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May 21, 2013

Postseason Buzz: SEC Fallout

Hoover, AL - The question everyone wants to know: are we in?

For several teams across the country the waiting is agony. Did we do enough? Will we hear our names called Monday when the 16 Regionals are announced?

All throughout the week teams will help and hurt the case. For others, their case is complete and awaiting a verdict.

Tide sitting pretty

The SEC Tournament opened Tuesday with four games and four bubble teams in action. Alabama scored three runs in the eighth to beat Auburn 6-3 in a game some referred to as a play-in game. Certainly the Crimson Tide with a 14-15 SEC mark and non-conference road series with Florida Atlantic and Louisville had to feel they had a decent case even with a loss. But Tuesday's victory provided some cushion as they head into a Wednesday contest with LSU and a Thursday game against either Arkansas or Ole Miss.

"I felt we had already done enough to get in," Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "But at same time you don't want to leave things to chance. I know a lot can happen in tournament play. A win today would solidify us getting in. I felt good play in tournament can potentially move you from three seed to a two seed.

"Frankly I felt there was more pressure on Auburn to win the game than it was us. At same time if we had lost the game Auburn would have beaten us three times to our two. Now it flips. Now we can feel comfortable about getting into a Regional."

Auburn's next game is waiting

But this game had a victor and a loser. Auburn is left waiting on the decision.
The Tigers finished 13-17 in SEC play plus a tournament loss. They did have a neutral site in Montgomery over Alabama but lacked any real non-conference juice. The Tigers played Maine, Eastern Illinois, Brown, and a tournament with Indiana State, Middle Tennessee, and College of Charleston in a weekend tournament. They never left home in the pre-conference weekend and only had one midweek win of note - a neutral site win over Southern Mississippi in Mobile.

If Auburn is left to stand on resume, they really only have their SEC performance to tout. With recent committee decisions to reward teams for playing challenging non-conference schedules - especially on the road - this could be another opportunity for the committee to send a message. Kentucky was not awarded a host site last year and LSU missed out on the tournament completely in 2011 for playing home-heavy non-conference schedules.

But how will each individual committee member weigh the criteria? Will he look at overall resume - RPI, conference performance, strength of schedule, and performance against RPI tiers? If so, Auburn has some warts but is in the discussion.

However, if the committee member values how teams are performing now - i.e. who would win a game between team A and team B - the Tigers' recent series wins over Regional teams Ole Miss, Florida, and Arkansas weigh in their favor.

No one knows yet how that will be viewed and even what kind of cases the other bubble teams will have to measure against them. All Auburn coach John Pawlowski can do is wait - and hope his team's stretch run results in a bid.

"When you look at where our team was and how we finished the way we did winning our last three conference series, I feel like we put ourselves in position and done enough to be in the NCAA Tournament."

All Pawlowski's Auburn team can do now is scoreboard watch.

Texas A&M still in the hunt

Texas A&M kept their Regional hopes alive with a 6-3 victory over Florida. The Aggies take a 31-25 record into Wednesday's game against Vanderbilt. The Aggies' RPI was #43 entering the game and should improve with the victory and subsequent game against the top RPI Commodores.

The Aggies - 13-15 in the SEC regular season - added the quality win over Florida. Their problem is their 8-20 (now 9-20) record against the RPI top 100. All but one of those games are actually against the top 50. They did play Cal State Fullerton (1-2), North Carolina (0-1), Houston (0-1), and Rice (1-0) in non-conference. They will get a little credit for playing them but not as much winning, obviously.

The Aggies now get two more games - first Vanderbilt and then against either South Carolina or Mississippi State/Missouri) that will provide an opportunity for more quality victories.

"I felt like this one was huge," said Texas A&M coach Rob Childress. "I felt like winning today ought to get us into the NCAA's. We are going to have a tough challenge tomorrow playing the number one team in the country. We need to play well this week and not give the committee any questions about Texas A&M."

