First off, just so you know I wasn’t lying on my Twitter entry today, the location where I watched the Selection Show from, listened to the media conference call, and started to write this article from really DID have a Playboy shoot going on around me. He’s a pic a friend of mine took while I was on the conference callâ€¦
And though it’s a little grainy, here’s the zoomed in view over my shoulderâ€¦
See? That headless shape behind me is going to be either Miss August or Miss October later on this year (decision to be made by Hef pretty soon, I was told). Okay, with all that out of the way now…
Now, onto the NCAA tournament field. Here’s where we start it.
The process is evolving.
I’m slightly encouraged by what’s going on here. We’re moving forward people. But the glaring mistakes are still brighter than standing a mile from the sun.
The selection committee took the tarp off another Field of 64 this morning and there were some small half-steps forward for the boys in Indianapolis. Next year will apparently be the break-through-the-threshold year, right? (He asks nervously) So we’ll have to deal with some baby-sized gains for now… as long as you don’t ask Utah Valley their thoughts on the baby steps gained. But I digress.
THE NCAA SELECTION COMMITTEE GETS ITS GRADES.
To refresh, while most national writers were lauding the committee with praise last year, I gave the committee got a C- grade. This year is a little bit better. Here’s the break down.
Spreading the regionals: B
Dispersion of teams: B
Treatment of mid-majors: B-
Treatment of undeserving: B-
Choosing of the teams: D
Common sense factor: D+
Overall grade for the selection committee: C+
A lot of these grades are based on the fact that Selection Committee Chairman Kyle Kallander Â said about the “Last Five In” and the “First Five Out”. So our discussion begins with those lists, which were presented in no particular order.
The last five in:
- College of Charleston
- Indiana State
- Michigan State
- Ole Miss
- Sam Houston State
The first five out:
- Virginia Tech
- Wake Forest
- Utah Valley.
So the knee-jerk reaction – after I got over the anger of the Wolverines not being included – was to look at the “In” list and notice that four of the five were mid-majors and three of them won their conference regular season titles. Well deserved. So that’s why the committee gets a “B-” for the treatment of the mid-majors. And the last five out included three BCS conference teams, two of which had very poor, losing records in their conference play. And to be honest, you can’t be too angry about Gonzaga, because of how poorly their season went down the stretch run. But again, don’t get me started on UVU. Coz that just wasn’t cool at all.
Here’s the breakdown of the field from my perspective (I’m sure it’ll change once I read Mark Ethridge’s “Nine Innings” where I’ll probably slap my forehead repeated numbers of times and say, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I gotta go change my column again.”)
HIGHEST RPI THAT DIDN’T GET A BID:
- Maryland, No. 30
HIGHEST ISR TEAM THAT DIDN’T GET A BID:
- Cal Poly, No. 27
LOWEST RPI TO GET A BID:
- Sam Houston State, No. 51
LOWEST ISR TO GET A BID:
- Louisville, No. 58
- TOUGHEST NO. 2 SEED:
- Oregon State (No. 9 ISR) at Baton Rouge Regional.
But with the Jekyl & Hyde Beavers, they could either win the whole thing, or get upset by Belmont and UL-Monroe and be gone in two. I ain’t kiddin’.
WEAKEST NO. 2 SEED.
- New Mexico State (No. 44 ISR) at Tucson Regional.
The spiraling Aggies barely snuck into the Regional field to begin with, then get a freakin’ 2-seed. Wow.
TOUGHEST NO. 3 SEED:
- Ole Miss (No. 32 ISR) at College Station Regional.
The up-and-down Rebels will have to take on TCU, who they split with on the opening weekend of the season.
Keep an eye on Missouri State in the Coral Gables Regional. The Bears have a No. 34 ISR and Nick Petree and Pierce Johnson on the mound, capable of getting to Omaha.
WEAKEST NO. 3 SEED:
- St. John’s (No. 77 ISR) at Chapel Hill Regional.
