The three questions on every Southeastern Conference baseball fan’s mind this week are: Who hosts NCAA regionals? Who gets the eight national seeds? Which SEC teams get in the tournament, period?
Chris Lee looks at all that as of Tuesday afternoon.
Ranking the hosting/national seed candidates
It’s been a crazy season in college baseball. The Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conferences have dominated the landscape—the two comprise the entire top 11 of the NCAA’s RPI rankings, and 13 of the top 16—which presents a problem, because the NCAA likes to spread its regionals to different parts of the country.
That, in turn, has led to widespread disagreement among college baseball’s experts as to how the NCAA will award regionals.
The two most well-known media entities that cover college baseball are Baseball America and D1 Baseball; they agree that Miami, Texas A&M, Louisville, Florida, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, South Carolina and Virginia are all national seeds at this point.
Both also have Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss, LSU, Clemson, North Carolina State and Florida State hosting.
Where they disagree: D1 has Vanderbilt and Arizona State hosting, while Coastal Carolina and Long Beach State are BA’s picks.
The problem is that we’re trying to read the committee’s mind. Not only can we not do that, but things may also change from one day to the next.
I looked at the top 40 RPI teams through the morning of May 24, plus the others listed by the above services, in order to compare résumés. I did that based on the criteria that the NCAA Tournament normally uses, putting teams on a large spreadsheet and meticulously comparing them to each other.
Here’s how I rank the teams according to merit, with RPI in parenthesis. I eliminated teams that obviously won’t host—teams with losing conference records, teams that didn’t bid to host (Florida Atlantic is one; there could be a team or two on here that didn’t as well) and teams that obviously have no shot, like Northwestern State (No. 40 and 3-14 vs. the top 50).
No-doubt national seeds
- Florida (2)
- Miami (3)
- Louisville (1)
- Texas A&M (4)
- Mississippi St. (5)
The pundits have Florida dropping out of the top spot after losing a road series at LSU, though I still think the Gators are just a hair better than the next two teams. Miami is close, but UF took two of three in Miami.
MSU has the best top-end wins of anyone in the country.
These teams don’t even need to win a game in their conference tournaments to lock up national seeds.
National seed contention
6. LSU (9)
7. South Carolina (5)
8. Virginia (13)
9. Ole Miss (6)
10. Vanderbilt (8)
11. Texas Tech (12)
Nobody has LSU as a national seed, for reasons I can’t quite understand other than having four losses outside the RPI top 100. It’s not a slam-dunk, but, the Tigers won seven games against teams in my top 10 here and went 13-7 on the road.
Virginia is 11-11 vs. the top 25; that’s more wins against that group than anyone else on this list outside Florida, Miami and Louisville.
Most see South Carolina as a national seed at this point; I think this is more in doubt. Carolina did win the SEC East, but also didn’t play Mississippi State or LSU. It had one of its three games vs. Florida rained out, and, it played the league’s two best teams (UF, Texas A&M) at home.
The Gamecocks need to at least keep pace with the teams behind them this week in the SEC Tournament, because I see Ole Miss and Vanderbilt not far behind them.
Vanderbilt is hurt by a 6-10 mark against the top 25 in the RPI, but every one of those games came against top-11 teams and nine of them were on the road. And if it’s a coin-flip between Vanderbilt and Carolina, the Commodores took two of three in Nashville.
Ole Miss also has six wins against the top 11 teams. Its résumé is astonishingly similar to Vandy’s in every way, but had two road wins (playing one more on the road than VU) and no losses outside the top-150 in the RPI (Vanderbilt had one). That’s how I broke the tie, since the teams didn’t play each other.
Everyone seems to have nearly conceded a national seed to Texas Tech. I can understand that on geography, but not on accomplishments. Tech’s best win came against Florida State (RPI: 16); every SEC team on the list had at least six better than that. Tech lost seven games outside the RPI top 100. Vanderbilt lost one, while Carolina and Ole Miss lost none. It’s been a great year for Tech, but the body of work seems to be behind the seven SEC teams.
