The NCAA Selection Committee unveiled the Field of 64 on Monday, and as usual, there are plenty of aspects of the selections to dissect.
Let's start this thing by giving out grades for the committee:
National seeds: B-, The committee, for the most part, did a good job with the national seeds, though, the exclusion of North Carolina State was a head scratcher if you were truly going by individual merit.
Regional hosts: A-, Arkansas certainly has a legitimate gripe when it comes a host site, but the Hogs could've ended all that discussion earlier in the season when it dropped a pair of bad RPI games to Pacific and Western Illinois.
At-large berths: C+, There were only a couple of complete head scratchers in the field this go-round. For instance, Seton Hall and Campbell should've made the field, while the fact Mercer was so far down the line was a disappointment.
Overall: B+, Though the committee made a couple of bad mistakes, namely not having N.C. State as a national seed, the group actually did a good job. Also, Dennis Farrell gets some points here for being so transparent about the process. That was a definite breath of fresh air.
Tough day for Campbell
It was supposed to be one of the most historic days in Campbell University history, and certainly for the CU baseball program, as everyone including myself thought the Camels would have their name called during the NCAA Selection Show.
Shockingly, the words Campbell never scrolled across the screen. Back in Buies Creek, N.C., head coach Greg Goff, his team, and over 100 Camels fans, including the school president, got together for a Selection Monday party, fully expecting to be heading to an NCAA Regional later this week. All left the party emotionally crushed.
"I've been in this game a long time, and this is the most devastating day over. We did enough to get in, and you can't tell me some of those teams that got in deserve an opportunity over our guys," Goff said. "All they talked about at the coaches convention was how important the RPI is. We won the regular season title in the Big South, then lost the tournament title by one run. This is just a hard, hard pill to swallow.
"It's even more disappointing to see a team [Coastal Carolina] that finished behind you in the conference standings get into the field before you," he continued. "It's just devastating, really. That's all you can say."
Campbell has one of the more intriguing stories in the country. A religious-based school nestled jut outside of Raleigh, N.C., the Camels weren't allow to play on Sundays in past campaigns, causing them to stack up weak schedules, while also only being able to play doubleheaders on Saturdays, thus limiting their options. The Camels are now allowed to play on Sundays, so Goff expects their schedule to improve in future campaigns. In the meantime, they're just going with the hand they're dealt.
"How many people in America are going to come to Buies Creek and play us in a doubleheader on a Saturday?" Goff, frustrated, said. "I called North Carolina, North Carolina State and South Carolina, wanting to play an extra game down the stretch because I knew strength of schedule was important, and it was to no avail."
Dissecting Campbell's resume, it's easy to see both sides of the coin, though, the scheduling difficulties are explained above. The Camels had an outstanding RPI of 38 with a 14-5 road record and were 9-1 in their last 10 games. However, as NCAA Selection Committee chairman stated, the Camels didn't have a good strength of schedule, sitting at No. 237 nationally.
"Campbell's record was impressive, but we really zeroed in their strength of schedule, and non-conference strength of schedule," Farrell said. "We have to rely on what's happened in the field, and if you look at Campbell's non-conference strength of schedule, it was very weak with just one game vs. RPI Top 50."
By comparison, Coastal Carolina, which finished with an RPI of 45 and lower in the Big South standings, and got in the field of 64, was 5-8 vs. RPI Top 50. Not very impressive overall, but that's 13 games against RPI Top 50 compared to one.
We have no problem with the NCAA Selection Committee pointing to strength of schedule as a reason not to put a team in, but the Camels did enough on the field, and have a legitimate reason for their schedule not being up to par.
This one time, Campbell should've gotten the benefit of the doubt.
Why Arkansas didn't host
* One of the big stories stemming from the weekend was Arkansas not being selected as an NCAA Regional host site. South Carolina and Virginia Tech, both with much higher RPIs were chosen as host sites, while the Razorbacks, who finished higher than South Carolina in the SEC, and swept the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C., weren't chosen. We would have given the Razorbacks a host site based on the results on the field, but Farrell and the committee didn't like the Hogs' strength of schedule.
"In Arkansas' case, it really came down to non-conference strength of schedule," Farrell said. "Arkansas' non-conference strength of schedule was 291 out of 296 teams."
Though that non-conference strength of schedule is bad to say the least, the Hogs finishing third in the SEC with an 18-11 league record should've warranted a host over South Carolina. We're fine with Virginia Tech hosting out of the ACC, though. The Hokies have a high RPI, had a good season, and were sizzling hot down the stretch. Going to Blacksburg, Va., also gives the committee some versatility in terms of hosts.
North Carolina lands top national seed
* In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter who earned the top overall national seed. After all, that typically leads to more headaches than anything else. But it was a little surprising to see the Tar Heels get a national seed over Vanderbilt.
The Commodores did lose the SEC tournament title game to LSU, while the Tar Heels won the ACC regular season and tournament titles. However, the Commodores didn't lose a conference series all-year long, while the Tar Heels dropped a pair of series to Georgia Tech and Virginia.
Comparing the two teams, the Dores are 15-3 vs. RPI Top 25, 24-5 vs. RPI Top 50 and 30-8 vs. RPi Top 100, while the Tar Heels were 15-7 vs. RPI Top 25, 25-8 vs. RPI Top 50 and 36-8 vs. RPI Top 100.
"We spent a great deal of time figuring out who was going to be the top overall national seed," Farrell said. "It was a close call between North Carolina and Vanderbilt, but I'm not really sure I can articulate what the determining factor was."
So, there's that.
Last team in, last team out
* One of the best things about new committee chairman Dennis Farrell was his openness and transparency to the process. He openly admitted several times the NCAA mandates many of the geographical matches we consistently see around the country. Best of all, he pointed out the teams vying for the last national seed, while also pointing out the last team in the field and last time out of the field, something previous chairmen haven't done in my 10-plus years of covering baseball.
Mercer was the last team in, Michigan State was the last team out.
Sources with knowledge of the situation said Michigan State was in the field as late as Sunday night. However, the NCAA must've had a change of heart because Mercer was in the field Monday morning when the selections were announced on ESPN.
How Mercer was even close to being out of the field, and Michigan State close to being in the field is interesting to say the least.
The Bears had a rather solid resume. Mercer has an RPI of 29, 43-16 overall record and won the Atlantic Sun regular season title, a league that ranks 17th nationally in conference RPI. Mercer also had a solid 16-8 record on the road, 2-1 mark vs. RPI Top 50 teams and strength of schedule of 152.
By comparison, Michigan State finished seventh in the Big Ten, failing to reach the conference tournament. The Spartans, though they swept Indiana on the road and finished the year with a 7-6 mark vs. RPI Top 50, along with a 144 SOS.
The two teams might be comparable from a resume standpoint, but the difference is where both clubs finished in their respective conferences. There's no doubt the Big Ten was better than usual this spring, perhaps giving fans in that part of the country reason to believe the conference is on the rise, but the Spartans finished with a 12-9 league record.
Had the committee wanted to put in another Big Ten team besides Indiana and Illinois, I would've gone with Ohio State, which had an RPI of 63, but also finished second in the Big Ten behind Indiana. Also, the Buckeyes had a very nice 11 wins vs. RPI Top 50 teams, more than Indiana, by the way.
"We had a number of teams under consideration for those last two spots, trying to compare their bodies of work," Farrell said. "When we looked at Mercer and Michigan State, we zeroed in on non-conference SOS and non-conference RPI, and in both areas, we thought Mercer had the advantage over MSU. Auburn for instance was ranked low by the advisory committee."
Tense day for SEC bubble teams
* Dennis Farrell wouldn't speculate on who all the bubble teams in the mix for the final few spots in the NCAA postseason were, but it's safe to assume Florida and Auburn were right there with Texas A&M slightly ahead of both, as evidenced by the Aggies being a No. 2 seed in the Corvallis Regional.
It was interesting to see the Aggies pop up on the television screen as a No. 2 seed. I wouldn't have the Aggies as a No. 3 seed given their resume. A&M has a 32-27 overall record, 10-21 mark vs. RPI Top 50, but finished the season winning 10 of its last 15, including a nice 2-2 run in the SEC tournament. A&M's SEC tourney win over Vanderbilt went a long way in the eyes of the committee, while the presence of athletic director Eric Hyman, as I've suggested all along would help the Aggies, certainly didn't hurt.
"Strength of schedule and A&M's wins over Florida and Vandy played significantly," Farrell said. "A&M's 10-21 record vs. RPI Top 50 didn't matter so much."
It's pretty easy to see how Florida got into the field of 64. Despite having one of their youngest teams in the O'Sullivan era, the Gators still finished the regular season and SEC tournament one game above .500 against the nation's No. 1 SOS. The Gators also recorded 14 wins vs. RPI Top 50 and 9 wins vs. RPI Top 100.
"In our eyes, Florida had the nation's No. 1 strength of schedule," Farrell said. "They had some real challenges in non-conference play."
Last but not least, there's also Auburn. The Tigers finished the regular season on a high note with series wins over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Florida, but that wasn't enough to put them over the edge in the eyes of the committee. Auburn's non-conference strength of schedule hurt, while it was 11-16 vs. RPI Top 50 and 9-10 on the road.
"Auburn was on the board until the very, very end. We had a new RPI and the committee really did a nice job of looking at what created each team's RPI," he said. "In our regional advisory rankings, Auburn was pretty low, in addition to looking at how they did against common opponents. There was definitely some concern about strength of schedule in Auburn's case."
Auburn's exclusion from the postseason had its ramifications on Monday, as Auburn University athletic director Jay Jacobs announced the dismissal of head coach John Pawlowski, who guided the program for five seasons.
Virginia Tech caught committee's attention
As the Virginia Tech Hokies stormed through the ACC tournament last week, some were concerned the committee was putting way too much value on play in league tourneys.
Well, the committee was impressed with Tech's run in the tournament, but pointed to its record against elite opponents during the regular season as the primary reason it hosted an NCAA Regional.
"I'm not real sure we used that tournament start to gauge it," Farrell said. "We did look at their record against good teams and the fact they played in the ACC title game. They did all that in a pretty tough decision."
Virginia Tech finished the regular season with two wins over UNC Wilmington (30) and series wins over Florida State (8) and Virginia (3).
Geographic considerations still very important
One of the big topics of the day was Clemson being sent to South Carolina's NCAA Regional site for the second-straight season, and the pairing of Cal State Fullerton and UCLA for a potential next-round NCAA Super Regional.
NCAA softball currently has a system in place where they rank teams 1-16 in terms of national seeds, making things where super regional series tend to be spread out better from a geographical standpoint. However, baseball continues to be seeded 1-8, and the committee recently declined the opportunity to take up the 1-16 seeding.
"Geography is something we're told to take under consideration, kind of sticking to it as a directive from the NCAA championship cabinet," Farrell said. "Historically, Clemson and South Carolina have only been paired up once in an NCAA Regional, and that was last year. During the same amount of time, Arizona State has gone to Fullerton, Miami has gone to Florida, and so on."
As for eventually going to a 1-16 national seeding, as most on the national stage would prefer, Farrell says there's still a lot of uncertainty.
"We thought, would it create more conference matchups in super regional rounds?" he said. "It might even be more of a negative because of that, and that was one of the primary concerns of the committee.
Also worth noting …
* It was a shocker the Big East didn't get three total bids to the postseason. Connecticut (automatic bid) and Louisville (at-large) were the obvious choices, but we had Seton Hall clearly in our latest projections. The Pirates didn't have to play Louisville or Pittsburgh (first and second place) in Big East play, but still put together a good overall record at 37-19, a good RPI at 39, and were 7-3 to end the season. Strength of schedule (138) and a 1-6 mark vs. RPI Top 50 were strikes against the Pirates, but they finished league play in second place, tied with Pitt. Pitt didn't make the postseason, but that wasn't a shocker with an RPI of 60. Meanwhile, Notre Dame was an intriguing team to watch on Selection Monday. The Fighting Irish finished the year with an RPI of 32, a 34-24 overall record and were 8-7 vs. RPI Top 50. However, the fact they finished eight games behind third-place South Florida in the standings doomed them.
* I was a little surprised, but happy to see UC Santa Barbara and San Francisco make the field of 64. Programs like that have gotten the shaft in past seasons, but the presence of Dennis Farrell, a West Coast representative, likely helped their case, along with good overall resumes. The Gauchos finished high in the Big West and had a 34-23 record to go with an RPI of 55, while San Francisco reached the WCC title game and had an RPI of 50 to go with a 4-6 mark vs. RPI Top 50. Both teams could give others some headaches in the postseason.
* Lastly, just a few little quirky things I didn't like about the committee selections: Central Arkansas being the No. 4 seed in Starkville, Miss. For starters, the Bears couldn't easily been a No. 3 seed with an RPI of 62 and 14-13 record. Additionally, if you remember, the Bears earned a series win against Mississippi State earlier this season. Also, how about Towson as a No. 3 seed? Yeah, we love the Tigers' story, but this is a team with an RPI of 90 to go with a strength of schedule of 93.