Between all the league’s superstars and elite teams, it’s been a historic year for the Southeastern Conference. Chris Lee breaks things down heading into the final weekend, giving his forecast for what’s ahead for teams in regards to seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, as well as his All-SEC teams.
NCAA TOURNAMENT LOOMS; HOW MANY WILL BE CALLED?
It’s been a fantastic season for the SEC in terms of elite teams. LSU has been ranked No. 1 for weeks, while Texas A&M has as well. Florida, following up on last year’s SEC regular-season title, may be as good as either. The same might also be said of defending national champion Vanderbilt, which is a couple of breaks in close games from being in the conversation with any of those three.
LSU (48-9, No. 4 RPI) will definitely be a national seed. I’ve gone through the résumés of the best teams with a fine-toothed comb, and it’s my strong opinion that the Tigers, who are 31-8 against top-100 RPI teams and 17-4 against the top 50, should be the tournament’s overall top seed as nobody else can match those numbers. Should LSU win the SEC Tournament, I’m not sure how you deny the Tigers that honor unless it’s a No. 61 overall strength of schedule.
Texas A&M (45-10, 5) entered the SEC Tournament in a bit of trouble in terms of being a national seed, but if you take a closer look at the Aggies and their accomplishments, it’s hard to deny them a spot at the table of eight. A&M went 7-2 vs. the top 25 of the RPI, 14-6 against the top 50 and 23-9 against the top 100, and didn’t lose a single game outside of the league.
There’s really not a flaw other than A&M’s No. 52 overall strength of schedule, but again, the Aggies beat tournament-worthy teams on a regular basis when the opportunity presented itself, and that’s about all you can ask. As I seeded the teams on Saturday morning, I’ve got the Aggies fifth.
Florida (42-16, 6) performed better than anyone in the country against top-25 RPI teams, going 11-5. The Gators had the No. 9 overall strength of schedule and outside the league, had the No. 2 RPI with a No. 9 strength of schedule. The selection committee likes teams that challenge themselves out of conference and perform well within it, and I’ve got the Gators just one spot behind A&M, giving the league three well-deserved national seeds.
Vanderbilt (41-18, 13) could have been in the top group had any number of things happened; holding on to a lead against the Gators in Game 3 of their regular-season series being tops on the list. Are the Commodores one of the eight best teams in America? I think so, but their résumé, in terms of what the committee will consider, ranks 11th in my estimation. VU likely needs to win the conference tournament and hope that Miami, Florida State and Missouri State stumble over the weekend just to get in the picture for a national seed. However, no matter what happens, the Commodores will host the first weekend.
Arkansas (35-22, 35) will make the field of 64 as a No. 2 seed.
Ole Miss (30-26, 28) played the country’s toughest schedule, and with a 13-13 mark against the top 50, will assuredly be a No. 2 seed.
Auburn (35-22, 22) may have some nervous moments on Selection Monday. However, the Tigers can take some solace in knowing that the committee likes teams to play tough schedules, and Auburn’s was No. 2 overall. AU was respectable against both the top 25 (7-11) and the top 50 (12-19) and the NCAA should consider that 40 percent of the Tigers’ regular-season conference slate came against LSU, A&M, Florida and Vandy; anyone would struggle against that.
Missouri (29-28, 56) pins its hopes on a 15-15 SEC regular-season record; that’s almost always been good enough to get a team in. A No. 4 overall strength of schedule only helps, but at 7-16 against the top 50, the Tigers may be left out.
Kentucky (30-25, 58) is probably on the outside looking in due to its RPI and a 7-15 record against the top 50.
Alabama (32-28, 44) is in the same boat thanks to being 9-19 against the top 50. South Carolina (32-25, 63) has an 8-11 record against the top 25 going for it, however, I don’t think a team has ever been given an at-large bid with an RPI on the wrong side of 60.
Everyone else in the league will be playing its next baseball in 2016.
Here’s my All-SEC team for 2015. I’ve put together three teams and listed them in order under their respective positions. In parenthesis is how many runs each player “created” per 27 outs he used, according to a formula developed by Bill James, and his fielding percentage. (Stats are through Friday’s games.) Once I had picked players at every position, I took the best-remaining unselected player and made him the “utility” player for that team.
Kyle Martin, South Carolina (11.4, .998)
Chris Chinea, LSU (8.7, .989)
Zander Wiel, Vanderbilt (8.4, .987)
JaVon Shelby, Kentucky (9.3, .949)
Ryne Birk, TAMU (7.2, .963)
Rick Nomura, Arkansas (6.6, .986)
Josh Tobias, Florida (10.0, .991)
Conner Hale, LSU (7.7, .969)
Bobby Wernes, Arkansas (6.8, .957)
Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt (10.3, .972)
Alex Bregman, LSU (8.2, .977)
Richie Martin, Florida (6.5, .974)
Andrew Benintendi, Arkansas (13.8, .980)
Logan Taylor, TAMU (9.3, .984)
Christin Stewart, Tennessee (9.4, 1.000
Nick Banks, TAMU (9.2, .986)
Elliott Caldwell, South Carolina (9.1, .976)
Ka’ai Tom, Kentucky (9.5, .951)
Andrew Stevenson, LSU (8.0, 992)
Rhett Wiseman, Vanderbilt (8.0, .983)
Casey Hughston, Alabama (7.7, .964)
Mikey White, Alabama (9.3, .964)
Blake Allemand, TAMU (9.3, .925)
Andrew Lee, Tennessee (7.3, .990; also doubled as UT’s closer, hurling 27 innings with 32 strikeouts and a 2.67 ERA)
Starting pitchers (ERA, IP, K/BB)
Carson Fulmer, Vanderbilt (1.97, 100.2, 136/38)
Alex Lange, LSU (2.11, 81, 91/35)
Cole Lipscomb, Auburn (2.38, 87, 84/24)
Grayson Long, TAMU (2.62, 86, 100/37)
Logan Shore, Florida (2.78, 90.2, 67/19)
Jack Wynkoop, South Carolina (3.27, 104.2, 86/14)
Bret Marks, Tennessee (2.92, 77, 89/28)
Tanner Houck, Missouri (3.49, 100.2, 91/12)
Jared Poche, LSU (3.35, 88.2, 54/21)
Andrew Vinson, TAMU (1.11, 48.2, 48/9)
Wyatt Short, Ole Miss (1.42, 38, 43/12)
Breckin Williams, Missouri (1.98, 36.2, 39/9)
Player of the Year: Benintendi
Pitcher of the Year: Fulmer
Coach of the Year: LSU’s Paul Maineri won the league’s official honors, and no doubt he and LSU had a great year. But I think Texas A&M’s Rob Childress did more with what he had than anybody in the league. The Aggies lost two weekend starters early and yet recovered to start the year with a 24-game winning streak, which is an all-time SEC record. The Aggies don’t have a bunch of future Major League stars but they’re a great college team that wasn’t on the national radar to start the year, but should enter the NCAAs as a national seed. If doing all this with the hand Childress was dealt doesn’t make for a great coaching job, then what does?