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Publication Date: April 16, 2002

OK, OK, It's Time

I have a couple of computer science degrees, so I'm a big believer in reusability. And if you're going to steal from someone, who better than yourself? Therefore, here's last year's introduction to this column, the better to free up my time to work on the meat:

OK, most of the conferences are about halfway through with conference play now, so I think it's reasonable to take this week and start taking a look at possible fields for the NCAA tournament for this year. Take all of this with a large grain of salt -- there's a lot of baseball to play yet, so someone who's off the radar could still play themselves in, or any of my locks could fall apart and end up on the outside. Committee-watching is about as much fun as Kremlin-watching used to be, and frequently as accurate. The RPI's still stink (*).

Still and all, we're far enough along, and non-conference play is close enough to being over, that we can get a pretty good feel for how many teams each conference can get, so I want to run through what I think the field will be. This is mostly based on what's happened to this point, but I do try to predict what will happen the rest of the way out in a few cases. Along those lines, some of the conferences have a column included in their summary labelled "Rem". That's the combined current conference record for the remaining teams on each team's schedule; the lower the better for the team's prospects.

A quick note about the aesthetics of this process. Don't let this distract you from the beauty of a single game, and don't mistake this for my thinking that there's greater value to the postseason than there is. Use this to supplement your appreciation of the game, not distract from it.

(*) When I reference the RPI's anywhere in this article other than in that first statement, I'm actually referring to the pseudo-RPI's, since the NCAA won't release the real ones. They still stink.

Winners Only

First off, there are thirteen conferences where only the conference tournament winner will advance. Here they are, with my best wild guess at who will win:

The fact that there are thirteen of these this year, when there were only ten last year, is probably a sign of an interesting trend this year. There seems to be a shortage of minor conference teams playing well enough to earn an at-large bid. That may just be a misinterpretation on my part; the RPI top 50, for example, seems to contain about the same number of teams from outside the power conferences as last year, so it may just be a reaction to the taking of 8 SEC teams last year. Nonetheless, I think we'll either have some undeserving teams in this year or the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 may be in for big years as far as the number of bids goes.

One Possible At-Large Bid

There are three conferences with teams that will qualify for at-large bids if they need to, so bubble teams should hope for them to win their conference tournament:

It's possible that a couple of teams from these conferences could still play their way in -- Louisiana-Monroe, Texas-Arlington, and Georgia Southern are all in striking distance but just aren't there right now, for example.

I'm going to guess that between these three conferences and the other conferences where there's the potential for an outsider to win the conference tournament and use up a bid, three spots will end up being used. That seems a reasonable estimate based on past history. Add in the twelve one-bid conferences above and the three in this section, and that takes care of eighteen bids, with forty-six left to spread through the other conferences.

Atlantic Coast

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Wake Forest                11-3  28-6     5    2  10-19
Clemson                     7-2  30-4     1    1  29-28
Georgia Tech                7-3  30-5     9    4  27-21
North Carolina             10-5  25-13   24   11  12-19
Florida State               3-6  34-11   13    9  21-30
North Carolina State        4-8  24-14   59   25  22-28

Wow, that's deep. When you add the remaining schedules for UNC and FSU to the already lofty perches of the top three and the RPI's love affair with the Tar Heels, we're looking at a probable four #1 seeds and the possibility of five. NCSU hasn't been good enough to deserve to get in so far, but they're close, have a better-than-deserved RPI, and have an easy schedule remaining. It's also looking like there may be fewer viable mid-conference teams this year than usual, so they still have a chance.

Atlantic Sun

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Florida Atlantic           15-0  32-6    48   37  51-31
Central Florida            13-2  25-15   82   57  53-29
Stetson                    13-3  31-5    35   24  47-19

FAU and Stetson legitimately deserve to be in at this point, but none of the these three have played each other yet, so there's a lot of room for movement in there, and UCF could still sneak in to contention. Right now, though, I'd guess that FAU and Stetson get the only bids from here unless UCF gets in on name recognition. Stetson has been better this year than last year's much-touted team was; I'd be surprised by another collapse.

Big East

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Boston College             10-4  19-13  124   76  30-25
Notre Dame                  8-6  22-12   97   99  32-23
Seton Hall                  8-6  17-17  130   90  28-27
Virginia Tech               8-6  16-16  123   64  27-31
St. John's                  8-6  18-15  159  120  33-18
Rutgers                     8-6  18-14  118   97  27-26
Connecticut                 7-6  15-14  139  122  23-32

My word, what a mess! Two of these teams will get into the postseason, because, well, I don't know, they just will; those are the rules. Notre Dame and Rutgers are probably the best of a sorry lot, but literally any of these teams (or, I suppose, anybody else but Georgetown) could win the regular season or tournament, which would probably get them in.

