Thursday Thoughts - the Great Pumpkin in New Orleans version

"I got the ways and means to New Orleans
I'm going down by the river where it's warm and green
I'm gonna have a drink, and walk around
I got a lot to think about. Oh yeah"

- Concrete Blonde "Bloodletting"

Embarking on a new endeavor. Starting a new career. Changing gears.

Lots of people do it. David Hasselhoff became a million-selling singer in Germany. Ozzy Osborne became an actor. Jenn Sterger is now giving relationship advice (then again, what did she do before, besides look good with big fakies in a ripped Florida State cleavage shirt?).

Now, stitch-heads, I'm changing my focus from the diamond to the court. And no, for once I won't be going to the "How do you plead, son?" kind of court, but the basketball court.

I'm going off to March Madnessland to cover the post-season. CSTV has decided to have me go to a different locale during each weekend of the NCAA tournament. Which is cool with me. I consider myself very lucky.

Oh I've covered plenty of basketball for CSTV before, that's true. But this is the first time I've got my Extra Innings site to think about as I go off to follow the bouncing pumpkin.

But I tell you what - as I travel to New Orleans, San Jose and Atlanta over the next three weekends, I'll do my share of basketball stuff, sure. But I'll also try to sneak out to a baseball game or two here or there and make a few comments about the national scene as well. It may be more abbreviated than usual, but you know I can't totally tear myself away from baseball.

So don't fear, this hoops heaven will only last for three weeks.


.
The RPI should RIP---
Conference play is cranking up, especially for the big-wigs in Division I. Most of the meaningful non-conference games are over with. So this is when I like to check out the strength of schedules across the land.

Which means, it's always one of my favorite times of the baseball season - and most frustrating. Why? Three letters... R-P-I. The newest pseudo-RPI ratings of the season are in from Boyd Nation and Warren Nolan's respective sites. And we still see that the lesson in college baseball is - repeat after me - play at home and play an easy schedule.

Look how well that philosophy is working for Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina. You could also make the same argument for teams like Vanderbilt (though at least they played three good teams in Houston), Virginia (who lost its first road series in ACC play) and South Carolina (take away two wins vs. over-rated Clemson and there's not much). Check the top of the rankings, all these teams have that smokescreen going for them.

According to Boyd Nation's rating system, the conference Strength of Schedules are - once again - an eye-opening read. As a conference, the ACC has played the 29th toughest schedules of any conference in the country. Ummmmm, there are only 30 conferences in all.

The SEC has played the 19th toughest slates. The Big 12 has played the 13th toughest. That means that leagues like the Horizon, the MAAC, the Big 10 and the MAC have all played better schedules. Hell, the SWAC, MEAC and Patriot Leauge's have played more competitive slates than the ACC. Aye-yiy-yiy!

And how has the RPI rewarded these conferences? According to the conference RPI's, it goes:
1- SEC
2- ACC
3- Big 12

Now look at the Top 10 teams in the NCBWA poll and their respective strengths of schedule (out of 261 D-1 teams):

1- Vanderbilt - 130
2- North Carolina - 207
3- Florida State - 222
4- South Carolina - 109
5- Oregon State - 85
6- Clemson - 107
7- Rice - 8
8- Pepperdine - 23
9- Virginia - 223
10- Texas - 20

Like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket screamed, "You've gotta be s#!&@ing me Pyle! Get the hell off my obstacle!"

How do teams that, as a group, tend to play almost all of their games at home against weak-sisters, still manage to be rated as the best conferences? And are we supposed to be impressed with six of the top 10 teams having schedules that can't even break triple digits in rigor?

For an example, let's compare and contrast Ms. Sterger's Florida State Seminoles and Kevin Costner's Cal State Fullerton Titans.

If the season ended today, FSU's No. 12 RPI would trump CSUF's No. 26 rating. FSU is now 20-0 and ranked No. 3 in the NCBWA poll. The Titans are 13-9 and No. 12. But the Titans have beaten teams like Rice (2), Arizona (2), UCLA (2), Pepperdine and Stanford (2). FSU meanwhile, has played one of the more embarrassing schedules, not just this year, but in college baseball history. Its lone win that may be borderline impressive is a mid-weeker against Florida - also the only road game so far.

But again, if the season ended today, FSU would undoubtedly get a No. 1 seed and a home regional. Who knows, with a No. 3 national ranking in the polls, they may even politic their way to a national seed.

CSUF would probably be awarded a home regional, but at No. 26 in the RPI, there's always a chance that a No. 2 seed and hitting the road for the post-season is a distinct possibility.

