Bumped. GO BRUINS. - BN Eds.
Before I explain why winning the MPSF tournament is crucial for the Bruins to qualify for the 2013 NCAA tournament, it's worth examining the last regular season NCAA Men's Volleyball rankings.
The first thing to note is that the top 8 teams in the rankings are all from the MPSF conference. The highest ranked team from the EIVA conference is #14 Penn State, and the highest ranked team from the MIVA is #9 Ball State. This demonstrates the absolute dominance of the MPSF conference in 2013, and forms the basis for UCLA's problematic position in winning an NCAA tourney bid.
The second thing to note is that Coach Speraw's squad dropped from #3 to #4 in the coaches poll, with UC Irvine replacing UCLA in the third spot. This drop is a bit puzzling considering the fact that in the week of action preceding the poll, the Bruins cruised to two victories, defeating both #6 Pepperdine and unranked Southern Cal in straight sets, while UCI swept #10 Cal State Northridge and #13 Penn State at home. Since UCLA's previous placement at #3 was based largely on a resounding defeat of UCI at Irvine, it's difficult to justify voting UCI ahead of UCLA based on last week's results. In any case, it's highly unlikely that UCLA's inexplicable poll drop will play a role in determining the team's chances of obtaining an NCAA tournament bid.
Here's the problem the Bruins face: the NCAA men's volleyball tournament is comprised of four teams, with automatic bids going to the winners of the EIVA, MIVA, and MPSF tournaments. This means that there is a single at-large bid available, and that bid will almost certainly go to #1 BYU unless they win the MPSF tournament and qualify for the automatic bid. In order for the Bruins to earn the at-large bid, they would probably need to find a path in the MPSF tournament that sees them defeat either #2 Long Beach State or #3 UCI. But as the #4 seed in the MPSF tournament, UCLA will only meet either of those two teams in the MPSF tournament final. Therefore the most likely path for UCLA to earn an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament is the same path that would earn them an automatic bid--i.e., winning the MPSF tournament.
There are, of course, a couple of highly unlikely scenarios that could result in an at-large NCAA bid for the Bruins. For example, if Long Beach State and UCI both lose badly in the opening round of the MPSF tournament, UCLA might be to do enough (short of winning the tournament) to earn the at-large bid. The chances of that happening, though, are incredibly slim.
One thing that should be clear from all of this is that the 2013 MPSF tournament is far more challenging than the 2013 NCAA tournament, especially for the Bruins. For UCLA to win the MPSF tournament this year (assuming the results in other matches go according to seeding), it will require a home victory against #5 Pepperdine, a road win against #1 BYU, and a final defeat of #2 Long Beach State. If the Bruins advance to the NCAA tournament, they will play all of their games at Pauley Pavilion and will face only one higher ranked team.
The Bruins have a difficult task ahead of them, but it's a challenge they are very capable of meeting. Coach Speraw's team has defeated BYU, Long Beach State, UCI and Pepperdine by a combined set score of 12-3 in the last 5 weeks. UCLA is peaking at the right time, and Coach Speraw knows how to prepare his team for tournament success. Let's hope that the Bruins can continue their strong play and carry their momentum from the last 5 weeks into postseason play.