Much has been made of the rift between the USC and Coastal Carolina athletics departments. Apparently, there is still a lot of bad blood out there stemming from CCU's decision to become an independent institution way back in 1993. For my part, I don't really care. I say that because I don't want the CCU fans who will inevitably read this post to think I'm operating under some conspiratory vendetta against their alma mater. But the fact of the matter is I don't believe CCU deserves a national seed in the NCAA baseball tournament.
Now might be a good time to mention that I also don't believe in "bulletin board material." That's not to say that I don't think some players use things they hear and see in the media to get up for a game. Rather, I'm more of the belief that if you can't beat an opponent whose greatest motivation is to invent slights against themselves for the purpose of staying focused, perhaps you didn't really deserve to win in the first place. With that in mind, onward!
This year Coastal Carolina University earned its first ever national seed in the college baseball tournament. The Chanticleers (pronounced SHON-ti-clears) were awarded the #4 seed in part because of their their 51 wins and in part because they won all 25 of their Big South Conference games. The Chants' nation-leading 51-7 record propelled them to #2 in the NCAA rating percentage index. That makes for one heck of a resume.
Leading the nation in wins is quite a feat, but considering the Chanticleers' opponents, I'm not so sure it deserves a top-8 national seed. "But their RPI is #2!" you say. "The whole point of the RPI is to rate a team's schedule!" you say. That may be so, but does anyone really know how the college baseball RPI works? I'll admit, myself, that I like the idea of the RPI just fine. Gaining an understanding of systems that are otherwise too complicated for the human brain to understand is one of statistics' greatest advantages. However I must acknowledge to having more than a little cognitive dissonance when it comes to the college baseball RPI. For instance, as far as I can tell the college baseball RPI gives equal weight to mid-week games and weekend series. Anybody who has ever followed college baseball knows that mid-week are practically throw away games. They are little more than a tune up for the weekend.
Numbers and stuff after the jump.Consider for a moment that the average RPI of all of Coastal Carolina's opponents is 94, and their collective weighted average RPI (RPI x the number of times CCU played them divided by the total number of games) is 102. These figures match up favorably with South Carolina's RPI and weighted average RPI - 112 and 94, respectively. As you can see, CCU's opponents' average RPI outpaces that of USC, but USC's opponents' weighted average RPI outpaces that of CCU. It is my belief that the weighted average figure is a better metric for judging a team's strength of schedule since it takes into account the number of times the opponent is played.
If that's true, then shouldn't we throw out a team's mid-week games altogether? I mean, mid-week games usually feature the team's fourth or fifth best starter and aren't a very good indicator of actual performance. What we're really concerned about in baseball is how a team will preform over a series - say, a 3 game series or a double elimination tournament of the college and world variety. If we take a look at the weighted average RPIs of CCU and USC, taking into account only teams that were faced three or more times, then CCU's strength of schedule jumps to a 127 average RPI and South Carolina's plummets to 64! This blows Ron Morris' theory about USC needing just 1 series with CCU to garner a national seed out of the water. I think it's pretty clear that USC's schedule is already hard enough.
Take note, Coastal, this is how you celebrate. (via www.palmettoscoop.com)
Of course, Strength of schedule is only half of the equation. You also have to beat your opponents. This becomes a little more difficult as now we are comparing Coastal Carolina's 8 losses to South Carolina's 15. Fewer losses equals better team, right? Not so fast my friend. Let's take a look at each team's worst losses.
For Coastal there aren't many of them. They swept all of their conference series, which we said earlier is a good indicator of a teams strength. Then again, we also concluded that CCU's series schedule is much weaker than that of USC. However CCU did lose two series to teams that are not in their league. The first series loss came when CCU hosted #29 RPI San Diego. The second series loss came to #26 RPI College of Charleston. Both are respectable losses given the rankings, but one would expect CCU to perform better against San Diego given that the Chanticleers had home field advantage. The loss to College of Charleston is a little more forgivable considering two of those games were mid-week and the Chants managed to win the only two matches that counted - the final two of their regional. Coastal's only other bad loss was to #149 RPI Illinois in the opening game of the Caravelle Resort Classic. That's not a good loss since the Chants pitched ace Cody Wheeler and the game was in their home stadium. CCU did go on to redeem themselves against Illinois later in the week, though.
As for South Carolina, the Gamecocks lost 4 series on the year: #79 East Carolina, #19 Clemson, #33 Kentucky, and #4 Florida. The losses against Kentucky and East Carolina are somewhat forgivable considering both were away. The loss to Florida is forgivable as well. Florida might be the #1 team in the nation, and I don't think anyone is seriously considering USC for that honor. How did CCU perform against its lone contest against a legitimate national title contender? They lost to Virginia 6-3. There is really no explaining South Carolina's loss to Clemson, however. The 19-6 drubbing the Tigers gave the Gamecocks at home defies all reasonable explanations. It was a rivalry game. They got up. We folded. That's about all there is to say.
So does Coastal Carolina deserve a national seed? I don't think so. Although, you can't really blame the committee for giving them one. Coastal's RPI remains rocket high, but, as we have seen here, what does that really mean? Across the board USC has faced better competition this year. That does not necessarily mean that the Chants would not have performed just well or better if their schedule had been up to snuff. I guess we'll all just have to wait and see if this post makes me look like an idiot or expert.
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