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May 22, 2008

Wait 'Til Next Year

End of the Line

by Bryan Smith

Before I start today, I'd like to say that this will be my last regular article for Baseball Prospectus. Those who have followed me in the journey of the college baseball season won't be disappointed: I won't be a total stranger from these parts, as I'll be moving over to BP's friends at Major League Baseball Advanced Media. It's an opportunity that has absolutely been afforded because of this outlet, and for that, I thank the people who brought me in: Nate Silver, Will Carroll, and my friend Kevin Goldstein. I also owe significant thanks to Christina Kahrl, who in just 13 months has made me a better writer. I was a fan of BP before I wrote here, a bigger fan while I wrote here, and given what I know lies beyond the horizon, there's no reason to think I won't be a bigger fan still yet. Thanks for all the questions, all the kind words, and of course, all the criticisms.

There's no uniformity in conference baseball tournaments, so while previewing the battles to be waged in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and more would have been fun for my last article, it's not entirely practical. Instead, I thought I should channel my best Joe Lunardi, and see what lies ahead of us beyond this weekend. The NCAA Tournament will be announced next week, and as a college baseball analyst, there isn't a more exciting time of year, because between the televised baseball draft and the College World Series, the pinnacle of college baseball's visibility is on the horizon. With help from Pseudo-RPIs generated by Boyd Nation (as of Wednesday morning), here is my Thursday projection of the college baseball tournament.

Miami Regional (National #1 Seed: Miami)
#1 Miami, #2 St. John's, #3 Alabama, #4 Binghamton

Ann Arbor Regional
#1 San Diego, #2 Michigan, #3 East Carolina, #4 Missouri State

Fullerton Regional (National #8 Seed: Cal State Fullerton)
#1 Cal State Fullerton, #2 Pepperdine, #3 Oregon State, #4 Bethune Cookman

Lincoln Regional
#1 Nebraska, #2 Southern Miss, #3 Oral Roberts, #4 Monmouth

College Station Regional (National #5 Seed: Texas A&M)
#1 Texas A&M, #2 Texas Christian, #3 Alabama, #4 Army

Columbia Regional
#1 Missouri, #2 Wichita State, #3 Virginia, #4 Texas-San Antonio

Houston Regional (National #4 Seed: Rice)
#1 Rice, #2 Vanderbilt, #3 Baylor, #4 Lipscomb

Myrtle Beach Regional
#1 Coastal Carolina, #2 NC State, #3 Tulane, #4 UNC Charlotte

Tempe Regional (National #3 Seed: Arizona State)
#1 Arizona State, #2 Pepperdine, #3 UC Santa Barbara, #4 UIC

Gainesville Regional
#1 Florida, #2 Georgia Tech, #3 South Carolina, #4 Jacksonville State

Athens Regional (National #6 Seed: Georgia)
#1 Georgia, #2 UNC Wilmington, #3 New Orleans, #4 Columbia

Baton Rouge Regional
#1 LSU, #2 Oklahoma State, #3 Texas, #4 Canisius

Tallahassee Regional (National #7 Seed: Florida State)
#1 Florida State, #2 Kentucky, #3 Oklahoma, #4 Kent State

Palo Alto Regional
#1 Stanford, #2 UC Irvine, #3 UCLA, #4 Fresno State

Cary Regional (National #8 Seed: North Carolina)
#1 North Carolina, #2 Houston, #3 Oral Roberts, #4 Jackson State

Berkeley Regional
#1 California, #2 Arizona, #3 UC Davis, #4 Dallas Baptist

Compilation Note: To put this together, I started by creating the regional sites and ranking my #1 seeds. From there, the key was to give the national seeds the easiest roads to the next round, while attempting to remain slightly geographical with my assignments. Using RPIs and an atlas, I pieced together the rest so the best regional host (Miami) had a far easier time than the shakiest regional hosts, Michigan and California.

Conference Tournament Favorites Sure to Win At-Large Bids

College basketball fans will understand this concept, but it's key to cover it here: bubble teams are always rooting for the favorites in conference tournaments, because should a favorite lose, often that team is in better position to gain an at-large bid than the bubble team. Here are nine non-power conference teams that would be ahead of most programs sitting on a bubble.

St. John's lost their opener in the Big East Tournament on Tuesday to Villanova, and the road looks quite difficult for the Red Storm to win the Big East automatic bid. However, it's a 40-win season for the Johnnies, and the committee will not overlook their dominance in the Big East all spring. I think a bad tournament showing leaves them as a three-seed, while a good post-Tuesday turnaround could move them up to a second slot. Coastal Carolina (Big South) and UNC Wilmington (CAA) are RPI beauties, so little is left to be won in the conference tournament. The Chanticleers have a decent argument to host a regional, and a dominant tournament showing could be enough to secure it, while Wilmington lies in the same position as St. John's--only a collapse could take them down to a three-seed.

