CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina has an anxious week ahead after failing to qualify for the ACC Baseball Championship that began on Tuesday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The Tar Heels were ranked third nationally and in contention for a national seed after an 18-2 start to the season. Since then, however, the boys in blue have lost 19 of their last 35 games, including 16 of their last 24 ACC games, to miss the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2010 and land solidly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
That losing trend over the final two months of the season has been offset to some extent by strong metrics such as RPI (No. 15) and strength of schedule (No. 3), although to what extent remains to be seen.
“It's going to be a fascinating case,” Aaron Fitt, editor at D1Baseball.com, said. “On the one hand, UNC would seem to compare favorably with Auburn last year -- Auburn got in with a 13-17 record in the No. 1 RPI conference and a No. 22 RPI. UNC is 13-17 in the No. 1 RPI conference and even stronger in the RPI, at No. 15. No team with an RPI that good has ever been left out of a regional. But on the other hand, no conference has ever earned 11 bids, and UNC is 11th in the ACC's pecking order for me.”
Fitt’s rationale for UNC’s position in the ACC hierarchy has to do with head-to-head matchups and series wins. Wake Forest (13-17 ACC, No. 26 RPI) and Georgia Tech (13-16 ACC, No. 20 RPI) both won series against UNC, while Boston College (13-15, No. 35 RPI) has series wins over potential regional hosts Louisville, Virginia and N.C. State. Duke (14-15 ACC, No. 23 RPI), despite being swept by UNC in March, won 12 of its final 15 regular season games, including a series win against potential regional host Florida State.
“UNC's strong midweek work does certainly help offset some of that stuff, but ultimately the weekends matter more, and I think UNC's weekend performance ranks 11th in the conference,” Fitt said. “Momentum also matters, and UNC lost six of its last eight weekend series -- just not a very good second half of the season.”
D1Baseball.com's latest Field of 64 projection has UNC on the wrong side of the bubble.
UNC’s recent history provides some insight into NCAA Tournament selection committee’s thinking. The Tar Heels missed the ACC Tournament in 2010, yet earned an invite to the Field of 64. Last season, UNC played in the ACC Tournament but missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
|Record||36-20 (14-16 ACC)||34-24 (13-16 ACC)||34-21 (13-17 ACC)|
|Vs. RPI Top-50||10-14||9-15||14-16|
|ACC Series||5-5||4-5 (Tied VT)||4-6|
|Series Wins vs. RPI Top-50||3||2||2|
UNC head coach Mike Fox expressed his frustration following Saturday’s regular-season-ending 10-1 loss at N.C. State, telling reporters, “If you don’t make the ACC tournament, I don’t think we’re going to get in.”
Fox told Inside Carolina on Tuesday that he regretted making that comment, not envisioning that his team would fail to suit up at the DBAP this week.
“We have a lot of great attributes going for us,” Fox said. “Our RPI, our non-conference strength of schedule, our overall strength of schedule. We’ve got 14 wins over the RPI top-20, which is in the top 10. We have a lot going for us. The glaring thing is our conference record and not making the tournament. Those may be enough, but we have a lot of good positives to offset those two.”
The NCAA will unveil its selections for the Field of 64 at noon on Monday, May 30 (ESPNU).