But this isn’t a slap to the Red Storm, who have gone 16-6 since Tax Day, including a breezy 4-game sweep in the Big East tournament. It’s just that their ISR happens to be the lowest of the 3s.
TOUGHEST NO. 4 SEED:
- Fresno State (No. 71 ISR) at Palo Alto Regional.
The Cardinal have to be shaking in their shoes a bit since they lost a Friday night game at Fresno earlier this season.
MOST BALANCED REGIONAL.
- Coral Gables Regional.
The top three in this field is Miami, No. 23 in the ISR, Central Florida, No. 29, and Missouri State, No. 34. Those are three pretty even teams there.
- North Carolina in the Chapel Hill Regional
As coach Mike Fox said last year (under his breath) “If we don’t make it to Omaha, it’s going to be our own fault.” Well ditto that for this year. The Tar Heels get two somewhat low-ranked teams in East Carolina (No. 47 ISR) and St. John’s (No. 77) as their 2-and-3 seeds.
THE GREYHOUND REGIONAL.
- The Gary Regional.
Purdue will travel an hour-and-a-half to the Northwest to host Valparaiso (15 minutes away), Kentucky (a few hours drive) and Kent State (who will drive from rural Cleveland to rural Chicago), all are going the Greyhound Bus route.
THE FLIGHT MILES REGIONAL:
- The Eugene Regional.
The homestanding Ducks will be grounded, but their three opponents will be jet-lagged to say the least as Cal State Fullerton, Indiana State and Austin Peay will have lengthy flights from far flung locales. And in this day and age of extra baggage fees, this won’t be a cheap trip.
Here are a few to keep your eye on:
- Kent State over Kentucky.
The Flashes are way better than their No. 69 ISR ranking. May have lost some star power off last year’s Regional finals team who beat Texas in the winner’s bracket game, but ace David Starn (9-3, 1.82) is stoic and the pitch staff has plenty of depth.
- Missouri State could win the Coral Gables Region.
As mentioned above, this team is pitching rich. Keith Guttin’s Bears have stud arms in Nick Petree (10-3, 0.92, 109Ks) and Pierce Johnson (3-6, 2.55, 112Ks) and saves man Tyler Burgess (5-1, 1.63, 11svs). Those three quality hurlers could be enough to diffuse Central Florida and Miami. Only problem is, 4-seed Stony Brook is capable of turning this into a 3-vs-4 Regional Final.
- Watch for Dallas Baptist in Waco
Last year’s post-season experience will be uber-helpful going into this weekend as the Pats hit .304 with 60HRs and coach Dan Heefner told me earlier this season that this pitching staff is even deeper than last year’s, featuring relievers Michael Smith (4-1, 2.93, 6svs) and Stuart Pudenz (5-1, 1.23, 8svs). This team is primed for big things again as a 2-seed. Consider yourself warned.
WHO GOT SCREWED.
The teams that probably feel slighted the most.
- Utah Valley (47-12, No. 69 RPI)
I’ve harped on this enough, but screw the RPI. These guys should’ve been given a shot. And I’m not one of those handwringers saying, “oh dear, everyone deserves a chance.” No, this team can play. As I’ve said before, everyone gets hung up on their weak conference and their lack of big wins, but I say look at their losses. Unlike most national powers out there, there’s not a washout in the bunch. Granted, opening the season with two losses to Seattle is close, but let’s see some major power travel to Seattle in February and win a series vs. the improved Redhawks. Look, there’s never going to be a more appropriate time to reward somebody who is warped horribly by their crappy conference AND also is geographically challenged at the same time. Committee fail. Plain and simple. I gotta change the subject, I’m gettin’ too pissed.
- Gonzaga (34-22, No. 48 RPI)
Again, we’re talking about a program that is geographically isolated and has to travel everywhere in the months of February and March. The Zags finished 3rd in the WCC, which was ranked as the 8th-best conference in the RPI, but 4th-best in the ISR. Late season slide cost them huge, including not being able to get a win in a three-game home series vs. Arizona State.
