NCAA announces 48-team bracket with a top-16 surprise, no love for mid-majors

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NCAA volleyball announcers 4/12/2021

The NCAA Division I women’s volleyball bracket was announced Sunday and while it was an exciting time for the sport, it was an awkward TV production leaving fans of the college game frustrated and confused.

It started off badly because it was on ESPNU and following a softball game that ran over the 4 p.m. Eastern scheduled start of the volleyball show.

And ESPN didn’t rush to announce the top 16 seeds, interspersing choppy chit-chat, analysis and interviews as the bracket was released. Nonetheless, the top 16 teams that head the 48-team field for the tournament that begins April 14 in Omaha:

1 — Wisconsin
2 — Kentucky
3 — Minnesota
4 — Texas
5 — Nebraska
6 — Washington
7 — Purdue
8 — Florida
9 — Ohio State
10 — Oregon
11 — Louisville
12 — Baylor
13 — Penn State
14 — Utah
15 — Washington State
16 — BYU

Those 16 teams, of course, don’t play the first round — they all get byes — so click here to see the entire bracket and the other 32 teams and all the matchups.

“In every other year you’re on the edge of your seat a little bit because you want to be one of those top four seeds,” said Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield, whose team is 15-0 and won the Big Ten. “You really want to be home, especially when you’re playing in front of a crowd that we get here, 7,000 Badger fans, that’s really important to us.

“This year I’m not sure outside of the top 16 I’m not sure it really matters where you’re seeded. The top 16 teams get a bye, and that’s certainly nice, especially when you’ve got to play as many matches, potentially, in such a short period of time.”

The Big Ten got six teams, the Pac-12 got five, the ACC four, the SEC three, and West Coast Conference got three. And the state of Utah has four teams, Utah, BYU, Utah Valley, and Weber State.

“The power of having a seeded tournament without regionalization is just really exciting to me,” said Washington coach Keegan Cook, whose team won the Pac-12 and is 17-3. “I think it’s going to be great for volleyball. These matches are going to be competitive from the early rounds and that’s what I think all these kids deserve.

“It’s interesting that it took a pandemic for us to see what it would look like to have a fully seeded tournament without regionalization. I’m stoked for our team, I’m stoked for volleyball fans, and we’re going to show just how great our sport is.”

The NCAA didn’t even pay lip service to the mid-majors. Western Kentucky, which won Conference USA, is 21-0, went 12-0 in the regular season, and has only lost four sets all season. It was hard to imagine the Toppers not being a top-16 seed when Penn State was given the 13th seed after going 9-5 with one victory over a team with a winning record.

This was a year in which most teams played few or no non-conference matches. For example, Nebraska of the Big Ten plays the winner of Sun Belt-champion Texas State vs. WAC-champion Utah Valley.

“I don’t really know a lot about any of the team from the other conferences because we haven’t played them, we haven’t followed them, we’ve just been focused on the Big Ten,” said Nebraska coach John Cook, whose Huskers won it all in 2015 the last time the NCAA championships were conducted in nearby Omaha.

“I know what the Big Ten is. It’s got to be really, really hard to figure out where everybody goes in this. I think they got the top 16 pretty good. That’s what I was looking at.”

NCAA committee chair T.J. Meagher said the last four out were Kansas State of the Big 12, Marquette of the Big East, and Arkansas and Tennessee of the SEC. There was no mention of the many teams with standout seasons, to wit: UIC (14-3), Western Michigan (18-5), Jacksonville State (16-2), and Denver (14-3), all of whom lost in their respective conference tournament finals.

We’ll have more on Mondays with Mick, our weekly visit with former Texas, USC, and USA Olympic coach Mick Haley. Mick has plenty of thoughts about the placing of the teams throughout the bracket.

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