Riley Report: Hey, baseball season is starting!

From The Citadel’s varsity sports website:

The Citadel baseball team opens the 2017 season with the Charleston Crab House Challenge beginning Friday at Joe Riley Park.

The Bulldogs welcome Kansas, Virginia and Liberty to the three-day tournament. They will face Kansas on Friday at 4 p.m., followed by Virginia on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Liberty on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The tournament begins at 12 p.m. on Friday when Virginia faces Liberty. On Saturday, Kansas and Liberty open the day at 11 a.m. Virginia and Kansas will play on Sunday at 10 a.m.

Live video will be provided on the SoCon Digital Network for all three of The Citadel’s games, while live stats will be available for the entirety of the tournament.

Links of interest:

– The Citadel’s 2017 baseball schedule

The Citadel’s 2017 baseball roster

– Season preview from The Post and Courier

Weekend preview from The Post and Courier

Beer will be sold at Riley Park when The Citadel is playing this year

– Fred Jordan “retools” his program

– Bulldogs picked to finish last in the SoCon by the coaches, next-to-last by the media

– No player from The Citadel was selected to the preseason all-conference teams

– Former Bulldog James Reeves got a non-roster invitation to the Yankees’ big-league camp

SoCon weekly release

The Citadel’s game notes for opening weekend

Additional links:

Kansas baseball website

Virginia baseball website

Liberty baseball website

2016 SoCon league-only baseball statistics, with a little commentary

The Citadel won the league title in 2010 with an overall record of 43-22, 24-6 in the SoCon. Since that season:

  • 2011: 20-36 overall (3-18 road), 8-22 SoCon
  • 2012: 25-33 overall (5-18 road), 13-17 SoCon
  • 2013: 35-25 overall (10-12 road), 18-12 SoCon
  • 2014: 24-34 overall (3-17 road), 8-18 SoCon
  • 2015: 28-30 overall (6-13 road), 10-14 SoCon
  • 2016: 17-42 overall (4-23 road), 6-18 SoCon

That six-season stretch adds up to 149-200 overall (31-101 road), 63-101 in the SoCon.

Averaged out for one year, it would come out to 25-33 (5-17 road), 11-17 in the SoCon. In the 19 seasons that Fred Jordan coached The Citadel prior to 2011, he never had a team with a league record as bad as 11-17, and only had one team with a worse overall record than 25-33 (and even then just barely; the 2005 squad was 25-34).

His road record before the 2011 season began was a respectable 195-207, just a bit under .500 for his career. The Bulldogs have only won 23% of their road games in the last six years, though.

A fair number of Bulldog supporters have become increasingly frustrated with the program’s results in recent years, particularly after last year’s 42-loss campaign (which resulted in The Citadel finishing with a worst-ever RPI of 260). It is possible, however, that the most frustrated supporter of them all might be the head coach:

After watching his team struggle to a 17-42 record last season — the worst in his 25 seasons as The Citadel’s baseball coach — Fred Jordan vowed to “retool” his program.

Jordan wasn’t kidding, as he brought in an unprecedented (for The Citadel) four transfer players for this season. That includes junior-college standout Jonathan Sabo, a two-time All-Lowcountry player of the year during his career at West Ashley High School.

The Bulldogs’ three graduate-student transfers are catcher Joe Sabatini from Baylor, right-handed pitcher Aaron Lesiak from Presbyterian and left-handed pitcher Marlin Morris, who’s pitched at USC Sumter and College of Charleston.

 

“I just felt like we needed more maturity in the back end of our bullpen…And in reality, that’s the new wave of recruiting. Everyone is doing it in all sports. I made the statement last year that we’re going to change some things, and that’s one of the things we changed.

“I’m very excited about it. Guys who are 21 or 22 and have had success in college, they step into our clubhouse and demand respect, and that’s what they’ve done.”

…”We’ve got a tremendous graduate program, and our football and basketball programs have done it for years,” said Jordan, whose led the Bulldogs to seven Southern Conference tournament titles and five regular-season championships.

The issue of transfers at The Citadel is not a new one. For this blog, I wrote about it as far back as 2010; in the linked piece, I referenced a Ken Burger column from 2003. The football team had a junior college transfer on its roster back in 1970 who was not a member of the corps of cadets.

I still have some misgivings about graduate transfers, for a variety of reasons that I outlined in my blog post from six years ago. However, this is still my take on things from a coach’s perspective:

I don’t blame any of the individual coaches for bringing in graduate students. Coaches are trying to win. Winning is not easy to do at The Citadel…

At any rate, I hope the graduate transfers give the squad a badly needed forward push. I also appreciate the commitment junior college transfer Jonathan Sabo (a member of the corps) made in order to attend The Citadel. I think a lot of people can identify with that.

