Ten years ago, Warren Morris made Louisiana State king of the NCAA tournament with the most famous home run in college baseball history. Monday his alma mater was left out of the NCAA’s 64-team regional field, the first time the Tigers have not earned a regional bid since 1988.
“We’re very disappointed that we didn’t receive a bid to the tournament, but as I told our players, you can’t leave it in the hands of someone else,” LSU coach Smoke Laval said in a statement issued by the school. “We should have been able to earn it ourselves and not rely on other factors. We certainly didn’t have the year that we hoped we would have, but I thought this team deserved a regional bid after overcoming some key injuries and winning several games against teams that are in the tournament.”
Mississippi State got into the 64-team field over the Tigers. The Bulldogs–whose athletic director, Larry Templeton, is the head of the Division I baseball committee–finished a half-game behind the Tigers in the Southeastern Conference, did not qualify for the SEC tournament and won only one of their last eight weekend series after beginning the season 21-1. Mississippi State won the head-to-head series played in late March, winning two of three at LSU.
Committee member Mike Hamrick, the athletic director at Nevada-Las Vegas, handled questions about the Bulldogs-Tigers controversy after the field was announced because Templeton was not in the room when his school was discussed. Hamrick said it didn’t necessarily come down to the two SEC schools for one spot, saying instead they were part of 17 teams bidding for the last seven spots, and then later 12 teams for five spots. He cited the usual factors, such as Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), strength of schedule, wins against top 100 teams and how teams fared in their final 10 games.
“Mississippi State went 23-3 against teams outside the SEC,” Hamrick said. “It did take two of three (head to head with LSU) . . . Sometimes, the teams are so equally grouped, you have to look at the head to head.”
The rest of the 64-team field had its usual controversies and trends. Clemson, the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament champion, earned the No. 1 national seed, followed in order by Rice, defending national champion Texas, Alabama, Cal State Fullerton, Nebraska, Georgia and Georgia Tech. Clemson was lauded for having the strongest non-conference schedule in the country. “They played good people,” Hamrick said of the Tigers, “and they won.”
All the other hosts announced Sunday earned No. 1 seeds with the exception of Arkansas, which plays host to Oklahoma State as the No. 1 seed in the Fayetteville, Ark., regional. The Razorbacks are one of a field-high eight teams from the SEC, though that’s one fewer team than the league has sent to the tournament the last two seasons.
The ACC sent seven teams, with Wake Forest–16-13 in the regular season but 0-2 in the conference tournament–left out. The Big 12 Conference also sent seven teams–a league high. Kansas and Missouri, bubble teams entering the league’s tournament, made strong runs leading up to the tournament, with the Jayhawks winning the event for the first time since its inception in 1997. Missouri appeared to be the last team in the field, as an at-large team that received a No. 4 seed. All other No. 4 seeds are all automatic qualifiers.
“At the end of the day,” Templeton said, “Missouri and Kansas played their way into the tournament with their play in the (Big 12) tournament.”
The Pacific-10 sent four teams, and as usual the West had its share of intrigue. Stanford got in (for the 13th straight season) despite an 11-13 league record and despite losing four of its last six games. The West Coast Conference received three bids, as San Diego–a bubble team last year that didn’t get in–was rewarded for its strong nonconference schedule this year. The Toreros started the season by sweeping Texas, which no doubt helped their chances. Long Beach State (29-27) did not get a bid for the first time since 2000 and just the third time since 1989.
Among other noteworthy choices:
• Southern Mississippi edged out Memphis for a bid, though the Tigers beat the Golden Eagles three out of five times head to head and had the same record in Conference USA.
• Old Dominion (39-17), which got off to a 29-3 start, was left out after faltering down the stretch, losing eight of its last 10 to fall to second place in the Colonial Athletic Association. The CAA got only one bid–tournament champion UNC Wilmington–when regular season champion James Madison (38-21, 22-8) also was left out.
“I’m not bitter, but I’m disappointed,” Old Dominion coach Jerry Meyers said. “We had a chance to take care of business ourselves, but we hit a dry spell at the wrong time.
“I thought the league was good enough for two bids, and I’m sure it received strong consideration. It was a better league this year.”
• The committee passed over Louisiana-Lafayette, which finished second in the Sun Belt Conference, and chose South Alabama as an at-large team, citing the Jaguars’ superior strength of schedule and RPI, which Templeton said was “significantly higher” than Louisiana-Lafayette’s.
• Miami extended its record streak to 34 seasons with a regional berth, with Florida State reaching 29 straight years, second-best all-time. Five schools are in for the first time, including San Francisco of the WCC with an at-large bid, and four automatic qualifiers: Lehigh, UNC Asheville, Prairie View A&M and Sacred Heart.