For once, there was a comforting feeling when watching the NCAA Selection Show.
Typically, as names of national seeds and bubble teams pop up on the television screen, there are instances where we’re all wondering how the NCAA Division I Selection Committee came to a certain conclusion. But I’m happy to announce that wasn’t the case this year, as the committee did their due diligence and offered few head-scratching decisions.
I thought the committee did a very good job, beginning with the last two national seeds. NCAA Division I Committee chairman Dennis Farrell said TCU, LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, Vanderbilt and Rice were in the mix for the last two national seeds. In our last projection Sunday morning, we gave the edge to TCU and LSU. The committee agreed with that sentiment, granting national seeds to both the Horned Frogs and Tigers. The Frogs made a statement by putting together a strong overall resume and winning the Big 12 Conference tournament, while LSU, which was hoping to host just over a week ago, too, made its big statement by finishing strong in the regular season and running the table to the SEC tournament title.
There’s no beef when it comes to the national seeds. TCU is very much deserving of a national seed when you dissect its entire body of work, while LSU, though it played a weak non-conference schedule, certainly made a loud enough statement down the stretch and in the conference tournament to earn a national seed. I also feel like other teams such as Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt didn’t do enough in the SEC tournament to warrant a national seed. Sources indicated to Perfect Game over the weekend that the committee was placing an emphasis on teams taking care of business in conference tournaments, and that was the case on Monday.
The only surprise in the national seed race were the omissions of Ole Miss and South Carolina on Farrell’s list of five teams vying for the final national seeds. The Gamecocks put together a good overall resume despite dealing with serious injuries throughout the spring, while the Rebels won the SEC West Division and racked up some impressive wins throughout the regular season.
Committee grade: A
THE HOST SITES
Up until the past weekend, it seemed like the NCAA Regional host sites were somewhat set in stone. Vanderbilt, despite a poor showing in the SEC tournament, still had a very good resume with the second-most wins vs. RPI Top 50 teams in the country, while Washington was in good shape despite losing a series to Oregon State on the road two weekends ago.
Then, the Huskies dropped a home series to UCLA, and their RPI dropped to almost 30, causing some pause about their hosting chances. Even with a series loss to the Bruins, it was thought that perhaps UW would still host, perhaps as a two-seed to satisfy some geographical balance with the West Coast only having two host sites in Cal Poly and Oregon State.
The committee, with teams such as Houston, Louisville and Texas in the mix, had other plans, as they granted the Cardinals, not the Huskies, a host site. In addition to winning the American Athletic Conference regular season crown and reaching the AAC tournament title game, Louisville finished with an RPI of 20 and went 3-1 against Houston, sweeping the Cougars in Houston during the regular season. Meanwhile, the biggest strike against the Huskies wasn’t necessarily two-straight series losses, but a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked No. 214.
“I think the big thing about Washington was its non-conference strength of schedule,” chairman Dennis Farrell said. “There were five teams for the final two hosts, including Oklahoma State.”
Also of note, the committee had Oklahoma State as one of the final host sites. That comes as a surprise even with a non-conference strength of schedule of 232. OSU should’ve clearly been a host with an RPI of 18, a regular season Big 12 championship, along with an impressive 17-6 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs. The committee obviously placed a heavy emphasis on non-conference schedules.
Committee grade: A-
THE BUBBLE TEAMS
Though there were some tough decisions to be made from a bubble standpoint, the committee was in a good position over the weekend. After all, though there were some compelling bubble resumes, there were no clear-cut cases. In other words, no team left out of the field had an overwhelming case to be in the field.
Farrell listed UC Irvine, Clemson, North Carolina and Texas A&M as the final four in the field, in no particular order. UC Irvine isn’t a surprise in that category, as it finished poorly the final couple of weeks of the regular season. The same goes for Clemson and North Carolina, especially the Tigers, who finished the regular season and ACC tournament with a dismal 7-12 mark vs. RPI Top 50 clubs. A&M’s inclusion as a final four team in the field was a surprise, though, as the Aggies actually have a relatively solid resume with 15 wins vs. RPI Top 50 teams, including SEC series wins over No. 8 national seed LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and No. 2 national seed Florida.
The four teams just missing the field include Mercer, UCF, USC and West Virginia.
Mercer had a compelling case to be in the postseason field down the stretch of the regular season. However, it likely missed the field because it A) didn’t win the Atlantic Sun regular season crown and B) didn’t do enough in the A-Sun tournament. Meanwhile, USC made a strong final statement with a home series win over Oregon State, West Virginia scuffled to end the regular season, while it seems like UCF was the first team out of the field. Farrell added that Illinois, which had an RPI of 55 with a winning record vs. RPI Top 50, wasn’t one of the final four teams to be considered, but was on the big board as one of the final 11.
UCF had the most compelling case of the bubble teams. Sure, the Knights had some ugly early season series losses, such as to Central Michigan and getting swept at home by Ole Miss. Additionally, the Knights had a losing record vs. RPI Top 50. But for a committee that talks so much about conference finish, it was a little surprising to see a team that took a regular season series from Louisville, and finished higher than Houston in the AAC, not get into the field. With that said, the Knights didn’t exactly help their situation in losing two of their final three series.
