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The 2002 Tournament Field

Publication Date: May 28, 2002

Well, That Didn't Go the Way We Planned

Before trying to give away the store, you should probably try to be sure that someone will want to take it.

After all the hubbub about the geographical distribution of this year's regionals and the expectation that there would be a better chance for a cold-weather team to make it to Omaha, there was one minor detail that didn't come through -- no one from the Northeast put in a bid to host a regional. As a result, the hosting site list for this year looks much like it has every year since the 1999 expansion. There are some oddities due to the new rule about allowing conference opponents to play sooner in the tournament, but that's not a particularly bad rule as long as it's not abused, so overall things aren't that bad. Combined with the wonderful time I had last week at the SEC tournament (Wednesday and Thursday are my favorites -- eight games in two days, twelve hours a day, with everything from the big [a masterful 97-pitch complete game by Lane Mestepey] to the small [a fantastic slide-field-and-popup play by Chris Young to rob a bunt single] to please the palate; I usually lose interest by Saturday when it matters less in the big picture), I'm in a great mood this week of this year for a change.

I'm going to begin by doing something out of character -- I'm going to praise the committee. This is not a perfect field, but it is, by far, the strongest field of 64 teams that they've put out there yet. If you look back at my comments on last year's field, you'll see that there were six categories of mistakes that the committee tended to make. Out of those six, at least three aren't really present in this year's selections -- the cold-weather bids are gone (whether through an intentional shift or anger over the lack of bids, I'm not sure), conference placement was ignored in a few places, and winning percentage is no longer as big a factor, as they omitted three 40-win teams, the first time they've left any of those out. I also don't really see any signs of reputation bids in the selections, although there may be some involved in the seeding. They still paid too much attention to the conference tourneys, but that's a smaller category. Almost all of this year's errors can be attributed to the RPI's.

That said, this is nowhere near a perfect bracket. A lot of that is not the committee's fault for the most part -- they were stuck with the geography rules and a really bad ranking system in the RPI. The only thing that's really ludicrous that can be laid squarely at their feet is the Fullerton, Stetson, and George Washington seedings; in all three cases they distorted the seedings within a regional rather than just move a team to a different, easily available regional. Stanford really should dedicate a grad student to identifying future ways the committee will find to mistreat them.

The Probabilities

The probabilities I give here are based on a system I've devised which uses historical results between teams at each of the possible gaps in the ISR's. For example, over the four years that I've done them, teams who were three ISR points ahead of their opponents have won 59.9% of those games. I take those numbers for each game, compute all of the possible outcomes, and add up the probabilities. These are not exact, and they ignore a couple of relevant factors like home field advantage (small but real for most teams) and pitching matchups, but they're a reasonable raw tool for beginning analysis if you don't take them too seriously. I don't want to go into too much detail here, since I've already got folks nodding off, but feel free to email me if you're interested in more detail.

They're rounded to the nearest percentage point, so anybody under half a percent goes to zero. This is sports, of course, so everyone has at least some chance of winning; feel free to read it as .49% if it makes you feel better about your team's chances.

My thoughts had been that the distorted seedings this year might make it less likely that the best team would win. I still can't tell if that happened. Florida State's current ISR of 125.6 is the lowest by any #1 team in the five years that I've done them; essentially there hasn't been a runaway #1 team this year, but there are at least four close contenders. That means that the probability for any one of them wasn't going to be that high. Most years there's someone up over a 25% chance of winning, but not this year.

The Field

I'll have a table included in my discussion of each regional, so I need to describe the columns.

W-L -- Won-loss record against Division I opponents
RPI -- Pseudo-RPI ranking
ISR -- ISR ranking
Probs -- The probability of the team winning the regional, super-regional, and championship, respectively, according to the method described above.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Florida State            56-12    2    1  84/72/15
Central Florida          40-20   36   57   5/ 2/ 0
South Florida            33-27   37   61   4/ 2/ 0
Stetson                  42-17   23   49   7/ 3/ 0

It's pretty bad when I'm doing the first regional, and I'm already tired of blaming the RPI's. There are two teams here who are good but not quite good enough; neither USF nor Stetson deserved to get in (the cutoff for at-large bids this year should have been after the #43 team, so even if you leave out three or four for conference placement reasons, Stetson still doesn't make it in). Neither of them are miscarriages of justice or anything, but there were better teams left out. Both of them can be explained by having inaccurately high RPI's.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

South Alabama            41-17   25   18  64/17/ 1
Notre Dame               43-15   44   56  23/ 3/ 0
Ohio State               35-17   94   86   9/ 1/ 0
Kent State               36-20   80  110   5/ 0/ 0

South Alabama didn't quite deserve a #1 seed, but they weren't that far off; those are the hazards of trying to pick sixteen #1's. Only one team each from the Big Ten and Big East this year, and here they are. That's all they deserved this year, but it's obviously a change from previous policy, so we'll have to see next year if this holds up.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Stanford                 40-16   12    5  43/30/ 4
Long Beach State         37-19   21   13  22/12/ 1
San Jose State           41-15   51   17  17/ 9/ 0
Cal State Fullerton      35-20   24   16  18/ 9/ 1

