Postseason Stock Report: Saturday, May 23
On Tuesday, we released our penultimate full field of 64 projection — our last one will be unveiled Sunday, in advance of the NCAA’s field announcement on Monday. Each day in between, we have taken a look at how that day’s action impacted the postseason picture, and made changes to our national seeds, hosts and at-large spots accordingly — but without worrying about the jigsaw puzzle of which team goes to which regional. The analysis below reflects our updated projection through Saturday’s action. Note: All RPI figures referenced reflect the WarrenNolan.com RPI rankings, updated after all of the Saturday games have been completed.
SECURE TEAMS: LSU, UCLA, Louisville, Illinois, Miami, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas A&M, Missouri State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Vanderbilt, Florida State, Dallas Baptist, Houston
Changes from Friday: Missouri State replaces TCU as national seed.
Both Missouri State and TCU were idle on Saturday, as the MVC title game between Missouri State and Bradley was postponed until Sunday. So why did we make the change? Our committee re-opened the discussion, and we simply changed our minds after additional debate. I’ll repeat the analysis I wrote yesterday about this: The Bears are still perfect in the Valley tournament and have a chance to add an MVC tourney title to their regular-season title with one more win. If they do that, their case will look stronger than TCU’s, after the Frogs went 0-2 in the Big 12 tourney. Currently, TCU (No. 7) is just one spot ahead of Missouri State (No. 8) in the RPI. Missouri State has the slightly better top 50 record (8-4 compared with TCU’s 7-5) and the better top 25 record (5-2 vs. 4-4). The strength of schedules for both teams are comparable. Is a Big 12 regular-season title worth that much more than a Valley regular-season and tournament title, just because the Big 12 is more of a brand name? That seems like the biggest thing TCU has going for it when compared with Missouri State. But these conferences are actually back to back in RPI — the Big 12 is the No. 5 league, the Valley is No. 6. Our committee decided that even if Missouri State loses Sunday, it should get a very slight edge over TCU because it performed well this week, while TCU went 0-2 in its conference tourney. Their cases are very comparable otherwise. And Missouri State has a better case than Dallas Baptist even though the Patriots are higher in the RPI (No. 3) because Missouri State won the MVC by three games, took the head-to-head series over DBU, and went farther in the conference tournament.
We’ve moved Florida into the “secure” category after it beat LSU on Saturday to reach the SEC title game. We also still believe Miami is secure after finishing atop the RPI rankings and going 2-1 in ACC tourney pool play, and Louisville should be safe despite falling to No. 14 in the RPI because of its dominant 25-5 performance in the ACC’s regular season. Illinois has a similar RPI (No. 13) but should be safe for a national seed after its 46-8 season, which included a 21-1 record in the Big Ten, a 27-game winning streak, a 16-4 record against the top 50 and a series win at Oklahoma State.
That leaves us with Texas A&M and Vanderbilt competing for a third SEC national seed, with Florida State still in the mix as a potential third ACC national seed. If the Seminoles win Sunday’s ACC title game, they have a chance to push Missouri State or TCU out and claim a national seed — and they might have a chance to do that anyway. FSU has a weird resume. On the positive side of the ledger, FSU has more top 25 wins (10-6) than any team in the country, is tied for the most top 50 wins (18-0), owns a top-10 RPI and a top-10 strength of schedule. On the negative side, the Seminoles were swept twice in ACC play, at Notre Dame and Clemson, with the latter sweep coming at a critical time — last week. They also have a 9-12 road record, and we can’t find any national seed in the last eight years that has had a losing road record. FSU has regained its momentum with a 3-0 showing in ACC tournament pool play, and its sheer volume of quality wins is hard to ignore. But TCU and Missouri State have been more consistent, albeit against much easier schedules. We think the committee will ultimate opt for one of those teams over the Seminoles, and for a third SEC team over the Seminoles. But if FSU winds up as a national seed, I think it will be worthy.
Finally, the great Aggie-Commodore debate. Mark Etheridge and Kendall Rogers both leaned slightly toward Texas A&M, with the caveat that if Vanderbilt wins the SEC title tomorrow, it will jump the Aggies. The crux of their argument:
(1) A&M went 25-0 in nonconference play, while Vandy struggled in some midweek games and went 19-7 nonconference.
(2) Texas A&M should get credit for its 24-0 start, because that is difficult to do, regardless of the quality of the opponents.
(3) The Aggies have very slight edges in records against top 25 (7-3) and top 50 (14-7) over the Commodores, who are 6-6 vs. top 25, 13-9 vs. top 50.
(4) Texas A&M athletics director Stan Hyman serves on the selection committee, and his influence should help the Aggies get a better deal, as they did two years ago, when they should have been one of the last teams in the field and wound up as a No. 2 seed.
Those points are all valid. However, I was the dissenting opinion in this debate — I think Vanderbilt deserves a national seed over A&M regardless of what happens on Sunday. The crux of my argument:
(1) Vandy finished slightly ahead in the SEC in the regular season (20-10 vs. 18-10) and won its division — this is minor, but not irrelevant.
(2) Vandy also went farther in the conference tournament, and had to eliminate Texas A&M to do it. The two teams did split their two SEC tournament meetings, but Vandy had to play an additional game in the loser’s bracket before it got to face the Aggies again in the semifinals, so theoretically A&M should have had an advantage with fresher pitching because it played one fewer game — and the Commodores still won.
(3) Momentum: Vandy finished better down the stretch, winning three of its last four series, while A&M only won one of its final five series (and tied another).
(4) Nonconference strength of schedule — and this is the big one. All of the other differences between these two teams are small — a few metrics lean slightly toward A&M, a few lean slightly toward Vanderbilt. The only area where there is a huge gap between them is nonconference SOS, where Vandy is No. 36 and Texas A&M is No. 195. The Commodores are also No. 16 overall in SOS, while A&M is No. 62.
Again, you have to do a lot of splitting hairs to pick one of these two teams, and two of our three committee members voted for A&M (unless Vandy wins tomorrow), so I’ll defer to that here, and I think it is a perfectly fine choice. No conference has ever produced four national seeds, and I do not expect that to happen this year either, because there are other worthy contenders in the top 10 of the RPI.
One final thought: Houston jumped to No. 12 in the RPI Saturday, and suddenly the Cougars look like a darkhorse national seed contender. Houston won the No. 3 RPI conference in the regular season, has a chance to add a tournament title on Sunday, and has a nice 16-8 record against the top 50. But the Cougars are just 0-2 against the top 25, which keeps it behind the other top national seed contenders.
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