The 2012 NCAA Tournament field of 64 is set, and on the whole, the committee did a solid job—including 63 of the 64 teams from our final projection last night, as well as 15 of our 16 hosts and all eight of our national seeds.
Here are my significant areas of disagreement:
1. Wake Forest deserves to be in the field of 64 after sweeping Clemson in the final weekend to finish 13-17 in the nation's strongest RPI conference. The Demon Deacons are inside the top 40 in the RPI (No. 38) and posted a better conference record than fellow ACC bubble teams Virginia Tech and Maryland, which each missed the conference tournament (and also the NCAA tournament).
"Utlimately, looking at their conference regular-season record, we couldn't get over 13-17 in conference," Kallander said of the Deacs. It's worth noting, however, that Miami was just three games better in the ACC but managed to host a regional (more on that below).
Deacons coach Tom Walter was somewhat philosophical, saying, "It's our job to make the decision easy for them, and we didn't do it."
The Deacons played 21 games against the top 25 in the RPI and went just 6-15 in those games, but that still compares very favorably with Michigan State, which somehow got an at-large spot despite finishing in fifth place in the Big Ten. (Also, Wake played 12 of those games on the road in league play—at Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State and Virginia.) The Spartans finished four games out of first, three out of second and two out of third, so it's not like East Carolina, which finished sixth in a tightly bunched C-USA, just a half-game out of second place.
Michigan State went just 2-5 against the top 25 and 3-6 against the top 50 and 13-12 against the top 100. Wake was 15-19 against the top 50 and 17-23 against the top 100. And while Michigan State's RPI (No. 45) is in solid at-large range, the Spartans are still seven spots behind the Deacs. MSU had a chance to finish in second place if it won a season-ending home series against Penn State—and if it had done so, it would have deserved an at-large bid. Instead, the Spartans lost two of three in that series, which should have been a death blow to their case.
In a conference call with media, Division I Baseball Committee chairman Kyle Kallander indicated the opinion of the eight regional advisors—coaches from around the nation—weighed heavily into some of their discussions, and it seemed to be a big factor in the decision to take the Spartans.
"Coaches felt they were the second-best team in the region," Kallander said. "They did play a good schedule in nonconference, they did challenge themselves. In their region, they were the second team right behind Purdue."
He's probably right—the Spartans look like the second-best team in the region, on paper. If that's the case, then the Spartans sure underachieved by finishing fifth in their own conference, let alone their region. Wake Forest, on the other hand, performed about how it should have and maybe even overachieved slightly by finishing seventh in a loaded ACC.
2. Afore-mentioned East Carolina had no business getting a No. 2 seed. We had ECU as the final team in the field in our final projection, and Wake Forest deserves to be in the field over the Pirates, too. ECU played very poorly down the stretch, losing three of its final four series (including a sweep at Southern Miss to end the season) and going 1-2 in the Conference USA tournament. The Pirates were just 3-8 against the top 25 and 5-10 against the top 50, and they lost their series against four of the five teams that finished ahead of them in the standings. East Carolina getting an at-large team is defensible, but not at Wake's expense, and not as a No. 2. The committee clearly leaned heavily upon the RPI this year—the Pirates rank 32nd in that measure.
And it must be mentioned that East Carolina has an administrator on the committee (Gary Overton), just as St. John's did a year ago when it shocked everyone by getting a bid over LSU. Politics sure seem like a factor in the committee's process.
New Mexico State was also a bit of a surprise as a No. 2 seed, but at least the Aggies were a safe at-large team, rather than a team that was widely considered to be right on the bubble, as ECU was. And at least the Aggies have a conference regular-season co-championship to fall back upon.
Otherwise, teams were seeded appropriately almost across the board, which is a nice achievement for a committee. I would have given Coastal Carolina a No. 2 instead of a No. 3, but that's a close one.
3. Miami should not be a host over Kentucky. The Hurricanes finished eight games out of first place in the ACC, while Kentucky was just one game out of first in the SEC. Yes, Miami played a stronger nonconference schedule, and maybe the Wildcats have learned that they should avoid loading their preconference schedule with Northern programs that are unlikely to rank inside the top 200 in the RPI. Kallander indicated the disparity between the two teams' nonconference strength of schedules was ultimately why Miami got the nod.