About beer sales:

…Fans of legal drinking age will be permitted up to three beer purchases, tracked by wristbands and hand stamps.

An alcohol-free zone also will be set up for each game, the school said…

  • All patrons wishing to purchase or consume beer must present proper identification showing they are of legal age.
  • People wishing to drink beer will have a wristband placed on their wrist and their hand stamped with indelible ink, limiting each person to one wristband per game.
  • Each wristband will have three tabs which can only be removed by the concessionaire upon purchase of a beer.
  • Beer will be served in a clear, plastic 12-ounce cup, with a three-beer maximum.
  • All beer sales will cease at the end of the 7th inning.
  • A designated driver program will be in place allowing all properly credentialed designated drivers one free soft drink.

I’m ambivalent about this move. It could be a boon for attendance; it could also be counter-productive. If it had no impact on attendance at all, that would not be a surprise either.

Personally, I think cadets should not be served beer, even if they are of age. It that an an unfair (if not irrational) position to take? Perhaps. However, there is something to be said for optics.

Instead of beer sales, I just wish the concession stand sold Sprite instead of Sierra Mist…

How did returning players fare last year in SoCon play? I’m glad you asked.

First, the batters (keep in mind these statistics are only for the 24 conference games played in 2016):

Player AVG GP-GS AB R H 2B 3B HR
Martin 0.304 22-18 69 15 21 4 0 2
Charpia 0.281 20-17 64 12 18 2 0 5
Peden 0.276 22-21 76 17 21 1 0 7
Phillips 0.218 19-18 78 13 17 5 1 0
Kinney 0.205 24-24 83 9 17 6 0 2
Cothran 0.300 15-4 20 4 6 1 0 0
Buffington 0.000 4-0 4 2 0 0 0 0
Total 0.254 126-102 394 72 100 19 1 16

 

Player RBI TB BB HBP SO OB% SLG% OPS
Martin 11 31 15 4 16 0.449 0.449 0.898
Charpia 8 35 4 4 29 0.356 0.547 0.903
Peden 15 43 18 0 26 0.411 0.566 0.977
Phillips 9 24 7 1 17 0.284 0.308 0.592
Kinney 12 29 8 1 22 0.277 0.349 0.626
Cothran 0 7 2 2 6 0.417 0.350 0.767
Buffington 0 0 0 0 2 0.000 0.000 0.000
Total 55 169 54 12 118 0.355 0.429 0.784

 

Player GDP SF SH SB-ATT PO A E FLD%
Martin 0 1 3 4-4 48 2 1 0.980
Charpia 0 1 2 0-0 16 28 4 0.917
Peden 0 1 0 0-0 140 13 3 0.981
Phillips 1 2 3 2-2 49 2 1 0.981
Kinney 0 2 6 0-0 32 55 9 0.906
Cothran 0 0 0 0-0 12 14 0 1.000
Buffington 0 0 0 0-0 7 0 0 1.000
Total 1 7 14 6-6 304 114 18 0.957

Returning players account for 47% of last season’s starts among position players. Five of the seven players started at least 70% of league games.

They took 48% of The Citadel’s at bats in 2016 SoCon play and scored 57% of the team’s runs, drew 48% of the walks, hit 67% of the Bulldogs’ homers, and suffered 58% of the squad’s strikeouts.

The returning seven position players didn’t get a lot of singles (just 64 in 102 starts).

The Citadel’s overall batting numbers in SoCon action last season were not good when compared to other league outfits. The Bulldogs scored 127 runs in 24 contests (5.3 per game). That was next-to-last in the conference.

Of course, park effects have to be considered. “The Joe” is a pitcher’s park in a hitter’s league.

I used Boyd Nation’s park effects data (2012-15, the most recent edition) to come up with a “normalized runs” total for The Citadel of 136. Alas, that still ranked next-to-last in the SoCon, only ahead of VMI. League teams averaged 163 runs (6.8 per game) in conference play.

Note: the statistics in this section are for all games, not just league contests.

Southern Conference baseball revolves around offense. Yes, pitching (and defense) wins championships, but you have to score runs to succeed in the SoCon, preferably in bunches.

Mercer led the nation in home runs per game (1.52) and walks. UNC-Greensboro topped D-1 in on-base percentage (.425), batting average (.346), and slugging percentage (.538).

