Did the Western Athletic Conference deserve getting only one representative in the NCAA Tournament? I felt that the WAC and San Jose State were snubbed in the selection process and still feel that way. I've thought about how I could approach it and even as I write, it evolves. Bear with me here, as I will wander. The bottom line is that the WAC doesn't come out very good by any standard. My final rankings are as follows:
- Big West (BW)
- Mountain West (MW)
- West Coast (WCC)
- Western Athletic (WAC)
The Pac-10 won by a good margin. The Big West and the Mountain West Conferences were close. The West Coast Conference just beat out the WAC because their average RPI was a bit better and they won one game in the NCAAs. If you're a fellow WAC fan, you're not feeling too well right now. I'll discuss the conferences' strong and weak points.
First thing to remember is that a team's RPI can change even if they are not playing. The rating is dynamic and can change until all teams are done with their season.WCC
|University of San Diego||49|
|University of San Francisco||102|
|University of Portland||190|
The conference average RPI is 118. Gonzaga and San Diego had strong out-of-conference schedules, which is reflected in their high RPIs. The league average was brought down primarily by Santa Clara and Portland State. I looked at both their schedules and they contained some teams I have never heard of, and those teams that were good to decent opposition were losses for both teams. Gonzaga has been a power in the Northwest in basketball for a long time, but has only recently been gaining any attention with its baseball program. It was the only WCC team chosen to go to the NCAA Tournament as it won the regular season title, the conference tournament, and had the best RPI in the confernece. They were certainly deserving of being chosen. San Diego had a good RPI but was only middle of the pack in the WCC, and so weren't chosen.Big West
|Cal Poly SLO||56|
|UC Santa Barbara||87|
|CSU Long Beach||115|
The conference average RPI was 101. In my estimation the Big West is the premier baseball conference in the west. They have three of the highest rated teams in UC Irvine, CSU Fullerton, and Cal Poly SLO. Fullerton and Irvine, especially, played national schedules and won many of these games, which resulted in very high RPIs. I don't know how a CSU school can afford a national schedule, but Fullerton did and it paid off. Having no football team might have something to do with being able to afford these expenses. I wish the Spartans could do the same with the same success. Irvine, Fullerton, and Cal Poly were 1-2-3 in the league, which has no tournament, and were chosen for the NCAAs because of RPI, where they finished in league, and national ranking. The league average RPI was dragged down by UC Davis and CSU Northridge, as both had bad years.WAC
|San Jose State||80|
|New Mexico State||130|
The league average RPI was 127. No one team was outstanding, but Hawai'i and San Jose State were decent. San Jose State was the WAC regular season champion, did not win the WAC tournament, and had a low RPI (below 64), and so was not chosen. Hawai'i did not win the WAC regular season title, didn't win the WAC tournament, and had a low RPI so also was not chosen. Fresno State won the WAC tournament, which was their only way to get a ticket to the NCAAs. Their quick elimination from the tournament was no surprise. Other than SJSU and Hawai'i, the conference was only average and the schedules reflected very few challenging teams. If the WAC is to be taken seriously, the teams must start scheduling stronger opposition. I know that is expensive but it's either do that or maintain the level of mediocrity most fans won't accept.Pac-10
The league average RPI was 85. This was by far the best RPI of all the conferences in the west. ASU was at or near the top of the national rankings for most of the year. ASU, OSU, USC, Stanford and Arizona have been baseball powerhouses for years and all play a national schedule. Oregon is building a program but has a way to go to catch up. Only Cal and Washington seemed to be a bit down this year. There is no league tournament and the top three teams in the Pac-10 were invited to the NCAA Tournament.MWC
|San Diego State||42|
The league average RPI was 110. TCU was the best team in the MWC as they won the regular season title. They also had a very strong OOC schedule, winning many of those games. Utah had little to show for a bad year but they won the conference tournament, which resulted in an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. San Diego State had a pretty good RPI, was third in the regular season, and lost in the championship game of the conference tournament. That resulted in them being chosen for the NCAAs. The fact that the Aztecs have the best pitcher in college baseball probably didn't hurt. The league's RPI was drastically dragged down by UNLV and Air Force.