Obviously, things don't matter much this weekend for Michigan (Big Ten) or Wichita State (MVC). I think one of the two, not both, is going to host, so the more dominant weekend could secure that. We've talked about Texas Christian ad nauseam, and the Horned Frogs might even be a two-seed if they don't win the Mountain West Conference. If they do, there's a host argument given some of their attendance numbers this season, I just don't think it's there. Oral Roberts (Summit), Elon (SoCon), and New Orleans (Sun Belt) are 38, 40 and 42 respectively in Boyd's RPIs. If they don't win their conference tournaments, they become bubble teams, but bubble teams that are likely still in the tournament.

The Last Five In

These are the five teams with the most to lose this weekend. Given a bad week or a few conference tournament upsets, they won't make it in. We'll start with the teams that were last to make it into my bracket, and end with the surer bets.

  • The last team--and I mean last--to get into my bracket as an at-large was Missouri State. It's odd that the committee only gives automatic bids to all the Midwest conferences, and the Big Ten sure isn't getting an at-large bid. That leaves the Bears, who would certainly have to make it to the MVC final this weekend to get in.
  • UC Santa Barbara is so ugly in the RPI, but the Big West is enjoying a fine year, and I think the committee is going to award it with five bids. Perhaps they give UC Davis a solid position and leave it at that, but barring a bad weekend, I do think UCSB can get in.
  • I graciously gave UCLA a spot in my bracket, but I'm not sure about it. Nevertheless, the Pac-10 has been so good this year, and I can't imagine that one out of UCLA, USC, and the two Washington schools doesn't get in. This weekend is important in determining who wins that race, and they could be shut out if a few of the teams above them don't win their tournaments this weekend.
  • In my first draft of the tournament, I didn't have Oklahoma. Then I put them in, but I wasn't convinced. Then last night they beat Texas A&M in their conference tournament opener, so now I feel pretty good about the Sooners' place in the bracket.
  • The SEC is such a mess that I'm putting Alabama into the tournament, but I don't love the selection. However, Alabama finished their season on a tear, dominating nearly every weekend in April and May. I think the committee has to give a team like that a chance to keep the ball rolling, and I think they will.

The Next Five Out

On the opposite side of the coin, here are a few teams that have really good arguments for getting in, but during my compilation, there was no spot for them. Opposite of the last one, we start with the team with the best argument:

  • The Arkansas Razorbacks have beaten a lot of good teams in the even SEC, and the RPI has them still as a top-30 team in the nation. However, there is a shaky non-conference schedule, some bad conference losses and the season-ending loss to Mississippi State that left the Razorbacks out of the SEC Tournament. That series leaves a bad taste in my mouth and, unfortunately for Dave Van Horn, there's little they can do to change that.
  • According to Aaron Fitt at Baseball America, San Diego State applied to host a regional, which is quite bold, because I'm not sure they are in the tournament. However, the Aztecs challenged themselves with their schedule outside their conference like few others this spring, and with a good showing in the MWC Tournament, I could see them squeezing a spot in.
  • It seems weird that San Diego and Pepperdine will be the only teams in the WCC to make the tournament, because both are among the top 30 teams in the nation, but neither had an easy spring. It stands to reason, then, that the third team in this conference should get in somewhere, but Santa Clara's RPI stands at 74. That's just not enough in such an even season.
  • The Big 12, like the SEC, is having a parity party, and again you're going to see a few teams with good RPIs miss the tournament. Since Oklahoma is looking more like a tournament team every day, the chances of Kansas State getting in there are less likely. They were helped by a big win over Oklahoma State yesterday, but they'll need a better tournament than Oklahoma, and the Sooners' win makes that unlikely.
  • If the committee has a heart, then a good tournament showing should put Louisville on the list of eligible teams. After all, the Cardinals were one of the best stories of 2007 after their never-say-die seniors led them all the way into the College World Series. This spring's bunch has lost a little more often, though, but they could get in with St. John's slumping in the tournament's first round.

Wednesday Night Implications

I wrote this story during the day Wednesday, and while I made a few changes when the wild Big 12 featured wins by Oklahoma and Kansas State, there were still some other noteworthy happenings that have tournament implications.

First, Rice's chance at a national seed took a hit when they lost in the first round of the Conference-USA Tournament to UAB. Give credit to Brian Shoop and the Blazers for holding Rice to just two runs, thanks to pitcher Kyle Roberson's eight-inning gem. UAB took advantage of a pair of early errors and really hit the Rice bullpen--Matt Langwell and Bryan Price--hard. Rice plays East Carolina tomorrow to see who goes home first. East Carolina's loss to Houston had me switch their seedings above, as I put the Cougars as a two-seed rather than the Pirates.

Missouri moved into a host spot for me by beating Texas last night, or, more specifically, thanks to losses by Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State. The latter moved the Cowboys down to the two-spot, as a loss to Kansas State is the least impressive of the bunch.

Bryan Smith is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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