Who will win the College World Series and why
Posted May 30, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — For the first time in the history of the program, the University of North Carolina received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament. They earned the right to host, and by all accounts, were given the easiest of the regions.
In Raleigh, North Carolina State was surprisingly denied their first ever national seed – a reality that was handled with nothing but class in the Wolfpack dugout.
“It’s a decision made by people that we have no control over and we deal with that decision,” said NC State head coach Elliott Avent. “We are hosting a regional in Raleigh and we’re pretty proud of that.”
With even more astonishment, a 49-win Campbell team was left out of the field altogether. For fear of getting into detail and further pouring salt into still open wounds, let’s just say they were robbed. Elsewhere, Elon and UNC-Wilmington not only made the field, they will play each other to kick things off in the Charlottesville region. The Seahawks took two from the Phoenix in the regular season.
Last year’s national champion, Arizona, was not even a consideration for this year’s tournament. Last year’s overall No. 1, Florida, was a tooth-and-nail at-large invitee after winning only 29 games. And four automatic qualifiers, including UNC’s opening-game opponent Canisius, will be making their NCAA tournament debut.
The tournament gets underway Friday with the field of 64 dispersing to 16 regions. Ultimately, only one can stand alone come June 26. Take a ride with me and I will navigate recent trends to tell you who that will be.
First, let’s take a look at past champions.
Since 1990, 18 of the 23 College World Series Champions have come from power conferences; 20 of the 23 runner-ups have come from a power conference. The eight other teams come as little surprise.
The exceptions are perennial power Cal State Fullerton; who has two championships and a second place; Wichita State, who has two runner-ups; consistently dominant Rice has a title, power of the past Pepperdine has a title and the improbable Fresno State Bulldogs, after a remarkable run in 2008, claimed the championship. Notice three of those five are from California.
Taking this into account, I will keep all the power conference schools, Rice, Wichita State and the California schools alive for now. The field of 64 has been cut to 35.
Next let’s look at record.
Since 1999, when the NCAA tournament went to its current format to include the super-regional round, no team has made Omaha with fewer than 35 wins and only seven of 112 (6%) have made the College World Series with less than 40 wins. Given that it will take a minimum of five wins to get to the big boy bracket, let’s eliminate anybody that enters the postseason with 35 wins or fewer.
The field is now at 25 teams.
By virtue of elimination, UNC, Cal St. Fullerton, LSU, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Florida St., Virginia, Mississippi St. and Oregon St. are all through to Supers.
Let’s keep going and move on to pitching, where the biggest difference is made according to many prognosticators.
In the last five years, the top team in the nation in ERA has made the College World Series four times. This year’s leader: Arkansas.
The Razorbacks, who are also top-5 in the nation in WHIP and give up the fewest hits per nine innings, are the No. 2 team in the Kansas State Region. It’s a favorable draw and if they emerge from there, they also match-up well against Oregon State in the Supers. Book Arkansas’ flights to Omaha now.
Also advancing to Omaha four of the last five years is the team that leads the nation in strikeouts per nine innings. Yes, it is less of a standard metric than ERA, but limiting offensive opportunities via the strikeout has proven successful at the college level. This year’s leader: Louisville.
The Cardinals will have a tough road to get there as their region includes Miami and Oklahoma State. Should they pass that test, Vanderbilt will be waiting in the Supers. But Louisville is also No. 4 in the nation in hits allowed per nine innings, No. 5 in the nation in ERA and No. 7 in the nation in WHIP.
I’m going to trust the statistics and ignore the eye test. Louisville is going to Omaha.
Down to 19 teams. Let’s look now to offense.
Three of the last five years, the team that led the nation in hits has advanced to the CWS. The top four teams in the nation either didn’t make the field or are eliminated based on previous criteria. No. 5 is LSU. The Tigers could have a 20-18 game against Louisiana-Lafayette, who is also in the top echelon in most offensive categories nationally, in the Regional, but provided they get past the Cajuns, the nation’s overall No. 4 seed should have a favorable matchup against either Oklahoma or Virginia Tech in the Supers.
We are now down to 17 teams. Let’s keep going.
Since 2000, the overall No. 1 seed has made the tournament eight of 13 times. UNC, you’re going to Omaha.
The last Big Ten team to make the CWS was Michigan in 1984. Sorry Indiana, you won’t break that trend; Florida State, book your flight.
The Pac 10/12 has had a representative in Nebraska every year since 1996. UCLA will have their hands full with Fullerton. Oregon, on the other hand, has a more favorable draw. If the Ducks get past Rice in Eugene, they will host NC State who missed out on the seed and will have to fly across the country. The last time NC State played a game not in the eastern time zone: 2006 when they went to Austin for the NCAA regional.
Fullerton and Oregon, punch your tickets.
The last spot in Omaha will go to the Virginia-Mississippi State winner in Charlottesville. Both teams have top-10 RPI, top-10 strength of schedule and had early exits in their conference tournament. Balance the powers and the home team has the edge. Look for Virginia to advance.
And then there were 8: UNC, Oregon, Fullerton, LSU, Louisville, Florida St., Virginia and Arkansas will head to the College World Series.
So how will Omaha play out?
Amazingly, since 2005, only three national champions won their conference in the regular season. UNC, Fullerton, LSU, Louisville are all out.
Only twice since 2004 has a national seed won the national title. Oregon, Florida St. and Virginia, you’re out too.
Last team standing: Arkansas.
A little more on the Razorbacks: They went 37-20 on the year making them one of the last teams to make the secondary cut in my formula, but they posted an 18-11 record in SEC play earning them a Day 1 bye in the SEC Tournament. They are one of the best pitching teams in the nation with a staff bolstered by Golden Spikes Award semifinalist Ryne Stanek. Stanek went 9-2 on the year with a 1.40 ERA in 15 appearances.
The Razorbacks also have an impressive non-conference schedule having played nine games against non-SEC teams in the tournament field. Of their nine non-conference losses, five of them took place before March 4 and six of them took place in western time zones.
Agree? Disagree? Have a different breakdown? It’s all good. Inevitably, it boils down to the old cliché, “That’s why they play the game.”