Here’s A Shocker: Shafer’s Out

Wednesday was a rough day for Wichita State. Not only did the 10th-ranked Shockers lose their second straight midweek game (a 10-2 throttling at the hands of Arkansas, a day after they dropped a tight 2-1 decision against Kansas State), but the Shockers also found out that they’ll be without sophomore righthander Aaron Shafer for an indefinite period.

Shafer, the No. 3 prospect in the sophomore class entering the season, told Wichita State’s coaching staff that he felt stiffness in his elbow after throwing about four pitches in the bullpen on Tuesday. WSU coach Gene Stephenson said an MRI revealed no structural damage, and Shafer was placed on anti-inflammatories, but it’s unclear how serious the problem is. The Shockers hope Shafer will be back in a week or two, but he will miss his scheduled start Saturday against conference rival Evansville. The Shockers will move junior lefthander Rob Musgrave up to Saturday and are likely to start sophomore lefty Anthony Capra (3-0, 1.79 51/40 K/IP ratio) on Sunday. But if Shafer (6-2, 2.60 on the year) misses the rest of the season, it will be a huge blow to Wichita State’s national title hopes.

Two other pitchers left high-profile programs this week. Florida State freshman righthander Casey Whitmer, one of the better arms in the Seminole bullpen who was expected to be a major part of next season’s weekend rotation, quit the team despite FSU coach Mike Martin’s attempts to convince him otherwise. Whitmer was 1-0, 4.40 in 14 innings out of the FSU bullpen this year.

And Alabama coach Jim Wells announced in a teleconference today that senior righthander Bernard Robert was kicked off the team for violating team rules. Robert, the Crimson Tide’s Saturday starter, was 4-5, 3.64 in 12 appearances (nine starts). Wells said Alabama will replace him in the rotation with sophomore righty Tommy Hunter (4-3, 3.36 with five saves in 70 innings), the best arm on the team who has worked as the closer for most of 2007.

On to this week’s mailbag:

Do you think the SEC will receive 5 host sites this season? If Mississippi State finishes in the top 10 in the RPI but finishes 5th overall in the conference, do you think they still receive a host site? My take is that barring total collapses that Vandy, Arkansas, and South Carolina are locks to host. If the SEC gets 4 bids, then it is obviously between State and Ole Miss. If the SEC gets 5, then we seem to be in good shape.

Seth Burt
Starkville, Miss.

The Southeastern Conference looks a lot different this year than it has the last few seasons. It’s still a deep league, but there is a pretty significant gulf between the powers at the top of the league and the teams at the bottom. That’s not to say Georgia or Auburn aren’t capable of beating Vanderbilt or Arkansas in a three-game series, but teams aren’t nearly as tightly bunched as they have been in recent years.

The NCAA’s decision to publicly release the Ratings Percentage Index for the first time gives us a perfect opportunity to revisit our projected field of 64 from the season’s mid-point; check back for our updated projections early next week. This much is clear: the SEC is not worthy of nine bids like it received in 2004 and 2005, and it might not even be deserving of the eight bids it got last year.

As Seth correctly points out, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and South Carolina are virtual locks to host regionals. Mississippi and Mississippi State join them as locks for the NCAA tournament. After that it gets tricky. Kentucky has a strong overall record but a weak RPI (58) because of its poor non-conference schedule, not to mention a 7-10 conference record and a tough remaining schedule that includes trips to South Carolina and Mississippi. The Wildcats are squarely on the bubble, but could wind up on the outside looking in. Florida and Louisiana State have mediocre overall records, but their conference marks are decent and their RPIs are in the 30s. At this point, I’ll project the Gators and Tigers as the sixth and seventh teams in from the SEC, and it’s difficult to see an eighth team deserving of a bid at this point.

If the SEC does get just seven bids, it’s hard to argue the conference is deserving of five hosting sites. SEC teams hosted five regionals in 2004 and 2006, when the conference received nine and eight berths, respectively; it got just four host sites in 2005 when it had nine teams in the tournament. So Mississippi and Mississippi State might be competing for the fourth and final host spot. That makes this weekend’s three-game series in Oxford all the more important. The Bulldogs currently own a one-game lead over the Rebels in the loss column, but the race could turn one way or the other this weekend. Give Ole Miss a slight edge thanks to its home-field advantage and superior weekend rotation.

I’m off to Southern California for the weekend–be sure to check the College Blog all weekend and into next week for updates from a great weekend in the Big West, Pac-10 and West Coast Conference.