Baseball has always been a game in which numbers govern, dictate and are discussed. And there are no bigger mathematicians this weekend than Michigan State’s coaches and players.
The Spartans finished the regular season last week by taking two of three at Penn State, finishing in seventh place and missing the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2010. It seemed like their year was over after a 33-17 record and their hope of making a second straight NCAA tournament appeared nonexistent after losing three of their last six conference games. Players packed up their things and brought them with them as they were leaving Jenison Field House on Monday following exit interviews with coaches.
Baseball America on Tuesday listed MSU as still “ON THE BUBBLE: IN” and made a case for the Spartans’ inclusion with an at-large bid in the 64-team field. Here’s the reasoning from Aaron Fitt as to why MSU deserves a spot:
Michigan State went 12-9 in the Big Ten to finish in seventh place, outside the six-team conference tournament field. On the surface, that might seem to disqualify the Spartans from at-large contention, but committee chairmen in years past have explicitly said they don’t place much weight on whether or not a team makes its conference tournament. Teams in power conferences have regularly earned at-large spots after missing their conference tournaments, and Michigan State itself earned a bid last year with a pedestrian fifth-place finish in the Big Ten and an RPI hovering around 50. This time around, the Spartans are even stronger in the RPI (No. 39), and they have more quality series wins, including sets against the other three teams we are projecting as at-large teams (Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State). Michigan State’s 8-6 record against the top 50 stacks up very well against many other bubble teams. We believe the Spartans have a solid change to get an at-large bid, even though they’ll spend this weekend at home.
Since other teams on the bubble have been playing this week in their conference tournaments, it’s given them an edge on MSU to bolster their own RPI rankings. There’s nothing the Spartans can do other than watch their own fluctuate and hope for teams above them to dip with losses. As of Friday afternoon, they were holding steady at 39th in the RPI simulator run by WarrenNolan.com but have dipped to 41st at BoydsWorld.com. Both of these sites update often.
The NCAA tournament field will be announced at noon Monday on ESPNU.
MSU head coach Jake Boss thought on Monday that the Spartans had a very minimal chance of getting in, only if things fell almost perfectly.
“Oh, I don’t know. That’s not for me,” Boss said. “In my heart, I know we can compete against anyone in the country. The committee, I would hope they see things our way. Odds aren’t good, looking at it realistically.”
He might have changed his sentiment since. Associate coach Mark Van Ameyde and the MSU staff crunched a ton of data that night and throughout the week, and here are some of his findings:
ESPN last 5, Florida, Creighton, North Florida, Pittsburgh, Ohio State
MSU 2-1 head to head at Ohio State
MSU higher winning % than Creighton, OSU
MSU higher RPI than all but Florida
MSU better winning % vs Top 50 teams than those 5
MSU better winning % vs Top 100 teams than those 5
MSU strength of schedule better than Pitt and North Florida
MSU with more games played vs. Top 50 than Creighton, North Florida, Pittsburgh
MSU conference winning % better than Florida, Florida actually below .500 in league
Big Ten conference RPI better than Pitt of Big East, Creighton of Missouri Valley and North Florida of Atlantic Sun
The only category that all those teams best us on is conference finish and as shown by Baseball America, that is not a make or break factor.
Perfect Game has last 5, William and Mary, BYU, UCSB, Houston and Ohio State
MSU better winning % than UCSB, BYU, William and Mary, OSU and Houston
MSU RPI better than all 5 as well
MSU better winning % vs Top 50 than all 5
MSU better winning % vs Top 100 than all 5
They have MSU beat on strength of schedule and conference finish
MSU has more games played vs Top 50 teams than all but OSU
MSU has more games played vs Top 100 than William and Mary
MSU conference winning % is better than Houston
Big Ten Conference RPI is better than William and Mary of the Colonial, BYU of West Coast, Houston of Conference USA
Van Ameyde’s research showed that over the past five years, the teams with the worst RPI to get an at-large berth included San Jose State (57), Souther Miss (57), Kansas State (56), Sam Houston State (51) and North Carolina State (47). He also found 23 teams which have earned at-large NCAA bids with sub-.500 conference records, nine of which finished seventh or worse in their league.
A year ago, the Spartans received an at-large berth with an RPI of 45. They also had worse conference and overall winning percentages, and the Big Ten wasn’t nearly as strong as it is this year. Three teams seem already locked into the NCAA field, barring some stunning upsets at the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis this weekend.
So what does this add up to? It’s so tough to gauge what the NCAA selection committee’s process has been over the last couple years, with all the changes (for good) to balance out the north-south iniquities in choosing the field. They certainly will be talking an awful lot about MSU this weekend, in or out.
“You certainly feel like you gotta have about 1,000 things go the right way if we were even going to have a chance,” Boss said. ”We’ll leave it up to them and see how it shakes out.”