Thursday Thoughts - The DaVinci Code of College Baseball Is Revealed Edition

The man behind the curtain removes the curtain---
Reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz finally owning up to the fact that there's more to the legend than just this big angry face on a screen, the NCAA has followed suit of what it did during the basketball season and unveiled, for all to see, the actual RPI that they work with for baseball too. All I can say is, congratulations for having the 'nads to finally do this boys.

To be honest, I don't know why this formula has been more guarded than the Colonel's 11 herbs and spices. Especially since they have always claimed it to be "just another tool" they use in the process of doling out NCAA tournament bids, not the be-all and end-all.

I have to admit, when the basketball RPIs were opened up in January, I kept thinking to myself, "There's no way that baseball is going to do the same thing, right?" I guess I was wrong. And gladly so too.

If you want to see the RPI in full, click here:
http://web1.ncaa.org/app_data/weeklyrpi/2007MBArpi1.html

A couple of knee-jerk reactions? Aw shucks, this just wouldn't be an Extra Innings entry without saying SOMETHING about it:

- In recent years, the Top 8 national seeds have very closely resembled the top 8 in the RPI. But this year, there's no way that'll happen. Here's why:
Long Beach State at No. 5
Mississippi State at No. 7.
These two teams are currently buried in their respective conferences. And besides, LB has such an ugly overall record, the "human factor" of the committee doesn't seem likely to acquiesce to a Big West team.

- Mississippi has played a pretty tough schedule as well, and it has paid off. The Rebs, like the Dirtbags above, don't have the sexiest record in the burlesque show but the schedule strength helps them to a No.12 RPI and within striking distance of a National Seed.

- At the other end of the spectrum, there's Florida State. The No. 2-ranked team is at (get this) No. 14 in the RPI. Now I'm not going to pile on the 'Noles like everybody else has for the schedule (I've done that enough). Let's just say maybe there IS such a thing as schedule karma.

- Coastal Carolina is at No. 15 right now. I'm thinking this might be another one of those "Congrats boys. Here's that No. 1 seed you earned, now go enjoy your Regional weekend in Corvallis."

- Speaking of the Beavers... No. 25, huh? Hmph! I'm not saying this is a for sure/lead-pipe cinch, but it appears, just like last year, that OSU is the perfect example of why the RPI is bovine scatology.

- Just a food for thought in a rhetorical question-kind of way here - Which team would you rather be? The Coastal Carolina that gets awarded a No. 1 seed but has to travel to Corvallis or Fullerton? Or the College of Charleston that gets a No. 2 seed but stays in state and plays at South Carolina?

- Minnesota at No. 17 is pretty amazing. And they've earned it with wins over Ole Miss, Arkansas, Pepperdine, Missouri State and UC Santa Barbara. I just worry about the "anchor effect" that the back end of the Big 10 is going to have on them. They are another example (in a long line of them) as to why I think the lowest 25 rated games on a team's schedule should be disregarded from the RPI record. Especially for a geographically challenged team like this. Boyd... is that your hand up in the back of the class there?

- Why an easy non-conference schedule is beneficial: North Carolina (No. 9).
- Why a tough non-conference schedule is not beneficial: UCLA (No. 50).
As I think of it, how are the Bruins THIS far down? They're schedule is rated as the sixth-toughest and when this RPI was released, they had a record very similar to Long Beach State's (UCLA 22-16, LB 23-14). How are there 45 teams between them?

- The Funnel Effect in the West will be even more pronounced than ever.
Since the 64-team format has been used, the committee has historically shoehorned the Western teams together, usually to where no more than two can advance to Omaha. So with just two teams in the RPI top 16, if the season ended today, I can't imagine the West would get more than three Regional sites. And realistically, there would probably just be nine teams from the West given bids. So that fits nicely into a 1-through-3 seeding for each Left Coast Regional.

- Just going on these raw numbers, if the NCAA committee does follow the RPI to the letter, as they've done from time to time, the SEC will get five home Regionals, three of which would be national seeds. The ACC would get only three, none of which would be national seeds. (But North Carolina, at No. 9, would likely get one if the season ended today).

- Unlike the basketball committee who has a knack of giving the shaft to mid-majors (see Missouri State, who has had an RPI in the 20s the last two years but not been given an at-large bid), the baseball committee tends to frown upon the SEC boys who don't finish in the Top 30. If that's the case again, then Florida (No. 34), LSU (No. 35) and Auburn (No. 42) will need to make a big push in May. Kentucky, at No. 58 is definitely out, unless they go on a serious tear.

