June Madness Begins in May
Over the weekend, the NCAA Baseball Committee announced the field of 64 teams that will compete for the 2009 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. As always, there were a handful of surprises.
The Big 12 (Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M) and Southeastern Conference (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, Vanderbilt) landed eight spots each while the Atlantic Coast Conference (Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Virginia) nabbed seven. Meanwhile, the Big West (Cal Poly, UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton) and Pacific-10 (Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington State) garnered three each.
The Big 12, SEC, and ACC combined for 23 of the 64 available berths in the NCAA tournament. By comparison, the West (including the six schools named above plus Fresno State, Gonzaga, San Diego State, Utah) earned a whopping 10 spots or two more than the Big 12 or SEC. Mind you, the West sports the defending champ (Fresno State) and three of the top six national seeds (Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State, UC Irvine), yet is represented by less than 16 percent of the total field.
The top eight national seeds are as follows:
1. Texas (41-13-1)
2. Cal St. Fullerton (42-14)
3. LSU (46-16)
4. North Carolina (42-16)
5. Arizona St. (44-12)
6. UC Irvine (43-13)
7. Oklahoma (41-18)
8. Florida (39-20)
While Texas goes in as the favorite, it has been 10 years since the last No. 1 overall seed (Miami) won the College World Series. Along the same lines, no top-eight seed has emerged victorious since Rice in 2003.
Courtesy of Baseball America, the 64-team field is as follows (with Regional hosts listed No. 1 and national seeds indicated in parenthesis after the school name):
I'm all ears and eyes if anyone can explain to me how the Committee can justify placing UC Irvine (No. 1 ranked team in Baseball America's latest poll, the sixth overall seed, and the Big West champions), Virginia (No. 7 in Baseball America's poll and ACC tournament champions), Fresno State (defending NCAA champs and winner of the WAC tournament), and San Diego State (40-21 with a second-place finish in the Mountain West tourney) in the same Regional. The bracket is particularly unfair to UCI and Virginia, which gets the privilege of facing Stephen Strasburg, perhaps the greatest pitcher in the history of college baseball, in the opener on Friday night.
To be honest, it's hard to understand how Cal State Fullerton earned a higher national seed than UCI. The Titans finished five games behind the Anteaters in the Big West and lost the head-to-head series in early April. Granted, Fullerton (No. 1) has a higher RPI than Irvine (No. 18) but that should have little or no bearing when comparing two teams from the same conference that played an identical schedule in league and faced each other three times during the regular season. In any event, UCI gets Virginia, which could have conceivably been chosen as a Regional host, as its No. 2 seed and CSF gets Georgia Southern (unranked with the 35th highest RPI)? I'm sorry, but these pairings make no sense whatsoever.
Rice and Florida State can also make reasonably strong cases over Oklahoma and Florida for national seeds. As Baseball America's Aaron Fitt pointed out, "Rice was 21-9 against the top 100 teams in the RPI, and it finished strong by winning the CUSA tournament. And Florida State won the regular-season ACC title and reached the finals of the conference tournament."
Fitt also believes that "Oklahoma State is a horrendous, horrendous choice as an at-large bid." The Cowboys won just two of its nine conference series and finished ninth in a 10-team league, yet finds itself a No. 3 in the Clemson Regional. Baylor is another questionable call from the Big 12 (which is really the Big 10 when it comes to baseball).
The Regionals begin on Friday, May 29 and conclude on Sunday, May 31 (or Monday, June 1, if necessary). Selection of the eight Super Regional hosts will be announced on Monday, June 1 at approximately 11 p.m. ET. The Super Regionals will take place on June 5-7 and June 6-8. The best-of-three-games winners will advance to the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska on June 13-23/24.
Additional notes (from the NCAA press release):
Binghamton, Cal Poly, Georgia State, Kansas State, and Xavier made the field for the first time. Utah and Boston College last were in the field in 1960 and 1967, respectively.
Miami (FL) is in the field for the 37th consecutive year, extending its own record. Florida State is making its 32nd straight appearance, second all-time. Other long consecutive streaks: Cal State Fullerton (18), Rice (15) and Oral Roberts (12).
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Update (5/27/09): Boyd's World has posted its Iterative Strength Ratings (ISR)-based probabilities to determine the odds of winning the Regionals, Super Regionals, and College World Series. Not surprisingly, the 16 Regional hosts are favored to win this weekend with Texas (66.9), Arizona State (78.2), Cal State Fullerton (83.4), and UC Irvine (54.8) the only schools with a better than 50 percent chance of making it to Omaha. Based on these ISR findings, Fullerton (32.6), ASU (19.2), and Texas (13.2) are the three favorites to win it all.