Both Palmetto State major conference baseball teams, South Carolina and Clemson, went to their conference tournaments in Hoover, Ala., and Durham, N.C., this week with a chance to grab NCAA tournament Regional host sites.
But USC went 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference tournament, losing to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, and Clemson went 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, falling to North Carolina State, North Carolina and Miami.
Now, neither Palmetto State team will host a Regional, according to Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt. He projects Arkansas and Virginia Tech to receive the final two Regional host sites, over USC and Clemson. The host sites will be announced Sunday at 9 p.m., and the rest of the field will be revealed at noon Monday.
Based on Fitt’s analysis, Virginia Tech is set as a Regional host regardless of what happens in Sunday’s ACC title game, in which the Hokies will play N.C. State or North Carolina.
If Fitt’s projection proves correct, USC and Clemson will have fallen victim to hot teams in their leagues, in addition to their own struggles.
Arkansas won its first two games in Hoover, over Mississippi and LSU – the No. 19 and 4 teams in the Ratings Percentage Index. Even though the Razorbacks fell on Saturday to LSU in the single-elimination semifinals, they were able to make up ground on USC.
The Gamecocks went 1-2 at Mississippi State (No. 10) to close the regular season, while the Razorbacks went 1-2 at Auburn (No. 42), which put USC ahead of Arkansas in the Regional host race entering Hoover. But then USC went 0-2 in Hoover, opening the door for Arkansas. All the Gamecocks probably needed to do was win once in Hoover, and they would’ve cemented their status as a Regional host. Instead, they spit the bit.
Arkansas also swept USC in the regular season, and the Razorbacks dropped just one spot (from 30 to 31) in the RPI after Saturday’s loss to LSU. The Gamecocks were No. 13 at last check – two spots behind Virginia Tech and one ahead of Clemson.
Virginia Tech surged into the ACC tournament having won 13 of its past 15 games. Then the Hokies went 3-0 in Durham to reach the ACC final, with wins over No. 2 Virginia, No. 9 Florida State and No. 23 Georgia Tech. (Those are all the RPI rankings, by the way.)
Clemson had a great chance to earn a quality win on Friday night. The Tigers led North Carolina, the No. 1 RPI team, 7-2 entering the ninth inning, then completely melted down. The Tar Heels scored five in the ninth and five more in the 14th and won 12-7.
Would that win have put Clemson ahead of Virginia Tech in Regional host consideration? It’s hard to say for sure, especially since Virginia Tech will have a chance on Sunday to beat North Carolina or N.C. State, which is No. 8 in the RPI. Even if Clemson beat North Carolina, a Virginia Tech win Sunday would almost certainly cement the Hokies as Regional hosts, regardless of what happened with other bubble teams.
Of course, just because you don’t host a Regional doesn’t mean you can’t host a Super Regional. USC was a No. 2 Regional seed in 2003, and traveled to Atlanta, where host and national seed Georgia Tech lost without even having to play USC. In the other part of that bracket, No. 1 Regional seed Mississippi State lost, which opened the door for a meeting of two No. 2 Regional seeds in a Super Regional – USC and North Carolina. USC hosted it, won the best-of-three series in two games and went to the College World Series.
In 2010, Clemson was also a No. 2 Regional seed, and traveled to a Regional at Auburn. Clemson beat Auburn in the Regional final. Georgia Tech, which hosted the other Regional in the bracket and was again a national seed, stumbled against Alabama in the Regional final. Just like USC in 2003, Clemson hosted a Super Regional against Regional No. 2 seed Alabama, and converted the home-field advantage into an Omaha trip.
Traveling for a Regional hasn’t been kind to USC or Clemson of late. USC last did it in 2008 and 2009, falling at N.C. State and East Carolina. Clemson last did it in 2012, losing in USC’s Regional, as the Gamecocks made their third straight College World Series trip.
It probably goes without saying – but will be written here anyway – that while Fitt is a bracket expert and puts a lot of time into his research, his projection might not be correct. Only what the NCAA tournament selection committee says counts in the end.
But his projection certainly bears mentioning as USC and Clemson spend the next 24 hours awaiting the Regional host announcements.
In the meantime, here are the credentials of the four teams who are contending for the two remaining host spots – USC, Clemson, Arkansas and Virginia Tech. Take a look for yourself at the numbers and head-to-head results. Do you agree with Fitt’s projection?
RPI top 50 record: 11-14
RPI top 100 record: 17-15
Overall/league record: 39-18, 17-12
Head-to-head: 2-1 against Clemson, 0-3 against Arkansas.
Next game: None
Noteworthy: The last times USC didn’t host a Regional were 2008 and 2009, when they lost Regionals at North Carolina State and East Carolina. They also traveled for Regionals in 2003 (Atlanta), 2005 (Atlanta) and 2006 (Charlottesville), winning the Regionals in 2003 and 2006. Those are the only times USC has won an NCAA tournament round outside of the Palmetto State. This year, the Gamecocks went 0-2 in the SEC tournament and lost four of their final five games. Three of those four losses came to Mississippi State (No. 10 RPI) and the other was to Vanderbilt (No. 3) – all missed chances for quality wins that would’ve helped USC.
RPI top 50 record: 13-17
RPI top 100 record: 20-18
Overall/league record: 39-20, 18-12
Head-to-head: 1-2 against USC, did not play Virginia Tech.
Next game: None
Noteworthy: Clemson’s ACC tournament losses were to N.C. State (No. 8 RPI), North Carolina (No. 1) and Miami (No. 20). Just like the Gamecocks, they didn’t cash in a single opportunity for a quality win at the conference tournament.
RPI top 50 record: 17-16
RPI top 100 record: 17-16
Overall/league record: 37-20, 18-11
Head-to-head: 3-0 against USC.
Next game: None
Noteworthy: Arkansas’ two wins in Hoover were over Mississippi (No. 19 RPI) and LSU (No. 4). Even after Saturday’s loss to LSU, Arkansas dropped just one spot in the RPI. Arkansas has a lower RPI than these other teams partly because the Razorbacks suffered two bad early season losses to Western Illinois and Pacific, who are No. 257 and 250 in the RPI. But remember, Arkansas swept USC, finished one spot ahead of the Gamecocks in the SEC regular season (third to fourth) and have a better record against the RPI top 50. Will that be enough for Arkansas to overcome its RPI? Fitt thinks so.
RPI top 50 record: 13-14
RPI top 100 record: 23-15
Overall/league record: 38-19, 15-14
Next game: Sunday, ACC final, N.C. State or North Carolina (No. 8 and 1 RPI)
Noteworthy: Virginia Tech came to Columbia for the 2010 Regional and lost to the Gamecocks in their third and final game of that Regional. The Hokies are one of the country’s hottest teams, and if they claim a Regional host, they will have come out of almost nowhere over the past month to do it. They have won 16 of their past 18 games since April 20, when they were 22-17 and 7-12 in the ACC after dropping the first half of a double-header to Maryland (No. 39 RPI). But the Hokies won the second half of that double-header and never looked back. They are 3-0 in the ACC tournament, with wins over Virginia (No. 3 in the RPI), Florida State (No. 9) and Georgia Tech (No. 23). They beat Florida State on Thursday with a walk-off solo home run in the ninth inning – which could go down as one of the most significant swings in the history of a program that is far from a perennial power.