Six SoCon teams finished in the top 17 in home runs per game. Five finished in the top 30 in runs scored per contest.

Conversely, no conference team finished in the top 150 in WHIP.

Speaking of pitching, here are the returning hurlers’ numbers in SoCon play:

Pitcher ERA W-L APP GS IP H R ER BK
Smith 6.04 0-1 16 0 22.3 27 20 15 1
Byelick 7.14 1-4 7 6 29 44 31 23 1
Sears 7.81 2-5 8 8 40.3 49 37 35 0
Foulks 2.25 0-0 4 0 4 0 1 1 0
Strickland 4.91 0-0 11 0 14.7 15 8 8 0
Spence 11.12 0-1 6 1 5.7 7 9 7 0
Stamler 11.12 0-0 8 0 5.7 7 7 7 0
Buster 12.15 0-1 11 1 13.7 18 20 18 0
Bialakis 27.00 0-0 1 0 0.3 1 1 1 0
Merritt 99.00 0-0 1 0 0 3 2 2 0
Total 7.76 3-12 73 16 135.7 171 136 117 2

 

Pitcher BB K 2B-A 3B-A HR-A WP HP SF-A SH-A
Smith 12 13 6 0 6 6 2 1 0
Byelick 13 27 7 0 2 3 8 1 3
Sears 22 48 12 0 5 6 2 2 5
Foulks 4 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Strickland 6 12 2 0 3 0 1 0 0
Spence 6 3 2 0 2 4 0 0 0
Stamler 7 3 2 0 0 2 0 1 1
Buster 17 10 9 0 2 5 3 1 0
Bialakis 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1
Merritt 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 87 120 42 0 20 27 17 6 10

Returning pitchers started 16 of 24 conference games last season. The ten pitchers in the two tables above combined to pitch 65% of the league innings for the Bulldogs.

Fred Jordan stated in one of the quoted articles above that the bullpen needed “maturity”. It is easy to understand why he said that, after the struggles last year out of the ‘pen.

The Citadel’s overall team ERA in SoCon play was 7.29, which is obviously poor, but the bullpen ERA in league action was actually even worse than that. In 94 innings pitched in relief, Bulldog pitchers allowed 82 earned runs, for an ERA of 7.85.

Of course, needing 94 innings out of your bullpen in 24 league games isn’t ideal, either. That is just under 4 innings of relief pitching per contest. Bulldog starters must go deeper into games this season.

The Citadel allowed 190 runs in conference action in 2016, second-most in the league. That is an average of 7.9 runs allowed per game. Only VMI allowed more runs than the Bulldogs.

When runs are normalized, The Citadel had the worst total in the league (204; as mentioned earlier, the league average per team was 163). VMI had a “normalized runs” total of 203.

The Citadel’s park factors average was 98.625, while VMI’s was 111.375. That is why, even though the Bulldogs allowed fewer runs than the Keydets (190 to 213), VMI’s pitching/defense in league play was actually slightly better (because the Keydets played in generally tougher environments for pitching over the course of the conference schedule).

In terms of fielding percentage, The Citadel finished next-to-last in the league, ahead of VMI (sense a theme here?). Of course, fielding percentage doesn’t really tell the whole story when it comes to defense.

The Citadel’s defensive efficiency rating (DER) in SoCon action was 0.663205, which was seventh-best out of the nine league teams. Western Carolina was eighth, and Wofford ninth. VMI was sixth, which suggests the Keydets were a better defensive squad than their raw chances/error totals would suggest.

The two best fielding teams in the SoCon, per DER, were Mercer and Samford.

The Citadel’s catchers threw out 10 out of 47 potential base-stealers in conference play. By percentage, that was seventh-best in the league, ahead of only Furman and UNC-Greensboro. However, the Bulldogs allowed the most total stolen bases in the SoCon (and were run on more than any other team).

Western Carolina’s catchers had a 44.8% caught stealing rate, which topped the conference.

The school website notes that 14 Bulldogs on this year’s squad are newcomers — the four transfer students and ten freshmen.

Of those ten freshmen, six are pitchers (one lefty). The four position players include two outfielders, a second baseman, and a catcher.

The returnees from last season include eleven sophomores, five juniors, and two seniors.

Last year, The Citadel began the season with 21 non-conference games (16 at home) before opening the league campaign at VMI. The Bulldogs were 9-12 in those 21 games.

In 2017, The Citadel will also open with 21 non-conference games before starting its conference slate against VMI (this time at Riley Park). Of those 21 games to begin the year, 17 are at home (and two of the four road games are nearby at College of Charleston).

