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The 2004 Conference Races
Publication Date: May 4, 2004
Pay Attention, Now
This is an annual column, and most of you are familiar with it by now, but there's another dimension to why this matters besides the value of pennant races I've talked about in the past -- there's the reason that conferences themselves matter. It's all about context, and it's one of the neat things about college sports. You can't really look at, say, the NBA Midwest Division or the AFC Central and get a sense of identity other than some vague notion of geography. On the other hand, although it varies in strength from league to league, college conferences have a sense of similarity to them.
Take the Patriot League, for example. There's nothing special about it athletically. It's one of the five worst baseball conferences most years; it's frequently the worst basketball league. But it's made up of six schools that are quite similar in their purpose and their makeup, and that gives it a sense of wholeness. Army won't make much of a dent in the postseason this year, but they're quite dominant this season within their context, and that means that they're the best of those like them. And that's a neat thing.
That said, let's get started:
W L Remaining Albany 9 3 Hartford, @Maine, @Northeastern Northeastern 8 4 @Binghamton, Hartford, Albany Maine 8 4 Stony Brook, Albany, @UMBC Binghamton 7 5 Northeastern, @Vermont, @Stony Brook
There's still a ways to go here, and most of these guys have yet to play. Albany's been the best outside the conference, but that doesn't always guarantee anything.
W L Remaining Virginia 14 4 Florida State, Wake Forest Clemson 12 6 @Georgia Tech, @Duke Georgia Tech 9 5 Duke, Clemson, Maryland North Carolina 11 7 Maryland, NCSU Florida State 8 7 @Virginia, Duke, @Wake Forest
There's still actually a better race here than I realized, although Virginia could essentially end that this weekend. If they win two against FSU, it's all but over. If they don't, it's wide-open, and the schedule may favor a darkhorse like UNC slipping in.
W L Remaining Central Florida 19 5 Mercer, @Georgia State Stetson 15 9 Lipscomb, Troy State Florida Atlantic 12 9 @Troy State, Georgia State, @Mercer
These guys have all already played each other, so it's essentially over, but the race for second may be a race for an at large bid, so that would be interesting if we were talking about that this week.
Atlantic 10 East
W L Remaining Rhode Island 15 3 @Fordham, St. Joseph's St. Bonaventure 9 6 @St. Joseph's, Massachusetts
Atlantic 10 West
W L Remaining George Washington 15 3 Xavier, @Duquesne Richmond 11 4 Dayton, LaSalle, @Massachusetts
W L Remaining Rutgers 13 5 @Notre Dame, Villanova Pittsburgh 12 5 @Seton Hall, Connecticut, St. John's Notre Dame 12 5 @Connecticut, Rutgers, Virginia Tech St. John's 13 7 Seton Hall, @Pittsburgh Boston College 8 7 @West Virginia, Virginia Tech, @Seton Hall
Ever noticed how much trouble Notre Dame has winning the Big East? I mean, most years, they're clearly the best team in the conference, but they always struggle to win the thing and frequently don't. I wonder if the goofy conference schedule is responsible for that, or if it's just one of those things. There's no clear favorite here, although obviously the winner of the Rutgers-Notre Dame series will have an inside track.
W L Remaining Birmingham-Southern 16 2 @Winthrop, North Carolina-Asheville Winthrop 12 3 Birmingham-Southern, Radford, Asheville North Carolina-Asheville 11 7 @Birmingham-Southern, Winthrop Radford 11 7 @Winthrop, Charleston Southern Coastal Carolina 9 6 @Charleston Southern, @Liberty, High Point
Winthrop and BSC meet this weekend for the inside track to the title. Meanwhile, Coastal's remaining opponents are a combined 13-35, so don't be surprised to see them finish in second.
W L Remaining Minnesota 13 7 Iowa, @Illinois, Ohio State Penn State 13 7 @Ohio State, Michigan State, @Michigan Ohio State 13 7 Penn State, Northwestern, @Minnesota Michigan 12 8 Purdue, @Indiana, Penn State
The schedule favors Minnesota ever so slightly, but this is a nice tight race worth watching.
W L Remaining Oklahoma State 12 5 Nebraska, Texas Tech, @Missouri Texas 14 6 Kansas, Texas A&M Oklahoma 14 7 Kansas State, @Nebraska Texas Tech 11 6 Missouri, @Oklahoma State, Baylor
This one's wide-open (and, to be honest, the three nine-loss teams all still have outside chances as well). The remaining schedule actually probably favors Oklahoma by a hair, but not enough to cover the half-game they're behind. Enjoy this one.