- Check out Louisiana-Lafayette. The Peppers are No. 19 in the RPI, which is really good, and within range of even pulling a host spot if they get hot. ("If the peppers get hot" sorry about that, it just kind of came out that way.). But look at how much their RPI improved just by playing at Arizona State and losing all three games. From No. 28 to No. 19? Wow.

- Conversely, Pepperdine dropped seven spots for going 2-2 last week against UCLA (0-1) and Santa Clara (2-1). Now I see what Coach Hill at San Diego was talking about with regards to the WCC.


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Top 10 places I'd want to be this weekend---
Man! Things are REALLY going downhill for me here at CSTV. Now I've gotta wrestle the Learjet keys away from Glenn Tanner AND I have to petition his daughter's permission to get my Rick Astley and Rose Royce CDs back after I left them in the Learjet CD player. You kiddin' me?! Anyway, here are this week's best:

1- No. 15 Pepperdine (30-13) at No. 21 San Diego (32-14)
Mid-Major fans of the world unite! The Barry Enright (10-1, 1.58) vs. Brian Matusz (8-2, 2.57) show is about to begin and will have scouts shoehorned into Cunningham Stadium (Damn, I just hope I can find a seat.). Two really evenly matched teams, even in the WCC standings, both are 10-2. And yes, this series is big, but like Waves coach Steve Rodriguez told me, it's not do-or-die, as both teams sit in pretty good spots nationally and in the WCC. Now as for that rematch in late-May?... For more on this showdown, see my preview of this series from the Sunday Summations column:

http://slog.cstv.com/extrainnings/2007/04/sunday_summations_the_itsnever.html#more

2- No. 11 Wichita State (34-11) at Evansville (28-15)
This looked like a better series earlier on, but E'ville has slid a bit since a 9-4 start. Still, UE remains within striking distance of the MVC-leading Shockers at 9-6, which is four games behind. And remember, Kasey Wahl (.391-8-55) and Pat Tumilty (.329) did a lot of damage to the WSU arms last season. Ben Norton (8-2, 1.84) needs to be on his A-game to give the Aces a chance to win this series. WSU is coming off back-to-back credibility losses to Kansas State (2-1) and at Arkansas (10-2).

3- No. 13 Arizona (31-9) at UCLA (22-17)
The black and Bruins host the UofA at Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend. The Preston Guilmet (8-0, 1.53)-Tyson Brummett (7-4, 2.83) face off on Friday should be primo. I don't know if this leads the nation or not, but Brummett has five complete games on the season. Beyond that one, this series is a toss-up. The Bruins have the best win percentage at 8-1 in Pac 10 play, but still have the Wildcats, Arizona State and Oregon State - the other top four teams - left to play in conference. So conventional wisdom says they'll take some hits.

4- No. 19 Mississippi State (27-10) at No. 18 Mississippi (28-15)
Talk about rivalries! This is a beauty. So is the setting around Swayze Field. The Swayze Crazies will be in full force when the Starkvillains come to town. Both pitching staffs have something to prove here as MSU's team ERA is the worst in the SEC at 5.36 and the Rebs need to prove they can stay consistent on the mound after last week's performance by Lance Lynn (went the distance on a 3-hitter with 12 Ks) and Will Kline (allowed five runs in 7.0 innings) against South Carolina. They will be tested by the Bulldog bats, led by sweet-swinging Brandon Turner (.444) and hammering clean-up man Ed Easley (.393-10-48).

5-No. 2 Florida State (37-6) at Miami (26-17)
For pure rivalry sake, this has to be on the list somewhere, even if this isn't a vintage Hurricane team. But at least it will be interesting to see how FSU reacts to playing a decent team on the road. Jemile Weeks (.292) is starting to come around after an injury and Yonder Alonso (.353-12-47) blasted another home run vs. Stetson on Tuesday . But as long as Bryan Henry and Michael Hyde keep holding serve on the mound for FSU, you can't go against the 'Noles here... or just about anywhere.

6- No. 14 Cal State Fullerton (26-12) at UC Riverside (23-16)
Since being ballyhooed as having the best pitching staff in the Big West, UCR has fallen off the radar a bit. But they're still very viable in the Big West race with a 4-2 mark, good for a second place tie, and this is their chance to make a move on the 7-2 Titans. Both teams are pitching strong and hitting light, with UCR at 3.87 and .294 and Fullerton at 3.60 and .282. That Simmons (9-2, 2.06) vs. Roemer (6-4, 3.18) Friday night matchup should still be a beauty. But I'm looking even more forward to the Marc Rzepczynski (5-1, 3.28) vs. Jeff Kaplan (7-2, 3.20) Saturday matchup as being the key to who wins the series.