The Bulldogs have a chance to get off to a good start, and build some confidence leading up to the SoCon slate. The team has to seize that opportunity.

It is time for baseball season to begin. I’m looking forward to it.

Variety Pack: The NCAA’s Seven Sinners, Gonzo’s friend Duke Rice, and the Plant of the Week

It’s the long-awaited latest edition of the Variety Pack, the celebrated TSA series that debuted earlier this year.  The idea is to write briefly (I hope) on two or three different topics without being limited to 140 characters, like my Twitter tweets.

This is one of two holiday Variety Packs; in a week or two I’ll post the other one, which will (probably) feature The Citadel’s role in the modern-day proliferation of college football on television.

Both Variety Packs are inspired by Google Books.  What  I did, basically, is type in some search terms, and see what came up.

In 1948, the NCAA crafted a statute colloquially known as the “Sanity Code”.  The Sanity Code was an attempt to end the practice of awarding athletic scholarships, something many southern institutions had been doing since the early 1930s.

The Sanity Code allowed schools to award scholarships to prospective athletes, but only on a basis of need – and even then the scholarships were limited to tuition and incidental expenses.  Most scholarship athletes would either have to qualify for academic scholarships, or pay their own way, usually by holding down jobs while in school.

This was seen by a lot of the southern schools as an attempt by the “establishment” to keep itself on top of the college athletics pyramid.  The establishment consisted mainly of the Big 10 schools, largely aligned with the Ivy League and Pac-8.  To add fuel to the fire, in those days the Big 10 commissioner also oversaw the NCAA’s daily activities; Walter Byers, later executive director of the NCAA, split time between his NCAA duties and his primary job as the Big 10’s publicity director.

There were myriad problems with the Sanity Code.  It was basically unenforceable.  It was also seen as unfair.  The southern schools had no interest in dropping athletic scholarships, especially when at the same time wealthy Big 10 alums would be giving bogus jobs to football and basketball players with no penalty.

The school most often ridiculed by Sanity Code opponents was Ohio State.  Prior to the 1950 Rose Bowl, it was revealed that at least 16 Buckeye football players had cushy jobs with the state, including a running back on the payroll of the state’s transportation department as a tire inspector.

The Sanity Code was going to allow OSU to do that, but not let SEC or Southern Conference schools offer athletic scholarships.  It’s easy to see why people got upset.

Enter the “Seven Sinners”.  No, I’m not talking about the John Wayne-Marlene Dietrich movie.

In this case, the “Seven Sinners” were seven schools that refused to live a lie, and admitted that they were not adhering to the new statute enacted by the NCAA.  The seven happened to be a very difficult group for the establishment to criticize.  Only one, Maryland, was a major college football power offering a large number of athletic scholarships.  The others were Virginia, Virginia Tech, VMI, The Citadel, Boston College, and Villanova.

For The Citadel, the notion of having athletes work jobs while at the same time go to class, play a sport, and participate in military activities was a non-starter (the same was true for VMI, and to a certain extent Virginia Tech).  The school also questioned the amateur-but-not-really idea of the Sanity Code, with The Citadel’s faculty representative stating that “The Code defines the word amateur and then promptly authorizes students to participate…who do not meet the requirements of the definition.”

At the 1950 NCAA Convention, the association moved to expel the seven schools. That’s right, the NCAA wasn’t going to put them on probation, a concept not yet considered.  It was going to expel them.

UVA president Colgate Darden made a principled argument against the statute, and stated that his school had no intention of following the Code.  Maryland president (and former football coach) Curley Byrd worked the floor at the convention, making sure there weren’t enough votes to expel the seven schools, and using Ohio State’s situation (as an example of the NCAA’s hypocrisy) in order to convince some fence-sitters to support the Sinners’ position.

The Citadel, however, had already announced it was going to resign from the NCAA, stating it refused “to lie to stay in the association”.  For The Citadel, either the Sanity Code had to go, or The Citadel would go.  After all, it’s not like the school had a history of shying away from secession-related activities.

Since all seven of the “Seven Sinners” are still members of the NCAA, you can guess that they weren’t expelled.  Expulsion required a two-thirds majority, and that didn’t happen (although more than half of the NCAA members did vote against the Sinners). This prevented a complete fracture of the NCAA, as it is likely the southern schools would have left the association otherwise.

While most of the votes supporting the seven schools came from the south, there were schools in the other parts of the country which also voted against expelling the seven, a fact not unnoticed by the NCAA leadership.  The Sanity Code was repealed the following year.

