Coach David Kniffin created a non-conference schedule that could give UC Irvine a significant advantage come Selection Saturday.
UC Irvine announced Monday that it will compete in seven non-conference matches during the upcoming season — the most of any MPSF team that so far has released its 2015 schedule.
Non-conference record is one of the nine criteria categories used by the selection committee to determine the six-team NCAA Tournament field. In addition, non-conference match results count towards various other criteria categories including home and road records, strength of schedule and record versus other teams under consideration for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
UC Irvine in the upcoming season will have early season non-conference home matches against Lewis, George Mason and Princeton before playing host to Ball State in March. It will also play Penn State, Ohio State and Hawai’i as part of the Outrigger Invitational in January.
Five of those seven non-conference matches for UC Irvine will be versus teams that finished the 2014 regular season with a winning record.
Penn State, Lewis and Ball State last season also were among the teams under consideration for NCAA Tournament, according to Off the Block’s annual bracketology projections.
“We expect all of our non-conference matches to challenge us. We have a very busy January, and all of these early matches could have a significant impact on the privilege of competing in the NCAA Tournament,” Kniffin said in a statement. “But to quote one of our alums, the path of least resistance is not the Irvine way to greatness.”
UC Irvine as the two-time defending NCAA champions last season finished in sixth place in the conference and reached the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals. The Anteaters return a majority of starters including All-American libero Michael Brinkley.
This will be the most regular season non-conference matches for UC Irvine since 2005.
The increased non-conference schedule follows the selection committee’s decision last season to give Lewis the final at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Lewis despite not being ranked as high in the national rankings as other teams earned the at-large bid in part because of its non-conference strength of schedule.
The Anteaters are 15-3 in non-conference matches against NCAA Division I-II teams during the last five years. In addition, UC Irvine has not lost a home non-conference match to a NCAA opponent since 2010.
Kniffin said in the statement released Monday that he has high expectations for his team this upcoming season.
“When January rolls around, no one should be surprised by our level of play. I want to come out of the gates on fire,” Kniffin said. “I expect greatness from this squad. I am looking forward to this test.”