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May 19, 2013

Saturday's Recap: RPI ranks or conference finish?

With Selection Day just a few days away, we review how Saturday's games affected the postseason picture. We also go deep into the RPI rankings vs conference standings debates with all the historical numbers.

RPI vs conference standing - Saturday's big twitter debate focused on Mississippi State hosting as a fifth place team ahead of an Arkansas squad that beat them in a series and finished 2 games ahead of them in the standings. The Hogs problem is their RPI ranking of #48 - while the Bulldogs are at #10 on Sunday.

So what will the committee do? That really is the question of the week. Should a team be rewarded for finishing ahead in the conference standings in this new era of bloated league sizes and unbalanced schedules? Should the RPI carry more weight than the games won on the field? After all, why should Arkansas get shunned as a host while league members South Carolina and Mississippi State host? Arkansas finished ahead in the standings and went 5-1 against those teams.

And what about South Carolina? If it comes down to the Gamecocks against an Arkansas or Mississippi State, the Gamecocks went 1-5 against those two clubs. Shouldn't they be the odd team out?

The other factor is the unbalanced schedules. With 14 SEC members and ten series, three teams are missed. This season the West was more difficult than the East - the bottom four records all came from the East. South Carolina got to play all of those eastern teams while the west duo did not. And Mississippi State played Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky from the East missing the bottom three completely. If they had exchanged Georgia or Tennessee for two of the upper-echelon teams, what would their record be?
How much should you account for schedule strength in conference records?

Since each NCAA Selection Committee has a new membership annually, we really can't determine how this group will view these topics. All we can do is look at how past tournaments were selected and use precedent to project how things will unfold next week.
Going back eight years - two 'generations' of players - we find that only seven teams have hosted Regionals with RPI rankings above #25.

In 2008, Michigan (#35) hosted as #2 seed. They won the Big 10.
In 2011, UCLA (#33) hosted as #1 seed. They won the Pac 10.
In 2006, Oregon State (#30) hosted as #1 seed. They won the Pac 10.
In 2005, Tennessee (#29) hosted as #1 seed. They were 3rd in SEC. That is our closest comparison so far but Arkansas' RPI is 19 points higher.
In 2008, Oregon State (#28) hosted as #1 seed. They were 2nd in Pac 10.
In 2005, Arizona State (#27) hosted as #2 seed. They were 3rd in Pac 10.
In 2006, Kentucky (#27) hosted as #1 seed. They tied Alabama for 1st in SEC.

So looking at those numbers, it appears Arkansas's host chances were dim even if they had swept Auburn this weekend and finished with 20 SEC wins. Their RPI would climbed into the high 30s at best.

But that means a team like Mississippi State (or Clemson) will host as a fifth place team. Are teams ever chosen to host while a team that finished ahead of them in the same conference hits the road? We take a look:

Since 2005, these teams that finished 5th or lower in their conference and hosted:
In 2011, Clemson (RPI #7) hosted as #1 seed and finished 6th in ACC. Miami was 1 1/2 games ahead in standings and did not host at RPI # 17.

In 2006, Ole Miss (RPI #16) hosted as #1 seed and finished 5th in SEC. That season the top 5 teams in the SEC standings hosted.
In 2007, Ole Miss (RPI #13) hosted as #1 seed and finished 5th in SEC. Fourth place Mississippi State did not host at RPI #24.

In 2007, Texas A&M (RPI #9) hosted as #1 seed. They finished 5th in B12 at 13-13. Meanwhile, 3rd place Oklahoma State had RPI #53 and traveled to Arkansas as #3 seed where they won the Regional. Fourth place Nebraska (RPI #32) went to Arizona State as #3 seed (finished second). Texas A&M won the regular season series over Nebraska but lost series to Oklahoma State.

Based on all of this, it would appear RPI trumps all. In the past eight years, only 12 teams have not hosted with RPI rankings under #15 and only three with RPI ranks #10 or under.

In 2011, Arkansas had a #14 RPI and went to Tempe. In 2010, Alabama was #12 and Vanderbilt was #13 and they went to Atlanta and Louisville. Both won those Regionals.
In 2009, Virginia was RPI #6 but was sent to the "Regional of Death" for a date with Stephen Strasburg. They won that Regional. Also that season Arkansas was sent to Norman with a #13 RPI . They also won it. Miami was RPI #12 and was sent to Gainesville as a #2 seed and finished second.

In 2008, #7 RPI Georgia Tech was sent to Athens as a #2 seed. They finished second. Arizona was RPI #10 and was sent as a traveling #1 seed to Ann Arbor where they won that Regional.