12. North Carolina St. (7)
13. Clemson (10)
14. Florida State (16)
North Carolina State has dropped like a rock due to a tough May, and 18 overall losses. But the Wolfpack have played an incredible 33 games against RPI top-50 teams, including 14 road games against top-20 teams. Most teams would struggle with that, too. The bottom line is that State and Clemson, which is in a very similar situation, have accomplished a lot more than most of the teams behind them.
Florida State has also seen the losses pile up, but 25 of its games (46.3 percent) came against top-35 RPI teams, and it won a respectable 12 of those. One knock is that 14 came at home, and that FSU is just 7-9 on the road.
If any won the ACC Tournament and the teams in front of them falter, I could see a case for them entering the national seed discussion.
The next-best left
15. Tulane (27)
16. TCU (17)
Neither team played super-tough schedules. Tulane (No. 70), though, did go 8-2 against top-25 RPI teams, even of six of those were from 16 down. That’s significantly better than everyone below them.
TCU (52) didn’t accomplish a lot; it’s 2-2 against the top-25 with those wins coming over Texas Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette (18). It lost seven games against teams outside the RPI top 100, but did go 14-7 on the road and an RPI that suggests it deserves consideration.
Why do I have TCU hosting? Simply put, it’s more a statement about what’s left from here on, plus, the Horned Frogs seem to pass the “look test” (more on that later) better than the others.
Best of the rest:
17. Southern Miss (21)
18. Coastal Carolina (14)
19. Louisiana-Lafayette (18)
20. East Carolina (24)
21. Rice (33)
22. Arizona St. (25)
23. Arizona (25)
24. UC-Santa Barbara (19)
25. Oklahoma St. (28)
26. Long Beach St. (43)
27. Louisiana Tech (38)
28. Nebraska (36)
29. Michigan (37)
Among what’s left…
Southern Miss has 11 wins against top-50 teams, but all but one come against 18 or worse. To its credit, it has just three losses outside the top 100.
Rice has six wins against RPI top 25 teams, but five of those come from 21 or worse. The Owls lost six games to teams outside the top 100.
As for the rest, no other team won more than three games against top-25 RPI teams. Arizona State (3-1) was the only team with a winning record in that group; all three came against Arizona (25).
Arizona, UCSB, Michigan and Nebraska didn’t even play a top-25 team, and Louisiana-Lafayette and Tech played games against them, but didn’t win any.
Perhaps Cal State Fullerton (45) and Minnesota (47) could play their way into consideration with good conference tournaments, if geography trumps merit.
And according to Kendall Rogers at D1 Baseball, Long Beach and UCSB didn’t bid to host.
The bottom line for the SEC
On the basis of merit, it’s hard to deny that the SEC deserves seven hosts.
The other question is how many national seeds the league deserves. I absolutely see a case for four, if not five.
One other thing that could work in the league’s favor is the regional advisory committees that watch the teams play. The league’s seven teams are loaded with future Major League prospects, and have been in the national polls from start to finish.
I also looked at some of the better computer rankings systems—Boyd’s World’s ISIRS, Jeff Sagarin’s rankings and the Massey Ratings—to see how each sized up the league. If you trust those three as a fair arbiter of the “look test”—I don’t think that’s a big leap because those rankings factor in margin of victory—here’s how they rank the top 25 (note TCU also):
- Texas A&M
- Mississippi St.
- Texas Tech
- South Carolina
- Ole Miss
- N.C. St.
- Florida St
- Coastal Carolina
- Oklahoma St.
- North Carolina
- Florida Atlantic
- Southern Miss
- Georgia Tech
I can’t tell you how much the NCAA is willing to sacrifice quality for geography. But by every objective measure, the selection committee would have to make significant trade-offs in order to tell even one of those seven teams that it won’t host.