THERE HAVE BEEN seasons when South Carolina’s baseball had reason to complain about regional draws or national seedings. This is not one of them. An investigation of the NCAA selection and seeding committee would have been needed had the Gamecocks garnered a national seed.
Chad Holbrook agreed.
“I didn’t really have much hope,” Holbrook said of the national seedings announced Monday for the NCAA tournament. “Honestly, I don’t think we deserved it, not so much because of what we did but because of what the other teams did.”
Despite what national experts led us to believe, USC was not on the national seeding bubble. Dennis Ferrell, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said as much on ESPN’s telecast of the tournament pairings.
“The top five national seeds you could throw a blanket over. They were pretty well set,” Ferrell said of Oregon State, Florida, Virginia, Indiana and Florida State. According to Ferrell, the remaining three national seeds became a last-weekend battle between TCU, LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, Rice and Vanderbilt.
Ferrell never mentioned USC, whose 42-16 overall record and 18-12 mark in the SEC regular season could have gained a national seed many seasons. Considering the spate of injuries USC has faced this season, it is quite an accomplishment that the Gamecocks earned a host site for a regional tournament.
But this year, perhaps more than any other, the final national seeding spots appear to have been determined by how teams fared in conference tournaments.
“I thought we had a great regular season,” Holbrook said. “I thought after the 56 (regular-season) games we were certainly in that position (to gain a national seed). ... Not playing well at Hoover, that hurt us, obviously.”
While USC was eliminated in two games at the SEC tournament, the competition for those final three national seeds was elevating their games.
Louisiana-Lafayette earned the sixth national seed by leading the nation in wins with a 53-7 record. The Ragin Cajuns carry a 10-game win streak into the NCAA tournament that includes the Sun Belt Conference tournament title. TCU, the seventh seed, has won 28 of its past 31 games, including the Big 12 tournament championship; and eighth-seeded LSU captured the SEC tournament championship with wins against Vanderbilt and Florida.
“Sometimes, you can’t control what goes on around the rest of the country,” Holbrook said. “There’s a lot of good teams out there. I think all eight national seeds this year are very, very deserving.”
Should it advance out of the regional tournament, USC might be headed to Virginia for Super Regional play. Of course, there are no guarantees that third-seeded Virginia will win its regional, especially with stiff competition in Arkansas and Liberty.
Whatever the scenario, do not underestimate the importance of the home field in college baseball tournament play. USC carries a 27-game home win streak in NCAA tournament play, including all 16 played at Carolina Stadium since its opening in 2009.
While USC’s home-field advantage might be greater than most because of its large crowds, it is not unique to the Gamecocks. National seeds do particularly well on their home fields. Since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1999, 101 of 120 (84.2 percent) of national seeds have won their regional tournaments. Of those 101 that advanced to Super Regional play, 70 have reached the College World Series.
Of late, earning a national seed as an SEC team has virtually assured it of reaching Omaha. Since 2008, 10 of 13 nationally seeded SEC teams have played in the College World Series, which bodes well for Florida and LSU. The only teams to fail in that stretch were Florida in 2009, LSU in 2012 and Vanderbilt in 2013.
So, yes, USC fell short of securing what most assuredly would have been an easier route to Omaha. But do not blame the NCAA selection committee for the Gamecocks failing to lock up a national seed.
USC has only itself to blame for a poor showing in the SEC tournament, and also should merely tip its hat to Louisiana-Lafayette, TCU and LSU for their strong showings in conference tournament play.