UPDATE: Arkansas got a run in the eighth inning and two in the ninth in Thursday’s third game at the Southeastern Conference tournament to beat LSU 4-1.
As mentioned below, this is a big boost for Arkansas’ hopes of hosting an NCAA tournament Regional, and could put a dent in South Carolina’s hopes of hosting.
It’s hard to definitively say that Arkansas’ win Thursday will result in the Razorbacks hosting and USC not hosting. But Arkansas is now 2-0 in Hoover, Ala., where USC went 0-2 with losses to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt on Wednesday and Thursday.
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America said earlier Thursday that if Arkansas lost to LSU, USC would almost certainly host. The Gamecocks, who were swept by Arkansas in the regular season, still might host. But they certainly don’t want Arkansas to continue winning.
The upshot is: Because Arkansas beat LSU, nothing is set yet for the Gamecocks.
LSU was projected be the No. 3 national seed in the NCAA tournament, so this was a big win for the Razorbacks, who could face LSU again in Hoover — another chance to polish the resume. LSU will now play Alabama in Friday’s first of two games. The winner of that game will face Arkansas in Saturday’s first semifinal — a single elimination game. The Razorbacks are off Friday.
As mentioned in the rest of this entry, there are a bunch of variables for USC’s chances of hosting a Regional, including what Clemson does in the ACC tournament. The Tigers lost their tournament opener to North Carolina State and play Friday against North Carolina, which was projected entering this week as the No. 2 national seed in the NCAA tournament.
But the fact that USC went 0-2 in Hoover and Arkansas is now 2-0, with perhaps another game coming against LSU, does not bode well for the Gamecocks.
The Regional host sites will be announced Sunday night. The rest of the NCAA tournament field will be revealed at noon Monday on ESPNU.
Really, all USC needed to do to lock down Regional hosting rights was not go 0-2 in Hoover and not see Arkansas make a deep run there. Now, the former has happened and the Razorbacks look like a team capable of reaching Sunday’s final. Win on Saturday against the victor of Alabama-LSU, and the Razorbacks will play for the title — and the Gamecocks will have another reason to worry on Sunday evening.
Now, South Carolina waits – and possibly sweats.
The Gamecocks went 0-2 at the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament, courtesy of Thursday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to Vanderbilt, the nation’s top-ranked team and the likely overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
USC will not receive a top eight national seed to the tournament, so they are not guaranteed of hosting a Super Regional, if they advance that far. Of course, they could still host a Super Regional if a national seed in their part of the bracket falls in its Regional. (More on that below.)
Entering the SEC tournament, USC was projected to host a Regional, despite going 1-2 at Mississippi State to close the regular season. That’s largely because Arkansas went 1-2 at Auburn in its regular season finale series.
Probably all USC needed to do to lock up Regional hosting was win one game in the SEC tournament. Certainly, a win Thursday over Vanderbilt would have done it.
But now, Arkansas already has a win over Mississippi at the conference tournament, and in a few minutes will play LSU. If Arkansas wins that game, it would be a quality victory for the Razorbacks’ resume because LSU is projected as the overall No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Even if Arkansas loses, it gets another game in Hoover, against Alabama on Friday.
Arkansas needs quality wins because it is currently No. 45 in the RPI. LSU is No. 5, Alabama No. 27. Remember, Arkansas finished third in the SEC regular season and swept the Gamecocks.
As the estimable Aaron Fitt of Baseball America noted, teams outside the RPI top 40 don’t host Regionals. But if the Razorbacks get into the top 30, that could be another story. Fitt also astutely noted that Arkansas and USC are on the Regional host bubble along with Clemson, whose resume resembles USC’s, except that USC took two of three from Clemson in the regular season. So there is a chance that Arkansas and USC both host, while Clemson doesn’t, depending on what Clemson does in the ACC tournament.
The bottom line is, USC needs to root hard for LSU to beat Arkansas on Thursday. Fitt believes that if Arkansas loses to LSU, then USC is a very strong bet to host a Regional.
USC will enter the NCAA tournament, which begins next Friday, having lost four of five games. In those four losses, the Gamecocks scored two, three, three and four runs – not the type of offensive production that will result in consistent postseason winning.
USC will learn Sunday if it will host a Regional. The rest of the NCAA tournament field will be revealed on Monday.
So does it matter if USC hosts NCAA tournament games? History says yes, and while you can debate how much these numbers will matter for this particular USC team, the contrast between USC’s home and road postseason success is stark.
In terms of advancing or not, USC is 18-2 in home NCAA tournament rounds and 3-15 in road tournament rounds. In terms of the individual games, USC is 55-8 at home and 35-31 on the road. USC has won 24 straight NCAA tournament home games since 2002.
USC received national seeds the past two seasons (No. 4 and 8) and converted them into a national title and runner-up finish. Before that, USC hadn’t received a national seed since 2004. From 2005-10, USC lost three road Regionals and two road Super Regionals, and also won a road Super Regional in 2010 (albeit in Myrtle Beach) on its way to a national title.
When USC made three straight Omaha trips from 2002-04, it hosted a Super Regional every year. Unlike 2002 and 2004, it did not receive a national seed in 2003, but hosted a Super Regional anyway because national seed Georgia Tech lost in the Regional round. In 2001, the Gamecocks’ season ended with a road Super Regional.
Then again, a national seed doesn’t guarantee an Omaha trip, as USC learned in 2000, when it was the No. 1 overall seed and lost in a home Super Regional. Other than that, the only time USC lost a home NCAA tournament round was in the 1976 Regional, long before the Super Regional/national seed format was created.
So if the Gamecocks make an Omaha trip for the fourth straight time (which would be a school record), they will potentially have to win on the road. And they might just have to win a Regional and Super Regional on the road, depending on what happens with Arkansas in the rest of the SEC tournament, Clemson in the rest of the ACC tournament – and, of course, what happens with the national seed that is slotted in USC’s part of the NCAA tournament bracket.
Remember, in 2003, USC traveled to Atlanta as a Regional No. 2 seed, with host Georgia Tech as the national seed (No. 3) in that Regional. When the Yellow Jackets fell without even playing USC, the Gamecocks hosted a Super Regional against North Carolina, a No. 2 Regional seed that came out of Mississippi State’s Regional.
So it is certainly possible to host a Super Regional even if you are a Regional No. 2 seed, as USC could be if Arkansas continues to win in Hoover and Clemson does well in the ACC tournament.
This year’s 0-2 trip to Hoover continues USC’s recent struggles at the league tournament. The Gamecocks are now 8-18 in nine trips there since 2004, when they won their only league tournament title. Of course, they also have five Super Regional appearances, three Omaha trips and two national titles in that span.
Here’s a look at how USC has done in the SEC tournament since Ray Tanner took over the program in 1997, along with the Gamecocks’ postseason fate each year …
1997: 0-1, missed NCAA tournament
1998: 0-2, Regional
1999: 0-2, missed NCAA tournament
2000: 2-2, Super Regional
2001: 3-2, Super Regional
2002: 4-2 (runner-up), national runner-up
2003: 1-2, College World Series
2004: 4-0 (champions), College World Series
2005: 1-2, Regional
2006: 1-2, Super Regional
2007: 2-2, Super Regional
2008: 1-2, Regional
2009: 1-2, Regional
2010: 0-2, national champions
2011: 1-2, national champions
2012: 1-2, national runner-up
2013: 0-2, ???