Big 12 Tournament Notebook - Day 3

With a win and some help from our "friends in Austin" the Aggies will advance to Sunday's Big 12 Tournament Championship game. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at the Big 12 Tournament on day three.

In the 1997 mega-hit Men in Black, Tommy Lee Jones' character gives Jack Jeebs (played by Tony Shahloub) a piece of advice that he certainly should have taken.

Show me your face, and I'll cure all of your ills.

That advice would be well taken by the Aggies, as the realities of the tournament have given them an opportunity to cure a lot of old ills heading into regional play.

This team's question marks are well documented; inconsistent fielding, a very thin bullpen, and an offense that can certainly go anemic at inopportune moments. Without these three issues, it's entirely possible that Texas A&M is sitting pretty for a national seed right now. But that's not the situation.

Bigger than these issues, which A&M has gotten over in spurts, they've been fighting one psychological issue for the last couple of months without much success. Call it what you want – a lack of a killer instinct, an inability to finish big games off, etc.

Whatever you dub it, the Aggies have trouble sealing the overall deal. They climb the mountain, get near the top and, for all intents and purposes, say "Nah, we're fine here."

A&M has had opportunities to nail down a series win or a sweep in every conference series except Texas. They succeeded in the final game just three times (Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska), and failed to get the job done on four occasions (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Kansas State). Unfortunately, a success rate below 40 percent doesn't play well in the regionals.

Saturday's game against KSU is the perfect opportunity to reverse that trend. The stakes for the game itself are high; win, and you have a chance to be in the championship and lock up the regional host spot you so dearly need.

The concern held by most fans, and probably Childress as well, isn't really about playing in that Sunday game. A&M hasn't won any Big 12 baseball hardware since 1999, a disturbing trend, but that trophy won't win anything the following weekend. Gaining positive momentum and eradicating the Aggies' minds of "we can't finish the job," would be a very positive result heading into NCAA play.

So, in one game, the team can change a season of misfortune or cement that mentality for regional play. A big, big game indeed.

Kirkland Rivers' big game against Texas surprised many observers; most likely those who saw an ERA near 6.00 and didn't look an inch deeper.

However, Rivers has been one of the best kept secrets in the Aggie bullpen for the last nine weeks.

Prior to the Texas game, Rivers had allowed an earned run just once in his ten appearances. That one outing was a particularly poor one against Baylor, where he allowed five runs (four earned) in 1.2 innings pitched. His other outings in the set included eleven innings of work with no earned runs, 11 strikeouts and four walks.

Rivers may have nailed down the third starter role for the postseason, but a promotion for him would be a dilemma for Rob Childress – as his absence in the bullpen dramatically lowers A&M's left handed possibilities.

Speaking of trends, no one in the A&M line-up is hotter of late than Craig Stinson.

In his last ten games, dating back to the Sunday game against Dallas Baptist, he's hitting .500 with two doubles, four homers, seven runs scored and 15 RBI. His on base percentage in that time (.475) is actually lower than his batting average, a statistical oddity created by three sacrifice flies.

Though his power numbers are ridiculously high (.889 slugging during the stretch), his success has been created out of a contact game. The senior catcher has whiffed 37 times on the season, but just three in these last ten games. He has multiple hits in eight of those ten games.

His last fifteen games have similarly impressive numbers; a .453 batting average, an .830 slugging percentage created by six homers, and 19 RBI. He's struck out just six times in that stretch.

In division two of the Big 12 tournament, Saturday has created a championship game and a meaningless encounter. Baylor defeated Missouri and Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State to run both victors' tournament records to 2-0.

Baylor and Oklahoma hook up at 8:00 PM tomorrow, with the right to play the division one bracket winner on the line. Most credible baseball bracketologists have one of those two advancing to regional play, but not both. Given that there are a few upsets occurring in conference tournaments, it's pretty safe to say that the loser of tomorrow's game not only won't play Sunday, but may have to hang them up for the remainder of the season.

Perhaps the 4:00 PM game between Oklahoma State and Missouri isn't so meaningless, after all.

Entering the tournament, both were considered postseason locks, and Missouri was considered a certainty to host. Many suggested that a great tournament showing could get the Tigers into one of the final national seeds, as well.

That dream seems to be lost with the 0-2 result thus far, but Missouri has a worthy resume and should be fine unless the NCAA uses the tourney as an excuse to withhold the host spot. Taylor Stadium barely has the capacity required to host (2,200, minimum allowed is 2,000) and is considered one of the lesser facilities in the Big 12 despite the fact that it's one of the newest. If the NCAA wanted a reason to not allow postseason play in Columbia, they got it.

A&M fans have spent the past month realizing that the Aggies' conference record was not going to impress anyone, and it's really the only negative on an otherwise sterling resume.

Oklahoma State is on the exact flipside of this coin.

Riding an 0-2 tournament start and a five game losing streak, the Cowboys may find themselves falling out of favor with the selection committee. In fact, the only part of the Cowboys' resume that doesn't scream "Bubble Team" is their now 16-13 record against Big 12 teams.

The Cowboys fell to 38-18 after today's loss, and teams have been left at home with better records. Their RPI will fall into the 50-54 range this morning, and their non-conference RPI is still a dismal 75.

Against the RPI tiers, the resume doesn't get much better. The Cowboys are 3-5 against Top 25 RPI teams, 13-13 against Top 50 teams, and 13-14 against Top 75 clubs. The committee also takes a peek at the last 15 games, and the Cowboys have now dipped below .500 (7-8).

So, from the ashes of a worthless tournament game comes lots and lots of implications. Missouri and Oklahoma State will probably both be fine even if they lose, but both would rather not spend the next two days worrying about it.

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