W L Cal State Fullerton 11 1 Long Beach State 9 3 UC Riverside 8 4 UC Irvine 5 7 UC Santa Barbara 5 7 Cal Poly 5 7
With no conference tournament and, therefore, time for twelve more conference games for everyone, there's no real way to eliminate anyone here yet.
W L Remaining George Mason 15 3 Delaware, @James Madison Virginia Commonwealth 13 5 UNCW, @Delaware North Carolina-Wilmington 9 5 @VCU, Old Dominion
Of as much interest as the above lackluster conference race is the fact that Justin Verlander is apparently going to go through his entire career without ever even qualifying for the conference tournament. I have no idea if this has any mitigating effect on his overuse numbers, although I have my doubts, I'm just wondering how it's even possible.
W L Remaining East Carolina 18 3 @St. Louis, Texas Christian, @USM Tulane 15 6 South Florida, St. Louis, @Houston Southern Mississippi 14 7 Louisville, @UNC-Charlotte, East Carolina Texas Christian 14 7 UAB, @ECU, UNC-Charlotte
Well, this was going to be a georgeous race, with three of the top four squaring off at the end, and then East Carolina went and won forty-leven in a row and blew it all to pieces. Someone else could still catch up if they swoon, but it's basically theirs now unless they fall apart. This is quite probably the best team they've ever had, by the way; they just don't get the RPI boost they used to in the CAA. Keep an eye on them for the postseason.
W L Remaining Illinois-Chicago 9 3 Butler (4), @Youngstown State (4), @Detroit (4) Butler 7 5 @UIC (4), @Wright State (4), Cleveland State (4)
Ivy League Gehrig
W L Remaining Princeton 12 8 none
Ivy League Rolfe
W L Remaining Dartmouth 15 5 none
This one's already done (one of the hazards of this column; there is no good time to publish it with the MEAC and Pac-10 finishing over a month apart). Princeton and Dartmouth face off in a best of three at Dartmouth this weekend.
W L LeMoyne 12 6
They're four games ahead now, and no one's going to catch them. They can't all be gems.
W L Remaining Miami, Ohio 9 4 @BGSU, Northern Illinois, Kent State Akron 8 6 Marshall, Eastern Michigan, @Ohio
W L Remaining Eastern Michigan 10 5 @Northern Illinois, @Akron, Central Michigan Central Michigan 10 5 @Western Michigan, Buffalo, @Eastern Michigan Ball State 11 7 Ohio, Marshall
W L Oral Roberts 14 0
They're seven games ahead. They're 167 ISR places ahead of the next-best conference team. They lose one conference game every five years. This just isn't all that interesting.
W L Bethune-Cookman 14 4
They won the conference tournament last weekend. The regular season race wasn't really tight, but Delaware State didn't embarass themselves.
W L Wichita State 19 1
There seem to be more of these runaways than usual this year; Wichita's 5 1/2 games ahead at the moment. This could lead to some complaining about underrepresentation for small conferences this year, especially if the SEC pulls in more than eight bids, but it's mostly just a granularity issue -- the second-place teams in some conferences just don't seem as strong as usual this year.
W L Remaining Nevada-Las Vegas 15 5 SDSU, Utah, @New Mexico New Mexico 14 7 @BYU, Air Force, UNLV San Diego State 12 7 @UNLV, BYU, @Utah
There's some nice scheduling here. I think UNLV will hang on and win it, but it's nice to see the other leaders given a shot at them late.
W L Central Connecticut State 17 4
They're only a couple of games ahead of Quinnipiac, but there's only one weekend left in the conference season, so they've basically wrapped it up.
W L Remaining Austin Peay State 14 4 Murray State, @EKU, Jacksonville State Jacksonville State 12 6 @Tennessee-Martin, Murray State, @APSU Eastern Illinois 11 7 @EKU, Morehead State, @Tennessee Tech Eastern Kentucky 10 7 EIU, APSU, Morehead State
Nice scheduling; my kudos to the conference office or the coaches who put it together.
W L Stanford 10 2 Washington 10 5 UCLA 8 7 Arizona 7 8 Oregon State 7 8 Southern California 7 8 Arizona State 7 8
Long way to go. Big lead for what's probably the best team in the country. I just wanted to note that UCLA's in third place, since they're getting almost zero tournament buzz.
W L Remaining Army 17 3 none
Just wanted to say that, if you're going to have a conference tournament, the Patriot's three-team format is kind of cool.
