Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 NCAA Women's Regional Finals Wrap

The NCAA women's Final Four, beginning tonight, will feature No. 1-seeded Penn State vs. No. 5 Nebraska, and No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Stanford. The bracket has thus stuck pretty closely to the chalk, although we easily could have had No. 10-seed USC instead of Florida, the Trojans having held a match-point over the Gators in Game 4 of the teams' five-game contest. Florida's match-winning score was 25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 26-24, 15-11.

One of the key turnaround factors for Florida was the improved hitting of Carli Snyder as the match progressed. As shown in the box score, Snyder had only two kills in the first three games combined (both in Game 2), seven in Game 4, and two in Game 5. In the post-game quotes, USC coach Mick Haley explained the situation in terms of a shift in USC's lineup apparently geared at increasing the Trojans' offensive firepower at the cost of losing their most effective blocking match-up on Snyder:

“What happened is they got [Carli Snyder] away from [Brittany Abercrombie]. Abercrombie and Jordan Burns did a fantastic job on [Snyder]. [Snyder] has been unstoppable all year and if you look at the stats she has been the go-to for Florida. We virtually held her to a small roar until they rotated. We had an option to match up, but in the fifth game we went with the lineup that would score the most points, knowing that we might only get 9-12 rotations..."

Note that, although Haley pinpoints his team's lineup change for Game 5 as a turning point, Snyder began heating up in Game 4. Another issue was the collapse of USC's siding-out performance in Game 5 (35%, compared to values ranging from 65-77% in each of the first four games). By siding-out at such high levels in Games 1-4, the Trojans limited the Gators' ability to go on scoring runs on their own serve. However, in Game 5, Florida was able to rally from down 9-5.

Whereas none of the other Elite Eight showdowns matched Florida-USC for drama, Nebraska's four-game win over No. 4-seed Kentucky featured some tight games (25-19, 25-22, 25-27, 25-22). As shown in the following graphic, Kentucky hit over .300 for the regular season as a whole and maintained that hitting percentage in five-game wins over Western Kentucky in the NCAA second round and BYU in the third round. However, the Wildcats fell to .252 vs Nebraska, which clocked in at .271 in Lexington.


Stanford's Elite Eight victory over No. 6-seed Texas was a lot less competitive than many expected, ending in a three-game sweep by identical scores of 25-21 in each game. And in the remaining match, Penn State swept Michigan State; the Nittany Lions had beaten the Spartans 3-1 in each of the teams' two B1G conference matches (PSU game log).

Tonight's Penn State-Nebraska national semifinal will be a rematch of a September 22 conference clash, in which Nebraska swept Penn State in State College, for the Nittany Lions' only loss of the year. The Huskers hit .347 in that match, which will be hard for them to duplicate vs. Penn State.

Florida and Stanford, the contestants in tonight's other semi, have not met this season. For what it's worth, the Gators will be playing their third straight Pac 12 opponent, having beaten UCLA 3-1 in the Sweet Sixteen, followed by USC in the match discussed above.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

2017 NCAA Women's Tourney: First Weekend Wrap

The first two rounds of this year's NCAA women's tourney were completed this weekend and there were several casualties among seeded teams. We lost No. 8 Washington (to Illinois), No. 9 Creighton (to Michigan State), No. 12 Baylor (to Colorado), No. 14 Iowa State (to Wisconsin), and No. 16 Wichita State (to Mizzou). In addition, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 10 USC were taken to five games before prevailing, vs. Western Kentucky  and San Diego, respectively.

One might be tempted to say there's increasing parity among top teams. However, three of the upsets were engineered by unseeded Big Ten (B1G) teams, so it's hardly the case that teams from mid-major conferences are displacing ones from the power leagues. In fact, the B1G has six teams remaining    (No. 1 Penn State, No. 5 Nebraska, and No. 7 Minnesota, in addition to the unseeded teams listed above). The Pac 12 is close behind, with five remaining teams (No. 3 Stanford, No. 10 USC, No. 11 Utah, No. 15 UCLA, and unseeded Colorado). The SEC has three (No. 2 Florida, No. 4 Kentucky, and Mizzou). That's 14 of the final 16 coming from three major conferences! The other remaining teams are No. 6 Texas and No. 13 BYU.

Penn State raised a few eyebrows by dropping a game each to first-round opponent Howard and second-round opponent Pittsburgh. The spider-like pattern in the following graph (on which you can click to enlarge) shows some interesting hitting-percentage trends in these matches. Note that Penn State is shown in blue, the Nittany Lions' opponents are shown in red, the solid lines are from the PSU-Howard match, and the dashed lines are from the PSU-Pitt match. Teams' hitting percentages are shown for Games 1, 2, 3, and 4 of of the respective matches.