7- No. 25 College of Charleston (31-10) at The Citadel (24-16)
Cool inner-city rivalry here. But forget the Southern Conference, the Cougars are aiming for more, like a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And they've been playing like it in the month of April so far, compiling a 12-2 record. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are just 7-6 in that same span. The Citadel went 3-1 against CofC last year during the regular season, but had their season ended in the SoCon post-season title game by a painful 5-4 count last May. Nick Chigges is now 7-0 on the season and a remarkable 27-4 in his CofC career, good for a school record.

8- San Diego State (27-17) at No. TCU (30-10)
The Aztecs sit a game and a half behind the Frogs in the Mountain West and represent the only real chance to knock them off of their course for a conference title. But TCU just needs to keep winning. Their RPI (No. 52) may not rise enough to be an at-large candidate come June, so every win is important. Not only that, but you have to figure it's about time the Frogs make their way into the rankings. This will also be a showdown between the Mountain West's best pitching staff (SDSU at 3.94ERA) against the best dish bashers (TCU at .317). Should be fun to see.

9- Sacred Heart (18-18) at Mount St. Mary's (22-16)
For two teams that finished with losing records last season and certainly weren't considered a factor in this year's Northeast Conference race, they now sit at 1-and-2 in the NEC standings. No longer known for just legendary basketball coach Jim Phelan's bow ties, the Mount features the best power-bat in the conference in Ryan Murray (.397-10-30), while SHU has the best arm in Jay Monti (6-2, 0.69, just 4ER in 52.1 innings). This should be a beauty of a matchup on Friday.

10- Florida (23-20) at No. 1 Vanderbilt (36-8)
This one intrigues me solely because you have to figure this is UofF's last stand. Know what I mean? My guess is they're either gonna come out guns-a-blazin' or tuckin' their tail. The Gators and their tenuous No. 34 RPI could be vanquished for good if the Commodores pull off a sweep here. And with arms like Price, Weathers and Minor to go up against, Matt LaPorta and crew could be up the proverbial creek without an aluminum bat.


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David Halberstam---
I'm saddened by the recent passing of this great sports/national journalist and renaissance mind, who died in a car accident in Menlo Park, California this past week. I remember seeing Mr. Halberstam as a regular guest on Roy Firestone's "Up Close" show in the late 80s/early 90s and was always impressed by his demeanor and use of language. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist that lived for sports reporting and authored the book "Summer of '49" about the pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox. Halberstam also penned a number of books about the Viet Nam war, including "The Best and the Brightest," chronicling how John F. Kennedy's policies in the conflict prevented a "winnable" war. At the time of his death, Halberstam was on his way to interview LSU graduate Y.A. Tittle for his next book "The Game" about the 1959 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts.


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Best mid-week win---
Auburn - 4
Troy - 5 (16inns)
On a week when the NCAA's official RPI was released to the public, the No. 41 ranked team beat the No. 42 ranked team for an RPI boost for the Trojans in front of a Riddle-Pace Field record crowd of 2,395. This game lasted a mind-numbing 4:27 long and saw 13 pitchers toe the rubber combined. Troy got a solo shot home run from Beau Brooks (isn't that what EVERY southern hero should be named?) in the bottom of the 16th to help the Men of Troy improve to 26-16 overall. Auburn dropped to 27-17 overall.


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College baseball sojourners---
- South Dakota State (20-14)
Nobody has been more creative in getting baseball games in this season than the Jackrabbits. Having played 31 of 34 games on the road, this is also the team that most closely resembles the old "barnstorming" teams of the 30s and 40s. As you might recall from early this season, SDSU played three middle-of-the-night games with Kansas at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. And last weekend, the Jackrabbits drove Martin Sheen-like across the Badlands to play three "home" games with Northern Colorado in Rapid City in the western part of the state. Between those two weekends, these are the locales they've played baseball in this season:
Sacramento, California
Cape Guirardo, Missouri
Terre Haute, Indiana
Martin, Tennessee
Murray, Kentucky
Omaha, Nebraska
Springfield, Missouri
Orem, Utah
Omaha, Nebraska (had a series with North Dakota State moved there)
Mitchell, South Dakota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
This weekend they play in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and later will go up to Fargo, North Dakota. The only other home games this season will be a four-game set with IUPU-Ft. Wayne, May 11-13. To wrap up the season, the Jackrabbits will play in the D-1 Independent Championship in Orem, Utah. On top of everything else, SDSU could win 30 games for the first time since 1996 when they made the Division II post-season.


