New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham felt like a father waiting for his first child to be born. Except the hospital room was jam-packed with other nervous fathers.
Birmingham and the Lobos gathered at Coach's, a restaurant in Albuquerque owned by a UNM alumnus to watch the NCAA tournament selection show on Monday. He said he was optimistic, but nervous.
"It's that anticipation of one way or the other, and what do I do if something goes wrong?" Birmingham said. "We had a big crowd, and the biggest worry I had is, if we don't get in, what do I do with all these people in this restaurant?"
He never had to deal with that worst-case scenario. New Mexico's name flashed on the television screen as a No. 3 seed in the Fullerton regional—the school's first trip to regionals since 1962.
"They got it right, man," said an elated Birmingham.
They sure did. The Division I Baseball Committee took loads of grief in this space and elsewhere each of the last two years, when it made some egregious choices while filling out its field. This year's field has a few small surprises, but no big ones, and not a single omission or inclusion that I would describe as indefensible. By and large, the committee did better this year than it has in years. [...] Continue Reading »
Courtesy of the NCAA:
• Mercer is the only first-time entrant into the NCAA tournament. Thirty-five of the 64 teams were in the 2009 field, and one of the newer teams is New Mexico, which is in the field for the first time since 1962. Oregon is in the field for the first time since 1964, and only two years after reinstating the baseball program. [...] Continue Reading »
The most surprising team omitted from the NCAA tournament is Kentucky, simply because of the committee's history of rewarding ninth-place Southeastern Conference teams that have strong RPIs. The Wildcats are 33rd, according to Boyd's World, and have 16 wins against the top 50. But their omission is perfectly defensible given the way they finished the season, losing a series against lowly Georgia. If you're going to miss your conference tournament, you'd better at least finish strong (like North Carolina did) in the regular season to have a chance. The Tar Heels also were 12 spots higher in the RPI.
If I were on the committee, I would have lobbied for Wichita State as the last team over Arizona or Kentucky. Wichita's RPI (56th) meant it was a long shot, but it's a lot more difficult to construct a solid RPI playing in the upper Midwest and playing a Missouri Valley Conference schedule than it is in warm-weather locales, and at least the Shockers won an early-season series at fellow bubble dweller Florida Gulf Coast. My next team would have been Pittsburgh, which was also sabotaged by the RPI (No. 57) and by a poor finish over the last two weeks. But it's not at all surprising that both of those teams were omitted, and it's far from egregious.
Other bubble teams that were left out of regionals that would have been solid at-large choices: Texas State and Florida Gulf Coast, but again, neither omission is glaring, since both teams lacked quality wins. Other fringe bubble teams that did not get nods: Liberty, Boston College, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky, Rutgers, Southeastern Louisiana.
Here's the way the regionals match up in super regionals:
Arizona State regional winner vs. Arkansas regional winner (ASU is the top national seed and would host). Two Pac-10 teams among those eight schools.
Auburn regional winner vs. Georgia Tech regional winner. Two ACC and two SEC teams among the eight squads here.
Virginia regional and the Oklahoma regional are matched, with two ACC teams involved in the eight.
The South Carolina regional matches up with the Coastal Carolina regional, which comes as no surprise. The only surprise is there is no SEC team sent to Coastal, while there are two ACC teams in these two regionals. [...] Continue Reading »
Tim Weiser, the committee chairman, talked about Connecticut being a No. 2 seed. He said the rationale is to put a regional site in a location that hasn't historically had one, which is fine for UConn being a host. But why wasn't UConn a No. 1 seed? He didn't really answer the specific question, though, which is why is UConn a No. 2 seed?
From here, I've always thought it was a good move to try to spread the game, and Connecticut did enough this year to earn a regional host spot. It would have been fascinating to see if Oregon had finished stronger to see if the Ducks would have been a host as well.
For what it's worth, Kyle Peterson did a solid job as usual on the broadcast, but I thought ESPN rifled through the 64-team field too fast and never analyzed which regionals match up in supers. Not ESPN's best work.