In some ways, the West Coast did better than usual this year, even though this was an off-year for a lot of teams out there -- San Jose State and Washington both got in despite shaky RPI's. On the other hand, we have this travesty of a regional. The worst team here was a hare's breath away from deserving a #1 seed. The really frustrating thing is that this was so avoidable -- I don't begrudge Southern California a surprisingly easy regional after the shredder they got run through last year, but swapping one of their two cupcakes here or sending Fullerton to Mesa would have been trivially easy. Ever wondered why Stanford hasn't won a national title in fourteen years despite having one of the two or three best teams almost every year? This is bad, but it's just a difference in degree and not kind from what they've been put through every year.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Southern California      34-22   30   20  44/17/ 1
Cal State Northridge     40-15   40   15  53/23/ 1
Maine                    36-15   74  137   1/ 0/ 0
Brigham Young            29-29  132   83   3/ 0/ 0

Well, they messed up here, sort of, by giving USC West a #1 seed purely because they managed to finish a game ahead of Stanford in conference, but then they made it not matter by shipping two different #4 seeds in here. The top two seeds should be able to put together a nice little three game series if the pitching holds out.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Rice                     47-11    7    2  74/54/11
Texas Tech               40-18   25   18  21/10/ 1
Washington               30-24   79   46   5/ 1/ 0
Harvard                  19-24  190  218   0/ 0/ 0

There's really not much wrong here, which has to be scored as something of an upset. Overall this year, the eight national seeds came from the ISR top nine; they're in the wrong order in a few places, but the only real error there was in Houston not getting a national seed, and they just happened to be the odd team out from a tight cluster of teams. My first thought was that Washington was a bad choice, but they actually played themselves right onto the edge in the last few weeks of the season; I certainly won't complain about a close Pac-10 team getting in given the history.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Louisiana State          40-19    6   11  68/28/ 3
Louisiana-Lafayette      37-21   16   27  22/ 6/ 0
Tulane                   35-25   54   55   9/ 1/ 0
Southern                 41-8    75  129   1/ 0/ 0

You know, I've been as big a booster of the Tulane program as anybody not associated with the school or team the last few years, but I just plain can't explain this bid. The RPI's not interesting. They finished behind a couple of better teams in their conference. They made a small run in the conference tournament, but only into third place. It's not the worst mistake ever made or anything, it's just hard to understand. LSU-Rice is one of the more interesting potential super matchups, although Rice probably deserved an easier opponent.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Texas                    46-14    9    3  81/51/ 9
Baylor                   32-23   31   24  16/ 5/ 0
Lamar                    35-22   91   63   2/ 0/ 0
Central Connecticut St.  34-21  194  221   0/ 0/ 0

Another regional with two #4 seeds in it for no good reason. If they're going to actually think about travel (as unlikely as that may be), it probably makes more sense to have teams fly into an airline hub like Houston than to somewhere like Austin. It's good to see Baylor get in under the circumstances.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Houston                  44-15    8    6  63/32/ 5
Arizona State            35-19   28   19  27/ 9/ 1
San Diego                37-21   89   35   8/ 2/ 0
New Mexico State         34-22   90   70   2/ 0/ 0

I wonder if ASU realized that they needed to start rooting for NMSU on about Saturday or so if they wanted to host. Houston and Texas deserved better fates than having to go through each other to get to Omaha.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Clemson                  47-14    1    4  78/60/12
East Carolina            41-18   33   29  17/ 7/ 0
Elon                     34-21   45   71   3/ 1/ 0
Georgia Southern         38-23   92   92   2/ 0/ 0

It's interesting to see that ECU's ISR is actually higher than the RPI this year; if you've followed in past years, you know that's a good indicator of what the change in conferences has done to them. I'm glad that they won their conference tournament, since that mooted the point of whether they would get an at-large bid. Elon doesn't deserve to be here, but it's a straight RPI bid, nothing sinister. How hard can it be to manage to be #92 in two widely different rating systems?

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Wichita State            45-15   17   21  48/18/ 1
Oklahoma                 35-25   26   26  32/10/ 0
Arkansas                 27-26   35   38  15/ 3/ 0
Oral Roberts             41-16  141   75   5/ 1/ 0

Wichita was probably the most relieved team in the country to learn that no one in the Northeast had bid to host; they might have been blocked by Nebraska if the regionalization plan had held up. They got one of the #1 seeds that should have gone to a Big West team, but they were close enough that it's hard to quibble. Arkansas played the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation this year; it's nice to see that rewarded.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Wake Forest              44-11    3    7  80/55/ 9
Richmond                 49-10   15   36  19/ 6/ 0
Navy                     22-22  173  208   0/ 0/ 0
George Washington        42-21   59  106   1/ 0/ 0

