22 first-round NCAA matches Friday, including No. 1 Louisville, No. 3 Pitt, No. 4 Wisconsin

Ella May Powell cradles the PAC-12 championship trophy as her team celebrates/Stephen Burns photo

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There are 22 first-round NCAA Tournament matches Friday, with No. 1 Louisville, No. 3 Pittsburgh, and No. 4 Wisconsin all playing.

Those 22 will lead into 11 matches among the winners Saturday as the field of 64 will be whittled to 16.

VIEWING — Every first- and second-round NCAA Tournament match is being shown, most on ESPN+, although the Texas matches are on the Longhorn Network. We also have the lineup for the NIVC. If you want to watch a match, we have you covered. Get the viewing links by going to our VolleyballMag.com Volleyball TV & Streaming Listings.

No. 1 Louisville (28-0) vs. UIC (20-11)
Ball State (29-3) vs. Michigan (18-11)
Louisville has proven all season it’s the best team — unbeaten and No. 1 in the AVCA Poll, the NCAA RPI, and now the top seed. UIC, which has won seven in a row, won the Horizon League and will hold the distinction of having the first 6-foot-10 Egyptian player in the NCAA Tournament in Salma Abdelhady. Ball State (featured here Friday) not only won the MAC, but also has won 19 matches in a row. Michigan of the Big Ten is one of those teams that no one wants to play, because when the Wolverines are hitting on all cylinders, they can beat anyone.

No. 3 Pittsburgh (26-3) vs. UMBC (19-11)
Towson (26-4) vs. Penn State (20-10)
This is one of the NCAA’s cruel jokes (see BYU below) where it seems that Penn State of the Big Ten and Pittsburgh of the ACC have to play each other every postseason because of the mileage rule. Pittsburgh has lost twice to Louisville and once to Georgia Tech. UMBC is the America East champion. Penn State, one of those Big Ten teams that can beat anyone, is not a host for the first time but is the only program to play in all 41 NCAA tourneys. Towson (featured here in September) won the Colonial. 

No. 4 Wisconsin (25-3) vs. Colgate (18-9)
Texas Tech (17-12) vs. FGCU (26-5)
Wisconsin and setter Sydney Hilley went to the 2019 championship match and to the semifinals last spring. Wisconsin has a star-studded lineup with more experience than any team in the field. Colgate won the Patriot League. Texas Tech is an at-large from the Big 12, while ASUN-champion FGCU (featured in October) has won 19 of 20. 

No. 7 Kentucky (24-4) vs Southeast Missouri State (26-7)
West Virginia (19-9) vs. Illinois (20-11)
Kentucky, which has won eight in a row and won the SEC, is the defending national champion and is playing like it. The Wildcats have a deep and talented roster (including Azhani Tealer, featured here last month) and no one should be surprised if they repeat. SEMO won the Ohio Valley, which was quite a race this season, and is battle tested. West Virginia has had a surprisingly good season with little fanfare while tying for third with Kansas and Iowa State in the Big 12 and is in the tournament for the first time. Illinois of the Big Ten is another of those teams no one wants to play. Of its eight B1G losses, only one was to a team not highly ranked at the time.

No. 8 Georgia Tech (23-5) vs. The Citadel (14-11)
Western Kentucky (27-1) vs. South Carolina (14-14)
Georgia Tech, with Brazilian stars Julia Bergmann and Mariana Brambilla, is capable of beating anyone. The Citadel is the surprise of the field after winning the Southern Conference Tournament as the No. 7 seed. Western Kentucky, the perennial Conference USA winner, is riding a 20-match winning streak and is arguably the most efficient team in the field. South Carolina, an at-large from the SEC, lost its last three matches and eight of its last 11. 

No. 9 Ohio State (25-5) vs. Howard (18-12)
North Carolina (21-8) vs. Tennessee (19-9)
Ohio State has as much talent and balance as anyone and has won seven in a row. Howard, which really turned it on the second half of the season, won the MEAC. North Carolina, with an RPI of 28, is an at-large entry from the ACC whose longtime head coach, Joe Sagula, had Tennessee coach Eve Rackham Watt as a player and then an assistant. Tennessee has an RPI of 29 but has lost six of its last nine. 

No. 10 Nebraska (21-7) vs. Campbell (21-9)
Florida State (19-9) vs. Kansas State 15-12)
Nebraska of the Big Ten probably has nothing to fear from the Fighting Camels, making their first NCAA appearance after winning the Big South (we featured Campbell here last month). In the other match, well, it’s a most unusual matchup. Florida State of the ACC has lost three in a row and four of six, and Big 12 at-large Kansas State has lost four in a row and five of six. 

No. 11 BYU (28-1) vs. Boise State 24-10)
Utah Valley (16-2) vs. Utah (21-8)
Another mileage regional with Utah heading down I-15 to most likely play BYU once again in the postseason. BYU has won 21 in a row and dominated the West Coast Conference. Boise State was an upset winner in the Mountain West. Utah is an at-large from the PAC-12, and Utah Valley was a surprise winner in the WAC. 

No. 12 Minnesota (19-8) vs. South Dakota (20-9)
Stanford (18-10) vs. Iowa State (16-11)
This is a go-figure regional. Minnesota of the Big Ten is awfully tough at home and the key for any opponent is stopping two-time B1G player of the year Stephanie Samedy. South Dakota, which won the Summit League, is really talented with a lot of weapons. Stanford has rarely been healthy, but if the Cardinal is on its game, no one wants to play this tall and powerful group. Iowa State, an at-large from the Big 12, is another of those cold teams after losing three in a row to end the regular season. If it comes to a rematch, Stanford beat Minnesota in the 2019 national semifinals in a battle of best friends, Stanford coach Kevin Hambly and Minnesota counterpart Hugh McCutcheon.

No. 13 UCLA (23-5) vs. Fairfield (24-8)
UCF (26-6) vs. Pepperdine (22-5)
Each of these teams has a big-time hitter. UCLA finished second in the PAC-12 and is without second-leading attacker Charitie Luper. But it has Mac May, as good an offensive player as there is in the nation. Fairfield won the MAAC and its leading attacker — by far — is junior outside KJ Johnson, a transfer from Baylor. American Athletic-champion UCF is led by McKenna Melville (featured here last week), the best player many might not have seen this season. Pepperdine, an at-large from the WCC, has a powerful offense led by Rachel Ahrens, who hits as hard as anyone.

No. 15 Washington (24-4) vs. Brown (20-5)
Hawai’i (21-7) vs. Mississippi State (25-5)
All Washington did was win the PAC-12 and as a reward, the NCAA selection committee said there are at least 14 teams more deserving. The Huskies and Samantha Drechsel (featured here last month) play Brown, which won the Ivy League and is in the tournament for the first time. Hawai’i dominated the Big West and has two of the better offensive players in the nation in outside Brooke Van Sickle and middle Amber Igiede. Super quick and athletic Mississippi State is the feel-good story of the season — the once lowly Bulldogs finished a game off the pace in the SEC and were surprising all season.

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