Again, this is just an example. Not gospel. But it still sucks either way. Until the day comes that the system stops rewarding teams for playing 90% of their non-conference games at home or against weak opposition, is it illogical of me to want to put this three-legged dog out of its misery?


.
If I wasn't in New Orleans, where would I rather be---
1- No.15 Ole Miss at No.1 Vanderbilt
Will Kline (3-0, 1.87, 45Ks) vs. David Price (4-0, 2.52, 57Ks) on Friday. Nice K-fest there. I still like the bats of Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and Dominic de la Osa. Also, you've got to love Vandy's 6-0 mark in one-run games.

2- No.9 Virginia at No.2 North Carolina
I still have some doubts about UVa, considering the Cavs failed their first test of the season at Wake last weekend. And I was impressed by the Heels sweep of Miami. But they won't play a road game of substance until FSU on April 20th.

3- Baylor vs./at No.10 Texas
Throw out the rankings in this one as these two always seem to give us our money's worth. I keep thinking back to the Chance Wheeless hero-shot in the '05 CWS. Though it's odd, I still like the way these two play home-and-home here.

4- No.11 Arkansas at No.13 Kentucky
Will this be the big wake-up call for the Bat Cats? I don't think they've seen anything like Nick Schmidt in the teams they've faced so far. Can't subscribe to the fact that the Hogs are the 11th best team in the country, but they've played in some tough environments already this year.

5- No.17 Long Beach State at No.20 Wichita State
Both of these teams are ranked too low and know each other well. LB is No. 1 in Boyd Nation's RPI and rightfully so, after going on the road and winning at Texas, Rice, Arizona State and USC.

6- Minnesota at No. 8 Pepperdine
'Sota has quietly gotten off to a respectable 10-3 mark. But Eddie D. Field is where hot streaks (and hot bats) go to die. Keep in mind, however, that the Waves are just 4-3 since the beginning of the month. PU's unheralded Jason Dominguez has seven saves already.

7- Michigan at No. 23 East Carolina
The Big 10 faves try to do what Cal State Fullerton couldn't - get a win at ECU. The Pirates are sizzling, on an 11-1 spree since being swept at UCLA. Don't let T.J. Hose's modest stats fool you (3-2, 3.90), I saw him shut down the Titans last Friday. He's legit.

8- Troy at No. 29 Florida Atlantic
Two teams going in different directions. Troy has gone 2-5 since the beginning of March while FAU is 7-2 in that same span. Trojan pitching needs to bear down, with its 5.91 team ERA and about to face an Owl squad that hits .369.

9- LSU at No.4 South Carolina
Maybe its morbid curiosity that makes me want to see this one. Because, if form holds true, it should be a Cock-walk, right? But LSU's series win over Southern Miss last week means it's not time to write them off yet.

10- Central Michigan at No. 28 Kansas State
Believe it or not, CMU's RPI is 48. They own a series win at South Florida and played Stetson toe-to-toe, winning once and losing in extras. Tyler Stovall is hitting .500 through 14 games. K-State is 29th, but the stay in the rankings may be short after dropping two games at Arizona State this week.

.
Best off-the-radar series---
VMI (13-4) at Charleston Southern (11-10)
Why not the Keydets for the Top 25? They won two of three to open the season at Florida and then, this week, came within a whisker of beating Auburn twice. VMI won the first game 7-3 and in the second game, they let an 8-5 lead in the 9th squirm away. Their first games in Big South play won't be an easy assignment, as CSU has a capable pitching staff, especially starters Brandon Roberts (1-2, 2.30) and D.J. Throneburg (2-3, 3.18).


.
Going in different directions---
Maryland at No. 25 Miami
First off, Miami is still ranked. That's just wrong. They're not playing well right now, especially the bullpen. The Terps meanwhile, are 12-5, fresh off a series win at Georgia Tech last weekend and a 27-0 win over Coppin State on Wednesday. The pitching staff has had some bad outings, but as a team, UMd is pitching at a 4.50 ERA with 115 Ks and just 50 free passes. They are also fielding at a pristine .974 percentage. Nice glove-work.


.
Best mid-week wins---
Minnesota - 5 12
UC Santa Barbara - 4 5
The fact that the Gophers are now 10-3 is pretty impressive. The fact that they've won games against the likes of Ole Miss, Arkansas, Missouri State and now two from the Gauchos is as well. I know you can't get geeked over a team after just 13 games, but this is normally the kind of games the Gophers lose early in the season because of a lack of true outdoor practices and games. Mike Mee is one guy I've been keeping an eye on as well, as he is hitting .490 so far this season. Okay, tell you what, if The U can win a game or two at Pepperdine this weekend, THEN we'll know they are something worth watching. (Betcha didn't know Minnesota goes by "The U" moniker as well, did you?)


