College News

Inside the College Top 64 Rankings

The Texas Longhorns’ impressive debut in 2018 included wins over Florida and Oregon

Courtesy of Texas Athletics

College fans have a lot to look forward to at PrepVolleyball.com. Every Monday, we will produce our “College Top 64,” those 64 Division I volleyball programs we believe, based on results, that will make it to the Dance come late November. Every Tuesday, we will try to explain why we did what we did.

Sometimes that won’t be pretty…

Some background, before we begin:

1) This is my first year covering college volleyball. Having covered the high school scene every fall since 2000, I am regularly known to tell players I’ve covered that once they get to college I forget about them, not because I don’t care but rather have too much to do in the high school realm to devote time to what’s happening collegiately.

I’m the guy whose name is on the rankings, a neophyte at understanding the ups and downs of the college game and one who will steadfastly refuse to consult other sources like power rankings or coaches polls in order to determine this list with steely independence. I’m going to make mistakes, some glaring. And I’m going to own them. For instance, this week, I rewarded Cal Baptist’s amazing start in its first year in Division I by placing the Lancers 53rd in the College Top 64. I did so out of ignorance, however, not knowing that Branden Higa’s team would be ineligible for the Division I tourney for its first four seasons as a Division I program.

2) The College Top 64 is not a true 1-64 ranking but rather a hybrid. It consists of 32 projected conference winners and 32 projected At-Large bid recipients. Of the conference winners, most of whom earn automatic bids by winning end-of-season conference tournaments, about 15 or so would be ranked regardless, like No. 1 Stanford, our current projected winner in the Pac-12, were we truly seeking to identify the top 64 teams in the land. The other 17 or so probably would not be, making it irresponsible in our view to call High Point, No. 50 on this week’s list, the 50th best team in the country. All our ranking does is express our current view that the Panthers will win the automatic bid from the Big South Conference and that they are better than 14 other projected automatic bid winners.

Understanding the College Top 64 fully may take time. The idea was to try to be more inclusive in recognizing successful Division I programs, not simply those in the Power 5 conferences, WCC, AAC and other strong groups that usually snag all of the At-Large bids.

3) Because the Senior Aces reveal is ongoing and eats a big chunk of time every day, there isn’t the time this week to devote to the kind of crackerjack analysis you can expect in the weeks to come. Indeed, as I am typing this, I note the clock reads 6:40 pm Pacific Daylight Time, hardly the time to be beginning to work on a new article that will go up tonight.

Okay, enough with the preliminaries. Let’s get to the good stuff…

Oh, here’s one thing I forgot: if I come across great resources that you, the college fan, need to discover I will share. I truly don’t care the source, as there is room for all kinds of media and news information in a sport like volleyball that continues to look for more dedicated coverage from the larger sports outlets. I write this because my first notion was to list the 64 teams that graced yesterday’s College Top 64 with the wins and losses from the first weekend identified for each team. Then I discovered that the AVCA already does that! For instance, you can find complete Division I scores at this link: https://www.avca.org/res/uploads/media/DI-Results_14.PDF

While I’m at it, let me also put in a plug for my friend, Rich Kern, and his site, www.richkern.com. This Nebraskan compiles lots of interesting stuff and his site includes a schedule of matches and scoreboard that are the best I’ve seen. You’ll need a subscription to enter the site but from what I’ve seen it’s money well spent.

Who are the teams that entered this week’s ranking?

There are 12 of them altogether – teams that we did not rank in the pre-season but included after Week 1 – seven of whom enter the rankings as projected At-Large teams. The remaining five, from traditional one-bid leagues, either did something well or had a conference favorite stumble so as to suggest a switch in the automatic bid recipient.

The seven At-Large teams we welcomed to this week’s College top 64 are:

No. 34 Kansas State
No. 35 Alabama
No. 36 Wyoming
No. 38 Tennessee
No. 39 Ohio State
No. 41 Texas Tech
No. 48 James Madison

K-State traveled to the University of Hawaii and, behind Kylee Zumach, emerged with two big wins over the Rainbow Wahine. The Wildcats were in Oahu for a tournament that got canceled because of Hurricane Lane. So they played traditional power Hawaii twice at a place that’s tough to play (even if no fans are permitted for one contest) and twice came away victorious.

Alabama enjoyed a 3-0 week that included wins over traditional mid-major powers Western Kentucky and Missouri State. Senior middle Cidavia Hall  was named MVP of the season-opening Hampton Inn Charleston/West Ashley CofC Classic after contributing 23 kills and 18 blocks for the Tide.

