Five things to watch in volleyball semifinals
Yeah, sure. You saw all of this coming, right?
The Big Ten advanced six teams to the Sweet 16, yet the Pac-12 outpaced it in semifinal qualifiers 2-1. The Atlantic Coast Conference produced its first national semifinalist, Florida State, from a No. 12 seed at that. And in a back-to-the-future moment, six-time national champion UCLA returns to the Final Four for the first time without longtime coach Andy Banachowski, who turned over the first seat to Mike Sealy after the 2009 season.
Five things to watch in San Antonio? We thought you'd never ask.
1. Can a No. 12 seed win a national championship?
It's never happened before, but what does that mean in a year when the top two seeds, Texas and Nebraska, are done? Superior, relentless blocking carried Florida State past fifth-seeded Purdue and fourth-seeded Iowa State at the Minneapolis regional. FSU will need it against UCLA's daunting outside hitters, 6-foot-5 Tabi Love and 6-3 Rachael Kidder.
2. What's cooler, Alex Jupiter's name or her headband?
Let's split the difference and say her game. If the 6-3 All-American outside hitter from USC isn't the best player in the country, she certainly is the best player left in the tournament. Unless Illinois figures out how to deal with her, the Women of Troy are bound for Saturday's national championship match.
3. Who is the better transfer, UCLA's Love or Illinois' Colleen Ward?
Give the edge to Ward, who spent two seasons at Florida before returning to her home state. She is from Naperville, just outside Chicago. In a delightful twist, Ward's season-high 23 kills on .500 hitting led the Illini past the Gators in the Gainesville regional final. Love, a junior outside hitter from Dauphin, Manitoba, moved west after two seasons at Minnesota. By the way: Before this season, Love listed Minnesota's 2009 regional championship victory over Florida State as her biggest athletic thrill. One guess who the Bruins play Thursday night?
4. Any chance Gators fans, with their team out of it, will root for their in-state rival Seminoles?
No. That's not the way it works down there. Folks in Gainesville would rather see the College of Medicine close than back the Noles in anything.
5. With four-time champion Penn State out, can Illinois keep the national championship in the Big Ten?
It seems crazy to call a lower seed a favorite. If the polls are your guide, this is top-ranked USC's tournament to lose even though it's the No. 7 seed. The Illini, third-seeded and third-ranked, nevertheless will be a decided underdog against USC. I'm calling an all-Pac-12 final between USC and UCLA. But in a tournament already brimming with upsets, one more wouldn't surprise me.