Bracketology: Who could benefit the most from this week’s matches

Don’t be fooled by the calendar — the match results from this second week of the season could have huge ramifications on the outcome of Selection Saturday in May.

With the selection committee placing an emphasis in the off-season on teams scheduling more non-conference matches, this week will be feature the most non-conference matches at any point during the entire season.


Any team that can finish this week undefeated or with a winning record will have an early-season advantage in several of the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s nine criteria categories. However, several teams can gain an even greater edge in the race for NCAA Tournament seeding or an at-large bid if they win their matches this weekend.

Check out the five teams in college men’s volleyball that can benefit the most in the selection committee criteria from their non-conference matches.

LEWIS
No. 9 Lewis has the most impressive win of the season so far as it swept No. 8 UC Irvine on Monday. That road victory also puts the Flyers in position to finish their three-match West Coast road trip with a winning streak. If Lewis can at least split its remaining non-conference matches against No. 6 BYU and No. 10 Stanford, it could have a clear advantage in the selection committee criteria categories of non-conference record and road record. Beyond this weekend’s matches, the Flyers will have two more non-conference matches the rest of the season against preseason nationally ranked teams. In addition, beating Stanford or BYU would help bolster Lewis’ RPI and the MIVA conference RPI.

LOYOLA
This is the only West Coast trip for No. 2 Loyola. More importantly, it is one of the few times this season the defending-NCAA champion Ramblers will play non-conference matches against teams that at the end of the year could be the in criteria category of teams under consideration for a NCAA Tournament berth. While Loyola returns a majority of its starters from last year’s national championship team, both Stanford and BYU have significant turnover in their starting lineups from when they played in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. This early-season match-up favors Loyola as both BYU and Stanford with their young starting lineups will continue to improve throughout season.

PENN STATE
Even for people who think the 16-time defending EIVA champion Nittany Lions are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament this season, this weekend for No. 3 Penn State could have big implications on tournament seeding. Penn State’s matches against UC Irvine and No. 10 Hawai’i at the Outrigger Invitational are the first of nine non-conference matches that it will play against preseason nationally ranked teams this season. The Nittany Lions will likely need to win a majority of those non-conference matches to gain an advantage in the criteria categories of non-conference record and record against teams under NCAA Tournament consideration. A victory against Hawai’i in the season-opener will also have the extra benefit of helping Penn State in the road record criteria category. With the new six-team NCAA Tournament format, the top two seeds receive byes to the semifinals. The Nittany Lions have not been a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2008 — when they opened the season undefeated at the Outrigger Invitational.

USC
No. 7 USC has a chance to gain a advantage over the majority of MPSF teams if it can win its season-opener on the road against Grand Canyon. The Trojans are one of three MPSF teams that will have a non-conference road match this season. With this limited amount of road matches, USC can gain an edge in the road record criteria category. This match against Grand Canyon also will have an increased significance for USC because it’s one of three non-conference matches the Trojans will play in 2014. A single non-conference loss for the Trojans could significantly hurt their chances of holding an advantage in the non-conference criteria category at the end of the season.

UC SANTA BARBARA
The Gauchos are one of three teams to play a nation-high four non-conference matches this week. With all four of its matches at home, UC Santa Barbara could potentially pull out an early lead in several of the selection committee criteria categories such as non-conference record and home record. In addition, the results from UC Santa Barbara’s non-conference matches against Princeton and IPFW could become increasingly significant on Selection Saturday. Both IPFW and Princeton in their conference preseason polls were projected to contend for conference titles. If UC Santa Barbara can beat either team, that could help the Gauchos at the end of the season in the criteria category of teams under NCAA Tournament consideration.