Kentucky left out. North Carolina and Cal swoop in at the last second. Eight teams each from the SEC, ACC and Pac-10.
Aaron Fitt goes 63 for 64, missing Arizona; he had Kentucky.
UNC and California both get in, at Oklahoma's regional. The Tar Heels get the lower seed, but both teams really got it done in the last weekend of the season. How about the Pac-10 getting eight teams? I don't think we will be hearing any West Coast fans carping about the West "gets screwed" by the committee. Some Western teams got sent out of the West, such as California and Washington State, and some teams from the rest of the country got sent to the West, such as LSU.
Much, much more analysis to come on the Baseball America Podcast. Send in your questions now at email@example.com.
Good to see some different teams going to different regionals. I'm thinking Texas A&M going to Miami as the No. 2 seed.
Bad to see Arizona in, that's a straight RPI pick. Wildcats are the No. 3 seed at TCU despite losing their last six series. Bad news for Cal?
Bubble not in yet: Kentucky and North Carolina.
Any regional that gets an SEC team going on the road as a No. 2 seed is a tough regional. So we've had that happen four times already.
The most interesting one has the UCLA regional with defending champ LSU gets sent to L.A., with UC Irvine the No. 3 seed and Kent State as a dangerous No. 4 seed.
Vanderbilt hits the road at Louisville, where the surprise is Missouri Valley Conference champion Illinois State getting the No. 3 seed. Mississippi has to go to Virginia, where the Cavaliers are the top seed and No. 5 national overall seed. And Alabama goes to Georgia Tech for a tough regional that also includes Elon, a bubble team that got in.
Oregon State is the other "bubble in" as the No. 3 seed at Florida. Good for Bethune-Cookman and Florida Atlantic to go to a different regional, rather than their usual trips to Coral Gables.
Virginia drops below Florida and Coastal Carolina in the Top Eight national seeds.
1. Arizona State. 2. Texas. 3. Florida. 4. Coastal Carolina. 5. Virginia. 6. UCLA. 7. Louisville. 8. Georgia Tech.
Not understanding how Virginia wins the ACC regular season and falls to No. 5.
We're less than 10 minutes away from the start of the NCAA tournament selection show. I'll have plenty of analysis here on the College Blog throughout the day, but I'll start by posting my instant impressions on Twitter as the field is announced.
Cal State Fullerton
Florida State remains my pick to earn the No. 1 seed in the Norwich Regional, where Connecticut figures to be a No. 2 seed. Other candidates are Vanderbilt, Clemson and maybe Alabama as a darkhorse.
We've got more automatic qualifiers to announce:
• Surely ESPN is already setting up shop in Coral Gables. Florida International's Garrett Wittels extended his amazing hitting streak to 54 games with a fifth-inning single up the middle against Troy in the Sun Belt championship game, and the Golden Panthers slugged their way to a 14-10 win. FIU is almost certain to head to Coral Gables as a No. 3 seed for a regional hosted by Miami, and I would expect a compelling No. 2 seed (Louisiana State?). People are justifiably captivated by the Wittels story; that's made-for-TV. That matters to the committee when it fills out the field.
• Is St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer the new Kevin Gunderson? Back in February, Blankmeyer pronounced, "We're back," and declared that he had a regionals team on his hands. The Johnnies backed him up today, beating Connecticut 3-0 in the Big East championship game. The game got interesting in the ninth, when UConn loaded the bases with one out against closer Daniel Burawa, but Pierre LePage grounded into a double play to end it. St. John's gets in at the expense of an at-large bubble team. Pittsburgh is almost certainly on the outside looking in, now. [...] Continue Reading »
I'll have a full field of 64 projection later, but here are a few quick thoughts about the bubble.
At least two teams (and perhaps four by the end of the day) that were listed as BUBBLE (IN) in this week's Stock Report must be replaced for sure, because Southern Mississippi won the Conference USA tournament, and a team other than Florida Atlantic or Louisiana-Lafayette is going to win the Sun Belt. So CUSA becomes a two-bid league instead of a one-bid league, and the SBC becomes a three-bid league instead of a two-bid league, because Rice, FAU and ULL are all likely at-large teams. The Ragin' Cajuns are on the bubble, but the Sun Belt regular-season co-champs finished the season strong, winning their last seven weekend series, so they should be in.
