West Virginia enters the Big 12 baseball tournament in uncharted territory.
For the first time ever, the Mountaineers aren’t crossing their fingers and hoping to grab a spot in an NCAA regional. They’ve already taken care of that part. WVU has played well enough all season to be in the conversation for hosting one of the 16 regionals, a feat the program hasn’t pulled off since 1955.
Given the newness of it all, many Mountaineer fans have been asking how realistic those chances are. Here’s an attempt to break down the list of likely hosts as West Virginia tries to play its way into more home games at Mon County Ballpark. The 16 hosts are announced on Sunday night and the rest of the field is revealed on Monday.
Safely at home (10)
UCLA, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech, Oregon State
These 10 teams should be viewed as stone-cold locks to host based on their combination of high RPIs and strong records.
West Virginia’s chances are helped by the fact it has played well against teams in this weight class. The Mountaineers are 5-4 against these teams, winning series against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State and crucially avoiding a sweep in an early-season series at defending national champion Oregon State. At the time, WVU’s win over the Beavers felt like it might help the Mountaineers get into the tourney for just the second time in the past 22 years. Now it may carry even more weight.
Rounding third (4)
East Carolina, UC-Santa Barbara, Texas A&M, Stanford
All of these teams have likely done enough work to warrant hosting, but it’s still a little early to pop the champagne.
East Carolina is close to a lock, but needs to avoid disaster at the American Athletic Conference tourney to prevent a chance at slipping. The Pirates are halfway to that disaster, dropping their first-round game to No. 8 seed Wichita State on Tuesday afternoon. An 0-2 showing could put them on the bubble.
Texas A&M may have clinched a hosting spot with a win over Florida in Tuesday’s opening round of the SEC tournament. The Aggies were already 14th in RPI and are now unlikely to run into any team that can hurt that standing.
The Pac-12 doesn’t have a conference tournament, so Stanford closes with a good Arizona State team. A sweep by the Sun Devils could put the Cardinal on the wrong side of the host bubble, but they appear to be in solid shape otherwise.
UC-Santa Barbara is an interesting case in many ways. The Gauchos haven’t played anyone in the Top 50, but their gaudy 44-7 record and No. 13 RPI are hard to ignore.
Notably, the Gauchos cannot host a regional because their ballpark is too small for a four-team event. They’ve found a way to work around this issue – Vegas. Despite being a six-hour drive from campus, UCSB worked out an arrangement to use the Triple-A stadium in Las Vegas as a host site.
Maybe WVU should have held out for Yankee Stadium.
Caught in a rundown (8 teams for 2 spots)
Miami, North Carolina, NC State, West Virginia, LSU, Baylor, Indiana, Illinois, Creighton
While the top 14 hosting sites look to be largely spoken for, the fight for the last two is a free-for-all.
It stands to reason that at least one of the hosts will come out of a bunched-up trio in the ACC – Miami (No. 17 RPI), North Carolina (18) and NC State (20).
Conveniently, the ACC tournament is structured with four pools of three teams. The winner of each pool moves to the semifinals. Miami and North Carolina are in the same pool, which could have the effect of eliminating one of them from hosting – but boosting the profile of the winner.
LSU is having a disappointing season by its standards, but if the Tigers make their traditional run at the SEC tournament, they will move up from their current RPI of 21.
Illinois and Indiana could be rewarded by the committee if either wins the Big Ten tournament, but that appears to be the only chance they would work their way into the discussion. Creighton, which has the No. 23 RPI, needs to win the Big East and have minor disasters befall the teams in front of it.
West Virginia will want to do better than Baylor at the Big 12 tournament to enhance its chances of hosting. The Bears swept the Mountaineers and finished higher in the regular-season standings, but WVU has the edge in every other metric.
Sitting at the No. 16 RPI going into the tourney, the Mountaineers are in pretty comfortable shape if they take care of the task at hand. Winning the Big 12 seems like it would all but guarantee that West Virginia is a host, but merely reaching the championship game would probably be enough.