The NCAA volleyball selection show happened on ESPN News today, and Michigan managed to snag an opportunity to host the first and second round of games within their pod. As of right now, Cliff Keen Arena will host the Wolverines and 3 other teams from December 4th and 5th, with Michigan being the top seed. The opening matchups (NCAA Bracket):
#13 Michigan (24-9) vs Niagara (23-8, MAAC Champions)
Ohio (26-6) vs Notre Dame (21-6)
As I said, the games will most likely be played at Cliff Keen instead of Crisler where the volleyball team has hosted regional games in the past. With the basketball game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, it sounds like they aren't going to try and get both sports in the same arena, as much as it might help with attendance.
Speaking of attendance, with the games in Cliff Keen, tickets are going to sell out quickly. Get your tickets now for this weekend, as they probably won't be available by the weekend, if they even last until tomorrow.
Game times aren't finalized, but I'll have that updated as I find out.
The Purple Eagles haven't played much in the way of solid competition this year, and so don't let their 23-8 record be too much of an intimidator. Niagara's RPI was only 162, and I don't see anyone even comparable to Michigan on their schedule.
The good news about the Purple Eagles is that they are one of the worst teams on the block Michigan will face this year. They rank 287 out of 317 total ranked teams in Division one at just 1.42 blocks per set.
The rest of their stats, including aces/set, digs/set, and kills/set all hover around the top 50-60 in the country. Their hitting percentage on the season is .225, which is fairly low, but earns them #85.
I think Michigan should handle Niagara fairly easily. If we're going to have a weak showing, this is the one game I think Michigan may be able to get away with it. Michigan will need to control Niagara's two outside hitters in Hanna Hedrick and Kari Honomichl. The middle blocker Bibler is their third scorer, but at a much lower pace than the two outsides. Bibler is only 6', so she won't cause any height problems for Michigan.
The biggest obstacle in getting past the Ann Arbor regional will be the Irish. ND comes in at #14 in the end of season RPI, and one very impressive resume. ND won all 14 BigEast Conference games before falling in their conference tournament to Louisville on the Cardinals' home court. The Irish are 8-1 on the road this season, with the lone loss coming at Florida State.
Michigan did face ND on a neutral court during the Xavier tournament in early September. In that game, Michigan swept by scores of 25-19, 31-29, and 25-20. Via mgoblue:
After U-M cruised to the game-one victory, 25-19, behind a .424 attack percentage, set two was a battle throughout with neither team holding more than a four-point advantage. Notre Dame held its largest lead at 16-12 only to see the Wolverines roar back as Hunt and Zimmerman registered four of the next five points to put U-M within one, 17-16. The Fighting Irish pushed the lead up to three again before another Zimmerman kill capped a second Michigan comeback, forcing a 23-23 tie. Paz had the hot hand down the stretch, contributing timely kills, while Donhoff capped the match with a service ace to give Michigan the marathon 31-29 victory.
The Wolverines dominated the third set, jumping out to a 9-5 lead and then using four straight points -- three off the right hand of Paz -- to go up 17-12 and cruise to a 25-20 win. Michigan outhit Notre Dame .447 to .179 in the final frame and .390 to .239 for the match.
Michigan basically had one hell of a game with Paz notching 20 kills and Hunt 14. With the more balanced attack Michigan has been trying to use by adding Rood to the mix, I think Michigan has a chance to win again, but it'll be tough to match that sweep. ND has really played hot this season while Michigan has been up and down the last few weeks.
The Irish are a pretty solid blocking team with an average of 2.47 per set, good for #42 in the country. Their hitting percentage has been phenomenal at .264, #20 in the nation, with 14.0 kills per set. Setter Jamel Nicholas is one of the top setters in the nation, and Serinity Phillips is very good outside hitter.
ND's has four major scorers in Phillips, Kristen Dealy, Christina Kaelin, and middle Kellie Sciacca. The Irish media doesn't list any as the right side hitter, but I want to say that was Kaelin. Phillips and Sciacca are their major blocking threats with 7 solo/91 assists and 22 solos/68 assist on the season. That's about 2 per set by themselves, which is pretty crazy.
There is no way Michigan wins if they play like they did this last weekend on the road at Ohio State and Penn State, being swept by both. If we make it to this game, they will need all the support they can get from the home crowd. ND travels really well, even in volleyball. They'll buy up every ticket they can get their hands on, so those around campus, don't let another The Game-style crowd hurt our team's chances.
Bobcats RAWRCATZ come in winners of the MAC with an impressive 26-5 record and a #24 RPI. Ohio went 15-1 in the MAC regular season, and fell to Dayton in the conference championship game of their conference tournament.
Against BigTen teams, Ohio went 1-2, with wins at Wisconsin (something Michigan hasn't done since 1992) and losses to Illinois and Purdue (both at Purdue). That's a mixed bag as they should lose to both Illinois and Wisconsin, but they probably should have competed or beat Purdue.
Bobcats RAWRCATZ are lead by Ellen Herman who leads the team with 512 kills and 4.69 kills/set, good for #9 individually in Division 1. On the defensive side, Meghan Simons is the top blocker with 1.3 per game, #28 in the nation. She's 6'3" and will have a height advantage to nearly every Wolverine that takes the court.
Ohio is an exceptional blocking and hitting team overall. The team averages 2.79 blocks/set (#11 nationally) and hits .282 (#9 nationally). One of their key weaknesses is on the dig. They rank 279 with 12.69 digs/set (probably drops quite a bit because of the high number of blocks).