It came down to the final weekend of regular season games, but the Gophers did what they needed to do, and the NCAA Volleyball Committee rewarded them with a berth into their 9th straight NCAA Tournament and the 28th in program history. Minnesota squeaked in as one of the last few at-large bids and will hit the road this weekend facing Utah State in the opening round. If they get past the 6th seeded in the lower left portion of the bracket, they most likely would face #3 seed and host Creighton in the second round.
Minnesota entered the final weekend of Big Ten play hovering around 40th in RPI. They faced Illinois on Friday in what was described by many pundits as a must-win match before finishing at home against #1 Nebraska on Saturday. They did what they needed to do picking up a 3-0 sweep of the Fighting Illini on Friday to pretty much clinch their spot in the tournament. The Gophers would take a set from the Big Ten Champions on Saturday, but would fall to Nebraska 3-1 in the regular season finale.
The wait was on when the NCAA Tournament selections were announced Sunday evening. Minnesota didn’t need to wait long as they were the second bracket announced. The Gophers will face Utah State for the 7th time in school history in a series they trail 4-2. But the two teams have not faced one another since 2007 which was a Gopher sweep in Berkley, California. The Gophers and Aggies had three common opponents this season in Nebraska, TCU and Northern Iowa. Minnesota went 2-2 with a pair of losses to the Cornhuskers while Utah State went 1-2 defeating just Northern Iowa. The Aggies had a great season going 24-6, and 17-1 in the Mountain West and won the regular season title. They would lose the tournament championship match to Fresno State.
Other than when they missed the NCAA Tournament entirely in 2014, this is the first season other than the “bubble” season of spring 2021 where the Gophers will not play single home NCAA Tournament game in 13 seasons. The last time Minnesota made the NCAA’s and didn’t host the first two rounds was in 2009. Minnesota went on to make the Final Four that season after traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., for the first two rounds before hosting Colorado State and Florida State in a regional at the Pav.
If Minnesota gets past Utah State they would face the winner of host and #3 seed Creighton and Colgate. The Gophers and Creighton faced off at the Pav in September with the Blue Jays taking a 3-2 win. Minnesota is 6-1 all-time against Creighton with three wins coming in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gophers and Aggies are set for a 4 PM start on Friday streamed on ESPN+. If Minnesota wins, their second round match would take place at 6:30 PM on Saturday, also on ESPN+. The winner of the Omaha group likely heads to #4 overall NCAA seed Pittsburgh for the regionals the following weekend.