Kyle Walton is the head coach at Division III Transylvania in Lexington, Ky., but his Division I roots run deep. Not only is his wife, Lindsey, an assistant coach at Kentucky, but Walton has worked in Division I as an assistant at Kentucky, Louisville, Saint Louis and Southern Illinois.
Walton studies Division I volleyball around the nation and offers the following as we head into the home stretch of the NCAA season:
Let’s first talk about the top 4 seeds and why they are there and what the chances are that those could change.
1. Penn State
These make a ton of sense, both geographically as well as when you dive deep into their resumes.
Penn State is 14-1 against Top 50 teams and 9-1 against Top 25 teams. That is the best record in the country at this level and it makes the committee’s job very easy.
Nebraska, currently No. 5 in the RPI, jumps the other three due to its record of 12-4 vs. top 50 and 8-3 vs. top 25 teams. The important thing to understand about Nebraska is that the Huskers have no top-25 teams remaining on their schedule and four top-50 teams, so they are open to having their spot taken but should remain in the top four for sure come selection day.
Minnesota, No. 2 in the RPI, drops down a spot, most likely due to its top-25 record of 6-2. The Gophers separated themselves from Stanford because they are 14-2 against the top-50. Minnesota is one of the teams that would be able to possibly jump to the No. 2 spot because it plays two top-25 teams and three against the top 50. If Minnesota wins out, that would put the Gophers at 8-2 vs. the top 25, 17-2 vs. the top 50, which would most likely jump Nebraska.
Stanford is the remaining regional host to discuss. Stanford is 7-2 against the top 25 and 13-2 vs. the top 50 teams. Stanford lends itself to be the biggest possible mover in the remaining three weeks. The Cardinal has five matches vs. top-50 teams, four of which will be top-25 match-ups. This can only help the Cardinal down the stretch and could lead to Stanford actually becoming the top seed.
5-6-7-8: Kentucky, Florida, Texas, and Washington are the next to be considered as regional hosts. This is a very unique situation that we have this season, since the SEC and Big 12 simply don’t have many top-25 match-ups.
Kentucky and Florida can only strengthen their respective top-50 record, since they are the only SEC teams in the top 25. Texas has three matches remaining vs. top-25 teams and best-case scenario is if the Longhorns win them all they’d be 8-2 vs. top-25 teams, which would be good enough to jump Florida and Kentucky but not get them into the top four.
Washington is 5-6 against top-25 teams and 11-7 against top-50 teams. Washington will also have the ability to jump the SEC teams if it wins its two remaining top-25 matches.
My Top 16 as I see it in three weeks:
1. Penn State
13. Michigan State
14. Iowa State
Things to watch out for: Florida and Kentucky have very good records against top-50 opponents, but have to be concerned if any of these SEC teams drop out of the top 50 in the coming weeks, including RPI 35 LSU, RPI 36 Mizzou, RPI 38 Auburn, RPI 43 Texas A&M and RPI 46 Arkansas.
If any of these teams drop out, look for Florida and Kentucky to tumble down this list of 16 and they have literally nothing to do with it. They have taken care of their business to this point, but the SEC has struggled.
Iowa is currently 16-11 with six matches remaining. The Hawkeyes need just one victory to ensure NCAA Tournament eligibility, but that might not be easy. Iowa is home for Penn State and Ohio State, then finishes at Maryland, Ohio State, Illinois, and Nebraska. Things will be tense for the Hawkeyes in College Park, Maryland, and Columbus, Ohio, since those matches represent their highest probability of victories. I think that either Iowa or Maryland have the chance to be the 10th Big Ten team in the tournament and I would not be surprised if the selection committee used the match at Maryland as the deciding factor.
Ohio State who sits at 13-12 and will also be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives each match in the coming weeks. This past weekend they shocked Wisconsin with a five-set victory that ensures their spot into the tourney if the Buckeyes can stay at .500. They go on the road for Rutgers, Iowa, and Maryland, and are home for Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. I see them splitting these down the middle and getting in with a record of 16-15.
Washington State is battling as one of the last four into the field sits at 14-12 with 6 matches remaining. If this goes chalk, I have them at 16-16 and the committee will have to decide whether the 4-15 record vs. top-50 teams is good enough. The Cougars play at home against. Cal, Stanford and Arizona State, and go to Oregon, Oregon State and Washington.
My last four in:
29. Florida State
30. Iowa/Maryland (whoever wins between them)
31. Northern Iowa (which could still win the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid)
32. Washington State