That is the only rational explanation I can come up with for the baseball regional assignments released this afternoon.
South Carolina was given the #4 national seed, which I really cannot argue with. I figured our ceiling was 3, behind UVa and Florida or Vandy, but 4 to 6 was much more likely. However, that is where the good news ends for South Carolina in today's pairings.
Before I get into that, let's address the issue of the Carolina and Clemson Super Regional pairing. Like many Carolina fans, some of my favorite Gamecocks sports memories have been our victories over Clemson in Omaha. Naturally, I hope to see us eliminate the Tigers again this year. However, it should not be in the Super Regional round.
Clemson is #7 in Warren Nolan's latest RPI. They have won seven consecutive series, including victories at Florida State and vs. Georgia Tech. They went 2-1 in the ACC's weird, round-robin style tournament, and are 26-6 since a disastrous visit to Chapel Hill near the start of conference play. Our rivals have one of the strongest profiles of any of the non-national seed #1's. No matter the previous history, Clemson is not a team you want to see in a best of three Super.
"But, wait", you say. "They haven't played the games yet. Who knows if Clemson will even with their Regional?" That brings us to the real problem with the post-season announcements: Clemson's regional is Charmin-soft. If Boyd does his annual probability projections this year, the Tigers should be well over 90% to win their Regional. That would be remarkably high for a non-national seed.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks received much tougher teams on the 2 and 3 seed line, as is clear from a team by team analysis of the two regionals.
Stetson, #2 seed Columbia (42-18, #21 RPI*, 51 SOS) - The Hatters were the regular season champions of the Atlantic Sun (#8 conference RPI) in a banner year for the conference. Stetson lost to Belmont and Jacksonville in the A-Sun tournament, but all three teams made the NCAA field, though East Tennessee State (#37 RPI) was inexplicably snubbed. Stetson swept Georgia to open the season, and went 9-7 overall vs. top 50 opponents. They were a likely #1 seed as recently as two weeks ago.
Connecticut, #2 seed Clemson (41-17-1, #47 RPI, 137 SOS) - For the second year in a row, the Huskies are beneficiaries of the NCAA's misguided affirmative action for cold weather baseball programs. Last year, UConn was named a host with an RPI in the 20's. To no one's surprise, they didn't even survive to the Region championship, managing but a single win over the #4 seed. This year, the Huskies were the regular season champions of the Big East (#13). They are 1-3 vs. the top 50, and an obvious #3 gifted a charitable #2 by NCAA politics.
North Carolina State, #3 seed Columbia (34-25, #31 RPI, 16 SOS) - The Wolfpack was a #2 seed in almost everyone's last-minute projection, often in Columbia. They own twelve victories over top 50 foes, including a sweep of #3 national seed North Carolina. I don't have a problem with seeing them in Columbia, but I have a big problem seeing them as the third-best team assigned to the regional.
Coastal Carolina, #3 seed Clemson (41-18 , #38 RPI, 109 SOS) - Last year's Coastal squad was a legitimate national seed that went 25-0 in what should have been a multi-bid Big South. However, the Chanticleers and the Big South (#14) are down in 2011. They have zero wins over quality opponents (0-7 vs. the top 50), a losing record on the road, and 11 losses to teams rated below 100 in the RPI. When you examine their record closely, you find they are likely flattered by the #38 RPI.
Georgia Southern, #4 seed Columbia (36-24, #77 RPI, 102 SOS) - The Eagles were one of several decent but not great teams in a slightly down Southern Conference (#15). They scratched out a 5-5 record vs. the top 50 before rolling to the conference automatic bid in Charleston, helped along by a marathon 20 inning game that essentially ruined the chances of two teams, including regular season champ Elon. They have the second strongest resume of the #4 seeds, behind only Belmont.
Sacred Heart, #4 seed Clemson (34-20, #84 RPI, 159 SOS) - Sacred Heart finished second in the Northeast Conference (#23), but won the conference tourney and auto-bid. They went 2-3 vs. the top 50, managing one win in three at Mississippi State, and winning their lone game at UConn. You have to tip your cap to the program for scheduling aggressively. In addition to the set in Starkville, they played a game at LSU and a full series at SE Louisiana (1-2 vs RPI 58) while most northern programs were playing one another in Florida tournaments. Nevertheless, the history of NEC programs in the NCAA suggests they are unlikely to win a game this weekend.
An impartial analysis of this set of teams would show that both #2's (NC State and Stetson) somehow ended up in Columbia, while Clemson's #2 would actually be one of the weaker 3's in the entire field. The Gamecocks also drew one of the toughest #4's in the tournament. Since Columbia and Clemson are practically next door on a national scale, travel concerns should not affect team assignment at all. The only restriction is that NC State cannot go to Clemson, as they are both in the ACC.
Factoring in South Carolina's accomplishments to earn a national seed (including the 2-1 series win over Clemson), a much more equitable assignment of teams would be:
- South Carolina (#6)
- NC State (#31)
- UConn (#47)
- Sacred Heart (#84)
- Clemson (#7)
- Stetson (#21)
- Coastal Carolina (#38)
- Georgia Southern (#77)
South Carolina is still the best of these eight teams. I have already seen some Carolina fans mumbling elsewhere that we should beat anybody on our home field, so it should not matter.
If we played the Regionals and Supers as assigned 100 times, this would be a legitimate claim, as the Gamecocks would punch their ticket to Omaha much more often than any of the other seven teams. However, we don't get to play the games 100 times and take the most frequent result. We get to play them once. The NCAA's mistakes in team assignment lessens the probability of South Carolina advancing.
Both national and Regional seeds exist to reward teams for their on-field accomplishments, and to increase the likelihood of the most deserving teams making it to Omaha. It would be nice if NCAA committee members remembered that.
* All RPI's are from warrennolan.com