.
Second-best mid-week wins---
Ball State - 7 6
Wake Forest - 6 5
The Cards came in with a listless 4-9 record and walk out of Hooks Stadium with a pair of wins... How the hell? Reliever Kyle Heyne picked up a win on Tuesday, going 1.1 innings and giving up just one hit and no runs. Then Heyne also got the save on Wednesday, going 1.1 innings again and giving up one hit and no runs. It was save No. 4 on the year for him.


.
Third-best mid-week wins---
Manhattan - 5 9
Florida International - 4 8
A pair of one-run wins in Miami shows that the Jaspers, who made it to the NCAA Regional finals last June in Lincoln, could be heating up just as a northern team is wont to do after a few weeks. MC heads into this weekend's Palm Beach Challenge with a 4-7 record. Remember, last year this team started off 2-8 before getting hot and beating the likes of Nebraska and San Francisco in the Regionals.


.
Best Thursday win---
Nebraska - 6
Texas Tech - 7 (11inns.)
Despite another series win vs. Alabama, I'm still not sure the Huskers are quite the "it team" that the rankings might show. But TTech hasn't done much for its reputation this season either, beating only TCU as its win to hang its hat on. But this is a nice win to start Big 12 play. The Raiders almost blew the game, allowing NU to tie the game in the 9th on a wild pitch. But in the 11th, sure enough, Tech scores the winning run on a wild pitch as well. Tech is now 16-7, while No. 21 NU falls to 9-7.


.
Not on Eagles wings---
Winthrop - 1
Texas - 7
The Eagles tried as they might to get a marquee win from the Horns, starting staff ace Alex Wilson on Wednesday night. But the bats didn't follow and then Wilson got roped for six runs in the first five innings to seal their fate at Disch-Falk Field. After an extra-inning win over Mississippi State on Friday, the Eagles bats have gone south, getting just 12 combined hits in losses to San Francisco, Baylor and now Texas. Winthrop now sits at 11-10 entering Big South play, where I'm sure things will improve.


.
The kind of game that makes me wonder about North Carolina---
Penn State - 0
Oral Roberts - 12
We all know how well the Nittany Lions played at Carolina two weeks ago, winning once and playing UNC to a one-run game on Sunday. Well, today, against a deflated ORU team that has limped out to a 7-9 start, Penn State got absolutely nothing going. Eagle starter Jeremy Hefner was big time, retiring 18 of the 19 batters he faced in 7.0 innings of work, allowing just one base-runner. Conversely, when Penn State faced off with UNC's Robert Woodard, they got eight hits off of him for two runs in 6.0 innings.


.
The best under-the-radar story of 2007 so far---
St. Peter's.
The Peacocks sit at 7-8 as we speak. Not Earth-shaking, huh? Well, how about this, the win totals for the last four years have been 10, five, eight and seven. That's a grand total of 30 wins in four years. That's why the near-.500 mark is so incredible for this team. SPC has won six straight, including Tuesday's 10-inning 4-3 win over Wagner. Joe Romano, who is hitting .364, singled home the winning run as part of a 2-for-5 day. Chris Innes was a stud, going 5.0 innings in relief and giving up just two hits along the way. After hitting .241 last year, the Peacocks are hitting .346 as a team in '07. St. Peter's takes to the road again this week with three games at Tennessee Tech.


.
Speaking of the NCAA tournament---
Gotta admit, Thursday has been a rather uneventful day as far as Big Dance 1st rounds go. Take away the Virginia Commonwealth upset of Duke and the Xavier escape vs. BYU and this was a boring day for the most part. I hope tomorrow is better. Maybe my New Orleans assignment will supply a few shockers. I know I'm not supposed to cheer for one team or another, but wouldn't it be cool if Jackson State were to shock Florida or North Texas to pull off the stunner vs. Memphis? Don't tell anyone, but that's what I'm hoping for.


Okay, with New Orleans in mind, I'm about to go hop on another red-eye flight out of LAX (man, I've gotta quit scheduling these things... I get tired of living off of Red Bull's and Mountain Dew each Friday.). Hope you guys have a great college baseball weekend. I'll try to check in every so often while I'm on assignment.

G'night.

Comments

If you want to see a great "under the radar" story for 2007, check out Wofford. 15-4 with a host series wins against the likes of Army, Manhattan, Niagra, Lafayette and a list of others.Even their losses were close enough or extra innings that they could possibly 18-1 at this point.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

 


Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert