NCAA Tournament primer: Assessing the SEC ahead of Monday's selection show
The bids are going out, the bracket(s) will soon be coming. The NCAA (baseball) Tournament is back! It’s been 2 years in the making and frankly, it’ll be a massive surprise if the top squads of the SEC don’t play their way to Omaha. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Taking a quick peek before Monday’s 11 a.m. selection show, here’s the skinny on SEC baseball’s chances in the NCAA Tournament
Many, many hosting schools
Even before Sunday afternoon’s Arkansas/Tennessee SEC championship matchup, both schools are absolute locks as NCAA regional hosts. Arkansas has again proven its worth as the top squad in the nation and the prohibitive favorite to not only reach Omaha but to win there. SEC East winner Tennessee battled back from their extra-inning loss to Alabama on Wednesday to again impress. Who else will host?
Vandy, the most recent College World Series champion in 2019, will. Mississippi State (despite a puzzling SEC Tournament flop) will. Ole Miss should be likewise golden, and Florida’s run to the SEC semifinals locked down a hosting spot that may have been already safe.
Who does that leave in the more questionable category? South Carolina. One of the more interesting scenarios floated is that Carolina could be the No. 2 seed in the region where Old Dominion will be the top seed. Why would that matter? Well, the hosting situation this year was unusual due to COVID. The NCAA identified 20 potential regional sites (16 of which will be chosen) and Old Dominion did not ask for consideration for one of those spots. Columbia, of course, was one of the 20 spots, but the Gamecocks are probably comfortably outside the nation’s top 16 teams. Now, with the No. 13 Monarchs playing in the C-USA title game Sunday, they are likely going to be worthy of one of the top 16 spots. ODU could be paired with Carolina, with the Gamecocks hosting the region, despite being the No. 2 seed. Baseball America has projected that scenario.
Those 7 teams were the SEC’s representatives in the NCAA’s list of 20 potential hosts, so Carolina is the great question mark. They look outside the normal parameters of hosting, so either the Old Dominion scenario occurs or the Gamecocks will be on the road in somebody else’s region after a disappointing SEC Tournament.
On the bubble?
Regardless of where Carolina plays, at least they’re in the tournament. Those first 7 SEC schools can be written into the NCAA field in ink.
Whose names should be in pencil?
Alabama is probably the 8th school. The 12-17 Tide were on the outside of the NCAA bubble looking in. But they took down South Carolina on Tuesday and Tennessee on Wednesday, with the second game probably greasing the skids on their way into the NCAA field. Had Bama picked up another win against Florida or UT in their last 2 SEC games, we’d put them in ink. As they didn’t, put them in pencil, but no need to worry about a good eraser on the pencil. Baseball America included the Tide as 1 of the last 4 teams to make the field.
The 2 other teams that are sitting squarely on the bubble are LSU and Georgia. In their most recent projections, Baseball America had LSU getting the third-to-last spot in the field and Georgia having the first spot outside the field.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) May 30, 2021
This is interesting because they met in Tuesday’s SEC 8 vs. 9 game, with Georgia winning 4-1. Granted, the Bulldogs then lost to Arkansas and Ole Miss. But for 2 teams with identical 13-17 SEC records heading into postseason play, ignoring their head-to-head game on Tuesday seems like a bridge too far.
As for their résumés, UGA’s best wins are: 1 at home vs UT, 1 at home vs USC, 2 at Vandy, 1 at Arkansas, 1 at Florida, and 1 at home against Ole Miss. That 4-1 win on Tuesday was their only head-to-head play against LSU. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ best wins are: 1 at home vs Louisiana Tech, 1 at home vs Mississippi State, 1 at home vs USC, 2 at Ole Miss, and 1 at home against Arkansas.
We’ll flip the BA predictions and say that Georgia gets in, and LSU gets left out.
So Monday’s outlook is a bare minimum of 6 SEC teams hosting NCAA regional games (with Florida probably being the one that’s closest to falling off that grouping) with South Carolina a 7th possibility, albeit a possibility that probably depends on a pandemic-based situation with Old Dominion. The SEC could end up with 10 teams in the field, although as few as 8 is reasonably possible. We’ll take 9, but it’ll come down to whether LSU and Georgia fall on the right or wrong side of the bracket dividing line.