In retrospect, it’s kind of funny that The Citadel was in the position of being an NCAA malefactor.  However, it should be pointed out that 111 schools did vote to expel the military college from the NCAA on that fateful day in 1950.  In fact, when the vote was taken, NCAA president Karl Lieb announced that the motion to expel had carried, before being corrected by assorted shouts from the convention floor.  He then said, “You’re right, the motion is not carried.”  Lieb had forgotten about that two-thirds majority rule for passage; the vote to expel The Citadel and the other six schools had fallen 25 votes short.

The echoes from the Sanity Code controversy still reverberate today.  There are still notable divisions between the Big 10 and Pac-10 schools and the other “major” conference schools like the SEC.  The Ivy League has basically withdrawn from the scene.  Even today, there is some distrust of the Big 10 and its closeness (real or perceived) with the NCAA.

Below are some links that touch on this topic.  They are mostly links from Google Books, so it may take a little bit of work to get to the referenced sections.

College Football:  History, Spectacle, Controversy (starting on page 213)

The 50-Year Seduction (starting on page 18)

Unsportsmanlike Conduct:  Exploiting College Athletes (starting on page 53)

College Athletes For Hire (starting on page 43)

Sport:  What Price Football? (column in Time magazine)

Egg In Your Beer (editorial from the January 21, 1950 edition of The Harvard Crimson)

While perusing Google Books, I read a passage from a book entitled Gonzo:  The Life of Hunter S. Thompson:  An Oral Biography:

[Thompson’s] best friend from his early days was probably Duke Rice.  He was a skinny kid and not all that tall, and suddenly he shot up to six-six or six-seven and got a basketball scholarship to The Citadel, where he was the only player of the time who was able to shut down Jerry West.

Now, this little blurb interested me, for a couple of reasons:

— Thompson’s friend was named Duke Rice.  With a name like that, he shouldn’t have gone to The Citadel; he should have gone to Vanderbilt or Northwestern.

— The “Blitz Kids” were a group of players recruited by Norm Sloan to The Citadel in the late 1950s and early 1960s (which is also the time period when Jerry West played for West Virginia).  That era was the pinnacle for basketball at The Citadel.  The stars of those teams were Art Musselman, Dick Wherry, Ray Graves, and Dick Jones (and later Gary Daniels)…but not anyone named Duke Rice.

The Blitz Kids never won the Southern Conference, mostly because West Virginia was in the league at that time, and Jerry West played for the Mountaineers.  He was, of course, a fantastic player.  Very few teams shut him down, and The Citadel certainly didn’t.  West played three games in his career against The Citadel.  WVU won all three games, by scores of 89-61, 85-66, and 98-76.

That 85-66 score came in the 1959 Southern Conference tournament championship game, the only time The Citadel has ever made the league final.  West scored 27 points in that contest.  I don’t know how many points he scored against the Bulldogs in the other two games, but since the Mountaineers put up 89 and 98 points in those matchups, I’m guessing he wasn’t exactly “shut down”.

Incidentally, that 98-76 game was played during the 1959-60 season at McAlister Field House, and was arguably the most anticipated contest ever played at the ancient armory (at least for those contests not involving Ric Flair).  West Virginia had lost in the NCAA championship game the year before (to California, 71-70), and West was the most celebrated college basketball player of his time.  People came out in droves to see West play.

West was so good, both in college and in the NBA, that he had no fewer than three great nicknames — “Zeke from Cabin Creek”, “The Logo”, and “Mr. Clutch”.  There are a lot of great athletes who would love to have just one cool nickname, and West had (at least) three of them.

Going back to the book, the person who stated that Duke Rice had played for The Citadel was another friend of Thompson’s named Gerald Tyrrell.  Now, I was sure Tyrrell didn’t make up that story.  After all, there wasn’t any reason for him to do so, and I suspected that part of it was true.  It’s just that it was rather obvious that The Citadel part of it wasn’t true.

No one with the last name “Rice” is listed as having lettered for The Citadel in the school’s media guide.  I briefly considered the possibility that the last name was incorrect (and that Duke was a childhood nickname), but Hunter S. Thompson grew up in Louisville, and none of the players for The Citadel during that era were from Louisville, at least from what I was able to determine.

As it happened, it didn’t take much effort (just some additional Googling) to come up with the answer.  Duke Rice had in fact played college basketball, and had played in the Southern Conference for a school with a military component…but the school in question was Virginia Tech.

