WVU Baseball: Eyeing the Postseason
By: Kevin Kinder
West Virginia’s baseball team enters the final series of the regular season with designs on boosting its standing and profile in both the Big 12 Championship and the NCAA Tournament. Although only those three games with Texas remain, there’s still a great deal of movement that can occur.
First, the Big 12 Championship. The Mountaineers could finish anywhere from third to seventh in the final standings. While finishing higher does theoretically make for an easier opening game in the event, the jumbled and close nature of the league standings makes that less of a benefit. Given the two-division setup of the championship, which begins on Wed., May 24 in Oklahoma City, the Mountaineers might end up with an early foe that isn’t a decided underdog (or favorite). For those trying to track the seedings, WVU holds tiebreakers over Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas and TCU, but is on the short end of that stick against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State, with Texas still to play.
With that in mind, the seedings for the Big 12 Championship probably aren’t a big deal. It would be nice for WVU to say it finished third in the league, but it’s probably not going to make a huge difference in how it plays out in Oklahoma City. After all, the Mountaineers won their series against TCU, which will be either the #1 or #2 seed in OKC. It dropped its series to K-State, which is in a fight just to make it into the eight-team post-season league bracket.
Where the Texas series, and the results of the Big 12 Championship really come into play, though, is in the NCAA Tournament. There, 64 teams are split up into 16 regionals, with the top seed in each regional hosting the other three teams in a double elimination bracket, with the winner advancing. At some points earlier this year, the Mountaineers were projected as a potential regional host, but that faded with home Big 12 series losses to Oklahoma and Texas Tech, not to mention a home setback to Penn State, ranked 204 in the RPI. That’s West Virginia’s only loss outside the RPI Top 100, but it was a definite ding to its hosting hopes.
Could the Mountaineers push back into hosting contention? Perhaps, but it would take a big finishing kick. Texas is currently 25 in the RPI to WVU’s 19, so two wins or a sweep, coupled with a push very deep into the Big 12 Championship, could put the Mountaineers on the bubble to host. Stress could and bubble.
Long Beach State (20 RPI) and Mississippi State (24 RPI) are the two lowest teams in that metric to be currently projected as regional hosts by BaseballAmerica, but remember this isn’t a one-stat decision. For example, Baylor, Missouri State, Arkansas and Arizona, all of which are currently above WVU in the RPI, also aren’t being tabbed in every hosting projection.
Currently, most projections have West Virginia as a #2 seed in the regionals, but the good news there is that there are three schools relatively close where WVU might get its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996. Virginia, Kentucky and Louisville all figure to be regional hosts, so if the Mountaineers can’t quite push their way into a #1 seed, they expect to have only a short trip to make.
Just like the NCAA basketball tournament, there are a number of considerations that go into making up the brackets, so by no means should any of this be considered set in stone. However, given the Mountaineers’ strong RPI, their solid road record and strength of schedule, it’s difficult to see them being moved any farther away from home.
The final thing to keep in mind? All of this can, and probably will, shuffle over the next two weeks. With so many competitive league races left to be determined, not to mention these seeding battles, squads will be going all out to solidify their positioning. We’ll know more about West Virginia’s potential NCAA spots once the Texas series is complete.