Monday, April 5, 2021

Belated 2020 NCAA Women's Brackets Announced for COVID-Disrupted Season

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 place entirely in Omaha, Nebraska. The brackets are available here

Wisconsin, last year's national runner-up, has remained true to form, going 15-0 in a conference-only season and sweeping all but three matches (which the Badgers won 3-1). Beyond the Badgers, however, the field features several oddities.

Stanford, winner of the last two national titles (and three of the last four), is absent. The Cardinal was able to play only 10 matches this season and went 2-8.

Kentucky is seeded No. 2, higher than I can recall the Wildcats ever being seeded (a little research shows UK was the No. 4 seed in 2017). UK went 19-1 in a conference-only schedule, its only loss coming to Florida (the No. 8 national seed, and with whom the Wildcats split two matches). Kentucky hit .361 as a team for the season, the highest in the land.

Perennial national contender (and seven-time champion) Penn State is seeded No. 13. Many of the other high seeds are familiar faces (No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Texas, No. 5 Nebraska, No. 6 Washington).

Readers of this blog will know that I developed a statistic in 2011, the Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD), to gauge teams' prospects for doing well in the NCAA tournament based on their regular-season hitting percentages and opposition hitting percentages. It is explained here. For context, no team with a CACOD below 1.91 (which was recorded by 2016 champion Stanford) has won the NCAA women's tournament. CACOD values for the top four national seeds are as follows.

Team Hitting% Opp Hit% Ratio Conf Adj Final CACOD
Wisconsin .342 .128 2.67 x 1.25 3.34
Kentucky .361 .144 2.51 x 1.00 2.51
Minnesota .262 .191 1.37 x 1.25 1.71
Texas .333 .168 1.98 x 1.20 2.38

Wisconsin's CACOD of 3.34 is the highest ever recorded, surpassing the 3.09 recorded by Penn State in the 2014 regular season. That Nittany Lion squad went on to win the NCAA tournament. Hence, if all goes according to form, the victorious fans (however many of them are admitted for live attendance) will be singing "On Wisconsin."

If you're looking for possible upsets, some other teams with high CACOD values are:

  • Western Kentucky .355/.122, ratio = 2.91 (x 1.00 for Conference USA), CACOD = 2.91
  • High Point .296/.090, ratio = 3.29 (x .75 for Big South), CACOD = 2.47

Action gets underway a week from Wednesday, on April 14.

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