- Wichita State (35-25, No. 44 RPI)
If this is all about good finishes in a good conference, the Shockers got it. They were 3rd in the 6th-best conference (the Missouri Valley) this season. The Â Shocks’ RPI was better than MVC champion Indiana State’s and they had two wins each vs. teams like Dallas Baptist, Purdue and Tulane and also went 11-9 vs. NCAA teams. But that 0-2 Valley tournament showing was painful.
WHO GOT SCREWED, BUT HAD THEIR CHANCES.
The teams that also have a beef, but being Big 6 conference programs, they just finished a couple Ws short.
- Texas (30-22, No. 50 RPI)
Despite sweeping Oklahoma and finishing ahead of the Big Red in the Big 12, I still had no problem with the Longhorns being left off. In fact, I was surprised that people were putting them into their projections so easily. Take away the OU series and the resume is really flimsy. Augie will be back, this is just a blip on the radar.
- Maryland (32-24, No. 30 RPI)
- Virginia Tech (34-21, No. 36 RPI)
- Wake Forest (33-24, 38 RPI)
All three of these ACC teams have plenty of cogent arguments for getting in, but I think the committee did what we all do and look at the RPI of the ACC teams and say, “Wait a minute, this conference can’t be THAT good.” All three had really crappy conference records too, going 10-20, 11-19 and 13-17 respectively. But I’ve gotta say, give all three teams significant thumbs-up for having very good bounce-back seasons. I look forward to all three being on the radar even morseso in the next few years.
- Washington (30-25, No. 58 RPI)
As you guys might remember, after seeing these guys sweep USC in L.A. by playing nearly flawless baseball, I thought this team was more than legit and on its way to at-large land. I really did. But that home sweep at the hands of UCLA and the following three-game sweep at Arizona State really killed Udub’s chances. I like where Lindsay Meggs has this program going though.
- Cal Poly (36-20, No. 65 RPI)
Despite finishing just one game behind Fullerton in the Big West and having the most overall wins of any team in the conference, the Mustangs’ didn’t get a bid. The Green & Gold won 14 of its last 17 games but was hurt by a perceived weak strength of schedule and the Big West on a continued down cycle. Coach Larry Lee said, “It was a great season, but it’s tough to get in from the West when regional bids are weighed so much on the RPI, which doesn’t work well for the West. It’s a frustrating dilemma.”
FIVE GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE BRACKETS.
Some of these things are repeated items, but they bear repeating.
1- Downplaying of the RPI (in certain areas)
You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: Thank God, Buddha, Mohammad and Jimi Hendrix for this one. Other than the National Seeds going near to form and UVU not getting a bid, the RPI wasn’t followed to the letter. Luckily, the early-2000s days are long goneâ€¦ those days the RPI was the LAW. And a pile of crap law at that.
2- No Western Funnel Effect.
It was a little encouraging to see the possible Pac 12-ACC Challenge-like Super Regional matchups of Stanford-Florida State and Arizona-North Carolina. Also like the potential of Big 12 (Texas A&M) at Pac 12 (UCLA) as another matchup. The subtext to all this is, it appears as if the repeated days of the West coast “Funnel effect” of the early-to-mid 2000s are long in the rear-view mirror. Sure some western teams are lumped into the same Regional – you expect that – but the potential Super Regionals matchups aren’t West-on-West as many coaches have complained about in the past.
3- The de-emphasizing of money.
There are a handful of 2-seeds who could really pull in huge throngs of people and slap all kinds of money in the NCAA’s lap. But filled-to-the-rim with-fans-and-loot types like Mississippi State, Arkansas, East Carolina, TCU and Clemson all will be traveling as No. 2s. Again, if this were the 1990s or early-2000s?â€¦ Different story.
4- The continued emphasis on road games and non-conference games.
