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NCAA Women 2014: Wrapping Up the Regionals

My Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) measure successfully predicted the winners of 11 out of 12 matches in the NCAA women's Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight.

Only in the Sweet Sixteen win by No. 14-seed Nebraska (CACOD = 1.72) over No. 3 Washington (2.23) did a team with a lower CACOD beat one with a higher one. Unseeded BYU (1.99) knocked off No. 6 Florida State (1.65), then followed up by topping Nebraska, sending the Cougars to the Final Four.

All three other regionals went exactly as the CACOD predicted, with No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Texas, and No. 5 Penn State joining BYU in advancing to the Final Four.

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In a rematch of last year's national championship match, Penn State once again outlasted Wisconsin in four games (22-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-19; box score) to win the Louisville regional. One thing I examined from last year's final was how each team won its points (i.e., percent from kills, aces, blocks, opponent service errors, etc.). A natural compa…

2014 NCAA Women's Tourney Second Weekend

The women's NCAA Sweet Sixteen begins tonight. Here are the match-ups, showing teams' scores on my Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) ratings. The team with the higher CACOD in a given match would be favored to win.

Host SiteHigher-Seeded Team CACODLower-Seeded TeamCACODAmes, IowaStanford (1)2.24Oregon State1.34Ames, IowaFlorida (8)1.98Illinois (9)1.78LouisvillePenn State (5)3.09UCLA (12)1.47LouisvilleWisconsin (4)2.20Ohio State1.43SeattleWashington (3)2.23Nebraska (14)1.72SeattleFlorida State (6)1.65BYU1.99MinneapolisNorth Carolina (7)1.75Oregon (10)1.59MinneapolisTexas (2)2.29Colorado State (15)2.05
BYU would thus be the only lower-seeded team I would pick to win.

Preview of 2014 NCAA Women's Tourney

With play in the NCAA women's tournament bracket beginning tonight, I wanted to provide a few statistical tidbits in advance.

If there is one team whose players, coaches, and fans have a right to be upset with the seedings, it's Wisconsin. Last year's national runner-up to Penn State, the Badgers closed this season winning 19 straight matches and captured the Big 10 crown. But now, if Wisconsin is to get back to the Final Four, it will have to beat Penn State along the way, in the Elite Eight (barring an upset loss by the Nittany Lions in an earlier round).

As well as the Badgers have played this season (and the latter part of last season), Penn State has been Wisconsin's Kryptonite the past two years. In fact, PSU has won 12 of the 13 games it has played against Wisconsin in 2013 and 2014 (two 3-0 regular-season sweeps and a 3-1 win in the NCAA title match last year, and a 3-0 sweep in the teams' only meeting this year).

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As longtime readers of this blog are a…

Hitting Value Relative to Average

In baseball "sabermetrics," various statistics have been developed to quantify a player's contribution to winning games, such as Bill James's Win Shares. Other, related statistics incorporate a comparison to possible replacement players (e.g., Wins Above Replacement and Value Over Replacement Player).

Some of these statistics have been carried over into other sports (e.g., Wins Shares for basketball). However, to my knowledge, these kinds of statistics have not been developed for volleyball. Winning at volleyball encompasses many skills: serving, passing, setting, hitting, and blocking. There has not been enough volleyball statistical work, in my judgment, to attempt an all-encompassing metric analogous to Win Shares, WAR, or VORP at this time.

With the aim of eventually taking us toward Volleyball VORP (or some such term), I have decided to focus on one skill for the moment, the important ability to hit for kills without committing attack errors (hitting the ball ou…

Rare Hitting Feat Powers UCLA Over Oregon

UCLA had two players hit at least .400 on at least 20 spike attempts each, en route to a four-game win over Oregon. As shown in the box score, Karsta Lowe hit .473 for the Bruins, based on 33 kills and 7 attack errors on 55 swings, whereas teammate Reily Buechler registered a .429 hitting percentage with 13 kills and only 1 miscue in 28 attempts. I don't comprehensively track all matches nationally, but a team having two of its players reach the .400/20 mark in the same match appears to be pretty rare.

So much of a slugfest was this match that Oregon nearly matched UCLA's accomplishment. The Ducks' Martenne Bettendorf met the criteria (.500, 12-1-22), with teammate Naya Crittenden falling three hitting attempts short (.412 , 9-2-17).

All four of the above players hit from the outside, either as traditional outside-hitters who attack from the  left side of the front row, or as "opposite" hitters, who attack from the right side (the name deriving from bei…

B1G Upsets Highlight Weekend's Women's Play

.310 hitting percentage, 13 total team blocks (compared to 8 for the opponent), and a nearly 1-to-1 ratio of service aces to errors (6/8). 

This does not look like the statistics of a losing team in a match, especially when that team is Penn State, playing at home in State College. Yet, if you consult the box score of Saturday's match between No. 15 Illinois* and the No. 5 Nittany Lions, you'll find that Penn State most certainly did lose with the above stats. The Illini hit just a bit better than the Lions, .315 to .310, in pulling the four-game upset (26-24, 16-25, 25-23, 25-22).

The gaudy hitting numbers produced by Penn State in the early weeks of the season made only a cameo appearance vs. Illinois, with PSU putting together a .471 percentage in Game 2; the team's hitting percentage ranged between .250-.289 in the other three games. Frosh middle Haleigh Washington led Penn State with a .538 hitting percentage on 14 kills and 0 errors, on 26 swings.