In 2007, Louisiana-Lafayette was RPI # 14 and sent to College Station as #2 seed. They finished second. This is only scenario where a conference champion with a RPI under 15 did not host. South Alabama fans should take note.

In 2006, Florida State was RPI #10 and went to Athens as a #2 seed. They were the runnerup. NC State was #14 and finished second in the Austin Regional. Miami was #13 and finished second in Lincoln.

The ACC showdowns - Virginia now has series wins over Florida State (sweep) and North Carolina (road). Saturday's wild 8-7, 11 inning victory certainly raised the Cavaliers' stock and locks them in as a National seed.

Florida State scored a 6-1 rubber game victory over Clemson that might be enough to secure their slot in the top eight. As for Clemson, they will be watching over the shoulder as South Alabama, Arizona State, and Arkansas try to scoop in and grab a host site that the Tigers lead for today. They may be the only team in Greensboro with something to play for.

Conference title tilts Louisville completed their sweep of Pittsburgh and claimed the Big East title all alone. They will be a Regional host as well. The Big East Tournament will be full of intrigue as Pitt (T2nd place but RPI #64), South Florida (3rd place but RPI #63), and Notre Dame (6th place, RPI #49) try to join Seton Hall (T2nd,RPI #37) and Louisville as Regional teams.

Troy beat South Alabama 6-3 to split the season series and tie with Jaguars atop of the Sun Belt. Troy (RPI #31) looks locked and loaded for a #2 Regional seed despite what happens this week in Lafayette. South Alabama (RPI #16) is still a host contender with the SBC co-champs title and high RPI. If one of the host contenders slips and USA goes on a run, don't be surprised if the Jaguars host their first Regional.

SEC hierarchy - Auburn likely played their way into a Regional taking series from Ole Miss, Florida, and Arkansas the past three weekends. The 13-17 conference record isn't great but it is probably the minimum for an SEC team to reach. Their RPI sits at #33 today and shouldn't slip much win or lose against Alabama (#30) on Tuesday.

The team that is really reeling is Florida. The Gators dropped a series at Georgia (Was this Dave Perno's final series?) and are 2-8 in their last 10 conference games. Their strong schedule strength has their RPI at #26 and their 14-16 SEC record isn't a problem. At this point if it came down to the argument - who would win a game between Florida and Bubble Team X, the Gators aren't going to like that answer. They really need a victory Tuesday against Texas A&M to leave a better final impression.

And how about Vanderbilt? The Commodores beat Alabama 14-10 to win their 26th SEC game - a new record. Their 26-3 mark is the new benchmark all great SEC teams will be measured against.


Are we going to host? -After looking at the updated RPI nitty gritty report heading into Sunday we have the following teams as #1 seeds and hosts:

1. Vanderbilt
2. North Carolina
3. LSU
4. Virginia
5. Oregon State
6. Cal State Fullerton
7. Oregon
8. Florida State
9. North Carolina State
10. Louisville
11. Indiana
12. UCLA
13. Kansas State
14. Mississippi State
15. South Carolina
16. Clemson
--------
17. South Alabama
18. Arizona State
19. Arkansas

Bubble watch

Here is how Regional bubble teams did Saturday.

Winners:

Maryland beat Boston College 5-4 in 10 innings.
Florida Gulf Coast beat Stetson 15-2.
Michigan State beat Penn State 2-1.
West Virginia beat Oklahoma State 5-4.
Baylor beat Texas Tech 15-8.
Seton Hall beat St. John's 4-2.
Creighton beat Missouri State 6-3.
Austin Peay beat SIU Edwardsville 16-5.
Stanford beat Cal 9-4.
Auburn beat Arkansas 11-6.
Kentucky beat Missouri 5-1.
Sam Houston State beat Central Arkansas 6-5.
Florida Atlantic beat Florida International 12-1.
BYU beat St. Mary's 14-3.

Losers:

North Florida lost to South Carolina-Upstate 4-3.
Ohio State lost to Indiana 8-1.
Illinois lost to Minnesota 2-0.
Kansas lost to Utah 1-0.
Oklahoma lost to Kansas State 5-2.
Pitt lost to Louisville 7-4.
Notre Dame lost to Cincinnati 11-5.
South Florida lost to Rutgers 10-6.
UC Irvine lost to Cal State Fullerton 3-2.
UC Santa Barbara lost to Pacific 3-2.
Cal State Northridge lost to Cal Poly 6-2.
Houston lost to Southern Miss 6-5.
Arizona lost to Arizona State 6-3.
Texas A&M lost to Tennessee 7-5.
Alabama lost to Vanderbilt 14-10
Florida lost to Georgia 9-2.
Western Carolina lost to Appalachian State 9-8.


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