Almost 24 hours away from the men’s volleyball Final Four and the anticipation is continuing to grow.
The four-team NCAA Tournament will be played at Penn State with the No. 1 seed USC playing the No. 4 seed UC Santa Barbara in the opening semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday. In addition, the host school and No. 2 seed Penn State will play the No. 3 seed Ohio State in the second semifinals match at 9 p.m. Thursday.
The winners of these two matches will play in the national championship on Saturday.
Check out the top five storylines to follow during the NCAA Tournament.
1. UC Santa Barbara’s historical run
UC Santa Barbara as the No. 7 seed became the lowest seeded team in NCAA men’s volleyball history to win a conference tournament and receive an automatic bid to the Final Four. The Gauchos (17-14, 11-11 MPSF) in their first postseason appearance since 2007 defeated three top-five ranked teams in the conference tournament, including the top-ranked Trojans in the championship match Friday. UC Santa Barbara received the No. 4 seed to the Final Four, one of the few times a MPSF team has received the lowest seed, and will play USC again, but this in the NCAA semifinals. If the Gauchos win the national championship it would be their first title in program history and the first time in recent history a team with more than 10 losses won the championship.
2. Home court advantage
Penn State won’t have to travel this year to the Final Four as the NCAA Tournament is being played on its home court. However, the home court has not always been advantage in the NCAA Tournament. A host school playing in the NCAA Tournament has won the title 11 times, and Stanford last season became the first team to accomplish the feat since UCLA in 1996. Penn State (24-6, 10-0 EIVA) has reached the NCAA Tournament the four previous times the school has hosted the event. In those tournaments it has reached the championship match twice but never won the title on its home court.
3. Bill Ferguson
At this time one year ago, USC coach Bill Ferguson was releasing his entire assistant coaching staff after the Trojans failed to live up to preseason hype and were eliminated in the first round of the conference tournament. Now, Ferguson is a candidate for National Coach of the Year, led the Trojans (23-3, 20-2 MPSF) to one of the best regular seasons on MPSF history and USC is favored to win its first national championship in 21 years. This will also be his second Final Four appearance in his fifth season as the Trojans’ head coach. There’s a reason his face is the cover of the latest Volleyball Magazine.
4. Shawn Sangery’s lack of an appendix
The most talked about appendectomy in recent men’s volleyball history continues into the Final Four. Ohio State All-American outside attacker Shawn Sangery missed almost one month after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in early March. Sangery prior to the injury was among the nation’s leaders in kills per game average but struggled at times following his return in April and finished 18th in nation averaging 3.81 kills per game. With Sangery recovering from the injury the Buckeyes’ (24-6, 11-1 MIVA) nation-best 17 match winning streak was snapped and the team lost four matches in the final weeks of the regular season. Sangery in the conference tournament appeared to be back to his All-American form finishing with a team-high combined 34 kills in the two victories.
5. The volleyball extravaganza
Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said this tournament will be unlike any other NCAA Tournament in men’s volleyball history. Instead of being a three-day event, Pavlik and Penn State have made it a week-long volleyball extravaganza to also include everything from a high school tournament to USA Volleyball conducting open practices and clinics throughout the week. This approach if successful has the chance to transform the way future Final Fours are scheduled. What will also help make the event a success is a significant crowd turnout. Expect for the attendance to be high at the semifinals Thursday, especially with Penn State playing its Big Ten rival Ohio State.