When the NCAA unveiled its baseball bracket on Monday, there were many immediate reactions about how tough a draw each team got, ranging from, “The committee took it easy on Miami again,” to, “How could they stick Rice with both Texas and Texas A&M?” Of course, these were immediate reactions and not done with much research, but fear not, I’ve taken the time since then to dig in and do some homework myself.
What makes assessing a host team’s draw difficult is that, other than your opening game, you don’t know who it will play from there, or how often it will play another team. Still, I did some research on the last four NCAA Tournaments and found this: the 1 typically plays 35.4 percent of its games against the 2, 30.0 percent against the 3 and 35.2 percent vs. the 4. With that in mind, you can start to make an educated guess as to how tough a draw a team could face.
The second question is, how good is each opponent? To get an idea, I took the average of three computer ratings I trust — the NCAA’s RPI, Jeff Sagarin’s ratings and BoydsWorld.com’s metrics — for each team in the field.
So, the difficulty of the draw is who you play and how often you play that team, so to estimate that, I came up with a stat we call the “probable opponent rating,” or “PROP.” Let’s take the Nashville Regional, for example, and size up Vanderbilt’s draw.
The No. 2 seed in Nashville is Oregon, which ranks 13th according to BoydsWorld, 18th by Sagarin and 23rd in the RPI, for an average of 18.
Third-seeded Clemson ranks 50th, 53rd and 49th for an average of 51.
No. 4 Xavier rates 134th, 128th and 97th for an average of 120.
Multiply each team’s rating by the percentage of times you’d expect a team to see that team in its regional and you get a PROP of 63.5 (18 x .354 + 51 x .3 + 120 x .352).
Of course the quality of a particular opponent can vary considerably according to who’s on the mound. For example, Xavier becomes a much-tougher opponent for Vanderbilt when it throws top starting pitcher Vinny Nittoli (1.98 ERA, 63 strikeouts, 19 walks in 82 innings) than when it rolls out No. 2 man Scott Klever (4.03, 43/30 in 98.1 IP).
Also, a top seed might not see the 3-seed at all if the 2 in the regional is obviously superior, and in that case the 2-seed becomes more of a factor than the ratings might indicate.
Plus, the numbers don’t always tell the story. UNLV isn’t as strong as its No. 30 rating now that Erick Fedde, the Runnin’ Rebels’ No. 1 starter who probably would have been a first-round pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft, is done for the year with an injury.
So between the props plus what I know about the teams in the tournament, here’s a look at each host’s draw, starting from toughest to easiest, with the host team’s PROP in parenthesis.
- Rice (61.9): According to the PROPs, the Owls got just the eighth-toughest regional, but this is where context is important. Texas also should have been a 1 and third-seeded Texas A&M, though it didn’t fare well by the computers, went 15-15 against top-50 RPI teams. Only three teams in the country had more top 50 wins than A&M and one of those was… hmmmm… Texas. The Owls’ PROP suffered because George Mason’s rating averaged to a 134, and while it’s not certain who the Patriots will start, they have a pair of nice arms in Jared Gaynor (1.67 in 107.2, 72/26) and Anthony Montefusco (1.96 in 101, 81/14) from which to choose.
- LSU (46): The Tigers got the dreaded double-whammy of a tough 4-seed with a great starter and a 2 that should have been a 1. Starting with the Friday night match-up, fourth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana will throw Andro Cutera (100 IP, 1.72, 95/19). Even without him, the Lions rate as one of the tournament’s tougher 4s. Houston should have been hosting but instead, got sent to Baton Rouge. The Cougars (20-7 away from home) have a deep, talented pitching staff and should get by Bryant, one of the weaker 3s in the field.
- Florida (45): The Gators were the No. 2 national seed but got a sneaky-tough draw, starting with the toughest 4 in the field in Charleston, which could throw either Bailey Ober (1.37 in 91.2, 78/18) or Taylor Clarke (2.65 in 91.2, 86/17). That could be trouble for a UF team that struggles to put runs on the board. There are no pass-outs against a Long Beach State team that can really pitch and got hot late in the year, and North Carolina, a middle-of-the-road 3, but also a team used to playing in Omaha. Runs will be at a premium in Gainesville, and given the overall balance of the region, it could be a struggle for UF to advance.
- Cal-Poly (52.6): Like Florida, Cal-Poly got a draw that’s tougher than meets the eye due to overall balance. Sacramento State was tough all year on Friday nights thanks to Brennan Leitao (2.21 in 110 IP, 75/22). Meanwhile, the computers felt that Cal-Poly essentially drew a pair of 2-seeds in Pepperdine (average rating of 25) and Arizona State (30). Pepperdine, with a 6-3 mark against the top 50, could prove to be especially tough.
- Louisville (54): The Cardinals shouldn’t have been a host anyway, and so it’s hard to feel too sorry about them for a draw that includes a hot Kentucky team that will bring a lot of fans, and an underrated Kansas team that went 10-9 against the top 50. The only favor the selection committee did was giving the Cardinals a Kent State draw on Friday; the Golden Flashes are a middle-of-the-road 4, but don’t have an ace pitcher.
