With Texas and LSU squaring off for the title, what does the matchup make for in terms of quality baseball action?
It's been four and a half months since I returned to BP to cover the 2009 college baseball season, but we're set to finish the year where we began, with LSU and Texas atop the rankings. I'd love to brag that I saw this final coming all along, but to be honest, I had an inkling about Cal State Fullerton before the season began, and I picked Arizona State to win just ten days ago. The Tigers and Longhorns have always seemed like the best teams, but the best two teams reaching the finale of the season is a rarity in college baseball (cue highlights of Cinderella-story Fresno State one year ago).
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Winnowing the wheat from the chaff out in the grain belt.
With the draft now in the rear-view mirror, college baseball's focus returns to the diamond in the weekend ahead, as eight programs have made the annual trek to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. Four months ago, when I released my Pre-season NCAA Top 25, half of the CWS teams were in the top eight: Louisiana State, Texas, Cal State Fullerton, and North Carolina. I said then that "six programs stood out as the cream of the crop," and 60 games later, two-thirds of those praised programs validated the rankings. Arizona State, who found a home at #23 near the bottom of the rankings, as well as Arkansas, Virginia, and Southern Miss, proved themselves consistently during the season to make it this far. In Omaha, as Fresno State proved a year ago, all teams are equal.
With 16 quartets squaring off, a quick overview of the matchups and likely outcomes as college baseball's postseason gets in gear.
Tomorrow the second season begins in college baseball, kicking off a few weeks that will give scouts a final chance to grade prospects, give many players their final hurrahs, and give fans some of the most dramatic baseball available. Since the bracket was released in full on Monday, we've had time to lodge complaints about the mistreatment of Virginia, the snubs of Rhode Island and Eastern Illinois, and the bids handed to Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Southern Miss. All that can be put to rest tomorrow, as Virginia faces put-up or shut-up time against Steven Strasburg, and the lucky bubble teams have a chance to prove that they belong.
With post-season play getting underway on college diamonds, we get that much closer to learning who's in and who's out.
The college game's postseason began in earnest across the nation last night, as conference tournaments kicked off their action from the Atlantic Ten to the Sun Belt, and from Honolulu to Trenton. With rainy season finally coming to a close in the north, it looks like we should have a clean weekend filled with baseball to carry us through to Selection Sunday. The road to the College World Series begins with regionals in one week, which will take us straight through to Omaha in June.
The bubbles break and re-align, as the teams jostle for spots in the final 64.
Last week, I began a three-part series with the intention of projecting the 64 universities that will land bids to the NCAA Tournament. The first step is always the easiest in a project like this, as we know 30 teams will gain entry by securing the automatic bid that the winner of each conference tournament receives. I also highlighted 24 teams from 10 different conferences that already have the resumes that will result in an at-large bid. This leaves between 10 and 20 spots available to the 41 teams I had listed as bubble at-large contenders. This week (and next), these schools will be at the heart of our discussion.
A broad scan of the college conferences and all the teams that are in, on the bubble, and vying for an invitation to June Madness.
Don't worry, I'm not going to make an argument that it's as good as March Madness. For fans of college baseball, though, May and June allow for a degree of projection and anticipation similar to what the college basketball tournament offers us every March. With just two weeks of regular season and one week of conference tournament play to go, college baseball's postseason is right around the corner. For some teams, the year is essentially over, and for others, it's time to sleep until the May 29 regionals. For the rest, the next three weeks are of the utmost importance, and during that time, we'll do our best to narrow the field.
Maybe global warming will help, but a universal start date presents unique challenges for snowbelt schools' programs.
It was snowing in Chicago in early February, and it was snowing outside my doorstep in April. At the same time, where Tony Gwynn was practicing his team in San Diego, where Kevin O'Sullivan was working his Florida Gators, and where Wayne Graham was coaching his Rice Owls, it was sunny. When the NCAA opted to enact a uniform start date, it wasn't geared toward the programs in California, Florida, and Texas-though some have argued that it had an impact on them-instead, the hope was that Northern programs would begin to tighten the parity gap that had existed in college baseball for decades.
Throwing out a net for the best players expected to be drafted from the best college baseball teams.
If college baseball is going to sell its product, they're going to have to start with the players. David Price and Stephen Strasburg do more for college baseball's popularity than the 2008 Fresno State Bulldogs ever could. One of the advantages of the College World Series is that the draft has already happened-they're in a position to sell tickets based on the players that will take the field (last year it was Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham, Jason Castro, Yonder Alonso, and Jemile Weeks, to name a few). This year, you know the CWS officials will be hoping that Tony Gwynn can lead a miracle Aztecs run to Omaha on Strasburg's back, but that could be asking too much.
Why the conference may be sending so many participants to the NCAA tourney this year.
College coaches spend a great deal of time defending their conference. Talk to any coach for any length of time, and concerns about the number of bids his conference will receive in the NCAA Tournament inevitably comes up. Every coach, subconsciously, also elevates the strength of his conference in his own mind. In the end, there's one conference that gets it done, year in and year out, in terms of championships, talent, and depth: the Southeastern Conference.
Halfway into the college season, sorting through who might be seeded where, and how they can improve their lot.
There is no All-Star break in college baseball, so the halfway point of the season isn't some in-season pause that everyone can see. It's been seven weekends since the season began, however, and we have seven more weeks to endure before we start arguing about the field of 64. For now, the best tool that we have to use as a measuring stick is Boyd Nation's simulation of the NCAA Ratings Power Index (RPI), which ranks by a formula using 25 percent win percentage, 50 percent opponents net win percentage, and 25 percent win percentage of opponents' opponents (along with a weighting for home and away games). When the committee hosts its conference call to explain their reasoning for specific choices within the field of 64, no numbers are cited more often than those of the RPI.