College News

College: Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions

Missouri has the chance to pull off the biggest upset of the season when it faces Penn State in the Sweet 16.

(Courtesy of Missouri Athletics)

The Sweet 16 doesn’t get going until Friday.

That won’t stop us from eagerly waiting.

In the meantime, we break down each of the eight contests and what you need to know, with predicted winners.

*all times Eastern

State College Regional – at State College, Pennsylvania

No. 1 Penn St.* (31-1) vs. Missouri (22-11) (2 p.m. on ESPNU)

PVB National Rankings: Penn State, No. 1; Missouri, No. 40

Road to Sweet 16: Penn State d Howard 3-1, d Pitt 3-1; Missouri d Kansas 3-2, d Wichita State 3-1

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: Everyone from Melanie Crow to Kira Larson to Alyssa Munlyn needs to be solid on offense to keep Missouri in it. The real difficulty for the Tigers though is how to handle the Penn State attack? If the Nittany Lions pass the ball, Missouri will have no answer for Haleigh Washington in the middle. Even with Penn State struggling to pass, Simone Lee can still make life rough for the Missouri defenders.

Prediction: Playing at home, this would be a huge upset for the Nittany Lions not to advance. Penn State in 4.

Michigan St. (23-8) vs. Illinois (23-10) (4 p.m. on ESPN3)

PVB National Rankings: Michigan State, No. 10; Illinois, No. 19

Road to Sweet 16: Michigan State d Missouri State 3-0, d Creighton 3-1; Illinois d Hawaii 3-2, d Washington 3-2

Previous Meeting: Michigan State d Illinois, 3-0, Nov. 10, at Michigan State

Outlook: If Michigan State hits .305 as a team like the Spartans did in the previous meeting, it’s going to be a short night again for Illinois. Autumn Bailey was fabulous last time, with 17 kills and hitting .433. She’s not going to have the same type of night, Illinois is going to make sure of it. The Spartans’ size did a good job slowing down Illinois’ attack. Only Beth Prince, with 13 kills, reached double digits. And she hit .175. Certainly no one is more tested in the tournament than Illinois, which won both contests in five games. And even though this technically isn’t a conference match, the Big Ten is such that beating a team twice is never easy.

Prediction: There is no home court advantage here, so toss that out. Illinois seems to have the touch at the moment. Illinois in 5.

***

Gainesville Regional – at Gainesville, Florida

No. 2 Florida* (27-1) vs. No. 15 UCLA (21-10) (4 p.m. on ESPNU)

PVB National Rankings: Florida, No. 2; UCLA, No. 15

Road to Sweet 16: Florida d Alabama State 3-0, d Miami 3-1; UCLA d Austin Peay 3-0, d Cal Poly 3-1

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: UCLA is facing a Florida squad that has been clicking through the first two rounds of the tourney. The Gators hit .366 as a team in beating Miami, with Shainah Joseph (19 kills, .515) having a big outing. Both middles in Rhamat Alhassan and Rachael Kramer each finished with 9 kills, and both hit .600 or better. Carli Snyder (13 kills, .361) did damage too. If there is more of that, no way UCLA can win this match. UCLA is much better defensively than Miami, and has an attack that can keep Florida honest as well. Reily Buechler was insanely good against Cal Poly, and the Bruins have Madeleine Gates in the middle to help counter Florida. UCLA got a pick me up from Savvy Simo against Cal Poly, as freshmen Mac May and Jen Mosser struggled. UCLA will need their rookies to contribute in order to pull off the upset.

Prediction: We took UCLA over Florida in our original picks, so we can’t back off now. UCLA rises up, frustrates Florida with its pesky defense and holds on. UCLA in 5.

No. 7 Minnesota (28-5) vs. No. 10 Southern California (24-9) (6 p.m. on ESPN3)

PVB National Rankings: Minnesota, No. 9; USC, No. 14

Road to Sweet 16: Minnesota d North Dakota 3-0, d Northern Iowa 3-1; USC d Central Arkansas 3-1; d San Diego 3-2

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: This has the makings of being a slugfest between two teams that can get after it offensively. Minnesota is coming off a great performance in the middle over Northern Iowa, when Regan Pittman (14 kills, .522) and Molly Lohman (11 kills, .455) made their presence known. Toss in the 20 kills from Lexi Hart and 9 from Stephanie Samedy and that’s a lot for the Trojans to be concerned about. When Minnesota struggles, it can be on the defensive side. With USC carrying Khalia Lanier, Brittany Abercrombie and Niki Withers, the Gophers can’t afford an off night on that side of the ball. That’s why this could turn into a back-and-forth offensive display for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Prediction: The original pick was Minnesota moving on and there’s no reason to change it. The Gophers will play cleaner and advance. Minnesota in 4.

