Thursday Thoughts - You Got Tournament Fever?

It's already been an interesting few days in this conference tournament week. Couple of questions have been raised right off the bat.

1- Has Georgia lost the final chance for the SEC to have a national seed? Or...

2- Will LSU's improbable run win its way to a Top 8 slot?

3- Has Texas A&M lost its national seed status?

4- And who, exactly, would be the team of the day? (Hint: it's a four-letter word)

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(You'd be smiling too if you just hit your 60th career home run like South Carolina's Justin Smoak did today)

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THE GREAT POLK SPEAKS---
Before I get to all that tournament stuff, I've gotta take a minute or two to talk about the great interview that I saw on College Sports Tonight with the retired Mississippi State mentor Ron Polk. CBS College Sports Tonight's Greg Amsinger gave the game's most important coach a sounding board that the ole coach took full advantage of.

Some of the topics coach ripped on were the fact that the NCAA puts more restrictions on baseball than any other sport, including being the only sport told how to distribute the scholarships, players must be eligible one semester prior to the semester they're competing in and how baseball is the only sport where walk-ons have to sit out a year if they transfer to another sport.

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(Greg Amsinger and Ron Polk, just before Coach said, "I just wish there were 250-to-300 coaches like me out there that have been doing what I've been doing for the last 25 years. Because if so, none of this stuff the NCAA is forcing on our sport would've happened.")

He was also quick to point out that it is the second biggest money-making sport for NCAA championships, yet it is also the least-funded sport, given just 11.7 scholarships and the worst coach-to-player ratio.

My favorite quote of the interview? "The NCAA has used college baseball as its whipping boy because they know we're not going to stand up and fight back. If this happened in football or basketball there'd be a huge fight."

Touche coach. And thanks.


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NOW SOME QUICK HITS ON THIS WEEK'S CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT GAMES SO FAR---
- The "We've Mailed It In" Teams:
Look, it's a long season. There are injuries, unlucky streaks and tired bodies out there on teams all across the country. You can't be "up" for every game. You just can't. And sometimes, there's no shame in being on this list, especially if your at-large status is secure. But there are exceptions, as you'll see.

* Rice.
Lost two straight, to UAB 8-5 and ECU 4-3.
Might as well. They're national seeding is secure and there's no reason not to go get some rest before the Big Dance. Besides, the C-USA tourney is still one of those "the winner of the loser's bracket will have to play 12 games" tourneys. No thank you.

* St. John's.
Lost in two straight to Villanova and Seton Hall by a combined 24-6.
Now, do you think the selection committee will use this against them as being a regional host? Probably. So the Johnnies may have really shot themselves in the foot. Then again... remember how desperate the NCAA is to put a regional in the New York area? Maybe they still will.

* Notre Dame.
Lost to South Florida and West Virginia in a 19-hour span.
Irish were just outside of at-large land anyway, so they would've needed to go on a hell of a spree to get the bid. This short, less-than-a-day period shows that the inconsistent Irish were young.

* Texas A&M.
Lost to Oklahoma and Texas in the first two days of Big 12 play.
The Aggies now see their losing streak stretch to eight games, having lost to the two Red River rivals by giving up a combined 19 runs. The national seed is gone, I'm sure. A home regional is still possible, but you never know.


- The Bubble Helpers:
These teams are doing what they can to get bubble teams into the NCAA field.

* Georgia.
Lost to Ole Miss and Alabama back-to-back.
Let's see, two weak hitting efforts? Check. Two weak pitching performances? Check. Two losses to two teams that sit squarely on the bubble? Check. This some kind of SEC "Let's get everybody in" conspiracy? Hmmm, check?

* Arizona State.
Beat rival Arizona 13-6 to wrap up the Pac 10 title.
Okay, this isn't anything any great shakes. I mean we ALL knew they'd be in the NCAA tournament and everything, but at least now we know that Washington won't make some miraculous run out of nowhere to win the Pac 10 and take away a spot from the bubble teams. (Then again, they still might).


- The Bubble Busters:
These teams are doing those nervous Nellies no favors.

