Aggies dealt 'favorable hand'

Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at the Aggies' draw for this weekend's NCAA Regional at Olsen Field. While the Aggies were hoping for more just two weeks ago, they may have ended up with a nice bracket for a shot at Omaha.

When the Texas A&M baseball team stumbled down the stretch, they placed themselves at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee and whatever whims and fancies that group had. A national seed was gone, and with other comparatively local clubs seeming to be shoe-ins for one of those seeds (including Rice, LSU, and Oklahoma State), the Aggies seemed destined for a tough draw.

A&M didn't receive a national seed, and have no one to blame but themselves for that fact, but otherwise got the absolute best draw that they could have. The NCAA sent Dallas Baptist, Houston, and Illinois-Chicago to College Station, and aligned the Aggies with nationally seeded Rice for a potential Super-Regional.

Make no mistake, A&M wasn't given a cakewalk; especially given how they've played over the last 16 days. Rob Childress states that the team's goal is to be the last one standing in Omaha, and earning their way there requires that they shake those demons and defeat whoever shows up on their field.

The College Station regional will bring talented and confident teams into town, and victory isn't assured even if A&M plays to the level that gave them a 41-6 run in the middle of the season. Dallas Baptist is a salty team with an outstanding offense that defeated A&M once this year, Rayner Noble's Houston squad is talented and always up to play the Aggies (2003 is way too recent in the memory banks), and Illinois-Chicago can hit the ball around the yard and gave Baylor a run in Waco this year.

The same can be said of all teams left, though, and there aren't many ridiculously easy outs. To truly appreciate the Aggie draw, one must look at the "bucket" of available teams seeded at that level and understand the geography of the surrounding regionals.

After watching them play, every Aggie fan will agree that Dallas Baptist is a good baseball team with the capability to win this regional. Most projections had them as a three-seed traveling to College Station, Houston, or Stillwater – and they would have possibly been the best three-seed in the tournament. However, the committee rewarded them with a two-seed, the only essential difference being that they'll be the home team in game one. The real winner in that seeding is the Aggies though, as the DBU resume isn't on the same level as some two-seeds that will be visiting National Seeds, like Georgia Tech and Texas. They may yet beat the Aggies, but DBU is towards the bottom of the two-seed bucket.

The University of Houston had their ebbs and flows this year, but got hot at the end and took them off of the bubble by winning the C-USA tournament that Rice unceremoniously exited after a 2-and-Q. Their record is impressive with 39 wins, but they're just 7-12 against teams in the RPI top 50 – where you find A&M and DBU. All things considered, this is probably a top-third three seed, and it's always dangerous when you put a hot team in a regional, but this weekend's College Station tourney will be much more difficult to win than the one they took last week.

Illinois-Chicago, by RPI, is one of the lower four seeds in the tournament. They're just 1-6 against the RPI Top 100 and 3-7 versus the RPI top 150 (A&M is 24-12 and 32-14 against those tiers), but won the Horizon League easily and have a penchant for biting one seeds on the tail. That being said, any four seed can beat a one, but those that do that typically have a statistically great ace or bash the ball around the field – UIC does neither. They may yet beat the Aggies, but A&M won't underestimate them (see Texas Southern in 2004) and should win this game.

The College Station Regional, in a paper vacuum, shakes this way; but seedings are not done in a vacuum and "worthy" is a term that is entirely relative to the process. Not only could the Aggies have not asked for a much better draw in the regional round, given the bucket of available teams at seed levels, but they have been set up very nicely if they can earn the first weekend championship.

Once again, the Aggies were paired with Rice in a potential Super Regional showdown. In and of itself, that's about all the Aggie fans can ask for; be placed with one of the lower national seeds that's in the middle of A&M's largest alumni concentration that will turn Reckling Park into Olsen South as they always do.

The committee wasn't done yet, though, as they gave Rice one of the most ridiculously difficult regionals available. The Owls will host the second seeded Texas Longhorns (whose recent hot streak need not be introduced to Aggie fans), third seeded St. John's (who was considered a potential regional host just two weeks ago), and fourth seeded Sam Houston State (featuring an outstanding offense and led by former Aggie skipper Mark Johnson). There are around 3,500 managerial wins at that regional, and Rice will need every bit of Wayne Graham's magic to make it out unscathed.

The favor to A&M lies within. An Aggie win combined with anyone other than Rice winning the Houston regional means that Super Regional play comes to Olsen Field. The sheer thought of Super Regional play at Olsen should make A&M fans giddy, and that would be all of the fan-board talk if the recent swoon hadn't brought about a significant "wait-and-see" demeanor, and a potential match-up with Texas with Omaha on the line is the stuff of legends. A&M still has to take care of business or all of this discussion is moot, but the fact remains that an A&M regional win equals home field advantage, either real or virtual, in the super regional round.

At the end of the day, for a team with a solid resume but a limp to the finish, the Aggies got much more than they deserved in the big picture. Now they must return to previous form and take advantage of being dealt a favorable hand. If only the team with the best cards always won the pot…




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