SEC could get 10 baseball teams in NCAA tournament

By: AP
By: AP

The Southeastern Conference has been college baseball's
heavyweight for more than two decades, winning eight of the past 21
national titles, including the past two.

This year, the league could get a record number of teams in the
NCAA tournament and extend that dominance.

The SEC has an outside shot at sending 10 out of 12 teams to the
NCAA tournament, which would be a first for any conference since
the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999. The SEC has had nine teams
reach the NCAA tournament three times.

According to the NCAA's latest RPI rankings released on Tuesday,
there are 10 SEC teams in the top 41, including three in the top
five. Florida is No. 1, Vanderbilt is No. 3 and defending national
champion South Carolina is No. 5.

"I'm obviously prejudiced here, but I do think the league is
strong enough to warrant 10 teams," Mississippi State coach John
Cohen said, whose Bulldogs rank No. 29.

Some SEC teams enjoy lofty rankings even after struggling. LSU
is last in the SEC's Western Division with a 7-14 league record
(29-17 overall), but still sits at No. 27 in RPI, which would
normally be well within range for an at-large berth even though the Tigers are in serious danger of missing the league's eight-team
conference tournament.

That's led some to say the RPI ratings skew too heavily toward
teams from the southeast.

California (27-14) is one of the six Pac-10 teams in the RPI's
top 40, ranked at No. 36. The Golden Bears have an 11-7 record in
the Pac-10.

Esquer praised the SEC as a terrific conference, but questioned
the logic of sending 10 teams from any league.

"For some reason, the RPI hasn't seemed to work well for the
teams out west. I'm not sure why that is," California coach David
Esquer said. "All I know is if a team misses its conference
tournament, has a conference record well below .500 and still gets
in the NCAA tournament, it leaves a lot of coaches scratching their
heads."

Not all coaches think there's a regional bias. Kansas State is
one of six Big 12 programs in the RPI's top 40, ranked at No. 28.
The Wildcats are 27-18 overall and 8-12 in the Big 12.

"Would 10 teams from the SEC be a lot? Yeah, I suppose,"
Kansas State coach Brad Hill said. "But it's hard to argue against
them considering their recent success. Honestly, I'm not worried
about that. We've got three weeks left. If we play well, we'll be
in the NCAA tournament. If we don't, then our season's probably
over.

"We control our destiny and that's all you can ask for."

The NCAA says the RPI, which is used in several sports, "never
should be considered anything but an additional evaluation tool."
But there's little doubt it has a heavy influence when the
selection committee puts together its 64-team field in late May.

The NCAA's formula for RPI is largely determined by three
factors -- 25 percent for a team's Division I winning percentage, 50
percent for its opponents' strength of schedule and 25 percent for
its opponents' opponent strength of schedule.

Cohen said the RPI isn't a perfect measure, but discounted the
idea that it favored southern teams.

"After doing this for so long, the RPI is a mystery to me,"
Cohen said. "I try to steer clear of it, but you can't help but
look at it every week. I don't know if there's a bias toward the
south -- I just think there's a lot of good teams down here and
playing each other raises everyone's RPI."

Auburn coach John Pawlowski said SEC teams have been willing to
schedule tough non-conference opponents on top of their 30-game
league schedule.

"Everybody does their own scheduling," Pawlowski said. "If
you want to build an RPI, you can build a strong schedule. The idea
that it favors the South? Well, you have choices on who to play in
non-conference."

Many things will have to go right for the SEC to get 10 teams in
the NCAA tournament. To qualify for an at-large bid, teams must
have an overall record above .500. Georgia (24-21), Auburn (23-21)
and Mississippi (25-20) are all flirting with that barrier.

Auburn hosts Georgia in a crucial three-game series this
weekend.

"The SEC is like Groundhog Day," Pawlowski said. "Another
weekend, another tough three games. That's why this conference
looks so good to the (NCAA) committee at tournament time. You look
at strength of schedule, the hard numbers and our recent success
and you see how good this conference really is."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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