* St. John's.
Yep, our second mention of the Red Storm in this column. But don't you figure that hushed cheering you just heard was the Big East front office suits knowing they just got another team in the NCAAs.

* Nebraska and Oklahoma State.
Other bubble teams around the country are madder than a wet hen over borderline Baylor being able to pick up wins over these two in the first two days of Big 12 tourney play. Now 33-24 and with wins over RPI Nos. 8 and 14. That's good news Bears. Bad news for everyone else.

* TCU.
The Frogs lost to New Mexico by a 3-2 count today, pushing themselves to the brink of elimination. They will face off with uprising Utah tomorrow and then would need to beat the Lobos in a pair of games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon after that to pull out the MWC title and automatic bid.


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MORE REASONS WHY CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA---
Here's a sampling of games that prove these things are rather untimely.

South Florida - 9
Notre Dame - 3
Game started: 10:11pm
Game ended: 1:15am
Next game for ND: 2:10pm next day.
Result for that game: Lost 13-4 vs. West Virginia
The Irish go two-and-out in the Big East for the second straight year. They finish the season 33-21-1, which isn't back to their 40-win seasons of old, but a marked improvement from their 28-28 campaign of '07.

Virginia - 6
North Carolina - 5 (11inns)
Game started: 9:46pm
Game ended: 1:26am
Next game for UNC: vs. Wake Forest, Friday
Result for that game: We'll see
Luckily, the ACC was smart enough to go to the three game, round-robin pool play format where they give teams a day off. So they're smart. Er, well, sort of smart.

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(You could almost hear the crowd groan when Chad Flack trotted around the bases after hitting a game-tying home run in the 10th inning vs. UVa, at around 1:10am local time)

Alabama - 3
Kentucky - 9
Game started: 10:45pm
Game ended: 1:50am
Next game for Alabama: 1:10pm next day
Result for that game: Beat Georgia 5-2.
Okay, I guess the Up All Night with Rhonda Shear episode (free beer to whoever gets that one) didn't bother the red elephants too much, beating the No. 1 team in the SEC.

Elon - 16
Georgia Southern - 5
Game started: 10:02pm
Game ended: 1:45am
Next game for GSU:
Result for that game: We'll see.
I was keeping tabs on the Arizona-Arizona State game tonight and noticed there was still one game that went longer than that duel in the desert, this Elon-GSU game.

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The Conference USA and Sun Belt tournaments have been ridden by rain. Most of Thursday's action was left on the ledger. At Turchin Stadium in New Orleans, after top-seed Rice was eliminated by ECU, the rest of the day was washed out by thunderbumpers. Everything has been pushed back now as tomorrow's (Friday's) action will start at 9-freakin-am. The SBC nearly got a second game in today before the sky opened up. Now, they're going to try to get UNO and Troy to finish their game at 9am in the morning and then try to fit in four more games after that. Oh-mah-lowered!

Intermittent thunderstorms are forecast for both Friday and Saturday.


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MOST PAINFUL INNING OF THE WEEK (so far)---
Milwaukee - 20
Wright State - 3
As if a game that saw the Panthers hold a 9-1 lead after eight innings wasn't painful enough. Turns out that they then went out and pounded 11 more runs across in the top of the 9th inning. That half inning had to take at least 45 minutes to complete. And this for a game that was already well-decided. Hell, even parents and girlfriends start hitting the exits well before that.


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THURSDAY'S TEAM OF THE DAY---
Utah.
The Utes not only beat San Diego State, who trotted Stephen Strasburg out to the mound (a 1-0 win), they also took care of UNLV by a 7-4 count to win a pair of elimination games. Up until today, the Utes (now 26-27) had gone just 1-5 vs. the Aztecs this season, losing by a combined 34-9 in those five losses. But they were able to score the lone run off of Strasburg in the 3rd and got a complete game effort from John James, who held the Aztecs to four hits, striking out nine. Dustin Hennis was able to plate the lone run in game one and then slapped a two-run homer in game two.

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(Utah's John James had the look on the mound and the magic in his arm today)

The Utes are 3-1 in the tourney and will still have to win two games tomorrow as well, since they face 1-seed TCU in an elimination game and would then have to face 2-seed New Mexico to stay alive.


