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A Closer Look at the Field of
64 (2:30 p.m.)
By Sean Ryan
New year, same old questions…
How does a team that doesn’t make its conference
tournament make the NCAA tournament? Why take the ninth-place
team over mid-majors that win their regular season titles and
falter one week of the season. What more can the smaller schools
My first reaction is sadness for Rhode Island.
The Rams lost their top spot in the Atlantic 10 late in the year
and then lost in the conference tourney final. Second-best
clearly was not good enough in the eyes of the NCAA committee.
Yet, here again, a power-conference team that
finishes outside of its conference tourney makes the field.
Oklahoma State is in – somewhat amazingly as most college
baseball followers did not include the Cowboys in their
projections. Its RPI was bolstered by the stability of the Big
12, which this year received a shot in the arm from the likes of
Kansas State and Kansas. Give OSU some credit for playing a nice
early-season schedule, and picking up wins against Cal State
Fullerton, Oregon State, East Carolina and Arizona (2).
But don’t you have to feel for Rhode Island,
which didn’t play its first home game until April 4? On one
hand, it’s tough to single out the Cowboys as the reason the
Rams didn’t make the field, but on the other, the committee, led
by Big 12 deputy commissioner Tim Weiser, has opened the door by
letting Oklahoma State in the party.
What’s tougher is that the teams in question
actually played head to head.
URI went down to Stillwater for a tournament and
split with Oklahoma State. In that same tourney, the Rams were
pasted by Cal State Fullerton but also lost a one-run game to
the Titans. In addition, Rhode Island won at Miami (Fla.) and
also beat Ohio State on a neutral Florida field.
Rewarding Oklahoma State is a mistake. The
Cowboys can play with anyone – at times. But they didn’t do jack
in conference. And if they were better than Rhode Island,
couldn’t they have at least swept the Rams in their home park?
Did the Rams’ chances really rest on beating Oklahoma State
twice in Stillwater early in the season, when URI likely hadn’t
spent much practice time outside? Apparently so, unless Auburn
was the fallback replacement for Rhode Island.
The Big 12 seemed to catch
all the breaks. All three bubble teams – Kansas, Baylor and
Oklahoma State – made the field. And Oklahoma slipped in to grab
a national seed. It’s tough not to raise eyebrows at the
aforementioned coincidence with the Big 12 deputy commissioner
chairing the committee. Is this payback of sorts for the SEC
sneaking nine teams into the tourney when Mississippi State AD
Larry Templeton was the chair?
The ACC got hit hard. For
starters, Florida State didn’t get the national seed many
expected. Did the Seminoles lose that chance by losing to
Virginia in the ACC tourney title game (when Oklahoma didn’t
even reach its title game)?
Speaking of the Cavaliers, step right up to get
your prize for winning the ACC tourney title: an all-expenses
paid trip to Irvine, Calif., home of the UC Irvine Anteaters,
who were one of the top two or three teams all season long. You
may have heard of them. This makes two straight years going west
for UVa, as it was in the Fullerton Regional in 2008. But wait,
there’s more. As a bonus, you’ll get to see the first pick of
the Major League Draft up close in personal. His name is Stephen
Strasburg, and his 100 mph gas has helped him go 13-0 with a
1.24 ERA and 180 Ks in 102 innings. You may have heard of him.
It’s almost as if the committee sent Virginia
packing before Sunday’s ACC title game. We seriously thought the
Cavaliers might be the top seed at the Greenville Regional,
pushing East Carolina to a 2-seed. We also thought they had a
shot at being sent to Louisville as the 1- or 2-seed. But to
Irvine? Let’s get this straight, Virginia and its RPI of 6,
gets shipped across the country while South Carolina (RPI 24),
Georgia (RPI 19) and Vanderbilt (RPI 34) stay somewhat close to
home? Virginia, which probably barely missed hosting a region,
is the strongest of the No. 2 seeds and didn’t get the benefit
of being so.
Even though the ACC tourney
doesn’t appear to mean squat for Virginia, the Big 12 tourney
may have saved Baylor, which won two of three games. The Bears
had lost 12 of 14 down the stretch before the conference
tourney. So much for strong finishes meaning much. San Diego’s
RPI wasn’t as solid as Baylor; its slow finish, which included
eight losses in 10 (five by one run, including two one-runners
to national seed Arizona State), couldn’t save it from the
Dallas Baptist was left out
despite a RPI of 36. The Patriots played a lot of great teams
but didn’t have much to show for it. But they did pummel Baylor
16-3. In Waco. We guessed correctly that DBU would be left out,
but Baylor’s inclusion won’t make it easier.
One of our toughest calls
was Southern Miss, which finished fifth in the regular season
(like San Diego) and had a few good wins. We hedged largely
because of the RPI of 57. Two wins against Tulane in the C-USA
tourney helped the cause. Of note, Southern Miss got in ahead of
Dallas Baptist (36), San Diego (48), Rhode Island (53),
Southeastern Louisiana (54), Notre Dame (55) and Western
Eastern Illinois (RPI 63)
and Missouri State (RPI 68) get shut out despite great seasons.
Ultimately, the RPIs were a little too low. But the message they
– and the majority of the mid majors received again – is that
you have to win your conference tourney to have a shot to play
with the top eight from the Big 12 or SEC or top seven from the
Toughest regional: Irvine.
We have to agree with the ESPN crew. UC Irvine got defending
champ Fresno State, the ACC champ in Virginia and San Diego
State, which has the nation’s best pitcher and several other
stellar arms. How did that happen? The Anteaters cruised in the
Big West and fellow Big West power Cal State Fullerton got a
higher national seed, a bracket buster in Utah, Gonzaga out of
the West Coast and Georgia Southern as the No. 2. Irvine gets
Virginia, and Fullerton gets Georgia Southern?
Runners up: Tallahassee, Norman.
Easiest Regional: Tempe.
Texas was treated pretty well, and so was LSU, but we’ll go with
Arizona State getting Oral Roberts (RPI 39), first-timer Cal
Poly (49) and Kent State (83).
Runners up: Austin, Baton Rouge.