Mike Wolf, BTN volleyball announcer, November 11, 2015
Tonight, we break new ground on the Big Ten Network with the first ever B1G Volleyball Extravaganza. All 14 teams will be playing on one night in seven matches over the course of three hours of whip-around coverage on our air.
Every team has something at stake, and the matches tonight could impact the postseason hopes of several Big Ten members.
Before the Extravaganza begins, here is a preview of all seven matches you can watch on BTN, beginning at 7 p.m. ET and on BTN Plus in their entirety on BTN2Go.com.
Indiana at Rutgers - 6 p.m. ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
Both teams are looking to end lengthy losing skids. The Hoosiers have dropped their last four matches, while the Scarlet Knights have lost their last five. Neither team has won a set in their last four matches and both need a confidence boost before the stretch run of conference play. The first time these two met in Bloomington, it was a four-set win for Indiana with senior Amelia Anderson leading the way with 12 kills. Meme Fletcher had 13 kills and eight digs for the Knights, but Rutgers could not build on its first set win to leave Bloomington victorious. Rutgers has not defeated a traditional Big Ten team in its two years in the conference; tonight is likely its last chance in 2015.
No. 17 Purdue at Maryland - 6 p.m. ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
This is a dangerous match for Purdue. The Boilermakers have lost five of their last eight matches and were fortunate to come back after falling behind 2-1 vs. Iowa on Saturday. Maryland is coming off its biggest victory since joining the Big Ten conference, knocking off No. 12 Ohio State in straight sets. Adreene Elliott continues to show why she is a talent who would succeed on any Big Ten team, the latest example coming in the form of 18 kills and four aces against the Buckeyes. Steve Aird?s team is looking to accomplish something that would be a first in program history: Knocking off back-to-back ranked opponents. It will not be an easy task facing one of the Big Ten?s top attackers in Annie Drews, but the Terps have a ton of confidence following the win against Ohio State. Purdue got the production it needed from its middles and Drews last Saturday night but going forward consistency from the left side attackers will be key.
No. 16 Illinois at No. 14 Ohio State - 6:30 p.m. ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
The only match between ranked teams tonight takes place in St. John Arena, where Illinois seeks to keep its four-match win streak alive and Ohio State looks to bounce back from the shocking loss to Maryland. The Buckeyes did defeat Rutgers on Saturday but getting back on track means taking down a ranked opponent, and despite eight wins against the top 25, Ohio State has struggled as of late. Following the injury to Taylor Hughes against Michigan State, Geoff Carlston?s team has been trying to find a way to keep up its production with Hughes playing sparingly and Emily Ruetter setting. Illinois has been managing its setter position, as well, as former starter Alexis Viliunas has returned to the mix to contribute in five of the last six matches. Freshman Jordyn Poulter set the entirety of last Saturday?s match against Northwestern, and she is the future but do not be surprised if Kevin Hambly brings the veteran Viliunas off the bench if she struggles. Both of these teams are playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament, with Illinois ranked No. 17 in the latest RPI while Ohio State is No. 11. The final six matches of the season and likely this one tonight will dictate whether either one of these teams gets to host early round NCAA tournament matches next month.
No. 8 Nebraska at Michigan State - 7 p.m. ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
Similar to Illinois and Ohio State, Nebraska?s thoughts are on hosting the first two rounds of the postseason. With a ranking and RPI in the top 10, anything but an epic collapse down the stretch should keep the Huskers in position to host two matches in Devaney. John Cook?s team has won its last four matches in straight sets after losing back-to-back matches at home to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Michigan State?s performance as of late leads few to believe they will end Nebraska?s streak. The Spartans have lost five straight matches and have averaged 24 attack errors and seven service errors during that span. Defense has also been an issue for Michigan State as the off-blocker coverage has been average over the last two weeks. Playing at home will benefit the Spartans after a four match road trip, but Cathy George?s team is just 2-7 vs. the top 25. If the Spartans hope to return to the NCAA tournament, a resume-building win tonight would go a long way.
No. 11 Wisconsin at Michigan - 7:30 ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield kept preaching to his team that it was getting better early in the season, despite a 4-4 start to conference play and two losses to Big Ten leader Minnesota. It may not have seemed that way at the time, but the fruits of the Badgers? labor has paid off over the course of a six -match win streak that included the program?s first ever win in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Badgers have not dropped a set in their last three matches and that included a matchup last Friday night against the Wolverines. Wisconsin and Michigan are meeting twice in the span of five days, and Mark Rosen hopes his team can mimic the performance it had a year ago, when it took the then first place Badgers to five sets in Cliff Keen Arena. In that match, Michigan had a 13-11 lead in Set 5, but Wisconsin used a 5-1 run to avoid the upset. The Wolverines will need more than Caroline Knop tonight as she was the only player to reach double-figures last Friday against the Badgers. Wisconsin is playing like a team in contention for the Big Ten title, but, with the unbalanced schedule what it is, the Badgers will not face any of the three teams in front of them in the standings for the remainder of the season.
No. 1 Penn State at Iowa - 8 p.m. ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
It?s never happened, the Iowa Hawkeyes have never defeated Penn State in 48 previous chances against NCAA Volleyball?s top dynasty. Will it happen tonight? It does not appear likely but go back to the first meeting between these two on Oct. 3 and despite the 3-0 outcome in favor of Penn State, Iowa challenged the nation?s No. 1 team. The Nittany Lions needed extra points in set one and won the third by just the two-point margin to come away with the straight set victory. Iowa hit .283 against the team that is currently ranked 5th in the nation in opponent hitting percentage by holding teams to just .142 on the year. It seems unlikely that Iowa can come away with a win but Bond Shymansky?s team has won two of its last three and were a set away from knocking off its second ranked opponent of the season at Purdue last Saturday. Penn State has won its last eight matches since falling to unranked Northwestern and the return of Megan Courtney following an injury has boosted this team in the last four matches. The Nittany Lions will come away with a win as long as their focus is on the task at hand and not the looming showdown with the Big Ten?s top team in the standings on Saturday at Minnesota.
No. 4 Minnesota at Northwestern - 8 p.m. ET (Watch on BTN Plus)
The Wildcats have already provided one landscape-altering upset this season. Can they make it two? It all depends on which Northwestern team shows up in Evanston tonight. Will it be the one that beat Penn State for the first time since 2002, or will it be the one that fell to Indiana in straight sets? Northwestern has just one win in its last six matches, but it was two points from a five-set win over No. 16 Illinois last Wednesday and beat Michigan State in four on Halloween night. The Wildcats have weapons in Symone Abbott, Sofia Lavin, Gabrielle Hazen and Kayla Morin and a setter who distributes with the best in the conference in Taylor Tashima, but the serving and defense have to be on for Northwestern to pull off the upset.
Minnesota has been the story of the 2015 Big Ten season. A year ago it missed out on the tournament for the first time since 1998, and now the Gophers are leading the nation?s top conference. Hugh McCutcheon has his team on a historic run, one that features a program-record 12-match win streak. Daly Santana is overpowering nearly every Big Ten opponent and the Tapp sisters, as well as Sarah Wilhite, provide plenty of options for freshman setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson. The Gophers performance the past seven weeks leaves little indication that they could fall to the Wildcats before Saturday?s showdown with No. 1 Penn State, but that?s what makes Big Ten volleyball so captivating, the fact that on any given night you could be facing your toughest opponent.