DURHAM, N.C.—For a while tonight, Duke looked to be on its way to the ACC championship game tomorrow against Florida State. Freshman lefthander Eric Pfisterer (5 IP, 2 ER, 6 K) was in control, but the Duke bullpen couldn’t hold a 4-2 lead, as Virginia took advantage of several Blue Devil miscues to explode for seven runs in the seventh inning en route to an 11-7 win. Virginia has used big innings to win each of its last three games, and the UVa. bats look like more than a match for Florida State’s tomorrow. The Cavs will throw senior righty Andrew Carraway (who threw 4 1/3 innings of relief Thursday against Clemson) against FSU sophomore righty Mike McGee.
Duke coach Sean McNally said afterward that he was holding out hope for a regional bid, but in reality the Blue Devils’ run is over. They availed themselves very well this week, but Boston College wrapped up the ACC’s seventh bid yesterday, and Duke is very unlikely to beat out fellow bubble teams Missouri State, Eastern Illinois, Southern Mississippi and Rhode Island, among others. The Bears, Panthers and Rams, in particular, all challenged themselves in nonconference play, while Duke did not. The Blue Devils took a huge step forward as a program this season and can hold their heads high, but missed opportunities (in series losses to Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia) will prove their undoing with the selection committee.
Virginia missed plenty of opportunities early in the year, losing tight series against Miami and North Carolina. I thought the Cavs looked impressive in defeat in Chapel Hill back in March, but the difference now is that they look impressive in victory. The offense has been a strength all year long, but the pitching staff is in much better shape now, with Tyler Wilson setting up Kevin Arico in the back of the bullpen. And UVa. is staying patient offensively and getting timely hits when it needs them most. This team will be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament.
The question is, where will Virginia’s postseason begin? Will the Cavaliers host a regional?
"I don’t know," Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. "I dont know what else is out there. I feel like we’re deserving. I feel like our RPI is inside 10. We have been a very consistent performer all year long. We haven’t been swept in the league. We were a hit away or a pitch away from winning both those series against Miami and UNC. I feel like at the most important time, we’ve shown what we’re about as a ballclub."
Regional sites will be announced tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET—before all of the conference champions are determined—so the committee probably has all the information now that it’s going to use to decide who hosts. Twelve teams are clear-cut hosts, and I think Texas Christian and Louisville have the inside track at earning two more. That leaves the following teams competing for two spots: Georgia Tech, Virginia, South Carolina, East Carolina, Kansas State, Ohio State. I like South Carolina’s chances to earn a fourth site out of the SEC thanks to an 8-2 performance in its last 10 games and an 18-14 record against teams currently rated in the top 50 of the RPI (according to warrennolan.com). By contrast, Virginia is 9-8-1 against the top 50, and 21-2 against teams 101-200. Georgia Tech is 14-13 against the top 50, but just 4-6 in its last 10 games.
For me it comes down to Georgia Tech versus Virginia for the ACC’s fourth site (joining UNC, Florida State and Clemson, which is 15-14 against the top 50). My hunch is the committee will punish Virginia for its cream-puff nonconference schedule, as many coaches in other parts of the country resent ACC teams that do not challenge themselves early in the year but still have gaudy RPIs. Meanwhile, Texas Christian (for example) scheduled early series at Cal State Fullerton, at Mississippi, home against Wichita State and home against Minnesota. Georgia Tech’s nonconference slate wasn’t great either, but the Jackets do have more quality wins than the Cavaliers, even if you factor in this week.
So my final prediction for hosts, by conference:
ACC (4): North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech
SEC (4): Louisiana State, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina
Big 12 (2): Texas, Oklahoma
Big West (2): UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton
CUSA: (1): Rice
Pac-10 (1): Arizona State
Big East (1): Louisville
MWC (1): Texas Christian
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