Rice is mentioned in this interview of Chris Smith, who starred for the Hokies from 1957-61.  Smith described the 1960 Southern Conference championship game:

We had great athletes.  Bobby Ayersman, Louie Mills, and Bucky Keller were each outstanding high school football quarterbacks.  Dean Blake and Duke Rice did a great job  during the game as they took turns guarding Jerry West.  They held him to 14 points.  When Jerry fouled out in the third quarter, we were tied 49 to 49. Unfortunately, the rest of the WV team responded well and they scored on several long shots during the final 10 minutes of the game.

There he is!

What’s more, it appears that Tyrrell’s comment that Rice was “the only player of his time to shut down Jerry West” has some validity to it.  Maybe it’s an overstatement, but at least it’s rooted in fact.

In the end, the Duke Rice story doesn’t really have anything to do with The Citadel.  It’s more about a slightly blurry memory (which I suspect Thompson himself would have appreciated) and a lack of fact-checking by the book’s editors.  This particular book happens to be co-authored by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.

It also illustrates the inherent danger of taking oral histories at face value.  Anyone who follows baseball knows this all too well.  The success of Lawrence Ritter’s classic The Glory Of Their Times has led to a number of similar books, a lot of which are a little short in the truth-telling department.

It’s time for the Plant of the Week.  For this edition, the honoree is a canna lily, the Cleopatra canna, which when it comes to coloration basically has a mind of its own.

Warm weather can’t get here fast enough…

Examining the college baseball “bubble” with one week to go

This will be a huge week in the college baseball world, obviously, with conference tournament action all over the country (along with some key regular season games in the Pac-10, which does not have a league tournament).  I decided to break down the potential field and see what teams are in, what teams are out, and what teams have work to do.  Admittedly, I’m not the only person who does this — you can read fine efforts from the folks at Baseball America and Yahoo! Sports, just to name two — but I’m the only person who will do it on this blog.  So there.

I’m going to approach this from the point of view of a fan of a “bubble” team who wants to know the ideal scenario by which his team can make the field, by the way.  The Citadel, while not a true “lock”, is probably safe at this point (and well it should be). However, I would like to see any potential roadblocks to the NCAAs removed.  In other words, I’m for the chalk.

RPI numbers mentioned below are as of May 23 and are from Boyd Nation’s website.  For the uninitiated, the regionals include 64 teams, 30 automatic qualifiers (by winning their respective league bids) and 34 at-large selections.  Three leagues do not hold post-season tournaments, so their regular season champs get the auto bid. Several smaller conferences have already held their post-season events and so we know what teams will be representing those leagues.

There are 15 leagues that will definitely only have one team in the field, the so-called “one-bid leagues”.  Dartmouth, Bethune-Cookman, Bucknell, and San Diego have already qualified from four of these conferences.  The other eleven leagues are the America East, Atlantic 10, CAA, Horizon, MAAC, MAC, NEC, OVC, SWAC, Summit, and WAC.  That leaves 49 spots for the other 15 leagues.

(There are also a few independents, along with the members of the Great West, a league that does not get an automatic bid, but none of those teams are serious candidates to make a regional.)

There are several leagues that will also be “one-bid” conferences, unless the regular season champion doesn’t win the conference tournament, and even then the favorite might not be good enough to get an at-large bid anyway.  Bubble teams should definitely be rooting for the top seed in these leagues, just to make sure no spots are “stolen”.  These leagues are as follows:

— Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast University dominated this conference.  With an RPI of 40, FGCU probably stands a decent (not great) shot at getting a bid even if it loses in the A-Sun tourney.  This is unfamiliar ground for the Eagles, as the A-Sun tourney will be their first post-season experience in Division I.

If you’re wondering why you have never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University, it’s because the school (located in Fort Myers) has only existed since 1997.  The baseball team has only been around since 2003, first as a D-2 program and now at D-1.  It’s an amazing story, really; there are a few more details to be found here.  It just goes to show you how many good baseball players there are in Florida, and for that matter how many young people there are in Florida (FGCU has an enrollment of over 11,000).

— Big 10 – Michigan has an RPI of 65, which isn’t really that great, and didn’t even win the regular season title (Minnesota, with a losing overall record, did).  It’s barely possible the selection committee will throw a bone to the all-powerful Big 10 and give a “snow bid” to a second team from the league, but I doubt it.   Incidentally, the Big 10 tournament will be held in Columbus, but Ohio State did not qualify for the event.