W L Remaining Florida 14 7 @Alabama, Mississippi, @Tennessee Georgia 12 9 @Mississippi State, @Auburn, South Carolina Tennessee 11 10 Vanderbilt, @South Carolina, Florida South Carolina 11 10 @Auburn, Tennessee, @Georgia
W L Remaining Arkansas 15 6 @Mississippi, @Mississippi State, Auburn Mississippi 12 9 Arkansas, @Florida, Louisiana State Louisiana State 12 9 @Kentucky, Vanderbilt, @Mississippi
W L College of Charleston 19 2
They're 3 1/2 games up; call it.
W L Remaining Lamar 15 6 @Nicholls State, Louisiana-Monroe Texas State 13 7 Southeastern Louisiana, @Northwestern State Northwestern State 12 7 @Texas-Arlington, Texas State
With that schedule, it's Lamar's to lose.
W L Remaining Mississippi Valley State 23 9 none
W L Remaining Southern 19 7 none
The hoops Southern had to go through to get in enough games to qualify for the conference tournament despite clearly being the best team in the league are mildly interesting (and good thoughts should go to Prairie View for going ahead and playing [and winning] the games when the only way they could qualify for the tournament would be not to play), but otherwise it's been a somewhat lackluster year for the league with Southern having lost its star attractions and the Valley ducking into Division II more often.
W L Remaining New Orleans 9 5 MTSU, @FIU, @Western Kentucky Florida International 9 6 @USA, UNO, @Arkansas State South Alabama 9 6 FIU, @NMSU, Louisiana-Lafayette Louisiana-Lafayette 10 7 Arkansas State, @USA New Mexico State 10 8 @Western Kentucky, USA Middle Tennessee State 10 8 @UNO, Arkansas-Litle Rock
Well, this isn't one of those races where lots of great teams battle down the stretch, but well-matched mediocrity can be sort of fun to watch, too, so the UNO-FIU series and the last two USA series should be worth paying attention to.
West Coast Coast
W L Remaining Loyola Marymount 17 7 @St. Mary's, @Gonzaga San Diego 14 10 Gonzaga, St. Mary's
Not the best of scheduling, but since Marymount beat San Diego five of six early in the year, they've got a reasonable claim.
West Coast West
W L Pepperdine 14 7
They're five up with six to play; I think they've got it.
W L Rice 16 1
You would have hoped they'd get a more interesting sendoff than this year has been, but most of this season has been about, to quote an old David Letterman line, "Mathematical elimination fever, catch it!" It's probably in poor taste to use the word elimination around Rice fans these days, though; they're a pretty tense lot.
This means absolutely nothing, ignore it.
Actually, this is an experiment for me to see how predictable the postseason makeup is. I want to see how accurate my picks are (using myself as the test subject as a moderately knowledgeable observer with no input into the results) at various distances from the selection. I'm not going to bother picking a team from the one-bid conferences, since the conference tournament will just be a crapshoot, but if I only list one team from a conference, they'll get an at large bid if they don't get the automatic bid.
Atlantic 10 Oral Roberts Minnesota Arizona America East Rice Penn State Southern California CAA Wichita State Notre Dame Oregon State Horizon Florida State Rutgers UCLA Ivy North Carolina Birmingham-Southern Louisiana State MAAC Georgia Tech Coastal Carolina Mississippi MAC Virginia UC Irvine South Carolina Mountain West Clemson Long Beach State Florida NEC Central Florida Cal State Fullerton Arkansas OVC Texas Southern Mississippi Tennessee Patriot Texas A&M East Carolina Auburn SWAC Nebraska Tulane Vanderbilt Sun Belt Oklahoma Texas Christian Georgia WCC Oklahoma State Stanford Texas State Bethune-Cookman Texas Tech Arizona State Lamar Miami Baylor Washington College of Charleston
Pitch Count Watch
Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye -- the general threshold for listing is 120 actual pitches or 130 estimated, although short rest will also get a pitcher listed if I catch it. Don't blame me; I'm just the messenger.