But Kentucky's body of work is still stronger, and Kentucky offers more geographic diversity than Miami does, as a third host in Florida. The Hurricanes, though, rank 12th in the RPI, while Kentucky ranks 18th.
It would have been perfectly defensible if the committee had made Mississippi State a host over Kentucky, because the Bulldogs came on like gangbusters down the stretch and won four of their five meetings against the Wildcats. But Miami should not host over Mississippi State, either. Consider that Miami went 7-13 against the top 25 in the RPI—even with its 4-0 record against North Carolina—while Kentucky went 10-10 (winning series against LSU and South Carolina), and MSU went 13-11.
And it seems very strange that the ACC gets five hosts while the SEC only gets three. The RPI may say otherwise, but the SEC is the stronger conference.
Other Top Storylines
1. Texas misses the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, coach Augie Garrido's second season in Austin. The Longhorns are college baseball royalty, and Garrido is the winningest coach in the sport's history, so their omission is big news. But it's also fair.
Texas lost its final three weekend series, then went 0-2 in the Big 12 tournament, and their negative momentum surely weighed heavily in the committee's deliberations. Power conference teams seldom get the RPI wiggle room that mid-major teams get, so Texas was in trouble with a No. 50 RPI. Appalachian State (No. 40), Louisville (No. 42), College of Charleston (No. 43), Michigan State (No. 45), Indiana State (No. 49) and Sam Houston State (No. 51) all got in with comparable RPIs, per Boyd's World. Those were the only six at-large teams that ranked 40th or lower in the RPI, and all of them except Michigan State won their conferences in the regular season. Texas finished third in a relatively weak Big 12.
2. Kudos to the committee for rewarding mid-major conferences that had strong seasons, such as the Missouri Valley and SoCon (which got three bids apiece), as well as the Southland (which sent two teams to regionals in 2009 but is nearly always a one-bid league).
3. Utah Valley was the biggest wild card entering selection day. The Wolverines made headlines by winning 40 of their final 41 games (including 32 straight) to finish 47-12 overall, but going 28-0 in the Great West (which does not get an automatic bid) wasn't enough to build an at-large-caliber RPI (No. 69). UVU tried to build a strong nonconference schedule, playing an early series at Cal State Fullerton and playing four midweek games against Arizona and Arizona State. The problem is, they went just 2-5 in their seven games against the top 50, while going 41-3 against teams outside the top 150.
"We told our guys all year to control what they could control, and they won 40 out of 41 games," Utah Valley coach Eric Madsen said. "Our guys played under the pressure all year of knowing that any losses would really make it tough for us (to go to regionals), and they went 45-4 after that tough start, so I'm proud of that.
"I feel like our schedule was pretty good, about as good as it could be. We have to play Southern Utah, it's in our state, certainly that series hurt (our RPI). We tried to move it because they are ending their program. New York Tech and Chicago State in our league probably hurt because I felt like the rest of the league was better and had some wins early in the year that helped the league."
4. Judging by Twitter, Mississippi State fans are in an uproar about getting sent to Tallahassee after winning the SEC tournament. On the surface, getting stuck in a regional with the No. 3 national seed might seem unfair to one of the field's strongest No. 2 seeds, but geography is always a factor when it comes to filling out regionals, and Starkville is within 400 miles of Tallahassee. Samford and UAB fill out a strong regional that features three automatic qualifiers. Certainly, that is one of the most competitive regionals, but I don't think it is unfairly so—all four teams are seeded appropriately, and Samford is toward the back of the group of No. 3 seeds.
5. Some fascinating matchups and storylines: The Palmetto State might come unhinged, as South Carolina and Clemson will meet in a regional for the first time since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999—and they'll be joined by another in-state rival, Coastal Carolina. Cal State Fullerton is headed to Oregon in a matchup between Ducks coach George Horton and his former Fullerton assistant, Rick Vanderhook. Sam Houston State coach David Pierce returns to his old stomping grounds, as the Bearkats head to Rice, where Pierce served as an assistant until last season. And Oklahoma was sent to Virginia as the No. 2 seed, in a rematch of the 2010 Charlottesville Super Regional (which the Sooners won).
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