Bubble teams wary of WAC tournament
RENO, Nev. » The Biggest Little City in the World could turn into the Biggest Little Headache for some of the women's volleyball teams here at the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
No. 8 Hawaii in particular has nothing to gain and everything to lose when competing for the WAC's automatic berth into next week's NCAA tournament. With an overall record of 22-6 heading into tomorrow's quarterfinal, the top-seeded Rainbow Wahine would get an at-large berth if they were to stumble at the Lawlor Events Center.
However, a loss this week would significantly drop Hawaii's national seeding. Losing within the conference -- ranked sixth-best in the country -- doesn't help the WAC's Rating Percentage Index.
WAHINE'S WAC WINNING WAYS
160-3 (122 straight)
141-1 (107 straight)
19-2 (15 straight)
WAC teams on the NCAA bubble would be better served playing elsewhere this week than knocking each other off ... and knocking each other out of a postseason berth. At least this is the opinion of Hawaii associate head coach Charlie Wade.
"In my mind, the tournament doesn't help the conference," he said.
"Teams like Utah State and New Mexico State, which have a legitimate shot at getting into the (NCAA) tournament, would be better off playing a lower-ranked team in a higher-ranked conference. If they win, they push themselves in while pushing that other (bubble) team out.
"Clearly, we have nothing to gain."
Hawaii had tentative plans to be in Stockton, Calif., this week to compete in a tournament hosted by Pacific. However, WAC commissioner Karl Benson has been committed to holding a championship tournament whenever possible.
The tournament has been moved from the Virginia Street Gym (1,800), site of the past three events, to Lawlor (11,600). It will be a true neutral court; the Wolf Pack have never practiced or played in the bigger facility up the street.
The WAC got three teams into last year's NCAA tournament. Three teams again have legitimate shots: Hawaii and league newcomers Utah State and New Mexico State.
The Wahine have wins over two ranked teams (UCLA and USC). Utah State has one (UC Santa Barbara).
Nevada likely would have to win the tournament to get in. The Wolf Pack's chance as an at-large team slipped after being swept at Utah State on Saturday.
The victory gave Utah State the WAC's No. 2 seed. The host Aggies took the Wahine to five on Nov. 9, with the victory giving Hawaii its 10th regular-season title.
Barring a quarterfinal upset, Utah State would see third-seeded New Mexico State in a semifinal Friday. New Mexico State lost to Hawaii in five twice this season.
"I don't think the conference tournament is helpful," Utah State coach Burt Fuller said. "Upsets will only hurt overall. The other coaches have said that the WAC is a much-improved conference this year and that 3-4 teams should go (to the NCAA tournament).
"That number will only go down if teams are upset."
Hawaii rides a 16-match winning streak into tomorrow's quarterfinal. The Wahine will face the winner of the morning play-in game between Boise State and Louisiana Tech.
If all goes according to seed, Hawaii would see fourth-seeded Nevada -- again -- on Friday.
The Wahine have faced the Wolf Pack during the conference tournament the past three seasons, twice for the championship (2002 and 2004).
In seven WAC tournaments dating back to 1996, Hawaii has always made it to the final match. They are 19-2, with both losses coming to BYU (1996 and 1997).