Illinois's atta…

As Goes Lowe...

In one of the marquee matches of this past weekend, the Washington Huskies upped their overall record to 15-0 with a comeback from two games down against UCLA. Scores were 18-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-20, 15-10. With the hot hitting of 6-foot-4 senior OH Karsta Lowe pacing the Bruins this season, I was curious how well she attacked in each of the five games vs. the Huskies.

Lowe hit an uncharacteristically low .143 for the entire match, with 28 kills and 19 attack errors on 63 swings. Particular players' game-specific hitting percentages are not available from standard box scores, but play-by-play sheets, such as the one for UCLA-UW, can at least give us a player's kills and hitting errors by game (only final dispositions of plays are listed, so spike attempts kept in play don't appear). As shown in the following chart, I used the play-by-play to tabulate Lowe's kills and attack errors in each of the five games (you can click on the graphic to enlarge it).


Not surprisingly,…

"What Wins in the Big 12?"

As some long-term readers of this blog may know, I'm a professor at Texas Tech University and I meet occasionally with Red Raider volleyball coach Don Flora to discuss statistical aspects of the sport and find out what kind of analyses he might be interested in at a given time. We last met this past spring and he told me his big question: "What wins in the Big 12?" I took the meaning of the question to be: what combinations of success at hitting, blocking, digging, serving, etc., were associated with winning conference matches in the Big 12? I told Coach Flora I would have something for him, and proceeded to start thinking about how I would conduct analyses.

Now, with the Red Raiders opening their Big 12 portion of the schedule by hosting TCU tonight, I have the fruits of my inquiry. I first created a database of all 72 conference matches played a year ago (despite its name, the Big 12 has only 10 schools and one, Oklahoma State, doesn't field a women's volleybal…

Opening of Women's Conference Play (2014)

It's a busy week in women's college volleyball, with conference play opening up around the country. The Pac 12 schedule has each team starting off league play against its respective traditional/geographic rival. A pair of matches will be held tonight, featuring Cal (8-2 in nonconference) at  No. 1 Stanford (10-0), and No. 20 UCLA (9-2) at No. 9 USC (7-3). Other Pac 12 rivalry matches will be held on Wednesday and Thursday. I already wrote about Stanford's fast start this season, so I will discuss UCLA and USC (among other teams) in the present posting.

The Big 10 (or B1G) begins play with matches Wednesday and Friday. The marquee match-up of the week, not just in the conference, but nationally, features a rematch of last December's national championship tilt between No. 3 Penn State (12-1) and No. 5 Wisconsin (9-1), in Madison. The Nittany Lions' only loss so far this season was in a five-gamer to Stanford, whereas the Badgers' only setback was to Washington, l…

Stanford Women Off to Fast Start

Heading into the third weekend of the 2014 women's college season, Stanford has been the most impressive team thus far, dominating the most recent AVCA national poll. The Cardinal (4-0) is by no means the only undefeated team; 10 teams in the Top 25 have perfect records. However, it's the difficulty of Stanford's opposition -- Iowa State (in Ames), Nebraska (in Lincoln), Penn State, and Illinois -- that makes the Cardinal's record so noteworthy.

Another challenge Stanford has overcome thus far is the absence of two of last year's seniors, three-time All-American MB Carly Wopat and All-Pac 12 honorable mention OH Rachel Williams. Let's explore how the Cardinal has adapted offensively. I first compared Stanford's offensive statistics for 2013 and 2014 (the latter statistics, based on only four matches, should of course be taken with caution). As the first graph shows, the Cardinal has not hit at quite as high a clip as last year, while its opponents (in the a…

Loyola-Chicago's "Bic" Clicks, as Ramblers Win Men's Title in Offense-Dominated Year

A little over a week ago, Loyola University Chicago won its first NCAA men's volleyball title, as the host Ramblers stopped Stanford in four games. According to Off the Block's preview of the final, "Loyola en route to being ranked No. 1 throughout the majority of the season... had a nation-best .363 attack percentage. In addition, Stanford... was second in the nation with a .336 attack percentage." Further, according to the ESPN-U broadcast, this year's final was the first ever to feature the nation's top two hitting teams.

For this reason, and others, one might dub 2014 the "Year of the Offense" in men's collegiate volleyball. One type of attack in particular, known as the "bic," was instrumental to Loyola's final-match victory. According to many accounts, bic is a contraction of "back-row quick" attack. Another story, recounted in this video, is that the UCLA team's hand-signal for the play many years ago (featurin…

My Vote for Off the Block's Men's Collegiate Server of the Year

I was invited once again this year to vote for the Off the Block men's collegiate volleyball awards. The number of awards has increased and I've been very busy this semester, so I may not have time to conduct statistical analyses for all of the categories. However, I have conducted an analysis to determine my votes for National Server of the Year.

The NCAA men's volleyball statistics site (see links column to the right) provides an aces-per-set statistic. Aces are only one part of judging serving ability, in my view. Someone might be able to amass a large ace total by attempting extremely hard jump serves at every opportunity, but such aggressive serving likely would also lead to a high rate of service errors. Another aspect to consider would be serves that, while not aces, still took the opposing team out of its offensive system. Only aces and service errors are listed in publicly available box scores, however.

What I did, therefore, was find out the top 10 players in ser…