The Kansas volleyball team will likely have to break through another program barrier if it hopes to make a second consecutive Final Four.
The Jayhawks earned the No. 5 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will take on Samford at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Horejsi Center, but the bigger storyline was what might happen if KU advances to the Elite Eight.
Texas, the No. 4 overall seed, will play host to KU in the Elite Eight game if both teams play to their seeds. Earlier this year, the Jayhawks defeated the Longhorns 3-2 in Lawrence and snapped a 25-match losing streak against the perennial power.
Just to further underscore the challenge: KU is 1-20 all-time playing Texas in Austin.
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“We knew it was going to be close either way,” KU libero Cassie Wait said of earning the 4 or 5 seed. “There’s a lot of factors that go into that.”
KU’s gripe that it should have been ranked over Texas would have been this: The Jayhawks won the Big 12 outright, finished with two fewer losses than the 22-4 Longhorns and also split the season series.
There’s more that goes into it, though. KU coach Ray Bechard admitted that he’d spent a lot of time trying to pick out strong nonconference foes to help his team’s RPI, and many of those squads didn’t perform as expected.
As a result, the last RPI posted on NCAA.com had Texas second and KU sixth.
There are other difficulties with KU hosting during a potential second weekend.
The NCAA requires at least a 3,000-seat arena for that round, meaning the Jayhawks couldn’t host those matches at Horejsi. Allen Fieldhouse would be a natural fit, but the men’s basketball team is playing Nebraska at 2:15 p.m. on the same day as the potential volleyball regional final.
KU officials checked with other locations as well, as hosting sites must be within 30 miles of a school. Topeka’s Kansas Expocentre was booked, as were both Municipal Auditorium and the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The school went ahead and put in a bid to the NCAA with Allen Fieldhouse, but to host, it would need NCAA waivers for three items: The volleyball teams’ practice times would have to be moved up before the men’s basketball game; the game time would have to be moved back to around 9 p.m., following the basketball game; and the NCAA would have to waive the requirement to have the official floor that is used at regional sites, since there wouldn’t be time to put it down following the basketball game.
KU still could potentially be host as the No. 5 overall seed if Texas loses one of its first two matches and the Jayhawks advance. Or, if the NCAA doesn’t waive its requirements for KU to be the host, the NCAA also could award the host site to the next-highest-seeded team left.
This is KU’s highest-ever national ranking in the tourney. The Jayhawks’ previous best was a No. 9 overall seed last year in a season that ended with the program’s first Final Four run.
KU, which finished the regular season 26-2 overall and 15-1 in the Big 12, will play the winner of Northern Iowa and Creighton at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Horejsi if it defeats Samford.
“We’re going to put all our time and energy,” Bechard said, “into trying to win two this weekend.”