“First of all, the committee has a really tough job, and I respect the job they do. I think the bottom line is you have to look at your whole body of work, and I felt pretty good about this team entering the day,” UCF coach Terry Rooney said. “I do know there are a lot of different factors. We did a lot of very good things this season, but there also were instances where we didn’t take advantage of some opportunities.
“We just have to keep moving forward as a program.”
Committee grade: B+
• One of the more surprising pairings in the NCAA postseason field was the Gainesville Regional, especially when compared to the Coral Gables Regional, where the Florida Gators are matched up with the Miami Hurricanes.
Despite being the No. 2 overall national seed, the Gators actually drew a tougher field than the Hurricanes. Florida is joined by one of the highest-RPI four seeds in College of Charleston (53), while the field also includes red-hot Long Beach State (29) and North Carolina (41). On the flip side, Miami is joined by Bethune-Cookman (202), Texas Tech (17) and Columbia (35).
There’s a 149 point difference between the RPI ranking of Charleston and Bethune-Cookman, but Farrell points to the ability to drive to Gainesville, Fla., as the reason the Cougars, not the Wildcats, were sent to the Gators.
“All of the brackets are put together with the principle of trying to limit the amount to travel that occurs for the three teams that have to go there,” Farrell said. “Both of those regionals, you have the fourth seed that is a driving team to both Gainesville and Coral Gables. The No. 2 and 3 seeds in both are flying. That being said, we also try to balance the competitiveness of each of the regionals as much as possible, so we look at the combined RPI of the three teams that are seeded 1, 2 and 3. In this case, the Coral Gables bracket has combined RPI of 67. Gainesville has a combined RPI of 72. That’s for the 1, 2 and 3 seeds, not the 4 seeds.”
Florida acknowledges it might have a tougher than expected No. 4 seed, but head coach Kevin O’Sullivan believes that with such a young team, getting a tougher No. 4 seed might not be such a bad thing.
“To be honest with you, we seem to play better when we play really good teams,” O’Sullivan said. “For this team, I think it’s a good thing. We’re not going to compare our tournament field with someone else’s tournament field. The postseason is supposed to be tough, and everyone is here because they played well.
“You really can’t look at this any other way.”
• It’s good to know the NCAA Selection Committee has a sense of humor. There are some intriguing rivalry matchups at some host sites, including the possibility that Kentucky could play host Louisville for the right to advance to the NCAA Super Regional round.
However, the Houston Regional gets the award for most intriguing matchup as No. 2 seeded Texas will face off with No. 3 seeded Texas A&M Friday afternoon. The break-up between the old-time rivals was well documented when the Aggies spurned the Big 12 Conference to head to the Southeastern Conference after the 2012 baseball season.
The Aggies captured a series win over the Longhorns in the final three-game bout between the two schools in ’12, while UT holds a substantial advantage when it comes to the overall series record. The two baseball programs, and all the major men’s sports have avoided playing each other until now, setting the stage for what should be a wild atmosphere with a healthy dose of maroon and burnt orange in the stands.
“We told our team before today, we earned everything we get. If we’re in, great. If we’re not, we deserved it. We’re just excited to hear our name called at this point,” Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress said. “In this matchup, it’s all about how you play the game on the field, and you can’t concern yourself with the attitude outside the lines.
“This is going to be a big challenge,” he continued. “The University of Texas is obviously extremely well coached, and they’re very talented on the mound and defensively. Skip Johnson just does a terrific job with the pitching staff over there. They also have some young guys in the middle of the order who can do some damage.”
Texas righthanded pitcher Nathan Thornhill weighed in as well.
“It’ll be fun. It’s going to be a fun game because we don’t play them in the regular season, but at the end of the day, it’s another baseball game that we need to win in order to reach our goal,” Thornhill said. “I think once they left our conference, I think the rivalry isn’t as big of a deal. I think it’s still a baseball game. I don’t think we’re going to be really hyped up because it’s A&M; I think we’re going to be really hyped up because it’s a regional baseball game.”
• Speaking of a sense of humor, the committee also paired up the Lafayette, La., Regional with the Oxford, Miss., Regional. ULL obviously is the heavy favorite to win that Regional, but should No. 2 seed Mississippi State and Oxford’s No. 1 seed, Ole Miss, win their respective tournaments, that would set the stage for an epic NCAA Super Regional series at Oxford-University Stadium. As one scribe in the State of Mississippi told me “It would be the biggest and most important sporting event in the history of this state”. No pressure, eh?
TALE OF THE TAPE
As we spent the final month of the regular season doing projections each week, it’s always interesting to see just how accurate we are on Selection Monday.
Though there are some years when yours truly missed three or four teams in the postseason field, it seems the committee agreed with many of the tough decisions we made in our final projections released Sunday night.
For instance, we nailed the top national seed in Oregon State, the top eight national seeds, ending with LSU, and even nailed the order of the top eight seeds. How rare is that? It’s the first time I’ve nailed the order of the top eight national seeds since I began covering college baseball a decade ago.
In addition to predicting three of the four teams in several of the NCAA Regionals, we also got 63 of the 64 teams in the field right. We had UCF in the field in our final projections. However, the NCAA Division I Selection Committee gave the nod to Clemson, who’s 2-1 showing in the ACC tournament likely did the trick.
Accuracy is something we all strive for. Though the committee’s decisions often are a crapshoot, projections shouldn’t deviate too far from the actual field. In this case, everything worked out.