Power Rankings: Top teams wait, wonder

Mark Selders/Penn State athletics

Penn State's Micha Hancock became the school career leader in services aces with 237, and was named Big Ten setter of the week for the fourth time this season.

Well, it's almost that time. We're less than a week from the unveiling of the NCAA tournament bracket. That will be at 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPNU. Who will be the top seed? Unless Iowa State or Baylor can knock off Texas this week, the defending-champion Longhorns project as No. 1.

Texas has won 17 matches in a row and is atop the RPI. The Horns travel to Ames, Iowa, on Wednesday; that's where they suffered their only Big 12 loss last season. They play their regular-season finale Saturday at home against Baylor.

Texas' two losses in 2013 came early: in the season opener Aug. 31 at Hawaii, then Sept. 13 against Arizona State on a neutral court at Illinois. The Horns' last five-set match was Sept. 22, a home victory over former Big 12 foe Nebraska. In league play, Texas has not been pushed the distance.

But breathing down the Horns' necks in terms of top-seed status -- should Texas falter this week -- is Penn State, which is No. 2 in the RPI.

The five-time NCAA champion Nittany Lions have also won 17 consecutive matches; their last loss was Sept. 27 to Michigan State.

Led by Micha Hancock, who was Big Ten setter of the week for the fourth time this season, Penn State beat Northwestern and Illinois to clinch a share of the program's 16th Big Ten championship.

The Nittany Lions, 17-1 in the conference, can win that title outright with a victory Wednesday at Ohio State. Then Saturday, Penn State will face a packed house of red-clad maniacs (we mean that in a nice way) at Nebraska in the regular-season finale.

The Nittany Lions have lost in Lincoln, Neb., the past two years, and the outcome Saturday may have some impact on NCAA seedings. Or not. In the past, it has sometimes appeared as though the committee had its collective mind made up even before the last match of the season.

So we will have to see come Sunday when we get the bracket. Remember, the volleyball committee is instructed to have teams compete regionally close to one another, when possible, to save on travel costs. Also, the committee has tended to follow the RPI almost literally, rather than just as one "tool" to measure teams.

Another thing to watch: If Missouri and Colorado State both finish the regular season unbeaten -- the Tigers have one match left, the Rams have two -- the committee will have to weigh their perfection against the fact that they are not in the most powerful conferences. And try to evaluate them fairly.

The early-round NCAA tournament matches, Dec. 5-7, will be at home sites. The regionals, Dec. 13-14, are at Southern Cal, Kentucky, Illinois and Nebraska. The volleyball final four is Dec. 19-21 at Seattle's KeyArena.

Now, our final top 10 espnW power rankings for the 2013 regular season:

1. Texas (21-2)

The Horns swept West Virginia and Kansas State last week at home. Haley Eckerman was named Big 12 offensive player of the week, and Chiaka Ogbogu was rookie of the week. Eckerman had 27 kills against the Mountaineers, which was one short of the Texas record for a three-set match. Ogbogu had a combined 12 blocks in the two matches.

2. Penn State (26-2)

Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay celebrated senior night last weekend with a 3-1 victory over Illinois. They were all part of the Nittany Lions' last national championship team, in 2010, when they were freshmen. Junior Micha Hancock became Penn State's career leader in service aces over the weekend; she now has 237.

3. Missouri (33-0)

Speaking of seniors, the Tigers will celebrate theirs on Wednesday in their regular-season finale against visiting Arkansas. Missouri swept Kentucky on the road Sunday, although going in to that match it seemed potentially dangerous for Mizzou. Now the Tigers have the chance to be on their home court to finish perfect going into the NCAA tournament.

4. Stanford (22-5)

The Cardinal had two sweeps last week, and one was pretty surprising. Stanford scored a huge win against Pac-12 leader Washington, followed by a more predictable triumph over Washington State. The Huskies are still atop the Pac-12 standings at 16-2, but the Cardinal are now just a game behind at 15-3. Stanford finishes this week at Arizona and home against Cal.

5. Washington (24-2)

OK, so things got a little more complicated in the Pac-12 last week, when the Huskies lost their second match of the season. After falling to Stanford, Washington subsequently had to battle Cal for a 3-2 victory in Berkeley. But the Huskies are still in the driver's seat to clinch the Pac-12 title, with a one-game lead on Stanford and home matches against Oregon State and Washington State to close out the regular season.

6. USC (24-5)

The Trojans are in third place in the Pac-12 at 14-4. This week, they have the second edition of their rivalry matchup with UCLA. The Bruins have had a very disappointing season, and they'd like nothing better than to upset USC as one of their highlights. The Trojans won their first meeting this season, in September. USC then closes out the schedule against Colorado.

7. Nebraska (22-5)

The Huskers just have not been able to figure out Purdue this season; last week they lost to Boilermakers for the second time in 2013. The Huskers are still in second place in the Big Ten, though. And this week they finish the regular season facing a study in contrasts: Iowa, which is next-to-last in the league standings, and Penn State, the Big Ten leader.

8. Florida (26-3)

The Gators couldn't solve Missouri, still a newcomer to the SEC, this season. They fell twice to the Tigers. But nobody else in the league has been able to beat Florida, which will finish at Kentucky this week. The Gators swept Tennessee and LSU last week.

9. Colorado State (27-0)

The Rams went on the road and swept San Jose State and Fresno State. They can keep that dazzling zero in their record going into the NCAA tournament with two wins at home this week, as San Diego State and UNLV visit Fort Collins.

10. San Diego (24-3)

The Toreros won the West Coast Conference championship, beating BYU on Saturday in a 3-2 thriller. San Diego ended the regular season on a 15-match winning streak. The Toreros will spend this week practicing and waiting eagerly for Sunday night's selection show.

Next five: Hawaii, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida State, Kentucky

Digs

• Kansas topped Iowa State, moving the Jayhawks into second place in the Big 12 at 12-3 in league play. Meanwhile, Iowa State is 11-3, third in the league, and is host to mighty Texas on Wednesday. The Jayhawks and the Cyclones each won on the other's home court this season. Kansas will end the regular season at Oklahoma, while Iowa State will wrap up at Kansas State.

• Hawaii got revenge on two other Big West Conference teams that beat them this season: UC Davis and Cal State Northridge, sweeping both. The Rainbow Wahine finish the regular season on the mainland, with UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton this weekend.

• The seven teams that currently have winning or .500 Big Ten records seem sure to get into the NCAA tournament. But will any other teams from the league make it?

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