Just like last year, the 2012 selection day can be characterized by the heavy emphasis on those two factors. Selection committee chairman Kyle Kallander gave non-conference slates and road wins as major factors in Michigan State getting into the field and also for Kentucky not getting a home Regional spot. He also alluded to how the new RPI formula may go into effect next year, but the spirit of playing good on the road did carry heavy weight in the committee’s discussions this year. Interesting.
5- There is only one “loser” in the field
Ole Miss, with its 14-16 SEC record, is the only team in the field of 64 who had a losing conference record and got an at-large bid (so rest somewhat easy Joe Lunardi). So we’re making some serious progress here. And even the Rebels were one of the “last five teams in” according to Kollander, so they even came close to meeting their maker in that department.
FIVE BAD THINGS ABOUT THE BRACKETS.
Some of these things are repeated as well, but let me re-emphisize them.
1- Emphasis of the RPI in national seeds.
Just like last season, the top six of the RPI constitute the top six seeds in this year’s tournament, so there was some emphasis on the beleaguered formula after all.
2- There were a few wrong seedings again.
As much of a Rice homer as I am, I was still surprised that the Owls got the No. 8 National Seed last season and didn’t think they were quite up to task – which was soon proven correct. This year, Miami is the next very curious seed, since this was a team that limped down the stretch of the regular season. In fact, I recall at one point being on a sports radio show and being asked if I thought Miami’s 40-year steak of making the post-season was in jeopardy. (For the record, at the time I said “Maybe so”). The talent is there for The U, but the “umph” just hasn’t been. There were more deserving teams, I believe.
3- No. 7 national seed LSU is matched with the weakest (arguable, of course) No. 1 seed in Miami
Not sure why the Tigers were rewarded with what most consider the 16th *seed* out there. Then again, is it the committee giving an unintentional “mea culpa” for last year?
4- Still no 1-thru-16 seedings.
Last I heard, the softball Regional field has now been made a complete 1-thru-16 seeding for the top teams in their tournament. How is it the chicks can get their shit straight and seed everything the right way, but us men can’t? Suddenly, I feel like one of the MANY commercials on TV who portray men as abject idiots… and in this case they’re right to do so. C’mon committee, prove us men to be smarter than the female of the specie, get the No. 1 seedings into the 1-thru-16 format next yearâ€¦ after all, we ARE the ones who built bridges, designed giant dams, engineered the tallest skyscrapers in the world, developed the alphabet, invented electricity and put man into outer space, aren’t we?
5- Still some repeated matchups.
At least we don’t have to withstand ANOTHER post-season with UCLA-Fullerton, Florida-Miami or TCU-Texas this time around. But there are a lot of repeat matchups from the regular season that will rear the ugly head this month. The South Carolina Regional is the worst offender as the Cocks and Clemson will probably butt heads again and Clemson has already played Coastal Carolina (though only once). North Carolina will once again play East Carolina. Also, lots of repeats out West, where choices in opponents are slim. Arizona and New Mexico State played twice this season and are in the same Regional, ditto for UCLA and San Diego and also for Stanford and Fresno State, who played a three-game set back in March.
- The Revenge Regional.
As Mark Etheridge pointed out today, keep a keen eye on the Tallahassee Regional if No. 2 seed Mississippi State plays 4-seed Alabama-Birmingham. The underlying story is that legendary punk rock coach Ron Polk, who felt disrespected by MSU administrators when the Dogs hired John Cohen to his replacement instead of someone of his choosing, is now a volunteer assistant with the Blazers. As combative as coach Cohen supposedly is, I wonder if there will be any flareups in Tallytown between the two teams… or between to the two coaches.
- Memories of the studio life in 2006
The Friday matchup of Prairie View and Rice brings back cool memories of the 2006 Houston Regional. While waiting to go on air in the CSTV studios in Manhattan with now-MLB Network anchorman Greg Amzinger, we were watching the Panthers nearly upset the Top 8-ranked Owls, with a 5-3 lead going into the 8th inning. Ultimately the Owls rallied for two runs in the 8th and then got the winning run in the 9th on Josh Rodriguez’s jog-off RBI single. Rice would go on to the College World Series, losing out to eventual champion Oregon State.