|Apr 29||Florida A&M||Mike Connel||Coppin State||9.0||10||2||1||2||7||35||37||140(*)|
|Apr 30||Ohio State||Josh Newman||Indiana||6.0||8||6||1||2||4||27||29||126|
|Apr 30||Texas||Sam LeCure||Missouri||6.1||10||4||4||1||8||30||31||127|
|Apr 30||Charleston Southern||Swindle||Virginia Military||10.0||6||1||1||2||10||35||37||143(*)|
|Apr 30||Virginia Military||J. J. Hollenbeck||Charleston Southern||9.0||6||1||1||3||10||33||36||147(*)|
|Apr 30||North Carolina-Asheville||Cook||Liberty||8.2||14||6||5||1||4||40||41||150(*)|
|Apr 30||Cal State Fullerton||Jason Windsor||Cal Poly||9.0||5||2||1||3||6||30||36||129|
|Apr 30||Long Beach State||Jered Weaver||UC Santa Barbara||7.2||4||4||4||1||14||28||30||123|
|Apr 30||Virginia Commonwealth||Justin Orenduff||William and Mary||8.0||4||1||1||3||11||26||29||132|
|Apr 30||Yale||Jon Hollis||Brown||9.0||8||3||2||4||4||35||40||125|
|Apr 30||Eastern Michigan||Ryan Ford||Ball State||9.0||7||3||3||5||8||30||38||139(*)|
|Apr 30||Creighton||Steve Grasley||Northern Iowa||9.0||8||3||2||1||8||33||36||138|
|Apr 30||Southwest Missouri State||Derek Drage||Indiana State||9.0||9||4||2||1||9||34||39||142(*)|
|Apr 30||Indiana State||Matt Zaleski||Southwest Missouri State||9.0||11||4||1||2||9||38||43||155(*)|
|Apr 30||Vanderbilt||Jeremy Sowers||Mississippi State||7.2||8||2||2||2||8||30||32||126|
|Apr 30||South Alabama||Walters||Arkansas-Little Rock||9.0||6||2||2||6||10||33||39||158|
|May 01||Iowa||Nathan Johnson||Northwestern||9.0||8||0||0||1||5||33||38||124|
|May 01||Iowa||Chris Maliszewski||Northwestern||7.0||9||4||3||4||5||28||32||132|
|May 01||Baylor||Sean Walker||Kansas State||9.0||9||1||1||1||3||34||36||124|
|May 01||Kansas State||Carlos Torres||Baylor||7.0||13||6||4||3||6||32||37||132|
|May 01||Boston College||Chris Lambert||Georgetown||7.0||6||4||4||5||9||27||32||125|
|May 01||Alabama-Birmingham||Adam Price||Southern Mississippi||9.0||13||5||5||3||4||36||41||141(*)|
|May 01||Harvard||Mike Morgalis||DART||5.2||7||7||6||5||10||24||29||138|
|May 01||Central Michigan||Dunham||Marshall||9.0||7||3||2||3||7||34||37||144(*)|
|May 01||Toledo||Kurt Woeste||Miami, Ohio||10.0||11||4||3||0||5||39||41||142(*)|
|May 01||Ole Miss||Stephen Head||South Carolina||9.0||4||1||1||4||8||31||36||145(*)|
|May 02||Massachusetts||Keith Doherty||Rhode Island||9.0||6||3||3||4||10||30||36||138(*)|
|May 02||Kansas State||Jim Ripley||Baylor||9.0||8||2||2||2||13||34||36||148|
|May 02||Georgetown||Warren Sizemore||Boston College||8.0||6||2||2||3||3||29||32||135|
|May 02||Virginia Commonwealth||Matt Prendergast||William and Mary||7.1||9||5||4||2||8||30||34||121|
|May 02||North Carolina-Charlotte||Zachary Treadway||South Florida||7.2||11||7||7||3||3||33||39||122|
|May 02||Detroit Mercy||Keith Astrauckas||Wisconsin-Milwaukee||11.2||8||2||1||0||5||40||43||139(*)|
|May 02||Wisconsin-Milwaukee||Ben Stanczyk||Detroit Mercy||12.0||6||1||1||1||12||39||42||144(*)|
|May 02||Eastern Michigan||Will Stewardson||Ball State||9.0||11||3||3||1||6||38||41||135|
|May 02||Northern Iowa||Bill Zenk||Creighton||9.0||2||1||1||5||11||27||34||138(*)|
|May 02||Alabama||Taylor Tankersley||Louisiana State||7.0||3||2||1||6||3||25||31||122|
|May 02||Southeastern Louisiana||Rodney Story||Northwestern State||9.0||6||2||1||3||7||32||36||143|
|May 02||Louisiana-Lafayette||Kevin Ardoin||New Orleans||7.2||8||2||2||1||7||30||31||124|
|May 02||South Alabama||Doan||Arkansas-Little Rock||8.1||10||5||5||1||6||32||33||122|
|May 02||Louisiana Tech||Clayton Meyer||Fresno State||8.1||15||5||4||2||8||36||39||140|
|May 04||Central Florida||Taylor Meier||South Florida||9.0||5||0||0||4||4||30||36||125|
|May 04||Morehead State||Casey Campbel||Cincinnati||9.0||16||8||6||1||5||41||44||140|
|May 05||Savannah State||Jeremiah Fielder||The Citadel||8.1||11||5||3||3||4||35||42||127|
(*) Pitch count is estimated.
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