With the third national seed in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament, Illinois will be hosting matches up through the Elite Eight, as the Illini fight their way toward a National Championship title.
The first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament being hosted in Champaign feature three teams besides the Illini: the Eastern Michigan Eagles, the Dayton Flyers, and the Louisville Cardinals.
Illinois will play EMU in the first round, and the winner of that match will play the winner of Louisville and Dayton.
Eastern Michigan: 21-13, RPI 153
The Eagles are set to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, having won the MAC Volleyball Championship to secure an auto-bid. Eastern Michigan was the fifth out of eight seeds in the MAC Championship, pulling off three straight upsets to secure itself a tournament spot, and have some momentum rolling its way.
The Eagles will be the team with the second-lowest RPI that the Illini have faced this season, with only Rutgers lower. EMU played only one ranked team this season (Michigan) and lost in three sets. Eastern Michigan also split matches on the season with Bowling Green, a team that Illinois handily defeated in three sets, and both teams beat Cleveland State early on in their seasons.
Dayton: 23-7, RPI 28
The Flyers made their way into the NCAA Tournament this season by winning the Atlantic 10 Volleyball Championship, after placing second in the regular season standings.
Dayton has the highest RPI of any teams the Illini might face this weekend, but failed to pick up any wins against ranked opponents, falling to Kentucky (three sets), Washington (in five) and Pittsburgh (in four).
Louisville: 21-8, RPI 37
The Cardinals are probably the strongest opponent in this initial field of teams that the Illini might face, coming out of the ACC where they finished third in the conference.
Louisville has a 2-7 record against other teams which made the tournament this year, with big wins coming against UCF and Duke. Against common opponents, both Illinois and Louisville defeated Lipscomb, though the Cardinals fell to Purdue, while Illinois beat the Boilermakers twice.
The Illini should be fine through the first two rounds of the tournament, though the second round match should be a closer match than the first round by far.
Eastern Michigan should not pose much of a threat to the Illini. The two teams play at completely different levels and Illinois should make quick work of the Eagles, just like it did with the teams that the Eagles played closely against.
The Dayton/Louisville game should be an interesting matchup, as both of these teams are of a significantly higher caliber than EMU, and seem fairly close to each other in skill. Louisville is definitely the better of the two in my mind, having played in a stronger conference against tougher opponents, such as a Pittsburgh squad that won its first 24 matches.
Whichever team faces Illinois in the second round will pose more trouble to the Illini than their first-round opponent, though I still believe that Illinois is significantly favored in that matchup, with the Illini’s success against significantly stronger opponents than either team they might face has had.
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