The Kansas volleyball team is headed into the final 10 days of a season that it hopes will wind up back in the NCAA Tournament.
Most of the numbers and rankings point to KU (17-8 overall, 7-6 Big 12) being in good shape in that department, but head coach Ray Bechard said Tuesday that the Jayhawks have a couple of opportunities in front of them that would all but lock up a postseason berth.
One of them comes Wednesday night, when the Jayhawks will take on top-ranked Texas in Austin at 6 p.m.
Kansas and Texas went to five sets when the Longhorns visited Lawrence earlier this year, with KU taking a 2-1 lead but falling after losing the fourth and fifth sets in a high-level, intense match.
While there was some pressure associated with that match, given the way it played out and the fact that KU was at home, there isn’t much this time around.
“I think this match is low-risk, high-reward,” Bechard told the Journal-World on Tuesday. “When you play the No. 1 team in the country at their place, I don’t think there’s many people who think we have a chance except for this group.”
After Wednesday’s clash with Texas, the Jayhawks will play host to Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday for Senior Day and then at Texas Tech next week to close out the regular season. All three programs have RPI rankings in the top 70, with Texas at No. 1, Iowa State at No. 27 and Texas Tech at No. 69.
Kansas entered the week with an RPI ranking of No. 24.
“We’re certainly in a good place there,” said Bechard, noting that the Jayhawks could lock up a spot in the postseason and potentially make a massive jump in the RPI rankings with a win at Texas.
Even if that doesn’t come, Kansas is poised to have as good of a case as most programs for a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. The Jayhawks are currently the third-highest-ranked Big 12 team in the RPI rankings and have 12 victories over the RPI Top 100. In addition, none of KU’s losses have come to teams outside of the Top 100.
“Our metrics are much better than they were last year at this time,” Bechard said.
If there’s one thing KU is missing it’s a flashy, signature win. The Jayhawks’ best wins to date have come against Loyola-Marymount, TCU and Utah, which sit 37th, 40th and 41st in the current RPI rankings.
Both Texas and Iowa State provide Kansas with an opportunity to record its best win of the season.
A year ago, KU had to win its final four matches to reach the postseason, which led to a run to the Sweet 16. While this group is supremely confident that such a run can happen again as long as the Jayhawks get into the NCAA Tournament, Bechard said their gaze has remained fixed on what is directly in front of them.
“They get it,” he said. “But they just focus on trying to be good one point at a time, one game at a time. … I think we’re flying a little under the radar from what most people see. We’ve shown that we can be a very consistently good team over time.”
For Bechard, the key to Kansas getting where it wants to go is simply about showing up ready to play.
“It’s always about first contact, are we aggressive, serving the ball, receiving the ball, but what it comes down to is how are we competing point in and point out," he said. "There’s no easy ones left. We’ve done some good work but we've got some more work to do, too."