Scoop on Sets and Spikes
When the 1997 Conference USA Volleyball Championship Tournament starts today in Hofheinz Pavilion, the top four seeded teams will get a peek at what's in store for them as they wait for their turn to excel.
South Florida (1), Houston (2), Louisville (3) and Cincinnati (4) - the Big Four - have all received byes for earning the top spots in the bracket.
They will have to wait their turns as their opponents will be decided today in the first round matches.
In the regular season, the "Big Four" won 56 percent of the league matches. (That's 54 of 96 possible victories). The bottom eight managed just 42 wins for a .438 winning percentage.
While each of the four top seeds is confident it can win the tournament just as easily as the others, they all share a common worry as well. Complacency.
Should they look past their second-round opponent, each "Big Four" coach feels that they might get left behind.
Of the Big Four's 10 losses, eight were dealt by each other, showing that an upset by a lower seed seems highly unlikely.
Upsets were few and far between, but they have been known to occur.
The Cougars were defeated by No. 6 Saint Louis on Oct. 31. That cost them a tie for the regular season C-USA championship.
And in the last weekend of the season, No. 11 UNC-Charlotte defeated the Cardinals in four games.
In that regard, the likelihood of a Big Four team falling in the second round would be a stretch but not impossible, as stranger things have happened.
Cincinnati will play their first match of the tournament on Friday and will face the winner of Southern Miss and DePaul.
Bearcats head coach Laura Alford is optimistic about her chances, but didn't exactly like the possibility of playing the Golden Eagles in round two.
"USM is a team that played very well against us this year, and I was hoping that we would not have to play them again," Alford said. "This is going to be it for us, so we just need to worry about coming out and playing well."
Shortly after the USM/DPU match, No. 1 South Florida will be taking on the winner of what will probably be the first-round match of the tournament - No. 8 Marquette against No. 9 Tulane.
USF head coach Perri Hankins said she is very happy to be coaching a team that has the maturity and leadership the Bulls do.
"Right now we're just happy to be in the situation that we're in, being the No. 1 seed and being conference champions," Hankins said. "But when you get to tourney time, anything is possible."
Louisville will play it's first match of the tournament on Friday at 6 p.m. and will face the winner of No. 6 Saint Louis and No. 11 UNC-Charlotte.
During the regular season, the Cardinals swept Saint Louis twice.
Although UNC-Charlotte is seeded next-to-last, they are hot as of late and did upset the Cardinals last weekend at home.
Coming into the tournament the 49ers have won three of their last four matches.
"We just need to come in and take care of our first match," Louisville head coach Leonid Yelin said. "I think the loss to UNC-Charlotte was a wake up call for our team."
And finally, the last of the Big Four to play Friday night will be the hosting Houston Cougars.
Before last week's loss to South Florida the Cougars had won seven matches in a row and dropped just two games in the process.
UH will be playing the winner of No. 7 Memphis and No. 10 UAB. Both teams were swept by the Cougars in the regular season.
Although the No. 2 Cougars are in the less difficult of the two brackets (according to seedings), Walton said that he is not thinking about that.
"I hate to call either of the brackets any easier than the other," Coach Bill Walton said, "although I was kind of hoping we would get to play Saint Louis again."