Big South

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Coastal Carolina            7-2  25-13   55   34
Elon                        6-3  24-9    56   35

I would suspect, given the shortage of mid-major teams I've mentioned, that both of these teams are in if they can stay where they are. They're both interesting, in different ways, and they're close enough to deserving it that I won't complain much if they do get in.

Big 10

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Ohio State                  9-3  21-8   113  134  35-23
Indiana                     8-4  26-8    76   59  30-27
Michigan State              6-5  22-8    61   73  26-33
Illinois                    5-7  18-9    81   96  22-35

Well, it's better than the Big East (great, I can see myself being quoted in media guides everywhere now). The selection committee, I suspect, would dearly love to get three teams from the Big 10, but the teams aren't helping out -- two of the viable candidates in Michigan State and Illinois are currently in fifth and seventh place, respectively. On the other hand, they both have relatively easy remaining conference schedules, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we'll see IU, MSU, and UIUC come out of here unless OSU wins the tournament.

Big 12

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Oklahoma State              7-4  26-9    27   50  41-37
Texas                       9-6  31-10    7   16  32-24
Texas A&M                   9-6  28-13   20   47  31-27
Baylor                     10-7  27-12   11   14  25-23
Nebraska                   10-8  23-13   31   40  19-22
Oklahoma                    8-7  20-15   38   39  26-33
Texas Tech                 10-11 27-16   25   31  18-13

I suppose this is a mess, too, but it's a much better kind of mess -- this has been a bunch of good to great teams beating on each other every week. Looking at this, it's almost impossible to get a read on who's going to come out of it. Texas Tech probably is too far into their season (annual side rant: who does conference scheduling for the Big 12, and where were they when the elements of drama were being taught in high school? Nebraska finishes conference play two weeks before the end of the season, for cryin' out loud) to make it back, but, given the strength of the remaining schedules, I'd say it's almost a dead heat from this point. Fortunately, the top six here should have no trouble getting into the tournament (and an above .500 in-conference Tech could join them) unless the news that Shane Komine will now be out until at least mid-May proves fatal to Nebraska.

Big West

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Long Beach State            8-1  23-10    8   17  
Cal State Fullerton         7-2  23-12   12   18  
Cal State Northridge        6-3  25-13   34   66  
Cal-Irvine                  4-2  22-17   50   95  

It's down a bit from last year, but then it was the second best conference in the nation last year, so that's hardly cause for alarm. The top three here deserve to get in, but past history says that, sadly, only the top two will actually make it. There's too much conference schedule left to bother with remaining schedules at this point.

Colonial Athletic

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

North Carolina-Wilmington   8-1  25-9    52   36
James Madison               7-1  30-8    43   29
George Mason                7-1  19-17  153  103
Virginia Commonwealth       7-2  24-13  106   82
Delaware                    5-3  19-14  109   46

I've always wondered if it's just a coincidence that the Big West is alphabetically right above the CAA and that all of the Big West's RPI points seem to leak down, but that's probably just because I spend too much time on this stuff. I don't think the league gets three bids (Delaware's RPI is a bit worrisome, but I think it can be ignored), so I'll go with UNCW and James Madison unless Cinderella sneaks in, and maybe if she does.

Conference USA

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Houston                    11-4  27-10    6    5  34-40
Texas Christian            11-4  20-17   45   38  35-39
Louisville                 10-5  21-10   51   52  36-38
Southern Mississippi       10-5  24-13   40   33  28-46
East Carolina               8-6  26-9    37   27  38-37
South Florida               8-7  21-15   72   63  36-38

This is an interesting mix, since any of these guys could still easily play their way in, but only Houston is a lock at this point. Given what we have, I'll take Houston, USM, TCU, and ECU, but I could easily see three or five bids out of here.

Missouri Valley

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Southwest Missouri State   10-2  24-6    17   28
Wichita State              13-3  24-8    15   22
Creighton                  11-4  18-12   67   80

A nice comeback for the league, all in all. Southwest Missouri and Wichita will make it; Creighton probably won't, but has been competitive all year.

