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Volleyball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Preview - Western Kentucky

It’s time to defend the home court and reload for tonight.

An interesting low-angle shot from earlier this season.
Danny Karnik / Georgia Tech Athletics

Tonight, Georgia Tech will square off with Western Kentucky in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament after the Jackets defeated The Citadel yesterday in their opening contest, while the Lady Toppers took out South Carolina in five sets. Tech moved to 24-5 on the season after the win.

In the first round of the tournament, Tech started the same seven that have become the usual suspects this season — Bianca Bertolino, Julia Bergmann, Mariana Brambilla, Paola Pimentel, Erin Moss, Breland Morrissette, and Matti McKissock. The match was tight out of the gate, as neither team was able to put together a long run, with the biggest lead of the early stage of the set not coming until the first media timeout when Tech extended their lead to three. The visitors were able to tie the game at 17, but they never re-took the lead, and, after Tech took a timeout at 21-20, the Jackets went four for five down the stretch to close out the set, 25-21.

In the second set, the score belies the fact that the beginning of the set felt a lot like the first one, and, in fact, at the media break, the score was identical, 15-12. The final score, 25-15, ultimately did represent a result that more Tech fans would likely have expected, as Tech took 10 of the last 13 points to run away with the second set.

Put simply, Tech had the opportunity to put the third set away at 24-20 and end the match, but The Citadel managed four straight points to tie the set. Tech probably should have won the third set at 25-24, as the referees blew a point dead that, upon the review, was actually an incredible pancake save of a ball and would have set up an attack opportunity for the Jackets. The Citadel wound up taking the replayed point, and managed to force a set point of their own after taking a second straight point before Tech was able to rattle off three straight to take the match in a sweep, punctuated by a monstrous block to seal it for the Jackets.

Tech produced their best hit percentage in the first set, and actually wound up with their lowest in the second, which is a great reinforcement for why score is not the end-all, be-all of a set. In fact, Tech was relatively pedestrian on the attack, hitting .263 on the night — low compared to their usual standard — and racked up 22 attack errors on the night, in contrast to just 14 for their guests. On the whole, it seemed that Tech was a bit off at times — understandable, given the stakes that come with postseason play. That being said, there was a definite a more unfamiliar tone to the crowd at O’Keefe, which is certainly due in part to the fact that The Citadel had an identical number of very boisterous cadets to that of the announced allotment for Tech students. The NCAA host site content, much discussed after the 2019 baseball regional, are probably worth a follow-up discussion in the coming weeks, too. Suffice it to say, after the last few weeks, it will be a delight to not be barked at again for quite some time — *checks notes* — or, at least women’s basketball will wrap up the fall slate of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate soon, on Sunday at noon.

Anyways, with some time to regroup and experience under their belts, one would expect that the necessary adjustments can be made in advance of tomorrow’s match. Below, check out the latest from the From the Rumble Seat analytics department, volleyball game flow plots, as we work to develop an Advanced Box Score for the sport. Credit to Akshay Easwaran for leading the way on that one.

Race Plot - NCAA Tournament First Round - The Citadel vs. Georgia Tech
Data Compiled by Akshay Easwaran

Western Kentucky - Opponent Season in Review:

Record: 28-1 (12-0 C-USA)
Qualifying Method: Automatic Qualifier - Conference USA Champions
Last Ten: 10-0 (W10)
RPI: 18
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 5-1
Best Wins: #24 Rice (1-0: 3-1), #32 Notre Dame (1-0: 3-0), #34 Kansas (1-0: 3-0)
Worst Losses: #54 Ole Miss (0-1: 1-3)
Other Notable Teams: #42 South Carolina [NCAA 1st Round] (1-0: 3-0), #53 UTEP (1-0: 3-0), #68 Loyola-Chicago (1-0: 3-1)

Western Kentucky, simply put, is a very good team. They are currently on a 21 game win streak, and have only lost four sets since that defeat, a four set loss to Ole Miss at home. Since the Lady Toppers play their games in their basketball arena, they regularly play in front of large crowds, and have been tested against a handful of top teams. In the Conference USA Tournament, they took their best win of the season against Rice, another tournament team, and the only top 25 team by RPI that Western Kentucky has played all year. That being said, in terms of pure efficacy, the Lady Toppers have certainly been that, having won 48 conference games in a row.

When looking at the volleyball bracket as if it was a basketball bracket, Tech would be the #2 seed in its region, while Western Kentucky would be the #7. By RPI, one would expect the Toppers to be a 5 or 6 seed, so they are likely a little underseeded, but, if their thorough handling of South Carolina is any indication, this next matchup will be an entertaining and high-level clash.

Tech needs to make adjustments and play their game. The Lady Toppers, though, are certainly a worthy opponent.

How to Watch:

7:00 PM Saturday — Western Kentucky vs. #8 Georgia Tech at O’Keefe Gymnasium

Watch Party: Ken Byers Tennis Complex

Streaming/TV: ESPN+ - I think this link is right - it doesn’t have a thumbnail yet but was the only one for 7:00 PM tomorrow.

Radio: WREK 91.1 FM

Live Stats:

It is worth noting that the stream is via ESPN+, not ACC Network Extra. Presumably, that makes a difference from what is included via some TV providers, but at $6.99 per month, even if you only watch today and tomorrow, that’s ~$3.50 per match.

The winner of today’s game will head to a yet-to-be-determined site and time for the next two rounds next weekend. If Louisville holds the line and wins, it’ll be up there, but, if they fall and Tech wins, well, we could be back in Midtown come next weekend.

If you’re outside of Atlanta or find yourself unable to make it to Midtown, tune in tonight to watch Tech take on Western Kentucky, and, if you have tickets to the match, show up and be loud. Feel free to comment below throughout the game, and, as always, go Jackets!