News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports Columns

May 19, 2012

FROM THE PRESS BOX: ISU has done enough to be in NCAAs

TERRE HAUTE — When you get older, you’re supposed to get wiser. I don’t know if I qualify, but I’m trying.

One older and wiser trait I’ve picked up is to be cautious, especially when it comes to the fate of your sports teams.

Never assume anything is a great mantra for life in general, but it goes quadruple for following sports.

Better to be cautious and not be hurt by one of your teams when you assume the best. Better to be cautious to enhance the level of ecstasy when your team makes a surprise run after you had assumed the worst.

Sometimes, I take it to silly levels. When my beloved Milwaukee Brewers led the NL Central by 101⁄2 games in early September last year, I was telling people, “Meh, I don’t know if they’ve got it yet. Crazier things have happened.”

People looked at me like I was an idiot and the Brewers went on to win the division by six games. Turns out, I wasn’t wrong, I just had the wrong team in mind. The Brewers beat out a St. Louis Cardinals team that — sadly, oh so sadly — did surprise everyone with a miracle Wild Card comeback thanks to an epic Atlanta Braves swoon.

The Cardinals then beat the Brewers in the National League Championship Series and won the World Series. Not that I’m bitter about it or anything. Never.

So take my cautious mindset into account as I state the following: the Indiana State baseball team has done enough to get an at-large bid for the NCAA baseball tournament in two weeks.

The Sycamores have had a remarkable season. The cherry on the sundae was the Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship clinched on Thursday with a 6-3 victory over Missouri State. It is ISU’s first outright championship and its first since 1985. At this writing they are 41-13, good enough for school-record winning percentage of .759 at this point of the season.

The MVC was no easy mark this season either. As of this writing, the MVC’s conference RPI is sixth and the league is within range of fifth-place Conference USA. If its sixth-place RPI standing holds up, it’ll be the MVC’s best position since 1999 and a far cry from 2009 when the MVC was 17th.

It’s a better conference this year and ISU (14-5 MVC) has controlled it. To date, ISU hasn’t lost a single conference series.

It also won its series against Dallas Baptist, a team that was making a provisional trip around the MVC this year to test the waters for possible league membership that ultimately didn’t occur. DBU is 25th in the RPI and will almost certainly be in the NCAA field. Wichita State was the only other MVC team to win a series against the Patriots.

ISU’s RPI is currently 41st (Warren Nolan) or 46th (Boyd’s World) depending on which calculation you want to use. ISU’s only drawback to a possible NCAA at-large is a pedestrian strength of schedule. ISU’s SOS is 158th.

But because college baseball is a sport that is affected by its regional nature, northern teams often get a softer look from the NCAA committee, because they don’t have the selection of nonconference teams to play series and midweek games against that programs in the South and West do.

Travel budgets for baseball are nothing like basketball, so the committee does not usually punish teams as harshly that don’t schedule up, because often times, they can’t.

Generally, an RPI in the top 50 merits consideration for an at-large bid for a northern team. ISU is well inside that threshold. Moreover, it has a 5-3 record against top 50 teams.

Of course, ISU can make the at-large matter a moot point by winning its first MVC Tournament title since 1995, but if it can’t, it should rest easy knowing it’s in the field.

So what’s in store for ISU in the NCAA Tournament? Since 1995, much has changed.

Similar to the NCAA basketball tournaments, it is a 64-team field, a format adopted in 1999. Unlike hoops, the 64 teams are split into 16 regionals played at campus sites. The four-team regional is a double-elimination tournament to decide which team advances to a Super Regional. The Super Regional is a best-of-3 format against a single team and the winner advances to the eight-team College World Series.

There are eight national seeds and they get priority to host the Super Regionals. Eight other teams host the regionals.

Every NCAA baseball tournament projection has had ISU destined for a proposed Purdue Regional. Purdue is having its best season in over a century, and not only have the Boilermakers won the Big Ten for the first time since 1909, they are having one of the best teams by any Big Ten team in the modern era.

It’s too bad more of the state hasn’t taken notice of Purdue or ISU’s success. College baseball is a hard sell in Indiana, but the Sycamores and Boilers are collectively making it one of its best seasons for Indiana college baseball in recent memory.

The bugaboo is that Purdue’s Lambert Field does not meet minimum standards to host an NCAA regional, it’s main problem being the lack of lights.

The odds-on site for Purdue to host its regional is Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard Field. There had been a Baseball America report citing Purdue’s desire to host at Wrigley Field, but Purdue coach Doug Schreiber told me Tuesday that won’t happen.

Nothing screams college baseball like Da Region, but playing on what will likely be a neutral field could have benefits for the Sycamores, should they go there. With ISU’s strong four-man-deep pitching rotation, it is set-up nicely for the NCAA format regardless.

So get ready. If I’ve thrown my usual caution to the wind and have put the Sycamores in the NCAA Tournament, you can too.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

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