— Big South – Coastal Carolina will almost certainly be a national seed.  If the Chanticleers win the league tourney, the Big South is probably a one-bid league. Liberty has an RPI of 51 and has beaten no one of consequence.  Bubble teams should definitely root for CCU.

— Conference USA – Rice will be in the tournament.  The only other team with a shot at a potential at-large bid is Southern Mississippi, but with an RPI of 67, it’s likely the Eagles need to win the C-USA tourney.  Otherwise, it could be bad news for the Minnesota Vikings.

— Missouri Valley – Wichita State will be the top seed at the MVC tourney, tying for the regular season title with Illinois State but holding the tiebreaker.  If the Shockers (RPI of 56) don’t win the league tournament, they could get an at-large bid, but I don’t see it. Still, you have to watch out, given the tradition of Wichita State, that the committee doesn’t give a “legacy” bid.

— Southland – There are three teams (Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Northwestern State) that are semi-viable at-large candidates, but I suspect all of them really need the auto bid.  Texas State won the regular season title, has an RPI of 50, and probably would be the one best positioned for an at-large spot, but I don’t think that would happen. Bubble teams should pull for Texas State anyway, just to make sure.  Southeastern Louisiana has an RPI of 48 but dropped all three games of its final regular season series to Northwestern State, at home, and thus finished third in the league.

Let’s look at the remaining “mid-majors”:

— Big East – Louisville should be a national seed.  Connecticut has had a great year and may wind up hosting (but as a 2 seed).  Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great RPI (53), but has a fine overall record, will get the benefit of the doubt for its power rating because it is a northern school, and is probably in good shape.  The Big East appears to be a three-bid league.  St. John’s has a good record but an RPI of 74.

— Big West – Cal State Fullerton will host and could be a national seed.  UC Irvine should also make it out of this league (which does not have a post-season tournament).  I don’t see anyone else getting in.  It’s a two-bid league.

— Mountain West – TCU will probably host a regional.  I think New Mexico (RPI of 42) is getting in, too, although an 0-2 MWC tourney could make the Lobos a little nervous.  The MWC should get two bids.

— Southern – The Citadel (RPI of 37) won the regular season by two full games, winning its last seven league games (and its last eight games overall).  It was the only school in the SoCon to not lose a home conference series, and went 8-4 against the schools that finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the league, with all of those games being played on the road.

What The Citadel was not good at was winning on Tuesday.  It was 0-7 on Tuesdays until winning at Winthrop in its final Tuesday matchup.  On days other than Tuesday, the Bulldogs were 37-13.

Regionals are not played on Tuesdays.  The selection committee is aware of this, and probably aware that The Citadel has a top-flight starting pitcher (potential first-round pick Asher Wojciechowski) and a very good Saturday starter (6’7″ left-hander Matt Talley) who pitch on Fridays and Saturdays.

That’s a lot of verbiage to say that, even if the Bulldogs go 0-2 in the SoCon tourney, I expect them to be in the NCAAs. They better be.

The College of Charleston should be in the NCAAs too, with an excellent record and RPI (24).  The only other team with a shot at an at-large bid out of the SoCon is Elon (RPI of 43), which tied for third in the league (but is the 4 seed in the conference tourney).  The Phoenix had a better record against the ACC (6-1) than in the SoCon (19-11).  The SoCon should get at least two bids, and possibly three.

— Sun Belt – Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Lafayette will be in the NCAAs.  Then there is Western Kentucky, with an RPI of 36 and some nice non-conference wins (Texas A&M, Texas State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Kentucky).  However, the Hilltoppers finished 16-14 in league play, tied for sixth, and will be the 8 seed at the Sun Belt tournament. Can an 8 seed out of the Sun Belt get an at-large bid?  I’m not sure about that.

That leaves the four leagues that will send the most teams.  The easiest of these to evaluate, in terms of at-large possibilities, is the SEC.  The other three are a bit more difficult to figure out.

— Southeastern – Alabama’s sweep of Tennessee in Knoxville locked up a berth in the SEC tourney (and the regionals) for the Tide and also knocked the Vols out of both events.  LSU took care of business against Mississippi State, and then got the benefit of Kentucky’s meltdown against cellar-dweller Georgia.  The Wildcats were eliminated from the SEC tourney (and likely the NCAAs) after a 20-0 loss in Athens on Friday night.  Ouch.  The SEC, which some were suggesting could send ten teams to the NCAAs, will send eight — the same eight teams playing in the league tournament.

— Atlantic Coast – Six teams are locks (Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech).  Then there are the other two teams in the league tournament (Boston College and NC State) and one that isn’t (North Carolina).