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Dave Grohl, another renaissance man---
You don't have to agree - obviously - but I think Grohl, the guitarist/vocalist of the Foo Fighters, is one of the most talented musicians alive. He started out as one bitchin' drummer for Nirvana. I don't think I'd never seen a drummer that didn't just hit the drum with his stick, but played THROUGH the drum every time like Grohl did, adding a meaty dimension to the band's sound. After Kurt Cobain met the business side of a shotgun, Grohl didn't mope, he merely went out and started the Foo Fighters. Now, in a move that is the equivalent of a quarterback making the transition to wide receiver in the NFL, he's become a great frontman, guitarist, vocalist and entertainer for that band, while also moonlighting on drums for acts like Queens of the Stone Age and Killing Joke.

It's also hard to deny his presence on camera. Every one of FF's videos has him in the lead and usually has some modicum of acting involved. He's also been on the silver screen for things like "I Love the 80s" on VH-1, "Inside the Playboy Mansion" and he played Satan in Tenacious D's full-length flick "The Pick of Destiny." That's the reason why the Doctor of College Baseball and I both believe Grohl will eventually make a transition to more acting in the future.

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This week's YouTube moment---
Here's what I'm talking about from the above:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJxS0dX-D9g


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Why I think this was less than a lateral move---
Indiana - 1
Miami Univ. - 10
Tracy Smith, the head coach at Indiana, was the former head coach at Miami up until the 2006 season. His move to Bloomington always vexed me in that MU has always been one of the better MAC programs, and why he would leave one of the best MAC programs for one of the dregs of the Big 10 is a little strange. During my trip to the West Virginia-Louisville football game this past fall, I made a side trek to see the Indiana campus and was floored by the fact that their baseball facility is pretty much a glorified high school stadium. The scant amount of aluminum bleachers stand in the shadow of a brick press box with cement block dugouts down each line. Miami Univ. meanwhile, has one of the nicest mid-major stadiums in the country (I went to a game there in '05). So this win by the RedHawks further illustrates why Coach Smith's move was a curious one to me.

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Ahhh, even more to like about the scenery at Pepperdine---
Not only does P'dine have the best view of any college baseball stadium, but now, according to an article in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, it has a couple more things to look at - namely, Pamela Anderson. Jerry Crowe, a Times writer scrawled out a piece about how the Bay Watch star is a semi-regular at games and her sons are part-time bat boys. As if there weren't enough sweet lookin' coeds to ogle on the Malibu campus, right? Turns out that Anderson's sons attended Pepperdine's summer baseball camps and a friendship started with her and head coach Steve Rodriguez. I just want to know how many beads of sweat came to the brow of Rodriguez when, according to the article, Anderson told him, "I'll do anything for you guys." But to Coach Rodriguez's credit, he says, "Once you get past all the tabloid stuff, she's an amazing person and she's done an amazing job for us with our fundraising and just being a friend to the team."


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The addendum to Stuff Magazine's "Hottest 100"---
It's just my opinion and all, but if I had a hand in this list I talked about in last week's Thursday Thoughts, here are five I'd add to it (while getting rid of, amongst others, Ashley Freakin' Simpson):

- Gabriel Reece, volley ball player/model
I like 'em tall. Can't help it. This 6'3" uber-girl is athletic, beautiful and has posed in Playboy.
- Gina Gershon, actress and general bad ass chick
Versatile actress whose sultry lips look like two snakes mating. Also sang in a punk band for the movie "Prey for Rock-N-Roll"
- Jillian Barberie, TV host and Fox NFL girl
You gotta like a girl that knows football, along with fashion, music and what guys like.

JillianBarberie.jpg

- Jill Arrington, football sideline reporter
Sure she's stunning, but I have to admit, I'm not real crash-hot over her changing her name from "Tiffany" to "Jill" 'coz she thought guys would respect that more.
- Julia Ormond, actress
A classic English beauty who has great acting chops is oft-employed both here and abroad. Probably best known as the femme fatale in Legends of the Fall.

JuliaOrmond.jpg


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Okay boys and girls, as always, thanks for reading. Now go out there and have a great college baseball weekend. I hope to catch a few games if I can, so you should to.

G'night.

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