Volleyball Wins Out, Holds Breath

The University of Idaho did what they needed to do in their quest for making the NCAA tournament in the second half-of Big West conference play. The NCAA Selection Committee will let them know if it was enough on November 30, 2003. Until then, the Vandals are staying home over the Thanksgiving break and practicing in anticipation of making the Big Dance.

The Season
Regardless of how the season ends for the Vandals, by all accounts, it would have to be considered a success. The program has made leaps and bounds since head coach Debbie Buchanan returned to Idaho. This season, Idaho has notched landmark victories over Big West powerhouse UC Santa Barbara and Pacific. They picked up a rare road win at the Pac-10's toughest place to play, in Bohler gym over Washington State. Idaho played well and close in early season losses to Washington and UCLA (both top 15 teams). I like Idaho's chances in a re-match of either of these two Pac-10 teams.

Idaho has garnered 19 wins this season, the most since Tom Hilbert was at Idaho, in 1998. Idaho is only two matches out of second place in the Big West Conference. Unfortunately this season, there are 4 other teams within the same limits.

The Standings
Idaho finishes the season tied for fifth place with Utah State at 10-8. UC Santa Barbara won their second-ever Big West Conference championship this season. The Gauchos were 14-4 in conference matches. UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, and Long Beach State tied for second place with a 12-6 overall record.

On the national scene, Idaho had an impressive #37 ranking by the BCR (Ballicora Computer Rankings, hosted by volleyball guru Rich Kern at http://www.richkern.com/)). Even though the NCAA Selection Committee (chaired by Debbie Buchanan's college coach at USC, Lisa Love) does not use the Ballicora ratings, it has proven to be a relatively reliable tool for predicting tournament teams.

What Needs to Happen?
For Idaho to get an NCAA bid, this is what needs to happen in the remaining days before the Selection Committee meets. The Big West teams involved in post-conference play need to win. Some schools that mimic Idaho's stance on the bubble need to lose or have teams they beat lose. The NCAA Selection Committee needs to invite 5 schools from the Big West conference. This isn't entirely out of the question, but for this to happen, the Big West needs to fare well.

Upcoming Big West Matches to Watch that hold Idaho's NCAA chances:

· #22 UC Santa Barbara (18-8) vs. #21 Arizona (16-13) [11/29 at UCSB] **GO Gauchos!
· Long Beach State (17-8) vs. #12 Colorado State (27-4) **Former UI coaching legend, Tom Hilbert leads the Rams against LBSU, its' tough to pick a winner here. [11/25 @ LBSU]
· Long Beach State (17-8) vs. #9 Georgia Tech (30-2) [11/28 @ LBSU] (unranked Maryland, who is tied with Idaho at 41 in BCR, defeated #9 Georgia Tech to earn the ACC bid. A win by Long Beach State helps the power index for the Big West and pulls teams from the Big West instead of ACC).
· Long Beach State (17-8) vs. TCU [11/28 @ LBSU] **Go 49ers, all weekend long!
· Long Beach State (17-8) vs. #8 California (21-6) [11/29 @ LBSU]
· Cal State Northridge (16-11) vs. #1 USC (34-0) [11/25 @ CSUN] **A victory here is highly unlikely, but a good showing would help.
· Pacific (15-13) vs. UAB (14-18) [11/28 @ Pacific]
· UC Irvine (21-9) vs. San Jose State (10-18) [11/28 @ LBSU] **SJSU finished 2nd to Hawaii in the WAC tournament this past weekend and are playing solid volleyball. This will be a tough win for UCI.
· UC Irvine (21-9) vs. TCU (20-13) [11/29 @ LBSU] **TCU's schedule was weak this season; UCI should win.
· Utah State (18-11) vs. BYU [11/25 @ BYU] **This could go either way, as a win over BYU potentially could make Utah State ahead of Idaho on the bubble.

As an ending note: I'd like to thank the 823 that attended the Pacific match last Friday and ALL the Vandal fans that have supported the team this season. Your influence and support are instrumental to a successful volleyball program. Way to go Vandal Fans!!

If you'd like to find out as it happens whether the NCAA will select Idaho tune in Sunday, Nov 30 - live on ESPNEWS (Cable TV channel). Time is at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

If you don't have ESPNEWS they stream the audio for Windows Media Player at http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/espnews/index2). Click where it says "Listen to the Live Feed."

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