MORRIS: Home is best place to start

Avoiding road trips is good way to map visit to Omaha

May 27, 2013 

SEC TEAMS SHOULD win and advance when they host an NCAA regional. There are too many built-in advantages for the home team to lose the first leg of the trip to Omaha for the College World Series.

The most obvious benefit to hosting a regional has to be playing in familiar surroundings with the backing of a highly partisan fan base. The advantages then extend to not having to play another SEC team, instead being pitted against a middle-of-the-road team from another major conference and playing against two mid-major programs.

For those reasons, SEC teams have won a whopping 77 percent of regional tournaments since the NCAA expanded to a 64-team field. For all other regional hosts from other conferences during the same time period, the success rate drops to 68 percent.

Most of the SEC’s success in the postseason has to do with having the most talent and the best teams. Year-in and year-out, the SEC boasts of having the most competitive league from top to bottom. No doubt, the rigors of weekend play within the league helps each team when it gets to the postseason.

Rarely does an SEC team get to an NCAA regional and face stiffer competition than it faced during the regular season or SEC tournament. So, naturally, the SEC wins more than its share of regionals because it fields better teams.

That said, the SEC earns its many postseason advantages, and there is no bigger benefit in the tournament than hosting a regional and/or Super Regional.

Chad Holbrook, South Carolina’s first-year coach, recognizes that.

“We obviously put ourselves in position to be a host and play in front of the best fans, I think, in college baseball, and I think that gives us an advantage,” Holbrook said. “The home field advantage is certainly a very important one in the NCAA postseason, and that might be the reason more so than other (reasons) for our success the last couple of years.”

USC has advanced to the College World Series each of the past three seasons after hosting a regional. USC’s string of consecutive postseason wins has now reached 24, covering seven seasons and dating to 2002.

Holbrook said you cannot discount the familiarity the home team has with its surroundings, including stadium quirks from wind patterns to playing balls off the wall. Then there is the unchanged daily routine of players and their ability to sleep in their own beds. USC will not be housed at a hotel this weekend.

There also is nothing quite like playing in front of an SEC home crowd. Although final statistics are not in, the SEC is likely to have six of the eight top average attendance figures in the country. The average crowd was 6,873 for the six games played at Carolina Stadium during the 2012 Columbia Regional.

Then there is the four-team, double-elimination field. The Columbia Regional is probably typical of the kind of field an SEC team usually faces in the postseason.

As the top-seed and host program, USC obviously is the favorite to win. It appears the tournament selection committee attempted to send the best available ACC team to Columbia. Even so, with five ACC teams hosting a regional, Clemson must be considered the sixth-best representative from that league.

Liberty qualified for the NCAA tournament by winning the Big South tournament on its home field. But it is difficult to overlook the fact that Liberty finished fourth in the Big South’s North Division during the regular season with a 13-11 record.

Saint Louis carries a gaudy 41-19 record into regional play. The Billikens finished in a three-way tie for the Atlantic-10 regular-season championship with Charlotte and Rhode Island, then won the league tournament. But Saint Louis played six games against NCAA tournament teams, going 2-4 against San Diego, South Dakota State and Mississippi.

Perhaps most telling about the field is the talent disparity. Baseball America listed the top 50 players in each of the four classes during the preseason. USC has seven players on the lists, and Clemson had four. Neither Liberty nor Saint Louis had a player listed.

None of the numbers or lists means a thing once the first pitch is thrown on Friday. As Holbrook said, every team enters the postseason with a 0-0 record. And history has showed us there is a 23 percent chance that a team other than USC will win the regional.

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