Looking ahead to a loaded Sweet 16
There won't be a repeat champion in the NCAA women's volleyball tournament. Michigan State ended that possibility by upsetting 2011 winner UCLA in the second round this past weekend.
However, there could be a familiar champ when all is said and done Dec. 15 in Louisville, Ky. That's because of the Sweet 16 teams, six are former NCAA champions. They are No. 1 seed Penn State (five titles), No. 2 Stanford (six), No. 3 Texas (one), No. 4 Nebraska (three), No. 6 USC (three) and No. 13 Washington (one).
Of the 16 seeds in the field of 64, 12 survived to the regional semifinals, which are Friday on ESPN3. The finals are Saturday on ESPNU. Here's a region-by-region look at this weekend's matchups (all times ET).
West Lafayette, Ind.
No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 16 Kentucky, 5 p.m.
No. 8 Minnesota vs. Purdue, 7 p.m.
Saturday's final: 4 p.m.
It's been a terrific tournament thus far for the Big Ten -- six of the league's seven teams in the NCAA field have reached the Sweet 16, including three that are here at a Big Ten site. Purdue was unseeded but battled to a five-set victory in the second round at No. 9 Florida State, a Final Four team last year.
Now the Boilermakers hope to make their program's first Final Four trip, and of course their presence will create an electric atmosphere at their own Mackey Arena. They will face a Golden Gophers squad that finished tied for second in the Big Ten; Purdue was fifth.
During the regular season, Minnesota and Purdue met once, with the Gophers winning 3-1 at home Oct. 20. Minnesota leads the series between the longtime conference mates 44-23.
Meanwhile, Penn State -- which has won eight of its past nine matches in sweeps -- faces Kentucky, which is making its second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 12 BYU, 5 p.m.
No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 13 Washington, 7 p.m.
Saturday's final: 6:30 p.m.
The color red will fill the CenturyLink Center Omaha as Nebraska fans hope to boost their beloved Huskers from nearby Lincoln to another Final Four. But the obstacles are large.
Starting with Washington, which had a doozy of a second-round match against a Hawaii team that went into the NCAA tournament 25-2 but was unseeded. The Huskies survived 3-2 in a meeting that really shouldn't have happened so early in the tournament.
Alas, Washington now meets the Huskers in a rematch of a 2010 regional semifinal. That one was in Seattle, and after the Huskies' 3-1 win, coaches John Cook (Nebraska) and Jim McLaughlin (Washington) had a verbal altercation that nearly turned physical over a disputed line call.
The teams also met in the 2008 regional final at Washington, which Nebraska won 3-2, and the 2005 NCAA championship match, which the Huskies won 3-0.
In the other Omaha semifinal, Pac-12 runner-up Oregon and West Coast Conference co-champ BYU both swept through their early-round matches. The Ducks are looking for their first Final Four appearance.
Incidentally, if Oregon and Washington win Friday, it sets up a rematch of a Pac-12 marathon that took place Nov. 16 in Seattle. The Huskies won 25-23 in the fifth set after fighting off 14 match points.
No. 6 USC vs. Wichita State, 6 p.m.
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 14 Florida, 8 p.m.
Saturday's final: 9 p.m.
The Shockers are the surprise here, having finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference. But they upset No. 11 seed Kansas on the road in the second round to make it to the Sweet 16. Wichita State now must face a powerful USC squad that has won eight of its past nine matches, with the loss being at rival UCLA in the regular-season finale.
Regional host Texas won the Big 12 and Florida took the SEC, both teams losing just once in league play. Texas and Florida met Aug. 31 at a tournament held at Penn State, with the Lornghorns winning 3-0.
Florida has made it to the Final Four seven times -- most recently in 2003 -- but has never won a national championship. Texas also has been to Final Four seven times, most recently in 2010. The Longhorns won the 1988 NCAA title when coached by Mick Haley, who was at Texas for 16 years.
Haley then took a break to lead the U.S. women's national team in the Sydney Olympics and took over at USC in 2001, where he won NCAA titles in 2002 and '03. If seeding holds, he will be facing his former program with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Michigan vs. Michigan State, 8 p.m.
No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 15 Iowa State, 10 p.m.
Saturday's final: 11:30 p.m.
The teams will be far from home, but the Wolverines-Spartans rivalry should still be fierce. Michigan and Michigan State tied for sixth in the Big Ten at 11-9. But in November, they both beat Nebraska and Minnesota, who tied for second in the league.
Those victories showed they definitely had the ability to win big matches, and they proved that again in the NCAA early rounds, as they won on their respective opponent's home court. The Wolverines beat No. 10 seed Louisville, while the Spartans had the biggest upset of the tournament so far by eliminating No. 7 seed UCLA.
This season, Michigan and Michigan State split their meetings, with each winning on the other's home court. Now, they play on a neutral court for a berth in the Elite Eight.
Stanford, the Pac-12 champion, fills the role of de facto host at this regional, held at rival Cal's Haas Pavilion. The Golden Bears lost to North Carolina in the first round.
The Cardinal have more NCAA titles than any other program, but their last came in 2004. Stanford will face an Iowa State squad that is on a 12-match winning streak but had to go the distance to win both its NCAA early-round matches in Ames, Iowa.