One team has played half the field of the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament.
In the Big Ten, Purdue went up against Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Nebraska, and also faced BYU in September, and lost to Texas in NCAA play.
So who better to call to get some analysis than Purdue coach Dave Shondell, never one to shy away from such things. His Boilermakers finished 23-10 overall, 13-7 in the Big Ten which included giving Minnesota one of its two league losses, before falling to Texas last Friday in Austin.
Only the San Diego regional, which includes USC vs. Creighton and Kansas vs. Loyola Marymount, has teams that Purdue never faced.
So, starting with the Lexington, Ky., regional that has Washington vs. Ohio State and BYU vs. Nebraska, here’s Shondell.
“I think Washington’s been playing as consistent as anyone in the country, especially if you look at their body of work from start to finish,” Shondell said. “Washington’s got to be the favorite. Ohio State can be very good and has beaten some good teams, but they haven’t played that well down the stretch if you look at their results and then they got a pretty soft sub-regional … I don’t think Ohio State will be beat Washington.”
Purdue played both BYU and Nebraska.
“We managed to lose to both of them,” Shondell said with a laugh. “I think that will be a real intriguing match because of a couple of different styles of play. BYU is the heart of the Gold Medal Squared volleyball system and they do things a certain way and they’re very effective. And I love their young coach (Heather Olmstead), who I think has done a remarkable job after being thrown into the fire. They’re going up against (Nebraska coach John) Cook, who’s as good as anybody, I think that will be a really, really good match. Nebraska is playing extremely and has a little more balance than BYU, so I would like Nebraska in that one.”
In Austin, Texas plays UCLA and Florida faces Wisconsin.
“Texas is really good,” said Shondell, whose team was lost to the Longhorns on their home court, 27-25 in the fourth. “They’re more fundamentally sound than some of those big, physical teams they’ve had. In our match it really came down to a defensive battle. A lot of people wouldn’t have thought that with Purdue playing Texas, but the libero is solid, some of the backcourt kids are playing very well, the setter Chloe Collins is a really good defensive player as a setter, and they have two good lefts and two good middles and their right-side player was good against us. I have not seen UCLA in person but I know they survived at home against Michigan in a really good match, but I would have to lean toward Texas especially playing at home.”
Shondell said Florida-Wisconsin “may be the best match of the eight.
“I love Wisconsin. They play what I call Muncie volleyball. They just don’t give you anything and they just don’t make mistakes. They compete and they have balance and they have the best setter in the nation and maybe the best competitor in the nation in the same person. (Coach Kelly) Sheffield’s got them really playing at a high level.
“Florida has every bit as much talent as anyone but they seem to be, from a distance, a little bit playing under their talent level a good part of the season. They obviously must have played well in disposing of Florida State, but that was at home and now they’re going to be on the road. I would lean toward Wisconsin.”
And in Des Moines, basically a Big Ten Invitational, Illinois plays Minnesota and Penn State takes on Hawaii.
“I’m not very familiar with Hawaii,” Shondell admitted. “They’re kind of an enigma for anybody in the Midwest. You just don’t see them and I couldn’t tell you their lineup. But I can tell you that if they went into (Texas) A&M and won there, they did some pretty good things. They barely beat TCU, and that surprised me a little bit, but that tells you how good TCU is, how good SMU is, some of those teams that came in with very little fanfare were pretty doggone good this year.
“But back to the match, I don’t know what’s happening with Penn State. They’re not on cruise control, that’s for sure. They went four with Dayton, and Dayton is pretty good, but it would be impossible to go against Penn State.”
Minnesota, Shondell said, “is better. They’ve proven that in the course of 20 Big Ten matches. They won 18 of them. Illinois went 10-10 and I think Minnesota’s got too much in that one.”
Shondell wasn’t biting on who might win it all, perhaps echoing what everyone following this unpredictable season and tournament thinks.
“I don’t think I’m mentally ready for that or emotionally prepared to make that kind of a statement,” he said with a laugh.