WVU Baseball Must Have Stellar Stretch Run To Reach Postseason
With 19 regular season games left to play, and standing at 2-7 the Big 12 Conference and 17-17 overall, West Virginia’s baseball team has a lot of work to do in order to earn a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. It is achievable, but there’s not much margin for error left for coach Randy Mazey’s club as it attempts make its first back-to-back appearance in the Big Dance since the 1963 and 1964 seasons.
On the plus side, WVU’s RPI and strength of schedule numbers are very good. After Wednesday night’s win over Canisius, the Mountaineers’ RPI stands at No. 28, while the SOS is second nationally, behind only Miami (Fla.). That’s very good as far as it goes, but even those numbers won’t be enough to overcome an overall .500 record, or a Big 12 mark that is several games underwater.
A deeper look inside the RPI numbers shows that the Mountaineers must also overcome the weight of four losses to teams in Group 3 and Group 4 of the RPI (RPIs of 101 and lower). Again, that’s not a death sentence, but WVU can’t have more losses to teams with triple digit RPIs. That includes three games against Kansas State (currently 112), two against Marshall (160) and one against Virginia Tech (123).
So, what does WVU have to do to put itself in contention for an at-large bid? (Of course, it could remove all doubt by earning an automatic berth by winning the Big 12 Tournament Championship, as Oklahoma State did a year ago, but that’s a separate challenge that we’ll examine at the conclusion of the regular season.)
First, the Mountaineers need to win all of their remaining non-conference games. Marshall and Virginia Tech comprise three of those contests, with RPI No. 90 Maryland the fourth. That’s a lot of pressure on Isaiah Kearns, West Virginia’s current mid-week starter, but he has been up to the task so far, recording a 2.91 ERA and battling very well when opponents get men on base.
Next, WVU has to substantially improve its Big 12 standing. The current 2-7 mark barely squeaks the Mountaineers into the eight-team league championship in Oklahoma City, and if it remains in that area of the standings, winning the title is their only option. West Virginia might be able to weather a mark that’s a game or two under .500, but again, it can’t afford any bad losses, and probably needs to get to fifth place in order to avoid too many negative looks.
Again, there’s a bit of a bright spot here. WVU has already played three of the top four teams in the league standings (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech) and it gets No. 3 Texas at home next weekend. Behind those four, the overall records of TCU, Kansas and Baylor are only a couple of games better than that of the Mountaineers, and series wins (and maybe one sweep) doesn’t seem to be out of the question.
First, West Virginia really needs a sweep against Kansas State this weekend. That would bury the Wildcats in the Big 12 cellar and remove an anxiety the Mountaineers have about missing the Big 12 Championship, which it must reach to have any chance of earning an at-large bid. That would raise WVU to 5-7 in the conference while providing more momentum.
That leaves league series against Texas, TCU, Kansas and Baylor. Avoiding a sweep against the Longhorns is important, but a 1-2 mark wouldn’t be a disaster, so long as the Mountaineers can win the sets against the other three. Let’s assume a 2-1 record in each of those, and that would give WVU a 10-5 mark in its final 15 conference games, and a regular season record of 12-12. It would push the overall record (again, assuming four wins in the non-conference contests) of 31-22. That, along with the RPI, should be enough for at least strong consideration, and that’s before the league postseason in Oklahoma City, which provides the opportunity for more wins.
Is this a big ask? Absolutely. It calls for a 14-5 record to close the regular season. WVU’s starting pitching remains unsettled, and conference play is very difficult. There is room for perhaps another league loss in this imaginary scenario, but any more would have to be offset by another win over Texas or a sweep of one of the other remaining league foes.
While it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have any effect on this year’s selection, a look at least year’s at-large selections from the Big 12 might also prove instructive. OSU, as noted, won the automatic bid in 2017, and six other league teams joined the Cowboys in the NCAAs with at-large selections. Baylor made it in with a league record of 12-12, while Oklahoma was 12-11 and Texas 11-12, providing at least a decent historical marker for the Mountaineers to shoot at.
Again, this is just one of several possible blueprints for a WVU path to the NCAA Tournament. A couple more big wins could offset a loss to a lower team, and a run in the Big 12 Championship might prove to be the final boost the Mountaineers require. However, the overall view is evident. West Virginia has played a difficult schedule, and has plenty of metrics to boost its at-large case. Now it just needs wins.