Penn State's game-specific hitting percentages in the two matches ranged from .265-415, except for a  .195 in Game 4 vs. Pitt. However, the Nittany Lions allowed Pitt to hit .324, .306, and .268 in the first three games (Game 2 being won by the Panthers), before Pitt slipped to .057 in Game 4. Howard's game-specific hitting percentages were quite interesting. In each of three games (1, 3, and 4), Howard hit .000 (recording an equal number of kills and errors). However, in Game 2, the Bison put up an excellent .355 (16 kills, 5 errors, on 31 attempts); Howard won this game. In short, Penn State's offense looked fine, but its defense was inconsistent.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

2017 NCAA Women's Tourney Preview

The bracket for this year's NCAA women's tournament was announced Sunday night and play begins Thursday. One aspect of the draw raising some eyebrows is the No. 4 national seed for Kentucky (behind Penn State, Florida, and Stanford). The Wildcats went 17-1 in the SEC, splitting two matches with Florida, and 26-3 overall (match-by-match log). UK's two nonconference losses were to Creighton (9th seed in the NCAA field) and Kansas, whereas the Wildcats' best nonconference wins were over USC (10th seed) and Utah (11th seed).

Using my Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) rating system (described here), I peg Kentucky as having the 13th-best chance to win the national title. The chart below (which you can click on to enlarge) shows the CACOD rating (under "adjratio") for each of the 16 seeded teams. A team's own hitting percentage during the season is one of the major components of the CACOD and the Wildcats' (.321) was one of the best in the nation. However, UK allowed its opponents to hit .207 in the aggregate (the other major component of the CACOD), a fairly high value for elite tournament teams.


Note that in the six years since I developed the CACOD, no team with a value below 1.91 has won the NCAA title. Kentucky (1.55) would thus have to break some major new ground to win the championship. 

The NCAA seedings and the CACOD agree in placing Penn State in the No. 1 slot. The Nittany Lions' top hitting percentage among the 16 seeds, combined with a reasonably good defense, yields a 2.60 CACOD for Penn State. Texas and Nebraska are similar defensively, each allowing its respective opposition to hit just a little above .150. However, the Longhorns' superior offensive hitting percentage (.314 vs. .282) gives them an edge in the CACOD over Nebraska.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the tournament!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Nebraska Wins with Stunning Ease at Penn State

No. 2 Penn State suffered its first loss of the season last night, as Nebraska came into State College and swept the Nittany Lions, 26-24, 25-19, 25-20. The number that caught my eye was the Huskers' hitting percentage of .347. This was the highest hitting percentage Penn State had allowed an opponent since Minnesota put up a .374 in sweeping the Nittany Lions on October 29, 2016 in Minneapolis.

Nebraska entered the match with three losses on the season, to highly ranked Oregon and Florida in an opening-weekend tournament, and to Northern Iowa on September 16. As noted, Penn State's ledger was perfect before last night and included a pair of wins over defending national champion Stanford.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Volleyball Magazine Daily Releases of Women's Conference Previews (2017)

Over at Volleyball Magazine, each day they're releasing a preview of the upcoming women's season in a different conference. There's a lot of good information on each team in a given conference, including returnees, losses, and newcomers. I'll link to each preview as it comes out:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Didn't We See This Movie Before? (2017 NCAA Men's Final)

A little over a week ago, for the second straight year, Ohio State swept BYU for the NCAA men's championship. Whereas last year's result was somewhat of a surprise, this year's was less so, as the Buckeyes were the host team for the Final Four.

As the following chart shows, similarity between the last two years' title matches went beyond the identities of the teams involved and the score. In particular, Ohio State's hitting percentage, as a team, was extremely similar in the 2016 and 2017 finals. BYU's spike attempts totaled 71 last year and 70 this year; each of these substantially trailed OSU's respective number of attempts, suggesting Cougar problems with serve-receipt, passing, and staying in-system.

Statistic
2017 (Box Score)
2016 (Box Score)
Score
OSU (25-19, 25-20, 25-22)
OSU (32-30, 25-23, 25-17)
OSU Hitting Pct.
.358 (42-13-81)
.374 (51-17-91)
Nicolas Szerszen .(OSU) H%
.480 (16-4-25)
.208 (10-5-24)
BYU Hitting Pct.
.243 (33-16-70)
.296 (34-13-71)
Ben Patch (BYU) H%
.333 (6 K-2 E-12 TA)
.091 (10-8-22)

The Buckeyes' Nicolas Szersen took virtually the same number of attack attempts in the two finals (24 last year, 25 this year), but hit much more efficiently this year. Maxime Hervoir, who has played for the French national team and attended two years of college in that country, added to the OSU attack this year, hitting .471 (10-2-17) in the final match. (He did not play in last year's final.)

BYU star Ben Patch, who battled injury most of the season, improved his hitting percentage from a year ago, but only had 12 attack attempts.