Lisa Peterson, chair of the NCAA Division I women’s volleyball selection committee, knew there would be some unhappy folks from Nebraska and Texas — two of the sport’s most prominent programs — when the NCAA bracket was released Sunday night.
Ultimately, though, she thought the committee did the best and fairest job it could.
“Believe me, there was a lot of discussion and debate,” Peterson said.
Much of that discussion involved who would get the coveted top four seeds. The committee wound up with No. 1 seed Penn State, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Kentucky. Nebraska was seeded No. 5 and Texas No. 6.
Being in the top four is more important than ever now in volleyball because the tournament returned last year to having regionals hosted by the highest remaining seed. In short, if you’re a top-four seed and keep winning, you can play on your home court all the way until the final four.
Peterson, deputy athletic director and senior women’s administrator at Oregon, spoke at length with espnW, explaining how the committee weighed the data and came to its conclusions.
There’s no simple way to look at it, but if you boil it down to what hurt Nebraska and Texas most, each had one very specific thing. Texas was the only team among the top six that did not have a victory against an opponent in the top 10 of the RPI. Nebraska had the worst loss among the top six teams, falling to Northern Iowa, which was No. 49 in the RPI. The Huskers also had the most losses among the top six teams, with four.
Those answers won’t satisfy fans of either program, since there’s so much other data to consider. But it comes down to what the committee values most, based on its guidelines. (Whether the guidelines themselves need amending is another story.)
Peterson said the four specific criteria in the NCAA guidebook for selecting teams are as follows: 1.) RPI; 2.) common opponents; 3.) head-to-head matchups, and; 4.) significant wins and losses.
“And if you go by those categories,” Peterson said, “Kentucky came out ahead [of Nebraska and Texas].”
In short, the Wildcats’ victory over Florida — although they also lost to Florida, with whom they were SEC co-champs — went a long, long way in their favor, as did victories over Pac-12 schools USC and Utah.
Meanwhile, a statistic such as victories against top-25 RPI teams, where Nebraska (9-3) and Texas (8-2) had a significant edge over Kentucky (4-3), wasn’t valued as much as the four stated criteria. Also not taken into consideration is that the Wildcats were swept in all three of their losses — to Creighton, Kansas and Florida — whereas neither Nebraska nor Texas lost in a sweep.