Plenty at stake Friday, from Illinois’ NCAA hopes to AAC bids to Missouri Valley semis

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Katie Stadick and her Illinois teammates play Rutgers and Penn State, hoping for an NCAA bid/Craig Pessman, Illinois Athletics photo

Most of the nation’s Division I volleyball teams are either waiting for Sunday to learn their NCAA Tournament fate or have already packed up the gear and are planning for next season.

But with 23 matches on the schedule Friday and 24 more Saturday, a few things have to be decided, including who wins the Big Ten.

More importantly for the the Big Ten will be if Illinois can play itself into NCAA contention in its final matches at Rutgers (a gimme) Friday and at Penn State on Saturday.

Right now the league will get eight bids — Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan State. Michigan, Purdue, Penn State and Ohio State — but Illinois is sitting at No. 50 in the NCAA RPI, a tenuous place to be, and will gain nothing by beating Rutgers.

Penn State is 23 in the RPI, so a win Saturday might get the Illini over the hump. And maybe not.

There are three other matches in the Big Ten on Friday, as Purdue (22 RPI) goes to Ohio State (38 RPI), Northwestern is at Penn State (No. 15 in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll and 23 in the RPI), and Indiana is at Maryland.

Saturday is when things get really serious. Nebraska and Wisconsin are both 17-2 in the conference, while Minnesota is 16-3.

AVCA No. 3 Wisconsin (No. 1 in the RPI) goes to Minnesota, which is No. 2 in the AVCA, 4 in the RPI and coming off that big five-set win over Nebraska.

AVCA No. 1 Nebraska, 3 in the RPI, can win the B1G title by beating Michigan (AVCA 18, RPI 17), which is coming off a huge win over Michigan State (AVCA 14, RPI 14).

Also Saturday, Indiana goes to Ohio State, Michigan State is at Iowa and Northwestern goes to Rutgers.

The Pac-12 is all about rivalries in the final round of matches, three on Friday and three on Saturday. Washington is 15-4 in the Pac-12, while Stanford and UCLA are tied for second a game back at 14-5.

Right now you can figure on Washington, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, and Arizona assured of NCAA bids. But USC, at 43 in the RPI, and Washington State, 45 in the RPI, are at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee. Both play higher-ranked teams.

Washington (AVCA 7, RPI 11) has already clinched a share of the Pac-12, but can win outright by winning at Washington State on Saturday.

Stanford (AVCA 12, RPI 9) plays host to Cal on Friday, while UCLA (AVCA 8, RPI 12) is home for USC (RPI 43) on Saturday.

Oregon (AVCA 19, RPI 21) goes to Oregon State on Friday, and Utah entertains Colorado, while the other Saturday match has Arizona (RPI 31) at Arizona State.

North Carolina (AVCA 6, RPI 10) has already won the ACC title and the Tar Heels, Florida State(AVCA 18, RPI 26), and Pittsburgh (RPI 37) are in good NCAA stead. But Georgia Tech (47 RPI) is playing for its NCAA life when the Yellow Jackets go to FSU on Friday for a noon Eastern first serve. Also Friday, Syracuse goes to Notre Dame, Clemson travels to Miami, Boston College is at Louisville and Virginia Tech plays at Virginia.

Saturday, Wake Forest finishes at North Carolina and Pittsburgh plays at Virginia.

There is one match in the SEC, with South Carolina at Ole Miss.

The Big 12 has Friday off but finishes up Saturday with four matches, including No. 4 Kansas at Baylor, No. 5 Texas entertaining West Virginia, and two others bound for the NCAA, Kansas State playing host to Texas Tech and Iowa State home for Oklahoma. TCU, almost definitely going to get a bid, is finished.

No. 21 Creighton plays in Friday’s Big East semifinals against Seton Hall. The Bluejays, 24-6, went through the regular season 18-0. In their earlier matches with Seton Hall, Creighton won in three both times. The other semifinal has Xavier playing Marquette. Creighton is 18 in the NCAA RPI, while Marquette is good shape at 36. Xavier is the next-highest Big East team at 69.

All the other ranked non-power-five teams are waiting on Sunday NCAA’s selection show: No. 10 BYU and No. 11 San Diego of the West Coast Conference, No. 13 Hawai’i of the Big West, No. 20 Western Kentucky of Conference USA, and No. 24 Dayton of the Atlantic 10.

There are five matches in the American Athletic Conference. SMU (RPI 33), which holds a one-game lead in the the league over Cincinnati, goes to Connecticut and clinches with a victory or a Cincy loss. Three other AAC teams in the NCAA hunt, are in action: Cincinnati (RPI 40) goes to Memphis, Temple (RPI 49) plays host to Tulsa and UCF (RPI 53) is at Houston.

Illinois State enjoys knocking off Southern Illinois in the MVC tournament
Illinois State enjoys knocking off Southern Illinois in the MVC tournament

And the Missouri Valley Conference has its semifinals after, on Thanksgiving night, Illinois State swept Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa did the same to Loyola. Today’s 5 p.m. first semi has top-seeded Missouri State playing No. 5 Illinois State, followed by No. 2 Wichita State against UNI. Wichita State (RPI 35) would likely get an at-large if it doesn’t win, while UNI (44) and Missouri State (46) could be left out.

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