Tonight, at 8pm Central on ESPNU, the NCAA will announce the field for the 2016 women’s volleyball national championship.
Marquette’s chances of getting into the field for the sixth consecutive year have gotten a little dicey over the last three weeks.
You see, Marquette was once 21-5 overall and were sitting at #31 in the RPI. Since then, the Golden Eagles have gone 2-3 in their last five matches, and actually, that’s 1-3 in their last four contests, and actually actually, they’re on a two match losing streak, and actually actually actually, both losses are to Xavier, and the Musketeers pretty much have zero hope of making the NCAA tournament after losing the Big East title match to Creighton.
As of November 21st, aka before Friday’s Big East semifinal loss to Xavier, Marquette was #36 in the NCAA’s RPI calculations. After Friday, though....
New unofficial Volleyball RPI: Creighton stays 16th; Marquette from 39 to 42; Xavier from 68 to 62.— Rob Anderson (@_robanderson) November 26, 2016
That’s from Creighton Sports Information Director Rob Anderson. Volleyball has a 64 team tournament, with 32 conferences getting an automatic bid. Using the officially released RPI list on NCAA.com, there were 14 conferences with a team higher than Marquette. That leaves 21 of the spots in front of Marquette occupied by repeat appearances from a conference. For example, Wisconsin was #1 in the RPI, and there are another six Big Ten teams in between the Badgers and the Golden Eagles. If we presume that those 21 spots are all occupied by teams that will earn an at-large bid (and there’s no reason to think otherwise), that leaves just 11 spots available. Now it seems that Marquette could be six spots further down the chain, which, in theory, leaves just five at-large bids available.
Is Marquette one of those five teams? The selection committee isn’t beholden to take the top 32 non-automatic bid teams in the RPI. The Golden Eagles have a 5-3 record against top 50 teams on the announced RPI list, which is good, because those are the teams that are their direct competition for the 64 team field. However, when you expand that out to the top 100, Marquette’s record is 8-6, which includes each of the back-to-back losses that they just suffered at the hands of Xavier.
There’s one thing to keep an eye on when the bracket starts getting announced. Well, two things, kind of. The NCAA arranges the first two rounds of the tournament by proximity. The top 16 teams in the field get the opportunity to host the first two rounds, and then the NCAA fills in the other 48 teams by assigning them to the opening round location closest to them. In Marquette’s current run of five straight appearances in the tournament, they’ve gone to play matches at Illinois, Minnesota, Illinois again, Wisconsin, and Minnesota again. As of this past Monday, Minnesota and Wisconsin are in the top five in both the RPI and the AVCA top 25 poll. The Gophers and the Badgers are essentially guaranteed to both be hosts this year, even with Minnesota beating Wisconsin on Saturday. If the four team pods for Minneapolis and Madison get announced without Marquette going to one of those two spots, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the Golden Eagles will be left out.