NCAA Championship Preview: All-Big Ten Final in Seattle


Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

GAMETIME: 8:30 p.m. CST (ESPN2)

The way the sports world twists itself around only to come back to where it started is quite impressive.

Make no jokes about it, Wisconsin (28-9) belongs in the NCAA Championship match tonight, and they’ll be the first ones to tell you. They’ve earned every inch they’ve scratched, clawed and pulled.

Their win over defending NCAA champions, Texas, might be enough for these Badgers to rest their lorals on the rest of the season, but quite honestly their head coach is looking forward to knocking down one more giant before making the Christmas flight home, Sunday.

Wisconsin will set out to prove Saturday night is that their 0-6 set record this season against Big Ten rival, Penn State (32-2), is a trend they can buck.

It won’t be easy going against the Nation’s top program, and quite possibly the greatest coach in NCAA history in Russ Rose. Sheffield’s first season at UW has already been the most winningest of any first year coach in program history, but going up against the top program not just in the Big Ten, but quite possibly the modern era of NCAA sports, means it’s going to take one hell of an effort.

“Penn State volleyball has raised the standard, raised the bar for a lot of other programs that sit there and say you’re either in or out if you’re trying to beat those guys,” Wisconsin head coach, Kelly Sheffield, said. “I don’t have anything negative to say, but I think they’ve been up there too long, though, and hopefully we’re the ones to knock them down.”

Keys for Penn State

* Don’t Fall Behind – If the match between UW and Texas taught anyone anything, it was the obvious. Don’t give the underdog in the match a boost by showing them some light. If Penn State doesn’t win tonight, it’s because Wisconsin came out early and took their best punch. Then, recciprocated the jabs while attempting a knock-out blow.

* Keep Hitting – Texas fell victim at times to Wisconsin’s net defense. As soon as their hitters became a bit tentative, Wisconsin went on runs of 6, 7 and 8 points in a crack. Penn State will need to hit over the double blocks and stick with their game plan, hell or high water.

* Keep the Ball in Play – Unforced errors will kill just about any team. But when you’re simply the best, you tend to have the feeling of being able to overcome one or two, here or there. Penn State is able to do that, but give the Badgers a point in the wrong spot, and it could be irreversable.

Keys for Wisconsin

* Believe – The best thing UW has going for it right now is their momentum. In set four against Texas, they had their backs against the wall and were nearly a few points away from going into a fifth set with the defending champs. Then, the tide turned. If Wisconsin can continue to believe they are that same team that sent the defending champs packing, they’ll stand a shot tonight against Penn State.

* Win the Hustle Points – Wisconsin won’t be outworked by anyone. Kelly Sheffield just won’t allow his team to be out-muscled between the ears and that means taking the blows one-by-one and still managing to get up off their chairs and come back out with the same tenacity and desire each and every point.

* No Fear – Let’s face it, no one is picking Wisconsin to win this match tonight against probably the best overall volleyball program in the country. Penn State believes the championship is theirs, and Wisconsin needs to come in and take it. In order to do that, the Badgers will have to run through the Pitbulls back yard with bone in hand.