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Kansas Jayhawks Volleyball: 2016 NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament Preview

What the NCAA Volleyball Tournament looks like from a KU point of view.

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KU Volleyball Final Four Omaha 2015 Ray Bechard
KU Volleyball Final Four Omaha 2015 Ray Bechard
mikeville

The NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament begins Thursday night on campus sites around the country, and your Kansas Jayhawks are the #5 overall national seed in the tournament. KU will host the Samford Bulldogs in the first round on Thursday, Dec 1, at 6:30 PM Jayhawk time.

About the Tournament

Similar to the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, it is a 64-team field. Only the top 16 teams are seeded; they host first and second round matches (sub-regionals). The remaining 48 teams are placed according to conference affiliation first and proximity to first-round sites second. (The Tournament tries to avoid conference matchups in the first or second round.)

For the first time this year, Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8) will take place at non-predetermined sites. This means that the highest seeded team to advance to the Sweet 16 will be given the opportunity to host. Regional finals are December 10 on ESPN3/WatchESPN.

The National Semifinals (Final Four) and Finals are Dec 15 and Dec 17 in Columbus, OH, on ESPN2.

KU’s Draw

Kansas is hosting as a national seed for the fifth year in a row. Fortunately, once again the NCAA has waived the rule requiring a minimum number of seats in order to host a sub-regional, a requirement that the Jayhawks do not meet on their homecourt in the Horejsi Center. That means KU will have true homecourt advantage in the first two rounds instead of having to play at Allen Fieldhouse or in Topeka or Kansas City.

KU's overall record (26-2, 15-1) was good enough to win the Big 12 outright, a game ahead of Texas. Their two losses on the season came at the hands of then-#5 Texas and then-#14 Purdue. Kansas finished ranked #4 with an RPI of 5.

The Jayhawks will face Samford in the first round of the Tournament. The Bulldogs were automatic qualifiers for the Tournament as the tournament champions of the Southern Conference after finishing fourth in the regular season. They are 21-13 (9-7), unranked in the AVCA Poll, and finished the regular season at #129 in the RPI.

Side note: Last year, Kansas also opened up the NCAA Tournament with the champions of the Southern Conference, the Furman Paladins.

The other matchup in the Lawrence sub-regional features Creighton taking on Northern Iowa. The Bluejays (26-6, 18-0) were also an automatic bid after going undefeated through the Big East and the Big East conference tournament. They finished #21 in the AVCA with an RPI of 17.

Kansas defeated Creighton by a 3-2 count in Omaha back on September 8.

Northern Iowa (24-9, 14-4) finished third in the Missouri Valley regular season and fell to eventual champion Wichita State in the semifinals of their conference tournament. The Panthers are not ranked but come in with an RPI of 45, obviously good enough to earn them an at-large bid.

Kansas defeated Northern Iowa by a 3-0 count in Lawrence back on September 10.

Side note: Last year, the third place finisher in the Missouri Valley also came to the Lawrence sub-regional in the form of Missouri State.

When Does Kansas Play?

KU will take on Samford on Thursday, Dec 1, at 6:30 PM Jayhawk time, in the Horejsi Family Athletics Center on the campus of the University of Kansas.

Should the Jayhawks defeat the Bulldogs, they will get the winner of Creighton - Northern Iowa on Friday, Dec 2, at 6:30 PM Jayhawk time, in the Horejsi Family Athletics Center on the campus of the University of Kansas.

What Happens if Kansas Advances

Should seeds hold, the Jayhawks will have to go through Austin, TX to reach the Final Four in Columbus. 12-seed Michigan (22-10, 11-9) and 4-seed Texas (30-2, 18-2) loom in KU's bracket.

Texas, you may recall, somewhat controversially got the #4 seed ahead of Kansas in this year’s Tournament, and will have home-court advantage should the Longhorns advance.

All-Conference Honors for Kansas

Kansas cleaned up with the postseason awards this year: Kelsie Payne was named the Big 12 Player of the Year, Cassie Wait was named Big 12 Libero of the Year, Ainise Havili was named Big 12 Setter of the Year (again), and Ray Bechard was named Coach of the Year (again) - his fourth in the last five years.

Kansas put four players on the first team All-Big 12 list (Payne, Wait, Havili, and Madison Rigdon), one on the second team (Taylor Soucie), and one on the All-Freshman team (Jada Burse).

Very similar to last year, Kansas has the talent and the experience to make some noise in this Tournament. Last year’s sophomores are now juniors, and Kansas brought back five starters from last year’s squad. A second consecutive Final Four run wouldn’t be the miracle that it was last year, but the Jayhawks have as good a shot as anyone else in a Tournament that has a lot of parity, especially among the higher-ranked teams.

Prediction Time

Anything short of an Elite 8 run and a rematch with Texas would be disappointing and an upset considering the season that KU has had and the talent available to them. It’s not going too far out on the limb to predict another Final Four run for the Jayhawks, with a championship game appearance and a shot at a title. The field is incredibly balanced at the top, however. In my semi-educated opinion, any of the top 11 seeds winning the title wouldn’t surprise me.

Creighton will be a tough out in the second round should they advance past Northern Iowa - not very many seeded teams are going to run into a top-20 opponent in the second round, or an opponent who has won something like 20 matches in a row.

Assuming KU makes it out of Lawrence, they’ll have Michigan and then Texas. Once the Jayhawks do run in to Texas, they should have a lot of confidence going into the match. KU honestly could have defeated the Longhorns in Austin the first go-around this year, with KU having a big lead in the first set before disaster struck. By the time the Jayhawks recovered it was too late. Hopefully they learned from that experience and it won’t happen again. Also, with Texas getting the 4-seed over Kansas despite finishing a game behind KU in conference, that should provide a nice chip-on-the-shoulder and some extra #Motivation for the Jayhawks.

I look for Kansas to make it back to the Final Four and a matchup with top-ranked Nebraska.

How to catch KU in Action

Good luck getting a ticket! The Horejsi Athletics Center lists a capacity of 1,300, and was completely sold out for every match this year. You may be able to find some tickets on StubHub.

If you can find your way in, it's sure to be an incredible atmosphere. If not, you can still catch any and all of the matches via live streaming online. NCAA.com is streaming the entire tournament. You can get to any matchup you want to see by finding it on the interactive bracket. Matches should also be available on ESPN3 through the WatchESPN app or the WatchESPN website. No blackouts should apply.

Alternatively, you can always listen to radio play-by-play at KUAthletics.com/radio. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter and Instagram.