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NCAA Women's Tourney -- the First Weekend

The Big 10 (which actually has 12 schools) and Pac 12 conferences each had seven teams in this year's NCAA women's tournament. At this stage, with two rounds complete after the first weekend, the Big 10 is looking a bit stronger than the Pac 12. The former has lost only one team (Ohio State), whereas the latter has lost three (No. 7-seed and defending national champion UCLA, Cal, and Arizona State).

Many of the top teams from the two conferences  -- No. 1-seed Penn State and No. 4 Nebraska of the Big 10; and No. 2 Stanford, No. 5 Oregon, and No. 6 USC of the Pac 12 -- made it through to next weekend's Sweet 16 without having lost as much as a single game (set). Other teams faced tougher competition and thus struggled to varying degrees to advance. From the Big 10:
  • No. 8 Minnesota dropped the first set of its second-round match against Creighton, before taking the next three (20-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17). The Gophers hit .314 as a team against the Blue Jays, with five Minnesota players hitting .250 or higher on at least 18 attempts each (Dana Knudsen, .500; Tori Dixon, .360; Ashley Wittman, .286; Daly Santana, .280; and Katherine Harms, .258).
  • Next up for Minnesota will be Purdue, which upset No. 9 Florida State in five on the Seminoles' home court. The Boilermakers, who hit .266 as a team vs. FSU, featured three players who exceeded .400 on at least 15 swings each (Rachel Davis, .467; Anna Drewry, .421; and Kierra Jones, .421). Purdue also heavily outblocked FSU, 17-7 in total team blocks. The Minnesota-Purdue match will be on the Boilermakers' home court, a predetermined regional site. Minnesota beat Purdue 3-1 in Minneapolis in the teams' only regular-season meeting.
  • Michigan State is the team who beat UCLA, on the Bruins' home court, no less. UCLA's Tabi Love hit .344 against the Spartans (14 kills and 3 errors on 32 attempts), which according to a previous analysis, should have put the Bruins in a strong position to win. However, Love took only 22.5% of UCLA's total swings (32/142). Looking back at roughly the past month, Love regularly took at least 30-35% of the Bruins' hitting attempts, and sometimes as many as 40-45% of them (in UCLA's October 28 win over Washington, Love took 71 of the Bruins' 157 attempts, which is 45%). With three Spartans reaching attack percentages around .300 (Lauren Wicinski, .294 with 51 attempts; Alexis Mathews, .312; and Taylor Galloway, .310), MSU outhit UCLA, .293-.261. (Wicinski is a transfer from Northern Illinois, whose hitting statistics I analyzed last year.)
  • In another all-Big 10 Sweet 16 match-up, Michigan State will face Michigan in Berkeley, California. The Wolverines escaped with a five-set win over Tennessee in the first round after leading 2-0 in games, then upset No. 10 Louisville in four, on the Cardinals' home court. The hitting star for Michigan has been outside hitter Molly Toon. You might say that most of the regular season was a "tune-up" for Toon, as she (and some of her teammates) didn't start hitting well until fairly late in the conference schedule. Toon's hitting percentages in her last four matches have been .519 at Michigan State and .542 at Ohio State to close Big 10 play, and then .370 and .306 against Tennessee and Louisville, respectively. Michigan and MSU split their two conference matches, with each team winning on the road (box score for match at Ann Arbor).
Besides Stanford, Oregon, and USC, the additional remaining Pac 12 team is No. 13 Washington. The Huskies received a tough second-round challenge from Hawai'i, eking out a 27-25 Game-4 win to stay alive (after the Rainbow Wahine had held match point at 25-24) and then prevailing 15-11 in the fifth. Washington faces a tall task in its next match, playing No. 4 Nebraska in Omaha, the Cornhuskers' home away from their Lincoln home. Against Hawai'i, star Husky hitter Krista Vansant (.297) received support from teammates Cassie Strickland (.312), Kaleigh Nelson (.310), and Kylin Munoz (.289), with all four of these players taking at least 29 swings each.

The only top-10 seed not discussed thus far is, of course, No. 3 Texas from the Big 12. In the second round, the Longhorns faced former conference rival Texas A&M (now of the SEC) and won in four. In vanquishing the Aggies, UT hit a spectacular .389 as a team, led by Bailey Webster (.556), Khat Bell (.421), and Haley Eckerman (.342), with each taking at least 19 swings.

An updated bracket is available here.

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