Last night's opening matches of the AVCA Showcase didn't exactly go as expected. Pre-season No. 1 Penn State lost to Oregon, 3-1, ending the Nittany Lions' 94-match home winning streak. No. 2 USC almost lost, dropping the first two games to Minnesota before roaring back to take the final three.
Tonight's Oregon-Minnesota match certainly takes on more importance than previously thought, as a second win over a ranked opponent (the Gophers are No. 12) would really propel the initially unranked Ducks' national reputation. The PSU-USC match tonight, though perhaps diminished somewhat in luster, nevertheless gives the Lions a chance to bounce back and make a statement.
Looking at the box score from the Penn State-Oregon match, one wonders at first glance how the Nittany Lions lost, given that they outhit (.308-.277) and outblocked (8.5-5.5) the Ducks and had fewer service errors (8-12) for the match overall. However, if we remove Game 1 -- which PSU took 25-16 -- from the equation, things look different.
Overall, Oregon's hitting numbers for kills, errors, and total attempts were 62-23-141. Removing Game 1, in which the Ducks' numbers were 7-6-23 yields 55-17-118. We then take (K-E)/TA, giving Oregon a hitting percentage of .322 for the final three games. Doing the same for Penn State, one starts out with the overall numbers of 48-11-120, which after removing the 14-3-27 from Game 1, leaves 34-8-93 for the final three games, a hitting percentage of .280.
Also, the Ducks sided-out at 60% or better in each of the final three games, whereas the corresponding percentages for the Nittany Lions ranged from 47-58% (after coming in at a torrid 70% in Game 1).
Regarding the USC-Minnesota match, I can't pinpoint the Trojans' main source of power any better than the above-linked game article from the USC athletics website: "Senior All-America middle blocker Lauren Williams... had 16 kills without recording an error for a .552 (16-0-29) performance..."
The Trojans' Alex Jupiter also had a nice hitting line (22-5-52, .327), but as shown in the chart below, her success varied markedly by game (because the play-by-play sheet accompanying the box score shows only how points ended, her spike attempts that stayed in play could not be gleaned, only kills and errors).
The Gophers had a power trio of their own in MB Ariana Filho (8-0-17, .471), MB Tori Dixon (22-6-39, .410), and OH Katherine Harms (11-3-23, .348). Still, Minnesota was outhit by USC, .289-.232. How could the Gophers have won Game 2, the way Jupiter was hitting for 'SC? By siding out at an astronomical 75% rate.
For the match, Minnesota committed 13 service errors -- likely in an attempt to serve aggressively and take USC out of its offense -- compared to only 5 for the Trojans. The Gophers recorded only 7.0 total team blocks against USC in five games. Penn State will have to do a lot better to slow down the Trojan hitters.