Pacific 10

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Stanford                    4-2  25-8     2    3
Arizona State               8-4  24-13   23   43
Southern California         6-3  20-16   16   21
Oregon State                3-3  23-12   33   67
California                  6-6  23-18   46   68
Arizona                     5-7  24-15   21   30

It's a down year here, too, but that just means there are only four of the nine teams in the top 25. All six of these are deserving tournament teams, but we're probably only looking at three realistically as low winning percentages and low RPI's take their toll. I'll take Stanford, ASU, and Southern California, although the Trojans are still flirting with disaster on the winning percentage. Arizona will probably win the coveted Golden Phillips for the highest-ISR team not to make the tournament.


                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI   Rem

Alabama                    12-3  32-5     4    7  41-32
Mississippi                10-5  29-8    14   20  39-31
South Carolina              9-5  28-8    10    6  35-38
Louisiana State             8-6  24-13   18   13  39-32
Mississippi State           8-6  21-12   44   44  40-37
Florida                     8-7  26-12   32   15  30-42
Georgia                     8-7  18-14   22   10  39-35
Auburn                      7-8  25-13   39   23  36-33
Arkansas                    5-7  19-13   29   26  33-41

We do this every year, but last year they made it more confusing. Every year there are at least nine SEC teams that are perfectly justifiable at-large teams. Last year, though, they actually took eight of them, leaving us all quite confused.

Without impugning anyone's honor based on no evidence at all on my part, I'll point something out that may be related. John Shafer, the Mississippi athletic director who's still listed as a selection commitee member, resigned as Ole Miss AD last week and will presumably not be serving on the committee. I have no idea if that makes any difference or not.

For my usual shot in the dark this time, though, I'm going to go ahead and go with eight teams, presumably the top eight listed above.

Sun Belt

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

South Alabama               6-1  23-11   42   32
Western Kentucky            8-3  25-9    58   74
Louisiana-Lafayette         6-3  24-13   19   12
New Orleans                 6-6  20-16   60   53

My best guess here is that only USA and Louisiana-Lafayette get in at this point, although Western Kentucky's gaudy winning percentage is eye-catching at this point against a really weak schedule.

Western Athletic

                           Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Rice                       14-1  31-8     3    8
San Jose State              9-6  29-12   28   72

I'm going to hope against history that San Jose gets in despite that RPI. Absolutely everything else about their season says that they deserve to be in, but that hasn't always been enough.


Here's all sixty-four in one convenient spot:

Alabama              Florida State        Michigan State      San Jose State
Arizona State        Georgia              Mississippi         South Alabama
Auburn               Georgia Tech         Mississippi State   South Carolina
Baylor               Houston              Nebraska            SE Missouri State
Bethune-Cookman      Illinois             North Carolina      Southern
Cal State Fullerton  Illinois-Chicago     UNC-Wilmington      Southern California
Cinderella #1        Indiana              Northwestern State  Southern Miss
Cinderella #2        James Madison        Notre Dame          SW Missouri State
Cinderella #3        Kent State           Oklahoma            Stanford
Clemson              Lafayette            Oklahoma State      Stetson
Coastal Carolina     LeMoyne              Oral Roberts        Texas
Columbia             Long Beach State     Rice                Texas A&M
East Carolina        Louisiana State      Richmond            Texas Christian
Elon                 Louisiana-Lafayette  Rutgers             The Citadel
Florida              Maine                San Diego           Wake Forest
Florida Atlantic     UMBC                 San Diego State     Wichita State

Pitch Count Watch

Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye or, on the other hand, starts where pitchers were pulled according to plan early despite pitching extremely well in close games.

Date Team Pitcher Opponent IP H R ER BB SO AB BF Pitches
Apr 12 Rice Steven Herce Nevada 9.0 10 4 4 1 10 36 38 130
Apr 16 Xavier Kevin Crowley Eastern Kentucky 8.0 12 8 7 4 7 34 38 144
April 5 Stanford Jeremy Guthrie Arizona 10.0 9 2 2 1 5 35 37 141
April 5 Stanford Ryan McCally Arizona 8.0 7 2 2 2 7 30 33 121

I guess the moral of the last two are to pack more than two pitchers, since you might have to stay extra. By the way, there were a total of 512 pitches thrown in that game, and 490 thrown in the Kansas State-Texas Tech game the same night; obviously, those are the sorts of things that stretch a pitching staff out. It's hard to do on a Friday night conference game, but sometimes you're just better off grabbing a freshman off the bench for the 14th inning.

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