Speak­ing at-large, Wahine vul­ner­a­ble

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By FERD LEWIS

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.

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