Speaking at-large, Wahine vulnerable
The immediate fallout from the University of Hawaii’s 0-3 start to the Rainbow Wahine volleyball season was a plummet from the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
After opening the season ranked 20th, the Rainbow Wahine are, for one of their few times, residing among “others receiving votes.” UH’s 30 points landed the Rainbow Wahine five spots outside the Top 25.
But the longer term impact of the winless start is, potentially, of more concern.
Thanks to the strength of the field (then-No. 13 UCLA, No. 22 San Diego and Marquette), last weekend’s Rainbow Wahine Invitational was an opportunity for the Rainbow Wahine to build up some valuable early points in the Rating Percentage Index. The RPI is a metric the NCAA selection committee examines to help select and rank teams and is based on a team’s record and strength of schedule.
Given the turnover on the UH roster and coaching staff, some struggles were expected. But not 0-3, including getting swept by USD.
Right now the RPI doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it still might not when the first numbers are revealed next month. But, depending upon where UH’s record goes from here, it could be a difference maker by the end of the regular season.
If UH wins a third consecutive Big West title, its place in the NCAA tournament for what would be a 25th consecutive season is assured. But if it doesn’t — and the Big West looks to pack more of a punch this season — then, UH wants to have a résumé replete with some quality nonconference victories when the selection committee sits down to divine the at-large berths for the tournament.
“An absence of quality nonconference wins is not good later on, that’s just a fact,” said a veteran of several NCAA selection committee tours.
In 2014, for example, UH earned an at-large bid after finishing second to Long Beach State in the Big West by virtue of its RPI, which ranked it 32nd. But UH was 21-6 on selection day.
Finish fifth in the Pac12 and you are assured an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Last year even the sixth- and seventh-place teams got bids. But finish second in the Big West and very little is certain except white knuckles while the selection committee deliberates.
Each of the past two years only the Big West champion has taken part. Because of the nonconference opponents UH can attract to the Stan Sheriff Center, the Rainbow Wahine are better positioned for an at-large berth than most, should it come to that.
But, again, there are no assurances, so, especially with the Power Five conferences dominating at-large bids, it behooves UH to get some quality out-of-conference wins.
That’s why a victory Sunday over now11th-ranked UCLA would have been money in the bank.
Absent that, the importance of the next two tournaments, this week’s Rainbow Wahine Classic and next week’s Volleyball Challenge, loom larger.
UH will play No. 22 Utah (2-1) on Sunday and the following week gets both 10th-ranked Brigham Young (3-0) and Baylor (2-1), which was also among those receiving votes.
That’s pretty much the meat of the regular-season nonconference lineup, and all on the home Taraflex.
“The basic rule of thumb is you need some top-50 victories to have a chance at any at-large (berth),” said a veteran selection committee member. “Sooner or later, I think, they do need to get some quality nonconference wins.”
Freshman honor: Despite the 0-3 start, middle hitter Skyler Williams was voted Big West Freshman Player of the Week, averaging 1.69 kills and 1.62 blocks per set while hitting .258.
Up next: The Wahine host the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic at Stan Sheriff Center with games against Western Carolina (1-2) on Thursday, South Dakota (1-2) on Friday and the Utes on Sunday.
TV time: Three UH road matches will be aired, one on Fox Sports Prime Ticket and two on ESPN3.
FSNPT will broadcast UH’s match at UC Irvine on Nov. 18, while ESPN3 will air matches at Cal State Fullerton on Sept. 29 and at CSUN on Oct. 14.