NCAA tournament preview
What: First- and second-round action.
Where: Maturi Sports Pavilion, U of M campus.
When: First-round matches on Friday, and second-round match Saturday at 8 p.m.
At stake: The team that emerges from the four-team pod advances to the Sweet 16.
Minnesota pod: Friday schedule
Northern Iowa vs. Louisville, 4:30 p.m.
No. 7 Gophers vs. North Dakota, 7 p.m. (TV: BTN Plus)
Friday vs. North Dakota: The Gophers (26-5) are matching up with North Dakota (30-7) for the third time in two years, after the Gophers beat the Fighting Hawks in four sets in September 2016 and in three sets in last season’s first round of the NCAA tournament. The Gophers have three All-Big Ten selections in Alexis Hart, Stephanie Samedy and Samantha Seliger-Swenson. The Fighting Hawks have never won against the Gophers in four meetings. Mia Tabberson was a former setter with the Gophers in coach Hugh McCutcheon’s first season in 2012 and is now an assistant coach at North Dakota.
Quotable: “We’re not going to be one of these teams that sits there and says, ‘Hey, it’s just like every other match’ because it’s not. I mean, there’s an air of finality to this whole thing. … So you have to prepare them for the fact that there will be some emotional moments, and there will be some big moments. And it’s really trying to help to prepare for how to manage those and helping them get through those versus trying to talk yourself into the fact that it’s just another match.” – McCutcheon on the postseason atmosphere.
Saturday outlook: Northern Iowa (26-8) takes on Louisville (24-6) on Friday, and the winner of that match will face the Gophers-North Dakota winner at 8 p.m. (the match time was originally 6 p.m., but it was moved back an hour so it could be televised on Big Ten Network). Louisville, whom the Gophers beat 3-1 earlier in the season, sports the ACC Setter of the Year in Wilma Rivera and Defensive Player of the Year in Molly Sauer. Northern Iowa has three players with 400 or more kills this season: Piper Thomas with 495, Karlie Taylor with 475 and Bri Weber with 406.
After this weekend
Regionals take place Dec. 8 and 9 at four to-be-determined campus sites. The highest seeds remaining have the opportunity to host. If No. 2 Florida and Minnesota both advance, the Gophers would travel to Gainesville, Fla., for the regional. The four regional winners then advance to the national semifinals.