- Ole Miss (56.3): Some felt that Washington should have been a host and while I don’t agree, an average computer rating of 19 makes the Huskies one of the tougher 2s. Meanwhile, while the rest of the field isn’t that threatening, the selection committee didn’t compensate the Rebels for a tough 2, instead giving them what the computers figured to be the fifth-toughest 3 in Georgia Tech and the sixth-toughest 4 in Jacksonville State.
- South Carolina (55): The Gamecocks got a tough 4 in Campbell, and although the computers don’t like Maryland, the Terrapins went 12-12 against the top 50 and could be really tough for Carolina should it get by Old Dominion on Friday and save ace Jake Stinnett (2.60, 104 IP, 123/26) for the Gamecocks.
- Vanderbilt (63.5): The Commodores drew a pedestrian 4 with an effective starter in Nittoli, and if they win, both Oregon (Tommy Thorpe: 2.20, 98 IP, 86/29) and Clemson (Daniel Gossett: 1.89 in 101.1, 102/30) are saving their aces for Saturday. The Ducks lack a durable third starter, but do have a deep bullpen.
- Oklahoma State (80): The PROP may betray the difficulties that could face the Cowboys. The problem is 3-seed Cal-State Fullerton, the nation’s preseason No. 1 team, which got hot late to gain a tournament bid, and according ot the computers, they should have been the last No. 2. Would you like to face Grahamm Wiest (1.55 in 104.2, 81/12) or Thomas Eshelman (1.92 in 117.1, 94/7) or Phil Bickford (2.04 in 70.2, 68/12)? That’s why 15 other teams breathed a sigh of relief when they discovered the Titans weren’t in their regional. Binghamton won’t be a problem on Friday, and Nebraska’s a middle-of-the-road 2. However, Fullerton went just 11-14 on the road.
- Virginia (72.2): The Cavaliers got a break by drawing a Bucknell team that’s an average 4, but lacks an ace. Liberty, the 40th-best team in the tournament according to the computers, is an average 3. Trouble could come from Arkansas, which can really pitch and play defense. The Razorbacks were way better than their 38-23 record and finished tied for second with 17 top-50 wins, though they played sub-.500 ball (8-10) on the road.
- Miami (98.4): Common sentiment is that the Hurricanes got a walk-in-the-park for a draw, and the PROP would agree, but there are two problems. First, Texas Tech, though it did not finish well, was 13-13 against the top 50 and would have hosted with a better finish. Second, while Bethune-Cookman is one of the worst 4-seeds, it has beaten Miami on its home field the last two seasons. One of the pitchers to beat Miami is BC’s Montana Durapau (1.71 in 110 IP, 98/19). Columbia’s the worst 3 in the field, but between the Friday night dynamic and the fact that UM will have to beat Texas Tech to get to a super regional, the ‘Canes could be in some trouble. However, Tech (7-9) did not play well away from home.
- Florida State (58.9): The Seminoles got one of the better 4-seeds in Georgia Southern, which will throw a potential high MLB draft pick in Sam Howard (2.60 in 86.2, 84/19). However, FSU drew ice-cold Alabama as its 2 and though No. 3 Kennesaw State (14-1 in its last 15) is red-hot, the Owls are one of the weaker 3s.
- Louisiana-Lafayette (108.1): The Rajin’ Cajuns drew a gift 4 in Jackson State, which is the second-worst team in the field. However, the computers had Mississippi State and San Diego State both worth of low-2s. MSU was the national runner-up a year ago and the Aztecs went 10-6 against the top 50 and so there’s some danger here, but UL-L should benefit from playing out of the winner’s bracket as the other two could battle and deplete each other’s pitching depth.
- TCU (100): The Horned Frogs benefit greatly by starting with a Siena team that lacks even a decent Friday-night starter. From there, 2-seed Dallas Baptist was 2-9 against the top 50. The biggest danger comes from Sam Houston State, which went 7-5 against the top 50; computers rated the Bearkats worthy of a low-2.
- Indiana (120.6): IU draws the worst team in the field in Youngstown State, which will probably start Pat O’Brien (7.23 in 66 IP, 36/14). Once it does that, it’ll have to get past Indiana State and Stanford, both of which the computers rated as worthy of high-3s. Since the two combined to go 7-15 against top-25 RPI teams, don’t count on either getting out of Bloomington.
- Oregon State (104.7): Second-seed limped to a 7-8 finish down the stretch without Fedde, and shouldn’t present a challenge. The Beavers will waltz pass North Dakota State, which is the third-worst team in the field and doesn’t have an ace, at which point it will be up to Cal-Irvine to stop them. Given that the Anteaters won just one game against a top-25 RPI team, went 8-11 against the top 50 and barely got in the tournament, that’s highly unlikely.