If you're looking for a sleeper pick to win it, I think they're here. Wake has won a ton of games over the last five years, and almost no one has noticed. They match up well with Nebraska, and I think they've got a decent shot. I'm surprised Richmond didn't get a #1 seed with that RPI and conference; I guess Virginia's not really far enough north.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Nebraska                 41-18   14   14  71/30/ 2
Southwest Missouri State 41-19   39   30  27/ 8/ 1
Marist                   39-12   56  116   2/ 0/ 0
Wisconsin-Milwaukee      32-18  134  131   1/ 0/ 0

Harkening back to an earlier theme, why on earth would you fly two #4 seeds into Lincoln, of all places? I mean, I love small-town America, but you don't want to have to fly to get there. Glad to see SMS played their way in last week; rightly or wrongly, they felt thoroughly slighted last year. On the other hand, they didn't exactly spare the horses to get there, so they may have extra trouble this week.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Alabama                  47-13   11    8  76/50/ 8
Auburn                   34-24   34   33  15/ 5/ 0
Florida Atlantic         43-18   42   59   6/ 1/ 0
Southeast Missouri State 33-18   93   68   3/ 0/ 0

Unlike most of my neighbors, I don't mind this one all that much, other than thinking that FAU probably didn't deserve to get in, winning streak notwithstanding. There's no inherent reason conference teams can't play each other as long as it's not used as a tool to minimize the chances of a particular matchup late in the tournament; that doesn't seem to be the case here.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Georgia Tech             44-14    5   10  59/31/ 4
Georgia                  29-25   20   32  17/ 5/ 0
Louisville               39-16   41   34  15/ 4/ 0
Coastal Carolina         43-17   29   53   9/ 2/ 0

Georgia Tech can make a case based on RPI that they should have been a national seed; they wouldn't quite have deserved it, but it wouldn't have been terrible. On the other hand, they were matched with an Alabama team that's a bit overrated at #3 (it'll actually depend on which 'Bama team shows up the next couple of weeks, but inconsistency will generally knock you down a bit in the rankings), so they have about the chance they deserved. Similar to Arkansas, it's good to see Georgia rewarded for playing what turned out to be a killer schedule.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

South Carolina           48-14    4    9  68/45/ 7
North Carolina           39-19   13   22  23/12/ 1
James Madison            43-13   22   43   8/ 3/ 0
Virginia Commonwealth    38-25   62   98   1/ 0/ 0

There's nothing much here to complain about. USC East is probably the weakest of the national seeds, but, as I said, the group from #5 to #9 (Stanford, Houston, Wake Forest, Alabama, and South Carolina) is a pretty close cluster at this point, so they're an acceptable choice. The USC-Florida matchup is proof of something of a sense of humor.

                          W-L   RPI  ISR   Probs

Florida                  42-17   10   12  68/33/ 3
Florida International    41-18   27   52  13/ 3/ 0
Miami, Florida           30-26   19   39  17/ 4/ 0
Bethune-Cookman          36-17   63   96   2/ 0/ 0

On the one hand, it's nice to see that they were willing to leapfrog a team in the conference standings (Western Kentucky, in this case) to get a team that met their criteria; on the other hand, you kind of have to wish they'd done it to get someone better than FIU this year. Just to address the outrage, Miami deserved to get in. This is their worst team in many years, and the W-L record is weak because they upgraded their schedule this year, but in the end, they're one of the forty best teams in the country.

The Omitted

Here are the top ISR teams who didn't make the tournament. Some of them missed because of inaccurate RPI's; some missed because of their conference standings. In general, these are big conference teams who collapsed late; they might have fared well in the tournament, but the only one that's a real shame is Northwestern State.

 23  116.4   37  19   37  19   50  Mississippi
 28  115.3   35  24   35  24   20  Texas A&M
 31  114.5   37  21   37  21   53  Oklahoma State
 37  113.0   28  24   31  24   15  Arizona
 40  112.8   40  17   43  17  111  Northwestern State
 41  112.8   31  23   31  23   44  Oregon State
 42  112.7   33  24   34  24   48  Mississippi State
 44  112.7   32  27   32  27   21  Fresno State
 45  112.6   41  23   43  23   87  San Diego State

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 or, on the other hand, starts where pitchers were pulled according to plan early despite pitching extremely well in close games.

Date Team Pitcher Opponent IP H R ER BB SO AB BF Pitches
May 22 Southwest Missouri State Brad Ziegler Southern Illinois 8.0 11 7 7 2 10 36 40 144
May 26 Southwest Missouri State Brad Ziegler Wichita State 1.0 3 2 2 0 1 6 6 22
May 23 Southwest Missouri State David Bader Indiana State 4.1 4 5 5 3 0 16 19 86
May 26 Southwest Missouri State David Bader Wichita State 7.0 8 3 3 2 7 27 29 111
May 23 Mississippi State Paul Maholm Georgia 9.0 6 3 3 2 6 34 36 124
May 25 Louisiana State Bo Pettit South Carolina 8.0 8 5 4 2 8 34 36 136

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