UPDATE: As it turned out, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt and Perfect Game’s Kendall Rogers were 100 percent spot-on in their projections of the 16 team who will host NCAA tournament Regionals.
Fitt projected the national seeds, which will be revealed Monday at noon on ESPNU along with the rest of the bracket, as Vanderbilt, North Carolina, LSU, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, Virginia, North Carolina State and Florida State. He projected the other Regional hosts as Indiana, Oregon, Mississippi State, UCLA, Kansas State, Louisville, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Rogers had the same national seeds, except Oregon in place of Florida State. For Rogers’ other Regional hosts, he had Florida State in the place where Fitt had Oregon. So they had the same pool of 16 teams, but disagreed on one national seed, which Fitt gave to Florida State and Rogers gave to Oregon.
The Regional host teams were released tonight and here they are: Vanderbilt, North Carolina, LSU, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, Virginia, N.C. State, Florida State, Indiana, Oregon, Mississippi State, UCLA, Kansas State, Louisville, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
As it pertains to the three teams who entered Sunday competing for the final two host spots – Virginia Tech, USC and Arkansas – both Fitt and Rogers nailed their picks (as mentioned below) of Virginia Tech and USC. Clemson was in that mix before it lost Saturday to Miami in the ACC tournament, to go home from the event 0-3.
The tournament selection committee’s chairman, Big West Conference commissioner Dennis Farrell, will hold a teleconference Monday afternoon to explain the committee’s decisions, shortly after the Gamecocks find out the three other teams in their Regional. (Could Clemson be one of them, like last year?) And then the NCAA tournament fun starts Friday.
Below is the rest of the explanation for how this all went down …
The NCAA tournament’s Regional hosts will be announced in a few hours, tonight at 9, at this link. The rest of the tournament field will be revealed at noon Monday on ESPNU.
If South Carolina gets a host site tonight, as Aaron Fitt of Baseball America and Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game are projecting, what ended up making the difference for the Gamecocks?
The Ratings Percentage Index, for one. According to Fitt, this selection committee has put a high emphasis on RPI, and the Gamecocks have a much better RPI than Arkansas, which is considered by most observers to be the third contender, along with USC and Virginia Tech, for the final two host sites. Virginia Tech is No. 11 in the RPI entering today’s ACC tournament final against No. 1 North Carolina. USC is No. 12. Arkansas is No. 32.
Fitt has noted that it’s not unprecedented for a team with an RPI in the 30s to get a host site over a team with an RPI in the teens. It happened in 2011, when No. 34 UCLA hosted over No. 11 Arkansas. But with this committee, it appears (at least based on Fitt’s and Rogers’ projections) that USC will not fall victim to a similar situation, despite having points on its resume that are weaker than Arkansas’.
In his breakdown of his projection – which, like Rogers’, has USC and surging Virginia Tech getting the final two host sites, and Arkansas and Clemson traveling for a Regional – Fitt mentions that if he had the choice between USC and Arkansas, he would pick the Razorbacks, because he believes they have a stronger case for the host site. But only the committee makes this decision, based on the metrics it chooses to either emphasize or not emphasize.
Arkansas’ primary advantage over USC would seem to be that the Razorbacks swept the Gamecocks in Columbia. Moreover, the Razorbacks went 18-11 in SEC play, while the Gamecocks went 17-12. And the Razorbacks have more quality wins. They are 17-16 against the RPI top 50 and 21-16 against the top 100. USC is 11-14 and 17-15. But Arkansas’ RPI is dragged down by two early season losses to Pacific and Western Illinois, who are Nos. 243 and 257 in the RPI.
Arkansas made a strong push for a host site by going 2-1 in the SEC tournament, with wins over No. 5 LSU and No. 19 Mississippi. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, closed 1-2 in the regular season and went 0-2 in the SEC tournament, beating only No. 10 Mississippi State in that stretch. But Arkansas couldn’t get another win over LSU, in Saturday’s SEC semifinals – a game that would have helped the Razorbacks’ case to host.
So that moment – LSU beating Arkansas on Saturday – was one that helped the Gamecocks have an edge over the Razorbacks in the hosting competition. Another was the fact that USC got two huge series wins over LSU and Clemson, taking two of three games from both teams – the No. 5 and 14 teams in the RPI. Along with USC’s lone win over No. 10 Mississippi State, the four victories over LSU and Clemson are the Gamecocks’ best RPI wins of the season.
(Also remember that Clemson went 0-3 in the ACC tournament against North Carolina State, North Carolina and Miami – Nos. 8, 1 and 20 in the RPI – which dropped the Tigers, who are now 14th in the RPI, to 13-17 against the RPI top 50 and 20-18 against the top 100. Those were big-time missed opportunities for quality wins, since the Tigers were guaranteed of playing at least all three games in the ACC tournament’s pool format.)
As you look back on USC’s series at LSU and one win at Mississippi State in particular, a couple key moments stick out. In the second game at LSU, the score was tied at two in the top if the ninth inning, when Tanner English drove in a run with a triple, then scored on a balk. The Gamecocks went on to win 4-2. The next day, they got a gutsy performance from Jack Wynkoop, who allowed five hits and no runs in seven innings, as USC won 4-0. USC’s win at Mississippi State came in 10 innings, 5-3, after Grayson Greiner hit a two-out, two-run home run in the top of the 10th to break the tie.
There are plenty of moments that define a season. USC’s series win at Clemson was one of them, bookended by convincing 4-0 and 8-0 victories in which starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Nolan Belcher put on clinics. Two other key turning points were English’s triple and Wynkoop’s coming-of-age performance at LSU. And Greiner’s swing at Mississippi State just might have put the Gamecocks over the top in the Regional hosting race, combined with the fact that Arkansas fell in the SEC semifinals when a win there over LSU and over Vanderbilt (No. 2 in the RPI) in the final would have really boosted the Razorbacks’ resume.
Consider, too, that Montgomery is a sophomore, along with English and Greiner. Wynkoop is a freshman. Those are four pretty big recruits for USC coach Chad Holbrook who lived up to their reputations with clutch performances that, in the end, might have been the difference between USC earning a Regional host site and traveling for the NCAA tournament’s first round. Regardless of what happens for the rest of this season – and make no mistake, the NCAA tournament is what Holbrook’s first season will be judged upon – the Gamecocks will have those four players back next season.
Now, if Fitt’s and Rogers’ projections hold up, the Gamecocks will host a Regional and hope the national seed in their part of the bracket loses, which would enable them to host a Super Regional if they advance that far. Because the stats are so jarring, they bear repeating: USC is 55-8 all-time at home in NCAA tournament games, with 24 straight wins since 2002, and is 35-31 in NCAA tournament road games.
Will the streak reach 25 when the tournament starts on Friday?