- Again, do we still consider the Big West a “Big Six” conference?
For the first time in 26 years, the Big West Conference will send just one team to the NCAAs, Cal State Fullerton.
- Beware those who defend our country. Just ask Bin Laden.
Army will be playing in its fifth Regional of all time, with all of them coming since 2000. The program-best 41 wins was no small feat as the Black Knights have plenty of quality arms to beat UVa in the opener and make a run in the Charlottesville Regional. I’ll tell you this much, I’m not betting against them.
- Hatred. Jealousy. Contempt. Anger issues.
The award for the most contentious Regional has to go to the hoedown in Columbia with defending champion South Carolina hosting Clemson and Coastal Carolina for the weekend. I mean really, how badly do you think the Tigers and Chants want to win this thing over their recent tormentors? That’ll be a blast to watch. (Thank you ESPNU)
But CCU coach Gary Gilmore isn’t necessarily jazzed about the set-up. He told the Myrtle Beach Sun, “I think for our state it’s kind of a knock against us that they put three teams from our own state in one regional. That’s a little bit frustrating.”
- Who’s No. 2 and No. 1?
The Baton Rouge Regional is the only one of the 16 in which the No. 2 seed (Oregon State) is actually ranked higher than the No. 1 seed (LSU) in Boyd Nation’s ISR rankings, No. 9 compared to No. 11. Meanwhile, the RPI for OSU is way down at No. 27 and LSU’s is No. 7. Keep in mind, both years that the Beavers won their national titles, their RPIs were No. 33 and No. 35 respectfully.
- Maybe some decent sleep for me?
The Mother Ship network has announced that the two Regionals it will televise on ESPNU will be the Columbia Regional and the Tucson Regional. To me, that’s GREAT news, because the last few years the West coast cameras were set up at Fullerton and Irvine. The problem is that the second game for the West coast Regionals are always set to begin at 8pm. With the extended TV breaks between innings and slow paced West coast play, that means games would end at 11:30ish. Adding press conferences to it and the long drive back from Orange County, I wouldn’t get home ’til 1PM or so. Once I finished writing and posting pics, I wouldn’t get to bed sooner than 3 or 3:30am. So Tucson, you can have the TV assignment.
- The college basketball guru on college baseball.
My good bud and CBS basketball Bracketologist (and BCS guru) Jerry Palm has given me a few brief points about Purdue’s upcoming hosting duties at Gary, Indiana’s U.S. Steel Yard, which is near his home:
“The US Steel Yard isnâ€™t the most homer-friendly place.Â Itâ€™s 325 down the left field line, 335 to right, and 400 to center, but the walls are high.Â Theyâ€™re about 20 feet high in left and center, but drop down to about 15 feet in right.Â At least if you hit one, nobodyâ€™s going to climb the fence and rob you of it.
It holds a little over 6000 people and there isnâ€™t a bad seat in the place.Â They also have a sports bar behind the right field wall called the Diamond Club.Â It used to be a Bennigans until a couple years ago.Â I have to believe that will be closed for a NCAA event though.Â And, if your kids get bored or restless, thereâ€™s a playground behind the CF scoreboard.
There is also train tracks and an interstate just beyond the LF wall, so itâ€™s not exactly a quiet place.
Gary itself is generally scary, although not quite as bad as its reputation.Â The park is nice, but the city is still pretty dilapidated.Â So, for nearby pre- and post-game action, your best bet is to hop on I-65 a few miles south to Merrillville.Â That is also where the teams will be staying.Â Youâ€™re also 45 minutes to an hour from downtown Chicago, depending on the time of day, and Valparaiso has some nice places too, about a half hour to the East.”
By the way, Jerry is a Purdue graduate and will be going to some of the games in Gary this weekendâ€¦ wearing his Boilermakers jersey I’m sure.
Okay, that’s it. Back with more as the weekend approaches.
Well… alright, maybe one last pic of the Playboy Playmate: