College | Story | 4/18/2019

Weekend Preview: Week 10

Patrick Ebert         Mike Rooney        
Photo: Davis Wendzel (Baylor Athletics)

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The last two weeks of the college baseball season  have caused quite a bit of shakeup. Not only do teams continue to position themselves within the Top 25 team rankings, but the ever-important RPI rankings have also been dramatically affected. For the simple fact that we’re entering the 10th weekend of the 2019 season tells us that those RPI rankings are becoming more and more telling as we look to form a more clear postseason picture one month before it actually happens.

Not surprisingly the biggest matchups of the weekend remain in the SEC West. Six of the seven teams are ranked and only two games separate those six teams. No. 2 Mississippi State leads the way at 10-5 and they travel to Fayetteville to face a dangerous Arkansas team that is currently ranked 12th. No. 22 Auburn hosts No. 11 Ole Miss in a matchup between two teams that each lost their weekend series a week ago.

The third, and possibly the most intriguing, matchup between ranked teams this weekend won’t occur in the SEC, the ACC or the Pac-12. It will take place in Greenville, N.C. as No. 15 East Carolina hosts No. 18 UConn. Both teams have been in the Top 25 picture all year long. ECU was swept at No. 1 UCLA last weekend while UConn took two of three from Memphis in addition to winning a pair of midweek contests against solid Bryant and Northeastern squads.

You may remember these two teams played during the final weekend of the regular season a year ago, a series claimed by the Huskies before the Pirates returned the favor by beating UConn in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Below we’ll take a look at a few teams that aren’t currently ranked but are definitely in consideration while also identifying some of the more intriguing RPI rankings.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game as Vinnie Cervino will be providing reports from the Ole Miss at Auburn series while Greg Gerard will be on hand for game one of the Georgia/Missouri series in Athens.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 UCLA home vs. California Los Angeles, CA
2 Mississippi State at No. 12 Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
3 Oregon State home vs. Arizona Corvallis, OR
4 Stanford at Oregon Eugene, OR
5 Georgia home vs. Missouri Athens, GA
6 Vanderbilt at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
7 NC State at Wake Forest Winston-Salem, NC
8 Texas A&M at South Carolina Columbia, SC
9 UC Santa Barbara home vs. UC Davis Santa Barbara, CA
10 Louisiana State home vs. Florida Baton Rouge, LA
11 Mississippi at No. 22 Auburn Auburn, AL
12 Arkansas home vs. No. 2 Mississippi State Fayetteville, AR
13 Louisville home vs. Miami Louisville, NC
14 North Carolina home vs. Boston College Chapel Hill, NC
15 East Carolina home vs. No. 18 UConn Greenville, NC
16 Texas Tech home vs. Baylor Lubbock, TX
17 Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA
18 Connecticut at No. 15 East Carolina Greenville, NC
19 Texas at Oklahoma State Stillwater, OK
20 Arizona State at Utah Salt Lake City, UT
21 TCU at Kansas State Manhattan, KS
22 Auburn home vs. No. 11 Ole Miss Auburn, AL
23 UC Irvine home vs. CSUN Irvine, CA
24 West Virginia home vs. Kansas Morgantown, WV
25 Tennessee at Kentucky Lexington, KY

Considered Dangerous

Our most recent update to the College Top 25 had five teams listed as “considered.” Those five teams were Missouri, Miami, Florida, Indiana and Baylor, although we do keep tabs on a list much deeper than that when making our weekly decisions for ranking inclusion. Three of those teams – Missouri, Miami and Baylor – have especially crucial weekend series ahead of them.

Missouri (at No. 5 Georgia)
For the case of both Missouri and Baylor earlier this week, discussions did arise as to who to put in the Top 25 between Mizzou and Tennessee of the SEC and Baylor and West Virginia of the Big 12. Although Tennessee is only 6-9 in SEC play (Missouri is 7-7-1) they were coming off of a huge series win over Georgia, got off to a tremendous start to the season, had a Top 10 RPI and are now 27-11 overall. In other words, they quite simply deserved a chance to prove they’re worthy of sticking around.

That isn’t to say Mizzou doesn’t possess those qualities as a team, but the overall resume was determined to be just a hair short of the Volunteers’.  They already have series wins over Ole Miss and LSU and a 1-1-1 tie with Texas A&M, three teams that have been ranked all season long. Their toughest assignment to date lies ahead of them as they take on a Georgia team in Athens that leads the East Division (10-5).

The name may not be as familiar as their Georgia counterparts, but junior lefthanders Jacob Cantleberry and TJ Sikkema have performed admirably as the team’s top two weekend starters. Hard-throwing sophomore Ian Bedell has been especially dominant as of late taking over as the Tigers’ bullpen ace while the offense is led by outfielder Kameron Misner, a dangerous lefthanded hitter that is a likely first-round pick for this year’s draft.

The simple fact that this is a road series makes the challenge significantly more difficult for Mizzou. However, with a current RPI ranking of 23 it also means the Tigers could be in store for another big jump when it comes to the postseason picture, even if they don’t force their way into Monday’s Top 25 with a series win.

Baylor (at No. 16 Texas Tech)
As noted above, it wasn’t easy to choose between Baylor and West Virginia, as the Mountaineers ultimately got the nod for knocking off a ranked opponent (Texas Tech) and for having the higher RPI (15 to Baylor’s 37). It’s the Bears who stand on top of the Big 12 standings with a  8-3 conference record, and although they got lucky that bad weather cancelled their third game against Texas, a game the Longhorns had a commanding lead in, they also swept West Virginia in Waco less than a month ago.

Baylor opened the year in the Top 25 at No. 12 but an unimpressive showing at the Shriners Classic in Houston and a series loss to Nebraska pushed them out of the rankings. They have since won four of their last five series and split the fifth against Texas. They head to Lubbock to take on a Texas Tech squad that is still dangerous even if they don’t come close to resembling the team that powered their way to Omaha a year ago.

The Bears’ offense is equally powerful, if not more so, with a lineup that is hitting .313 as a team. Third baseman Davis Wendzel and outfielder Richard Cunningham continue to lead the way. Wendzel in particular has been hitting the ball hard, with a .380/.494/.628 slash line with 16 doubles and six home runs. While losing staff ace Cody Bradford earlier this year was a big blow, several other arms have stepped forward to help form a more than serviceable staff that has a cumulative 3.30 ERA.

This is where Baylor’s season gets especially interesting with series at Texas Tech and at TCU on back-to-back weekends. They close out the year at Oklahoma State before they have the opportunity to defend their Big 12 Tournament crown.

Miami (at No. 13 Louisville)
Miami has been on the cusp of Top 25 inclusion a few times already this year. However, right when you think they’re going to make that big season statement they end up losing a crucial series. During the second weekend of the year they lost the second and third games of their series against Florida after taking the first game in Gainesville. After beating Georgia Tech at home to open ACC play, they lost on the road to North Carolina and then were swept by NC State. They do have recent series wins over Florida State and Virgina, but neither FSU nor UVA is living up to their usual lofty standards.

That makes their upcoming road series against Louisville all the more important. With an RPI of 18 they already have passed their math test but now it’s time to pass the smell test.

And it’s going to be a very tough test. Louisville has endured their own ups and downs this season but they are coming off of a very convincing road series sweep over NC State. The Cardinals’ pitching has been sound all season long, led by Mdiseason Pitcher of the Year Reid Detmers, and the bats have finally seemed to come alive most recently with freshman Alex Binelas receiving ACC Player of the Week honors.

Miami’s weekend starting staff can match up with any other at any point of the season. Evan KcKendry, Chris McMahon and Brian Van Belle are a combined 13-5 while bullpen ace Greg Veliz is one of the most underrated relief pitchers in all of college baseball. The everyday lineup is made up almost entirely of all freshmen and sophomores as freshman catcher/outfielder Adrian Del Castillo is among the national leaders in RBI with 48 through the first 38 games of the year.

After this weekend Miami won’t have as many opportunities to prove themselves with series against Virginia Tech, Bethune-Cookman, Wake Forest and Duke, making their performance against Louisville more important as they build their postseason resume.

– Patrick Ebert

RPI or R.I.P.?

RPI is just a number. We’re naïve to think the story of an entire season can be summarized with just one number. Yet the simplicity of one simple number leads to temptation. The temptation to over-emphasize the RPI.

All that said, it is a tool in the selection committee’s toolbox. One of many, but it’s the easiest one to digest. So let’s look at some interesting RPI numbers as we head into Week 10 (RPI listed in parenthesis).

Tennessee (8)
This is interesting because the Vols are just 6-9 in SEC play. And it’s not unlikely that the Vols could finish SEC play at or below .500. The 2018 committee took a hard line on under-.500 conference records. Could the 2019 Vols be the exception to that rule?

Their RPI should maintain its strength: as it stands today, they play just one of their final 18 games against a team with an under-.500 overall record. And their 5-1 record versus Indiana and Georgia gives their resume some kick.

Baylor (37)
The Bears’ RPI sits squarely in the danger zone. Yet this club currently leads a very deep Big 12 Conference. While this RPI is disconcerting, the Bears have two things going for them.

One, this club is highly regarded by opposing coaches and should score well with the Regional advisory committee. And secondly, three upcoming road series versus the likes of Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State will provide immense opportunity.

West Coast Conference (7)
The West Coast Conference is the seventh-best league in the nation according to RPI. This is something to celebrate as the WCC has been perennially undervalued.

There is no doubt that there are multiple teams who are worthy of an at-large bid. Here’s the concern: this league is known for eating its own. Here’s the good news: nine of the WCC’s 10 teams have a winning overall record.

The Valley (6)
The Missouri Valley Conference is ranked sixth nationally in RPI as it currently stands. And that is despite usual power Missouri State sitting at 114.

The Valley sports four teams with an RPI below 50 and upstarts Indiana State, Evansville and Illinois State have stood out. This feels like a two-team league at this point, with DBU in very solid shape at an RPI of 30.

Legacy Candidates
Florida State (62) and Cal State Fullerton (83) have been to a combined 68 consecutive Regionals. The Seminoles are showing signs of life after their recent sweep of Clemson. But securing 17 ACC wins might be the only thing that could provide a level of comfort. Currently sitting at 10-8 in the league, the final weekend series at Louisville could be the key.

The Titans have bailed out poor starts in the past by dominating the Big West. That ship may have sailed already in 2019 though, as UCSB already has a road series win over Fullerton. A massive winning binge might be the only answer since the Titans have 15 remaining games versus under-.500 teams.

Michigan (66)
The Wolverines are 25-11 overall and consensus said that this was the most talented club in the Big Ten. While this RPI is problematic, and Michigan has gotten off to a slow start in league play, the talent here is undeniable. This is a club capable of a big run.

Liberty (68)
Scott Jackson’s Liberty squad has taken the Atlantic Sun by storm in their first season in the league. Yet an RPI of 68 warns of having to win the conference tournament. Here may be Liberty’s trump card: the Flames are 5-1 versus ACC teams this year.

– Mike Rooney

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