Florida will rely on schedule strength

With a 29-28 record and nine losses in their last 11 SEC games, Florida is spiraling downward. Unlike Auburn who is playing their best baseball now, their final impression on the Selection Committee isn't a good one. It seems often the committee looks for reasons to exclude people (lack of road games, poor non-conference schedule) and the Gators have provided a big, glaring pimple with their play in May.

However, if you look at Florida's overall portrait the outlook is much rosier. The Gators have 11 wins against RPI top 25 teams which is more than any team in the country except Vanderbilt, North Carolina, and Virginia. The Gators' have the #1 Strength of Schedule in the country and their RPI was #26 before this final loss to Texas A&M.

"They want you to play a tough schedule", said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan. "When you do that you open yourself up to not having the prettiest record at the end of the year. The negative is we didn't finish strong. But we had a lot of good weekends during the season. We play in the toughest conference in the nation and won 14 games and finished eighth and our RPI is in the top 25 in the country."

The Verdict

At this point Alabama is in the field.

Florida would be next in line followed by Auburn. Texas A&M will need more wins to pass the Auburn. By the way, Auburn won two of three at both Florida and Texas A&M.

For the bottom three teams, their status is undetermined until we locate the size of the bubble.

Stolen Bids

Bubble teams like Auburn need the following conferences to remain one-bid leagues. For that happen the following teams need to snag the automatic bid because many of the project to earn an at large bid regardless giving these leagues an extra bid - and taking one away from the rest of the field (shrinking the bubble).

Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big 10: Indiana
Big East: Louisville or Seton Hall
Big South: Coastal Carolina or Campbell
Colonial: UNC Wilmington or William & Mary
Conference USA: Rice
Missouri Valley: Creighton
Mountain West: New Mexico
Ohio Valley: Austin Peay
Southern: Western Carolina
Southland: Sam Houston State
Sun Belt: South Alabama, Troy, Louisiana, or Florida Atlantic

Who remains on the bubble?

In addition to the stolen bids, bubble teams should also pull against other bubble teams.
Heading into Wednesday, the following teams would still be classified as having work to do to secure a bid:

Coastal Carolina, Campbell, Florida, Illinois, Austin Peay, Auburn, Michigan State, Sam Houston State, Texas A&M, Creighton, Bryant, Western Carolina, Oklahoma, San Diego, San Francisco, North Florida, Houston, Arizona, UC Santa Barbara, Ohio State, Florida Gulf Coast, BYU, South Florida, Pitt, Baylor, UC Irvine, Stanford, and Notre Dame.

How big is the bubble?

During tournament week the bubble size is as volatile as a bad umpire's strike zone. Just when you think you have it figured out the dang thing moves and you're left searching again.

As of Tuesday the following 12 leagues will be one-bid leagues no matter what:
America East, Atlantic 10, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, SWAC, Summit, and WAC.
There are 18 other automatic bids that will come from other conferences. Some of them could be one-bid leagues (see list above).

These 35 teams are considered locks for the tournament:
  • Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon State, Florida State, LSU, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon
  • Louisville, NC State, Indiana, UCLA, Kansas State, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Clemson
  • South Alabama, Arizona State, Mercer, Troy, Arkansas, Virginia Tech, UNC Wilmington, Oklahoma State
  • Cal Poly, Miami, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Louisiana, Seton Hall, William & Mary, Rice
  • Alabama, Florida Atlantic, New Mexico

    If the 12 automatic bids come from 35 teams from 12 conferences listed above, we would have:
    12 1 bid conferences
    12 multi bid conferences
    23 locks from multi-bid conferences
    = 47 bids.

    There are six more bids available from conference that may or may not be one bid leagues. Those could go to bubble teams. For our exercise we will say they do.

    That pushes us to 53 teams and makes the bubble 11 teams. That is a large bubble that will shrink as the week progresses. How much it shrinks will determine how many bubble teams make the cut.


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