Monday, April 28, 2008

Preview of Men's NCAA Final Four

This coming Thursday and Saturday, the men's volleyball version of the NCAA Final Four will take place in Irvine, California (tournament website). The semi-finals will match Penn State against Ohio State, and Pepperdine against Long Beach State.

Men's collegiate VB is much more of a low-key affair than women's, with fewer schools fielding teams, less media coverage, etc. Accordingly, I have not posted nearly as much on the men's season as I had done for women's play last fall.

The Final Four is actually all there is of the men's "tournament." Three teams earn automatic berths via conference tournaments of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, Midwest Intercollegeiate Volleyball Association, and Eastern Intercollegeiate Volleyball Association. The field is rounded out by one at-large team, inevitably from the MPSF. The at-large choice is often controversial, and this year's was no exception.

The two contenders were BYU and Long Beach State, the regular-season MPSF co-champions at 18-4. Each lost in the conference tournament to eventual champ Pepperdine (which tied for fourth in the regular-season conference race at 12-10), thus giving the automatic bid to the Waves.

This Salt Lake City Deseret News article attempts to break things down scientifically:

The NCAA manual gives some criteria for selection the fourth at-large team — which didn't help clear up matters.

One of the first matters is won-loss records. Both finished tied atop the MPSF regular-season standings with identical 18-4 league records. Long Beach won the rights to host the MPSF Tournament, to be the top seed and to have the quarterfinal bye because of beating BYU twice in the regular season.

However, BYU had a better overall record, finishing 25-5 to LBSU's 23-6 — that's two more wins and one fewer loss than the 49ers.

Also considered is the strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, results against common opponents and results against Final Four qualifiers and other teams under NCAA tournament consideration.

LBSU had faced the other three Final Four teams in regular-season play, winning twice at Ohio State, losing at home to Penn State and going 1-2 all year against Pepperdine. The 49ers were also 1-1 against Cal State Northridge, who finished a game behind BYU and LBSU in the final league standings and lost to the Cougars in the MPSF semis.

BYU's five '08 losses were to Stanford (at home), twice to Long Beach (on the road), to UCLA (on the road) and to Pepperdine in the MPSF finals.

Long Beach's six losses were twice to Pepperdine (a regular-season defeat in Malibu and the MPSF semifinal loss), at hoem to Northridge, Penn State and UCLA and on the road at UC Irvine.


To me, the issue comes down to this. With NCAA tournament bids extremely scarce, why does the MPSF choose to have a conference tournament at all? The result this year is a regular-season co-champion staying home, while a team that finished six games behind in the standings will be playing in the Final Four. Perhaps the NCAA requires these conference tournaments to be held. It doesn't in other sports, however, so it probably doesn't in men's volleyball.