NCAA Releases RPI

The NCAA’s official baseball website has featured one ranking this season–Baseball America’s top 25. Now it has two.

As mentioned last week, for the first time the NCAA is releasing its official baseball Ratings Percentage Index, and there are a few surprises at the top. One non-surprise: Vanderbilt, No. 1 in our rankings, is No. 1 in the RPI, followed by Rice, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

While the Aggies are something of a surprise at No. 4, Long Beach State shouldn’t be a surprise at No. 5. The Dirtbags, who have played a nation-best 22 games against teams in Baseball America’s Top 25 and are unranked in BA’s latest poll. LBSU has the highest ranking of any team on the West Coast, followed by Arizona State at No. 8. However, West Coast teams actually aren’t quite as under-represented as expected in the RPI, with San Diego, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Oregon State and Arizona all are bunched from Nos. 20-27.

Several Atlantic Coast Conference teams suffer in the RPI compared to the national rankings, thanks mostly to poor strength of schedule and/or a preponderance of home games. Florida State is 37-6 for the purpose of the RPI and ranked second in BA’s top 25, but its weak non-ACC schedule, coupled with 34 of its 43 games being at home, help drive it down to 14th on the RPI. Virginia, No. 3 in the BA poll, is just 13th in the RPI, with North Carolina (which has lost head-to-head series with both FSU and UVA) ranked as the top ACC team, ninth overall in the nation.

Among other items of note:

• Minnesota checks in at No. 17 thanks to an arduous non-Big Ten schedule, but the Golden Gophers are almost certain to drop as the bulk of their remaining games are against conference opponents who are ranked low in the RPI. The snow-out of a four-game set with Michigan (No. 33 in the RPI) will hurt both teams’ chances of being regional hosts or No. 1 seeds.

• UCLA leads the Pacific-10 but its 22-16 record is a big reason its RPI ranking is at 51, putting it squarely on the bubble if it does not win the Pac-10 regular season and its ensuing automatic bid. Southern California was No. 43 in the rankings, prior to a 3-1 loss Tuesday to Cal State Fullerton, but at 21-21, the Trojans are sliding the wrong way and putting their at-large chances in jeopardy.

• Conference USA, with jumbled standings after league-leader Rice, has four teams scrambling for regional bids. East Carolina, at No. 16, has the second-best RPI among CUSA schools, with Southern Mississippi (38) next. Memphis (47) is the schizophrenic team of the league at 26-16, 9-6 in the league. The Tigers were on the fast track to a regional bid until losing two home games last weekend to previously winless (in league play) Marshall. Houston (50) is 9-3 in the conference and should be in if it remains second in the league, but Tulane (53), fifth in the conference at 8-7, could be on the wrong side of the bubble if it doesn’t start playing better.

• The Missouri Valley, another mid-major conference in search of at-large bids, has two teams with borderline RPIs in Creighton (48) and Evansville (49). Creighton won two of three against the Purple Aces in Evansville, which could prove a significant advantage come selection time, but Evansville’s non-league schedule was significantly stronger at the top and down the stretch. The Purple Aces would really help their cause with a series win against league leader Wichita State (No. 11 in the RPI).

• Louisville (No. 40) leads the way for the Big East, with league leader Rutgers (62) and sliding South Florida (44) the only other teams in hailing distance of at-large bids.

• Air Force (7-33) checks in as Team Irrelevant at No. 293, behind even winless Coppin State (0-36) thanks to the fact six of its seven victories are against non-Division I opponents. Air Force’s only D-I win came at Hawaii-Hilo, and the Falcons lose bonus points for losses to NAIA schools Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and York (Neb.). Of course, most D-I teams would be challenged by Lewis-Clark State, the 13-time NAIA champion, but more important is the fact that Air Force’s rotten RPI helps drive down the rankings of good Mountain West Conference teams such as Texas Christian (52), Brigham Young (93) and San Diego State (120). The Aztecs, who beat Air Force 31-0 on Sunday, have six of their 27 victories against AFA but also have victories aginst San Diego (1-1), Big West Conference leader Cal Poly and Pac-10 leader UCLA (a series sweep).
Update: Comments can change the world . . . I forwarded the comment below about home fields and neutral sites to the NCAA’s Jim Wright, and he’s already realized one mistake and will make changes in next week’s RPI release. Here’s his reply, in edited form:

“For Rice, we DO consider games at Minute Maid home games for them FOR RPI PURPOSES. Thus, both Vandy and Texas A&M will receive bonus points for beating a top 25 team at home. Our logic here…and this applies to all RPI sports, not just baseball…is a team has an advantage playing in their home city, even if it is not their home facility. If Rice played Houston at Minute Maid, it would be a neutral site. We also have Rice playing away at TAMU-CC, but do have them with two neutral site games at TAMU-CC vs. TCU and Texas Tech. The Texas games came to me listed as being played in Round Rock. I just found out that’s literally a suburb of Austin, so I’m changing those to home games, thus giving San Diego and Stanford some bonus points.”

Take a bow, texd, for making the college baseball world a better place.