Wyoming opened the season with three straight wins, including stunning highly-ranked Colorado (2-1) of the vaunted Pac-12 in five sets. Sophomore middle Jackie McBride was named Mountain West Offensive POW in part because she had five kills in that decisive fifth set versus the Buffs.

Tennessee marked the debut of head coach Eve Rackham with a 3-0 start, which included a 3-1 win over traditional B1G Ten power Michigan State. Senior middle Erica Treiber had 19 kills against only three errors in the win over Sparty and wound up being named MVP of the Tennessee Classic.

Ohio State’s 3-0 start included sweeps of both Ohio and Texas A&M. Sophomore middle Lauren Witte was named B1G co-POW and hit over .600 for the three matches.

Texas Tech won thrice, including a thriller over Rice that saw middles Katy Keenan and Allison White shine.

Finally, James Madison out of the CAA made it in after a great win over Missouri out of the SEC. Junior OH Briley Brind’Amour helped key the win and was named CAA Player of the Week for her efforts.

Now, it may turn out at season’s end that none of the aforementioned teams will have the resumes to be in the tournament. We’ll have to see how it all plays out. But for this week, their play made me take notice. So I rewarded them with spots in the College Top 64.

The other five teams in are, as stated before, Cal Baptist of the WAC (the formerly Division II Lancers, with a lot of new faces, went undefeated and beat Mississippi State out of the SEC for goodness sakes!), Austin Peay of the OVA, East Tennessee State of the Southern, Stephen F. Austin of the Southland and Alabama State of the SWAC.

I opted to go Peay in the Ohio Valley on the strength of a 3-0 start and the tough start for our pre-season faves from Murray State. A good East Tennessee State squad got the nod in the Southern after Wofford started 0-2. The guess here is the Terriers get back into our ranking before long. Three sweeps for 3-0 Stephen F. Austin gave the Jackrabbits the nod this week over 3-0 Central Arkansas. Why? I thought their wins were stronger, that’s all. Finally, Alabama State, at 3-1, supplanted 2-2 Alabama A&M for now atop the race in the SWAC.

Who are the teams that dropped from this week’s ranking?

Besides the four mentioned immediately above, we said “goodbye for now” to 2-1 New Mexico State to make room for Cal Baptist. The other seven are major conference teams or traditional powers that suffered one or more surprising defeats opening weekend.

Colorado was the highest-ranked team at No. 18 to drop out. A ranked Pac-12 team simply cannot lose to any Mountain West team not named Colorado State without taking a hit. Former No. 19 Utah, also of the Pac, dropped out after a five-set loss to St. Mary’s, the Gaels’ only win in three contests over the weekend.

Iowa State and Kansas, out of the Big 12, exited the rankings. The Cyclones were shocked by Oregon State, which was picked by our Insider to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the Pac-12; while KU split two matches with Arkansas, a team picked ninth by our Insider in the SEC.

The aforementioned Michigan State, Missouri and Hawaii complete out septet of major conference teams ousted this week.

Movers and Shakers…

I’ll finish up my brief analysis by mentioning teams that caught my attention in a positive way over the weekend and, accordingly, made moves up the College Top 64.

Texas impressed at the VERT Challenge in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Longhorns were the only team among the four nationally-ranked combatants to go 2-0 for the weekend. Senior MB Morgan Johnson was recognized by the Big 12 for her play, but Micaya White and two freshmen, pins Katarina Luketic and Logan Eggleston, also shined for Texas.

USC marked head coach Brent Crouch’s successful debut with three wins over ranked teams, including pre-season No. 6 Kentucky. OH Khalia Lanier shined for the Women of Troy, as did freshman setter Raquel Lazaro Castellanos, who had 55 assists in the win over the Wildcats, the highest assist total for a USC setter since 2012.

Pitt, Northern Iowa and Lipscomb were three other teams to make big moves in the rankings. Pitt jumped eight spots to No. 13 after winning its own Panther Challenge, which included a statement win over Cal Poly. RS Kayla Lund had two double-doubles at the event to win MVP honors. UNI beat both Creighton and Kentucky out in Southern California. There was concern about Northern Iowa’s prospects after one of its leading hitters, Bri Weber, was not on the roster for 2018. But with Karlie Taylor and Piper Thomas continuing to play at a high level, it spears the Panthers haven’t missed a beat. Lipscomb out of the ASUN, a perennial tournament team, showed that it could battle with larger programs. Led by senior OH Carlyle Nusbaum, the Bisons took down both SMU and Iowa over the weekend.

That’s it. Like I said, short and sweet!

If you liked what you read and want to chat about it, head over to the College Talk Message Board on our site — https://prepvolleyball.com/forums/forum/volleyball-discussion/college-talk. It’s also where I will occasionally be breaking news you might want to know…

Toodles!

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