Texas Tech professor Alan Reifman uses statistics and graphic arts to illuminate developments in U.S. collegiate and Olympic volleyball. [For archives of this blog and extensive links to other volleyball sites, please click the three-line icon in upper-right corner.]
It was an unusual spring for U.S. collegiate volleyball, thanks to COVID-19-related adjustments, with the women's championship (typically decided in December) and the men's championship (typically being decided five months later) being held only two weeks apart. The women's final was played on Saturday, April 24, 2021, with the men's on May 8. Having nearly three months to digest these matches, I present my analyses of the championships below. WOMEN'S For starters, here's a sentence I never expected to write in my lifetime (I'm 58): The Kentucky Wildcats are the new NCAA women's volleyball champions .* UK stopped Texas in four games, 20-25 , 25-18, 25-23, 25-22, to claim what really is the 2020 championship (the 2021 title will be determined this coming November). True, Kentucky was the No. 2 seed. However, previous high seeds from outside the power conferences (Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12) have rarely lived up to their placements**, so I remained skeptical.
The NCAA women's tourney is now down to 16 teams , who will play on Sunday (except for Wisconsin vs. BYU on Saturday). Fourteen of the 16 national seeds have advanced this far. The two exceptions are Western Kentucky, which upset No. 15-seed Washington State in five games and will now face No. 2-seed Kentucky; and Pitt, which swept No. 14-seed Utah and will now take on No. 3-seed Minnesota. In my tournament preview (previous posting below), I identified Western Kentucky as a leading upset candidate, based on the Hilltoppers' ratio of nearly 3 (2.91) between their own season-long offensive hitting percentage (.355) to the hitting percentage they defensively allowed their opponents (.122). (WKU's conference-difficulty adjustment in Conference USA was 1.00, so the Hilltoppers' ratio statistics is not changed by multiplying by 1.00.) Another team on my radar was High Point, whose ratio was an even more gaudy 3.29 (=.296/.090). Multiplying by the Big South adjustment fac
Typically, the NCAA women's tournament is held every December. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, however, this has not been a typical season. Back in September 2020, the NCAA moved forward on a plan to shift several fall championships to spring, including women's volleyball. Some conferences (such as the Big 10 and Pac 12) opted to delay their entire women's volleyball seasons from fall 2020 to winter/spring 2021. Others (such as the Big 12) stuck to the usual framework and played the bulk of their schedule in fall 2020, but added some 2021 matches to stay sharp for the national tourney. The SEC played a little less than half of its conference schedule in the fall and a little more than half of it in the spring. Throughout this makeshift season, of course, numerous matches were postponed or cancelled . The regular season has now been played and here we are, ready for the NCAA tournament. Only 48 teams (down from the usual 64) will participate and the tournament will take
With Stanford's win over Wisconsin for the NCAA national women's championship about a month ago coming so easily, 25-16, 25-17, 25-20, it was hard at first to come up with a statistical angle. The Cardinal, led by 6-foot-6 senior outside-hitter Kathryn Plummer's torrid spiking (.459 on 22 kills and 5 errors on 37 attempts), outhit the Badgers, .358-.152 ( box score ). Madeleine Gates, a Stanford graduate transfer who finished her degree at UCLA, also came up big (.529, 10-1-17). I've already written a lot on Plummer's hitting, however, so I wanted to focus on something else. Then, an idea from five years ago popped into my mind. As I wrote in February 2015 then-Penn State men's assistant coach Jay Hosack (now head men's coach at George Mason) noted on the Internet-radio show The Net Live that, "blocking should be evaluated more broadly than via direct stuff-blocks for points." For example, blockers could slow the ball down from a spike attemp
This year's NCAA women's Final Four, which begins shortly, features the Bears of Baylor, two of the B1G's three burrowing animals -- the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers* -- and a color, the Stanford Cardinal. By most accounts, Minnesota would probably be the team considered least likely to win the national title. Anecdotally, in watching some Gopher matches this season, my sense was that blocking was the team's strength. I therefore decided to compare the Final Four teams on their blocks per opportunity. The number of opportunities a team has to score points via a stuff block is the number of hit attempts by opponents, removing the number of spikes hit out of bounds or into the net. Such attempts gone awry can be calculated by taking opponents' aggregate hitting errors and subtracting those errors due to your own aggregate blocks. These calculations revealed all of the Final Four teams to be extremely similar in the proportion of blockable (i.e., not
Baylor and Washington are tied at one game apiece (Baylor 25-20, U-Dub 25-21). Baylor has hit well in Games 1 (.538, 16 kills, only 2 errors, on 26 attempts) and 2 (.355, 15-4-31). Washington had only three hitting errors in Game 2 (.367, 14-3-30). The Huskies' Samantha Drechsel is hitting .625 after two games (12-2-16)... Bears take Game 3, 25-19, on continued torrid hitting (.615, 17- 1-26 in Game 3)... Baylor closes out match 25-18 to take program's first trip to Final Four. Bears hit .444 in Game 4 (16-4-27), .479 for match (67-11-117)... Wisconsin records a 3-0 sweep of Nebraska ( 25-18, 25-22, 25-19 ) for the third time this season to advance... No suspense in the last two matches of the day, either -- not even any deuce games -- as Minnesota sweeps Louisville ( 25-21, 25-14, 25-16 ) and Stanford does the same to Penn State ( 25-22, 25-15, 25-17 ). Stanford's Kathryn Plummer records another high hitting percentage on a high volume of attempts (.512, 24-2-43).
It was a day of upsets and near-upsets and the NCAA women's field winnowed from 16 to eight teams. No. 2 seed Texas dropped the first two games to Louisville, won the next two to even things up, and then fell to the Cardinals in Game 5, 15-12. Three other matches went the distance, with the higher-seeded team prevailing in each case. Utah had given Stanford trouble in the regular season, never winning a match from the Cardinal, but going five games on October 20 and four on November 22 . Friday's NCAA match-up was no different, as Stanford and Utah battled five games, the Cardinal prevailing 15-11 in the decider. Here at VolleyMetrics, we've been keeping an eye on Kathryn Plummer's heavy swing volume for Stanford. Friday night, she registered one of best performances of the season , hitting .389 on 29 kills and 8 attack errors in 54 attempts. Two other five-game survivors were No. 7 Minnesota over No. 10 Florida , and No. 11 Penn State over unseeded Cincinnati .