It's easy to knock two teams out of our field of 64. Arizona has lost six consecutive weekend series, including brutal losses to Southern California and Cal State Bakersfield. That ice-cold finish cancels out Arizona's strong RPI and quality series wins against Cal State Fullerton, Oregon and Washington State earlier in the season.
Liberty also gets removed from our field. Forty-two wins and an RPI of 49th (according to Boyd's World, which factors in RPI bonuses) at least put the Flames in the discussion, but an 0-7 record against the top 50 will prove to be Liberty's undoing. [...] Continue Reading »
I'll unveil a final field of 64 projection after the regional hosts are announced Sunday afternoon. With Saturday's action completed, here is my final prediction for national seeds and hosts (note: this is what I think the committee will do, not necessarily what I think it should do). We'll reference WarrenNolan.com's Ratings Percentage Index rankings, updated through Saturday's action.
1. Arizona State
5. Coastal Carolina
8. Georgia Tech [...] Continue Reading »
Six more teams booked passage to the NCAA tournament by winning their conference tournaments tonight. A quick roundup:
• Mercer won its first Atlantic Sun championship since 1983 and clinched its first-ever trip to regionals with a 7-3 win against Jacksonville. Second baseman Michael Langley and right fielder Thomas Carroll combined for four hits and five RBIs for the Bears.
• Minnesota completed its recovery from a 6-14 start by drubbing Iowa, 15-5, to win its 30th Big Ten championship. Phil Isaksson (7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) earned the win, and shortstop A.J. Pettersen led the offense with two hits and four RBIs. The Gophers (John Manuel's preseason Omaha sleeper) improved to 30-28 on the season and reached regionals for the second straight year, and the ninth time since 1998. Minnesota will be one of the most talented, dangerous No. 4 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
• Virginia Commonwealth is headed to regionals for the eighth time since 1998 after beating UNC Wilmington 7-5 to claim the CAA title. Joe Van Meter's two-run homer broke a 5-5 tie in the 12th to give VCU the win. [...] Continue Reading »
There were some tense moments, but Garrett Wittels extended his hitting streak to 53 games Saturday in Florida International's 11-9 win against Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt tournament. Wittels flew out to deep center in his first three at-bats, then kept the streak alive in the eighth by lining a comebacker at FAU pitcher Tyler Everist for an infield single. Wittels dove head-first into first base to put runners on first and second, setting the stage for Jeremy Patton's go-ahead three-run homer. The win sent the Panthers to the Sun Belt championship game tomorrow against the winner of the Troy-Arkansas State game. Wittels will try to extend his streak to 54 games and extend Florida International's season into next week's regionals.
Florida Atlantic's ouster means the Sun Belt is very likely to earn three NCAA tournament bids, as the Owls and Louisiana-Lafayette (already eliminated) are in good shape to earn at-large spots. That's bad news for other bubble dwellers like Liberty, Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast, all of whom failed to win their respective conference tournaments.
The Flames lost to top-seeded Coastal Carolina 8-2 in Saturday's Big South championship game, just about assuring the Chanticleers of a national seed. Liberty, meanwhile, finishes with an 0-7 record against the top 50 in the Ratings Percentage Index, seemingly dooming its at-large hopes. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—For the first time ever, the No. 7 and 8 seeds will face off in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. If that sounds like some colossal upset, it isn't.
Seventh-seeded Alabama and eighth-seeded Louisiana State are both extremely talented, experienced teams that wandered through the wilderness for a while in the middle of the season, but both teams are playing at an extremely high level now. The Crimson Tide and the Tigers both earned three straight dominating victories to breeze unbeaten through their respective sides of the SEC tournament bracket and set up Sunday's showdown, which is certain to draw an enormous crowd—perhaps as large as 15,000 fans.
We've written plenty about the reasons behind LSU's resurgence. It all starts on the mound, where the Tigers have gotten three straight strong starts, taking pressure off the lineup.