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FILE THIS AWAY FOR LATER---
I'm not saying Miami is doomed to go 0-2 in the regionals or anything, but today's game may explain why there's room for caution.
Miami - 15
Georgia Tech - 12

The Canes used weekend starter Eric Erickson, who went 3.1 innings and gave up nine hits to the Jacket batters. But the bullpen wasn't much better, as all three ace relievers took part tonight, David Gutierrez, Kyle Bellamy and Carlos Guteirrez. Together they gave up an additional eight hits and six earned runs in 5.2 innings.

Granted, the Canes offense went off the charts again with Yonder Alonso and Dave DiNatale each hitting a pair of yard calls and Blake Tekotte pacing the team with four hits. That's one thing the U fans can come close to counting.


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ARE WE SURE THESE GUYS AREN'T GOING TO LOSE AGAIN?---
LSU - 8
Vandy - 2
I think the spirit of 2004 Cal State Fullerton has gotten into these guys. This makes 18 in a row now. After the doctor of college baseball, Dr. Kenny Cook, told us about how horrible, uninspired and "Smoke-like" the Tigers looked when he went to the Georgia series back in April, the bayou boys have yet to lose. Looks like Dr. Kenny's synopsis of the Tigers was, well... mis-diagnosed. I sense a malpractice suit coming.


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THE MONTGOMERY BURNS "IT'S ALL GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN" TOURNAMENT---
The MAC.
Through two days and eight games of the MAC tournament, there hasn't been one upset the entire time. All the higher seeds have won and the two lowest seeds, Western Michigan and Central Michigan, have already been eliminated. No. 1 seed Kent State and No. 2 seed Eastern Michigan will both have to be beaten twice to not make the title game. That contest will be Saturday at 1pm central time at the home field of the Flashes.


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WORST NAME EVER---
In case you guys didn't know, the name of the Southern Conference tournament is officially listed as:

The Bennett Hofford Family of Hotels Southern Conference Baseball Championship.

Quick, how many syllables is that? Huh? Huh?... times up.

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Okay on that horrible note, I'm hitting the bunks now. More tomorrow when this baseball nirvana continues. Or wait... lemme go make sure there's not another tournament game still going on at 1am Pacific time.

G'night.

Comments

Eric thanks for all you do for college baseball. Like March Madness this is one of my favorite times of the year and then next weekend will be my absolute favorite weekend of summer with all 16 Regionals going on at one time. I was going to get on you for not mentioning a certain team in the Big 12 Tourney that had a bad conference record, but is doing well in the Tourney as of last night (Thursday). I then thought that would jinx them and so I decided not to mention them at all. However, Saturday morning @ 9:00 am (CST) the Red River Rivalry game should be extra fun with the possble winner going to the Big 12 Championship Game. Take care and I look forward to reading you comments over the weekend!

Eric: Thanks for writing about Polk + tournaments. It's moronic that at a time when the NCAA has shortened the season, yet wants student athletes to graduate at a higher rate, that most conferences have scheduled a tournament week to decide who gets the leagues automatic bid to the Regionals.

A tournament may make some sense in a conference with two divisions, but then why not a series between the top teams of each division? I'd rather see a longer out of conference period at the beginning of the season and do without the (somewhat anticlimactic) conference tournaments.

Bulldog, no prob. And don't worry, I don't believe in jinxes, so it's okay if I mention how well Oklahoma is playing through the first two games of the Big 12 tournament. I've gotta get the company Lear Jet ready to whisk me to OKC for that UT game. OU has a shot at the Big Dance after all.

And Guy, always provocative comments from you. And yes, this is the most ambivalent week of the season for me. Love more college baseball, but conference tournaments are usually just like putting a poodle in one of those frilly tu-tus or something. Kinda needless. You're right, if you're going to HAVE to do a post-season thing, just make it a playoff like the Ivy League has with the two division winners. Make the regular season mean something more.

Thanks for readin' and writin' boys.

Eric

another great session of thinking out loud...

I posted my LB-FU notes on my blog but may I take exception to your notes on Miami.

These opponents are top 25 and you expect to get hit...next weekend I doubt that UM will even lose a game!

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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