The list I used is from the recently announced Louisville Slugger All-American team. I thought this a good measure of conference strength because these players are recognized throughout college baseball as being among the best at their respective position.WCC
|Daniel Bibona||UC Irvine||Pitcher||First|
|Eric Pettis||UC Irvine||Pitcher||Third|
|Ben Orloff||UC Irvine||Shortstop||Third|
|Daniel Renken||CSU Fullerton||Pitcher||Third|
|Bryan Marquez||New Mexico State||Shortstop||First|
|Tommy Mendonca||Fresno State||Third Base||Second|
|Mike Leake||Arizona State||Pitcher||First|
|Bryce Brentz||Arizona State||Outfield||First|
|Dillon Baird||Arizona||First Base||Second|
|Josh Spence||Arizona State||Pitcher||Third|
|Carlos Ramirez||Arizona State||Catcher||Third|
|Stephen Strasburg||San Diego State||Pitcher||First|
|Addison Reed||San Diego State||Pitcher||First|
|Mike Brownstein||New Mexico||Second Base||Second|
There are 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament. I therefore listed teams in their respective conferences with an RPI of 64 or lower (first column). As you can see, not many were counted - with none from the WAC. Ouch! I'm now thinking that if the NCAA truly had their way, no WAC team would have been selected. The Pac-10 led with four teams with RPIs lower then 64, which I find somewhat surprising, but only three of them were chosen for the tournament.
AA means All-Americans. The Pac-10 and the Big West lead with five and four selections, respectively. The WAC's selections were both position players, which I will discuss shortly.
NCAA is simply a column listing teams in the NCAA Tournament. The next column is the record for the conference in the Regionals, with the Super Regionals yet to be played.
|Conference||RPI < 64||AA||RPIa||NCAA||NCAA Record|
|MWC||3||3||110||3||6-4 TCU Advanced|
|Big West||3||4||101||3||5-4 Fullerton Advanced|
|Pac-10||4||5||85||3||6-4 ASU Advanced|
Irvine is out as Virginia shut them down in their own back yard. This must be a huge disappointment to the Anteaters as they were at the top of the rankings for most of the second-half of the year. All that work just to lose in front of your own fans. Fullerton moves on to carry the banner of the Big West as well as California baseball. ASU moves on as does TCU, LSU, Florida, North Carolina, Florida State, Arkansas, and Texas. The Big 10 is gone. Of the seven Big 12 teams in the tournament, all are gone except Texas. The Big 10 and Big 12 don't look so good. Unfortunately, neither does the west, as all the California teams except Fullerton are gone. The SEC and ACC are both looking strong. The SEC is in the winner's circle with LSU, Florida, and Arkansas, with Mississippi, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt playing on Monday. The ACC is well represented by Virginia, Florida State, and North Carolina moving on, with Georgia Tech and Clemson playing on Monday.
After that little bit of NCAA talk let me get back to the theme of this article. How does the WAC stack up? Not good, as you can see. How can the WAC change this and move up? It can be done but will be a slow process. I have a few suggestions.
The WAC tournament must be abolished. Should a team be rewarded for season-long excellence or for a weekend hot streak? The obvious answer is the season-long body of work. The WAC's impact on the NCAAs was non-existent, as Fresno State was an undeserving participant. I will attend next year's tournament in Arizona but that doesn't mean I support it.
The WAC's two All-Americans were position players. The Big West had three pitchers, the Mountain West had two pitchers, the Pac-10 had two pitchers, and the WCC's lone choice was a pitcher. The point I'm trying to make is that the WAC was a hitter's conference and pitching was not good, other than San Jose State's staff. There is a reason the Spartans did well in the conference. They could pitch as well as hit. They basically swept all the pitching stats and awards in the WAC. Seniors Ryan Shopshire and David Berner were the two most dominating pitchers in the league, and no other team could match them in a four game series. The WAC as a whole must improve in the area of starting pitching. The Spartans need to improve their bullpen.
Don Starks is the Baseball Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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