. Since October 7, the Aggies are just 2-8 with the only wins coming in splits with inferior teams (Georgia & Alabama). But they did enough before that to still be right in the thick of things: non-conference wins vs Houston and Texas State, a sweep of South Carolina and a marquee win at Tennessee (slightly less useful now, but still better than most on the bubble have to offer). Being at .500 or better is a requirement to make the NCAA tournament, but that won’t be an issue as two of four remaining matches are vs Missouri, and TAMU’s not going to make it if they lose to Missouri, anyway. Have to win at least one more vs Arkansas or at LSU, and maybe both.

Mississippi (18-7, 7-7 SEC, RPI 44) — The Rebels’ resume honestly looks a little better than the Aggies’ despite the worse RPI. A combined 3-1 mark vs the other SEC bubble teams is very helpful, as is that historic win at WKU, and the worst loss is a split with LSU, which isn’t that bad. Only chances to move down from here, though, with two each vs Georgia and at Alabama. Rebels need to win at least three to stay in this.

Arkansas (17-8, 8-6 SEC, RPI 46) — The last two weeks have more on the line for the Razorbacks than almost anyone else on the bubble – because there’s not a lot of meaningful results here. Arkansas is 0-7 against the top 25 (came very close vs Kentucky twice and Florida, but no dice) and 17-1 vs everyone else, but the only win vs the top 50 is at Ole Miss and the one loss outside the top 25 is a really bad one to #237 Little Rock. Four matches await all vs teams either in the tourney or on the bubble: at Texas A&M, vs Mississippi State (2x), at South Carolina. At least 2-2 needed, 3-1 to feel safe.

LSU (11-13, 7-8 SEC, RPI 54)


Locks (1): BYU

Should be in:
Pepperdine (19-5, 11-4 WCC, RPI 31): The Waves got the most important bubble win of the weekend as they rallied for a reverse sweep of San Diego in their last chance to impress the selection committee. They now have a second top-50 win to go with their sweep of Kansas State in non-conference. Four of five losses are 100% excusable, but the other one is to #190 Pacific. Their remaining schedule is so bad that it’s going to pull the RPI down no matter what, but a loss would be catastrophic: #308 San Francisco (0-22), #199 Santa Clara (10-14), #238 Gonzaga (8-19).

San Diego (19-5, 13-2 WCC, RPI 42): Failing to finish off Pepperdine stopped the Toreros from moving to near-lock status, but they should probably still be okay. USD has one of the best wins for any bubble team by taking down UCLA, split with Pepperdine, and like the Waves, four of five losses are totally excusable (the other is #184 LBSU – oof). A win vs BYU would remove all doubt, but USD is probably safe even with a 2-1 finish – although they’d certainly be sweating on Selection Sunday.


Locks (5):
Creighton and Marquette of the Big East, WKU and Rice of Conference USA, UCF of the American Athletic

On the fence:
Ball State (26-3, 16-1 Mid-American, RPI 33) — It’s hard to know what the committee will do if BSU doesn’t win the MAC tourney – the RPI screams yes, but their best win is #54 DePaul, and although two of three losses are fine, the other one is to #221 Kent State. Our guess is winning until a loss in the MAC final to Bowling Green is probably good enough, while losing to anyone else isn’t – but the Cardinals would absolutely be nervous in any scenario other than a MAC tourney title.

On the outside looking in:
Houston (23-5, 13-3 American Athletic, RPI 49) — The Cougars resume looks really good if you just ignore the end of it! UH is 6-1 against the top 60 with big wins at UCF and vs Mississippi State. The problem is beyond that there’s four road losses of increasing ugliness: #92 SMU, #121 Tulsa, #162 Alabama, and #216 East Carolina. UCF comes to town for Senior Day to give the Coogs another chance for a big win — a 4-0 finish will get them in; a 3-1 mark probably doesn’t but at least gives hope if the committee weighs good wins over avoiding bad losses.


FGCU (23-5, 15-1 ASUN, RPI 43)
(23-5, 16-0 Atlantic 10, RPI 47)
UTEP (20-6, 8-4 C-USA, RPI 52)
Cincinnati (15-9, 10-6 American Athletic, RPI 55)
Wichita State (17-8, 11-5 American Athletic, RPI 61)

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