A Few Pre-NCAA Regional Thoughts
1. There’s been a lot of talk this week about Virginia slipping to the #5 national seed, with Arizona State, Texas, Florida, and Coastal Carolina filling the respective top seeds in front of the Cavaliers. I understand why Virginia fans would be upset with the likes of Coastal being in front of them in the seedings. Virginia has its 2009 College World Series team virtually intact, and they navigated a tougher schedule than the Chanticleers. However, for the purposes of getting to Omaha it doesn’t matter which national seed you are, it only matters that you are a national seed. Coastal is potentially matched-up with South Carolina for a Super Regional, while Viginia would be pitted against the Oklahoma Regional. Which take me to…
2. I’m still chewing on NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Tim Weiser’s explanation of how Super Regional pairings are made. In a conference call after selections were announced Monday Weiser said that after the top eight seeds are determined “everybody else (the other eight number one Regional seeds) becomes a nine”, adding “geography in large part’s gonna always drive our selections.” Weiser said earlier in the call that teams like TCU and Cal State Fullerton were in the conversation for one of the top eight seeds, but instead of being a top eight seed TCU finds itself in a potential Super Regional match-up with #2 national seed Texas. Why? Because Ft. Worth is closer to Austin than say Norwich, CT. The Norwich Regional winner vs. the Austin Regional winner and the Ft. Worth winner vs. the Louisville winner is probably the more fair road to Omaha, but it is not the best geographical (and thus financial) road to Omaha.
3. Eight teams each made it in from the ACC, Pac 10 and SEC. Cal getting a #2 seed in the Norman Regional raise some eyebrows, but it’s understandable. That many teams from each of those conferences makes seeding a nightmare. Two teams from the same conference cannot be in the same Regional, and #1 Regional seeds from the same conference (IE-#1 Texas and #1 Oklahoma from the Big 12) cannot be matched in a potential Super Regional.
4. We got some emails and messages this week from Fresno State fans who are upset they were left out of the field of 64. It’s hard to make a strong case for the Bulldogs though. They finished with a 38-25 record with an RPI of 77. They had just one win over a top 50 team (Cal State Fullerton). Florida Gulf Coast finished with the same amount of wins and was 33 RPI spots and they didn’t get in. In the end, Fresno State was held to the same standard as other non “power conference” teams. One more win against Nevada and even one win (instead of four losses) at home to Oregon may have gone a long way. Oregon State missed the tournament in 2008 as the reigning national champion, so it’s hard to make the case that being two years removed from a championship makes a team tournament worthy.
5. Want more proof that last year means NOTHING when it comes to this year’s selections and seedings? Three of this year’s Super Regionals could each feature two of last year’s College World Series teams going head to head for the right to go back to Omaha. Arizona State vs. Arkansas, Virginia vs. North Carolina and LSU vs. Cal State Fullerton are all potential Super Regional pairings if they successfully navigate their Regionals.
5a. Want more proof? Virginia and Ole Miss matched-up in the Super Regionals last year, but the Rebels were sent to Charlottesville for Regionals this year. Meanwhile, two other 2009 Super Regional participants, Texas (CWS runner-up) and Rice, are both in this year’s Austin Regional.
6. No offense Fullerton fans, but I would rather see the Los Angeles (UCLA) Regional on ESPNU than the Fullerton Regional. UCLA is the #6 national seed and the defending national champion, LSU, is the #2 seed with #3 UC Irvine there as well. I do like the Stanford vs. New Mexico match-up in the Fullerton Regional though. Stanford’s a perrenial CWS team, while the Lobos are in the tournament for the first time in 48 years. On second thought…
7. Speaking of New Mexico…It didn’t take long for Ray Birmingham to “Kick Down The Door” at New Mexico. As in
“We’re gonna kick down the door and say here I am baby, I cannot be stopped”. In just his third year as head coach in Albuquerque Birmingham has the Lobos in a place it hasn’t been since Kennedy was President. Birmingham spent 18 years as head coach at New Mexico Junior College, and won the 2005 Juco World Series before making the move to the Division One ranks. One of his stars, Justin Howard, told me this week that Birmingham is “old school” and the Lobos are “blue collar”. Howard says that “Kick down the door” mantra of Birmingham’s isn’t just a slogan at UNM, it’s a way of life. It’s good to see old school work ethic is valued by this year’s NCAA new kids on the block.
8. If Florida International’s Garrett Wittels makes college baseball history this year we are guaranteed to see it on national television. ESPNU will also televise the Coral Gables (Miami) Regional where Wittels puts his 54-game hitting streak on the line. He needs hits in four more games to tie Robin Ventura for the longest DI streak ever. The double-elimination Regional format means FIU needs to win at least two games to give Wittels the four games to tie Ventura. If he does keep it going and FIU wins the Regional every Super Regional game next week will be on the ESPN family as well. Wittels and the Golden Panthers face Texas A&M Friday at Noon Eastern.
9. How about Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell being suspended for the first three games of a home Regional for going berserk on an umpire during the Big East Tournament? Three games is pretty stiff, but McDonnell is not known as a “quiet” guy in the dugout by any means. Assistants Chris Lemonis and Roger Williams will run the team in McDonnell’s absence. Lemonis is already one of the “hot” assistants for head coaching vacancies.
10. I’m glad I’m not an umpire.
11. #4 seed Central Connecticut State faces #1 Florida State Friday in the first round of the Norwich, CT Regional, but it won’t be the first time Blue Devils head coach Charlie Hickey has faced the Seminoles in tournament play. Hickey is in his 11th season at CCSU, and he’s only there because Providence dropped baseball after the 1999 season. Hickey led the last Providence team to an NCAA berth that year and faced Mike Martin’s eventual College World Series runner-up team that year in the Tallahassee Regional. Hickey’s Friars were given a standing ovation by Seminole fans for their gritty play after the last game in Providence history.
12. FSU fans aren’t happy about the fact that their Seminoles are headed to Connecticut for a Regional, but sending ‘Noles to the Nutmeg State might be the best decision the Selection Committee made this year. There was at least some outrage last year when Rhode Island was left out of the NCAA field. Analysts like Kyle Peterson said Rhode Island’s inclusion in the tournament was needed to “grow the game” in the Northeast, but Rhode Island was never going to actually host a Regional. They would have been shipped out to the likes of North Carolina or Atlanta. However, if sending a perennial power like Florida State to New England doesn’t grow the college game there nothing will. I tossed out some ideas on the subject last fall & winter. You can read them here and here.