I think it’s possible that two of those three get in, but not all three.  North Carolina didn’t even make the ACC tourney, but has a really good RPI (21) and just finished a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Heels actually tied for 8th with BC, but the two teams did not meet during the regular season, and BC wound up prevailing in a tiebreaker, which was based on record against the top teams.  That’s also UNC’s biggest problem — it was swept by all three of the ACC heavyweights (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami).  It also lost a series to Duke, which is never a good idea.

On the other hand, UNC did beat NC State two out of three games (in Chapel Hill). The Wolfpack has an RPI of 49, not quite in UNC’s range, thanks to a strength of schedule of only 77 (per Warren Nolan).  By comparison, UNC has a SOS of 15 and BC 16, typical of most ACC teams (Miami has the #1 SOS in the nation; UVA is 9th, Clemson 11th).

The records for the two schools against the top 50 in the RPI are similar.  Both are better than Boston College (8-20 against the top 50).  BC, which is only 29-26 overall and has an RPI of 45, would be a marginal at-large candidate but for its quality schedule and, of course, its sweep of NC State in Raleigh.

What NC State does have to offer for its consideration is series wins against UVA and Georgia Tech.  That’s impressive, but it’s probably not enough to get the Pack an at-large berth on its own.

I suspect that UNC will get in, despite not making the ACC tournament, but it will be close.  BC and NC State both need to do some damage in the ACC tourney, which is a pool play event, meaning each team will play at least three games. The Eagles and Wolfpack each need to win at least twice.  UNC fans need to root against both of them, because even though at-large bids (supposedly) aren’t doled out by conference, a run to the ACC title game by either BC or NCSU probably would move them ahead of the Heels in the at-large pecking order.

— Big XII – Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M are locks.  Kansas State (RPI of 35) is on the bubble but is in good shape.  Baylor (RPI of 41), Texas Tech (RPI of 54, and now with a .500 overall record), and Kansas (RPI of 52) are also in the running for an at-large bid, although the latter two schools hurt themselves over the weekend and are in now in serious trouble.  Both must have good runs in the Big XII tourney (which, like the ACC tournament, is a pool play event).

Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State are all in the same “pod” for the Big XII tournament, so they may be able to separate themselves from each other (in a manner of speaking) during the tourney.  How that will affect the total number of bids for the Big XII is hard to say.  It wasn’t a banner year for the league, but I could see as many as six bids.  I think, barring some upsets in the league tournament, it’s going to be five.

— Pac-10 – Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, and Oregon are locks.  Arizona (RPI of 19) probably is too, although the Wildcats would do well not to get swept next weekend at Oregon State.

There are nine teams in the conference still fighting to make the NCAAs.  In this league, there is only one punching bag — Southern California.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Washington has the worst RPI of the contenders (55) and is only one game over .500 overall.  The Huskies play Southern Cal in their final series, which will probably help Washington’s record but may not help its NCAA case.  Oregon State, as mentioned, hosts Arizona and may need to win twice.  The Beavers (with a solid RPI of 32) did get a much-needed win on Sunday at Arizona State to improve their conference record to 10-14.

Stanford (RPI of 44) looks to be in good shape; the Cardinal host Arizona State next weekend and likely need to win just one of the three games (and may be able to withstand a sweep).  On the other side of the bay, however, things are not as promising, as California (RPI of 39) has lost seven straight and finishes the season at Oregon needing to show the selection committee a reason to believe.

At least seven teams from the Pac-10 are going to make the NCAAs, and possibly eight.  I don’t think all nine contenders are going to get the call, though.

Okay, now let’s break things down.  Just my opinion, of course.  Here we go:

— Locks (30):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette

— Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

— Bubble teams that are in good shape (6):  Arizona, Kansas State, UC Irvine, New Mexico, The Citadel, Pittsburgh

That’s 55 teams in total.  If there are no upsets (hah!), then nine other bubble teams will make the NCAAs.  I’ve got them listed in two groups; the “decent chance” group, and the “need some help and/or no conference tourney upsets for an at-large” group.

Decent chance for an at-large:  Stanford, North Carolina, Baylor, FGCU (if needed), Oregon State, Elon, NC State

Need a lot of things to go right:  Boston College, Liberty, Wichita State, Western Kentucky, Michigan, Texas Tech, Kansas, California, Washington, Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State, Southern Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, St. John’s

That’s how I see things, as of Sunday night.  Most of the action this week begins on Wednesday.  Let the games begin…