***

Stanford Regional – at Stanford, California

No. 6 Texas (26-2) vs. No. 11 Utah (24-9) (9 p.m. on ESPN3)

PVB National Rankings: Texas, No. 5; Utah, No. 13

Road to Sweet 16: Texas d Fairfield 3-0, d NC State 3-0; Utah d Cleveland State 3-0; d Purdue 3-1

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: The Longhorns are equipped with an offense capable of derailing anyone. Micaya White and Lexi Sun on the outsides, Morgan Johnson and Chiaka Ogbogu in the middle, and Ebony Nwanebu on the right is as a complete lineup as you are going to find. With setter Ashley Shook and libero Cat McCoy, Texas is built to win. So if the Longhorns are on and taking care of the ball, there’s not much Utah is going to be able to do. But Utah can get after it at the service line and can take care of the ball with outside Adora Anae, libero Bri Doerhmann and DS Shannon Scully. Though Utah’s middles Berkeley Oblad and Tawnee Luafalemana aren’t as explosive as Texas’, they can still keep a defense honest. Utah is the exact team that can frustrate Texas, and if the Longhorns aren’t quite on, then watch out for the upset.

Prediction: Texas struggled with BYU in the Sweet 16 last year and we could see something similar with Utah. But just like last year, no matter what happens Texas will find a way. Texas in 4.

No. 3 Stanford* (28-3) vs. Wisconsin (22-9) (11 p.m. on ESPNU)

PVB National Rankings: Stanford, No. 4; Wisconsin, No. 11

Road to Sweet 16: Stanford d CSU Bakersfield 3-0, d Colorado State 3-0; Wisconsin d Marquette 3-0, d Iowa State 3-0

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: We saw last season in the Sweet 16 that Wisconsin’s style can give the taller Stanford problems. It’s a different Badgers team this year, but one that can play up-tempo with Sydney Hilley running the offense. Dana Rettke has proven to be a game-changer in the middle. Along with Tionna Williams, you can make a case that Wisconsin has the advantage in the middle over Audriana Fitzmorris and Tami Alade. But the two areas there’s no question Stanford has the leg up is with Kat Plummer on the outside and Morgan Hentz at libero. Merete Lutz’s height is also something else Wisconsin will have trouble stopping when she goes on the attack. The Badgers need to play a very clean match and limit the errors. If the Badgers can keep it close and keep the pressure on Stanford, then maybe Wisconsin can pull out a tight result.

Prediction: Being at home and Stanford knowing what Wisconsin did last year, the Cardinal are going to be ready. Stanford in 4.

***

Lexington Regional – at Lexington, Kentucky

No. 4 Kentucky*(28-3) vs. No. 13 BYU (30-2) (Noon on ESPNU)

PVB National Rankings: Kentucky, No. 6; BYU, No. 7

Road to Sweet 16: Kentucky d East Tenn St. 3-0, d Western Kentucky 3-2; BYU d American 3-0, d Oregon 3-0

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: Kentucky better hope the nerves that showed up against Western Kentucky are gone, because Roni Jones-Perry and company present a much bigger challenge for the ‘Cats. Kentucky can spread it out with Leah Edmond, Avery Skinner, Kaz Brown and more, but Kentucky is going to need to out-pass a team known for having the steadier ball control.

Prediction: The Cougars will take care of the ball better and make life tough on Kentucky. BYU in 5.

No. 5 Nebraska (28-4) vs. Colorado (24-9) (2 p.m. on ESPN3)

PVB National Rankings: Nebraska, No. 3; Colorado, No. 16

Road to Sweet 16: Nebraska d Stony Brook 3-0, d Washington State 3-0; Colorado d James Madison 3-0, d Baylor 3-0

Previous Meeting: none

Outlook: What makes this one so interesting is player for player, there isn’t much separating the sides. The biggest advantage comes at the setting position with Kelly Hunter’s experience over Colorado’s Brynna DeLuzio. After that, the Buffs’ players are capable of matching up with Nebraska’s on any given day. Outsides Alexa Smith and Frankie Shebby can be just as tough to contain as Mikaela Foecke and Annika Albrecht. The liberos – Gabby Carta-Samuels for Colorado and Kenzie Maloney for Nebraska – do solid jobs, and both sides have their share of size in the middle and on the right. The Huskers are the steadier, more consistent team when it comes to passing and making less hitting errors, but in one match anything can happen here. The main difference is going to be Nebraska’s much more familiar with this moment than Colorado, which is in its first tourney in two years.

Prediction: The know-how of winning in the postseason is going to pay dividends for Nebraska. Colorado will keep it close, but the Huskers win the key points late. Nebraska in 4.

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