Alabama has used the exact same formula. Jimmy Nelson and Nathan Kilcrease dominated in the Tide's first two victories in Hoover, and lefthander Adam Morgan followed with another gem in Saturday's 5-2 win against top-seeded Florida. Morgan allowed just two runs on six hits and no walks while striking out five in a seven-inning complete game. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Paul Mainieri just has the magic touch.
Baseball America's reigning coach of the year has an uncanny ability to know exactly what buttons to push to give his team a spark. He recognizes emerging players on his roster before they break out, and he puts them in position to succeed.
Last year, of course, Mainieri shook up his lineup midway through the season, installing freshman Mikie Mahtook as the center fielder, sliding preseason All-American shortstop D.J. LeMahieu to second base and inserting freshman Austin Nola into the lineup at short.
It took Mainieri a little longer to find the right buttons this year (remember that disastrous Matty Ott start against Florida on May 2?). But he found them nonetheless.
It started with the installation of freshman Alex Edward into the starting lineup, first in left field and then at third base in mid-May. As Mainieri put it, Edward won't win any gold gloves, but at least the coach doesn't have to cringe when the ball is hit to the hot corner. [...] Continue Reading »
Here's a quick look at how Friday's action could affect the NCAA tournament picture.
First off, a few teams won automatic bids Friday by winning their conference tournaments:
• Stony Brook won its second America East title in three years with a 4-2 win over Albany behind a stellar start from Fr. LHP Adam Brown (8.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K).
• Rider toppled top-seeded Canisius, 4-2, to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference crown for the second time in three years. The Broncs came on strong down the stretch, winning 12 of their final 14 games heading into the conference tournament, where they went a perfect 3-0. Jr. 2B A.J. Albee earned tournament MVP honors with six runs, five hits and four RBIs in the three games; he set Rider single-season records this year for runs (62), RBIs (60) and assists (173). Canisius, meanwhile, follows a sterling regular season with a disappointing MAAC tournament for the third consecutive year. The Golden Griffs have still never been to regionals.
• Texas Christian added a Mountain West tournament championship to its regular-season title with a 2-0 win against New Mexico behind a strong start from Jr. RHP Steven Maxwell (6 IP, 6 H, 0 R). The Horned Frogs are a mortal lock to host a regional and a darkhorse national seed contender, but they probably are still too low in the Ratings Percentage Index to break into the top eight. TCU's RPI did climb three spots to No. 17 after the victory, per WarrenNolan.com.
Six national seeds just about locked up at this point (Virginia, Texas, Arizona State, Florida, Coastal Carolina, UCLA), and Louisville has probably done enough to feel secure about its national seed prospects as well. The Cardinals came from behind to beat South Florida, 9-7, on Friday, ensuring at least two wins in the Big East tournament. After winning the league's regular-season title, racking up 48 wins and climbing to No. 6 in the RPI, probably all Louisville needed to do was avoid a losing record in the conference tournament, and it has done so.
[...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Florida won its elimination game against Vanderbilt Friday night, 5-2, to earn a date with Alabama in the second game Saturday. It was a clinical, methodical victory for the Gators, who made big pitches every time the chips were on the line.
None of the three pitchers Florida rolled out Friday blew Vandy's hitters away with premium velocity. But all three had excellent movement on their fastballs—particularly downard movement. Sinkerballers Hudson Randall, Greg Larson and Paco Rodriguez combined to record a whopping 20 groundball outs, four of them via double plays.
Florida is still trying to work out its infield defense on the corners, and freshman Cody Dent started at third base for the second straight day and committed an error. But the Gators continue to be rock-solid up the middle, as Nolan Fontana and Josh Adams made every routine play and hooked up for a couple of slick twin killings. Fontana, the freshman shortstop with the .988 fielding percentage, showed fringy arm strength on a couple of plays, but he makes up for it with excellent actions, sure hands and by always being in the right position to field the ball. Adams could play shortstop for most teams in college baseball and is a luxury at the keystone sack. [...] Continue Reading »
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