CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For all the feel-good vibes surrounding the West Virginia baseball team, the Mountaineers’ No. 68 RPI doesn’t historically translate to an NCAA at-large bid.
But one of the men who crunches the numbers for college baseball projects WVU making the tournament for the first time since 1996 anyway.
“The most important thing to remember about the RPI is this: it’s just a tool, it’s not the tool,” said SEBaseball.com’s Mark Etheridge. His latest regionals forecast lists West Virginia among the final five teams making the NCAA field despite fortunate bubble teams of years past typically ranking within the RPI top 50.
Three weeks ago, West Virginia wasn’t even in the RPI top 100, but winning three straight Big 12 series has proved to be a rapid propeller. The biggest boost came from going a combined 5-1 against Kansas (RPI No. 48) and Oklahoma (No. 45).
TCU (23-24, 8-10) at WEST VIRGINIA (29-20, 11-7)
Game 1: Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday at 4 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday at 1 p.m.
Series played at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston
Now, the Mountaineers find themselves tied for the conference lead with Oklahoma and Kansas State, a surge that is compensating for WVU’s inferior nonconference showing. Tonight provides a chance for WVU to improve its late-season resume as it hosts TCU in the opener of a three-game series at Appalachian Power Park.
“Conference record is pretty much all they’ve got in their favor, but that’s a pretty big red flashing light for the committee,” Etheridge said. “If (WVU) can somehow win or tie for the Big 12 title, that would be a pretty compelling argument — regardless of their RPI.”
The Big 12’s automatic bid goes not to the regular-season champ but instead to the winner of the conference tournament, which is scheduled for May 22-26 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Boyd Nation, an information security analyst now in his 16th year applying metrics to college baseball at BoydsWorld.com, lauded WVU for “putting together a nice in-season run.” Still, he estimated the Mountaineers need to win the Big 12 regular-season crown outright to sew up an at-large berth heading into the league tournament.
“A three-way tie is a little iffy, a two-way tie a little less so,” Nation said.
Despite the lack of a national powerhouse team, and the struggles of Texas, Baylor and TCU to stay above .500, Nation doesn’t think the Big 12 will suffer from an image crisis when the committee selects the field of 64.
“The Big 12 is sitting somewhere around fifth or sixth in the conference RPI,” he said. “So even though it’s an off year for the conference, it’s still the Big 12 and I think the perception is that it’s still a strong league.”
Etheridge projects five Big 12 teams earning NCAA bids, though only Oklahoma and Kansas State appear to be locks. He has Oklahoma State and Kansas joining WVU on the good side of the bubble.
“Up until about three weeks ago, it was looking like only Oklahoma and maybe one more team from the Big 12 would make it,” Etheridge said. “But now it looks like there’s that next group of two or three teams who can get in.”