Monday, May 30, 2016

Wrapping up the week.. and the airing of grievances

Wrapping up the week
Clemson and Coastal Carolina added to their trophy cases over the weekend after South Carolina added to its string of frustrations in the SEC Tournament earlier in the week.

Lander meanwhile, got off to a successful start in its bid for the NCAA Division II championship.

* Clemson won its 15th ACC championship (10th tournament title) with a 3-0 run through the pool portion of the event and an 18-13 pounding of Florida State in a championship game plagued by weather-related time changes and interruptions.

First-year coach Monte Lee's Tigers jumped to an 18-1 lead  in the fourth inning and coasted from there to extend their winning streak to nine games.

Clemson moved itself from possible regional host to to likely regional host to regional host to probable national seed over the course of an eventful week in Durham.

On Sunday the Tigers were awarded their first regional host berth since 2011.  They'll find out Monday if  they are one of the top eight national seeds and a potential Super Regional host. The guess here is they are.

* Coastal Carolina won its 30th Big South Conference championship (16 regular-season, 14 tournament) in its final season before moving to the Sun Belt Conference. The Chanticleers have hit 89 homers this season, but nailed down the title with a 1-0 win over Liberty.

Coach Gary Gilmore's squad carries a 10-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament, but will go on the road because it was not named one of the 16 regional hosts.

* South Carolina went 0-2 at the SEC Tournament and has lost its last eight games in Hoover dating to 2012. Fourth-year coach Chad Holbrook is 0-7.

The poorly timed listless performance didn't cost the Gamecocks a regional host role for the NCAA Tournament. They'll find out at noon Monday whether they frittered away the prospects of being a national seed.

* Lander began the week winning the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional over Peach Belt Conference rival USC Aiken, then closed the week with a 4-3 walk-off win over Central Missouri in the first round of the DII World Series in Cary, N.C., on Saturday

All four first-round games were decided by one run. Because Sunday's action was moved to Saturday because of weather concerns, Lander has two days off before it plays Nova Southeastern in Tuesday.

* Furman was plagued by injuries for much of the season, but came within a game of a .500 record as it went 2-2 in the Southern Conference Tournament.  The Paladins outslugged a potent UNC Greensboro team on Friday, but was unable to capitalize on a solid spot start in freshman Jake Crawford in a 2-0 loss to Samford in an elimination game on Saturday.

* College of Charleston entered the CAA Tournament knowing a tournament championship was its only pat to the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars started off well, beating Elon and William & Mary before losing a pair of games on Friday to be eliminated.

* Presbyterian (Big South), Winthrop (Big South) and Wofford (SoCon) all went 2-and-out in their conference tournaments.

* A play-in game win over VMI was the only bright spot for The Citadel before it closed out a forgettable season with a pair of losses in the SoCon Tournament.

With all that being said, I have a few problems. Therefore, it's time for ...

The airing of grievances (and compliments)
* If Coastal Carolina got shafted because of geography, it shouldn't have
The Big South Conference champion Chanticleers had the No. 13 RPI in the country in the official NCAA RPI as of 11 p.m. Sunday, but they'll be on the road for the NCAA Tournament.

There's been some online speculation that the selection committee didn't want to put three regionals in South Carolina.  Is that the reason for bypassing Coastal? I have no idea. Regional hosts Texas Tech, Louisiana and Virginia are Nos. 14-16 in RPI and TCU is No. 18.  Only the Virginia selection adds a different state to the mix. The 16 regional hosts are clustered in nine states. Swapping Virginia for Coastal would have cut it to eight.

The ultimate factors against Coastal Carolina may have been losing three games at Georgia Tech and a weaker than usual Big South Conference. The Chanticleers gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth in losing the middle series, 9-8. A win there, even though Georgia Tech didn't finish in the top have of he ACC, might have swayed the committee in Coastal's favor.

The Chanticleers certainly tried to blot that from the selection committee's memory. They closed the seaason on a 10-game winning streak and won 13 of 14 after the Georgia Tech disappointment.

But Coastal was just 7-8 against Top 50 RPI teams. TCU was the only other team in the RPI's Top 20 to play so few games against Top 50 teams. The Horned Frogs went 9-6.

I've seen no discussion of Coastal possibly being a No. 1 at a regional hosted by another school. It's happened occasionally in the past, but I don't think that's will happen here.

* There's room for credit for both Monte Lee and Jack Leggett for Clemson's success
It's hard to imagine Monte Lee's first season as Clemson's coach could have gone much better. The Tigers closed with a nine-game winning streak and won the ACC Tournament.

The Tigers have won a school-record 14 one-run games this season, have a passel of come-from-behind victories and have a 19-14 record against teams in the RPI Top 50. Only fellow ACC members N.C. State (19-17) and Georgia Tech (14-20) played more games against that group.

Those Clemson supporters who had become disenchanted with former coach Jack Leggett might be tempted to point out the coaching change was the sole reason for the turnaround.

That's a fair statement, but it also needs to be mentioned that most of the players responsible for this season were Leggett recruits. That includes star outfielder Seth Beer, who pulled off the unprecedented sweep of ACC player and freshman of the year awards.

No doubt, Lee deserves much credit for what's been accomplished. He's obviously done a great job of unifying what had become a divided baseball fan base. He's giving Clemson fans reason for great optimism fr the future.

But Leggett deserves a tip of the cap for keeping the Clemson program at a highly competitive level and building on what his predecessor, Bill Wilhelm, did.

That tradition made Lee's success this year -- and prospects for more great things in the future -- possible.

* When is South Carolina going to find a formula for winning in the SEC Tournament?
It's not so much that USC is losing in Hoover, it's how it is losing.

Success or failure in conference tournaments doesn't guarantee the same fate in NCAA play, but teams should be operating on all cylinders 50-plus games into the season. (Look at Clemson's closing kick the last few weeks).

Whatever malaise infects the Gamecocks doesn't seem to bother other SEC teams with as much ... or sometimes even less ... to play for. LSU and Vanderbilt, to name a couple, seem to come to Hoover ready to play.

Do the Gamecocks lack fire when it comes to the SEC Tournament? I don't know what goes on in the dugout, the locker room or at practice, but the Gamecocks seem to be at the same emotional level all the time.

There's a case to be made for an even keel being a good thing. Does it hurt USC in Hoover? I don't know. I'm not saying there need to be Gatorade coolers overturned or bats slammed into walls, but the Gamecocks might consider trying something different than what hasn't been working for them recently.

Winning at the SEC Tournament is tough. Winning at the SEC Tournament while looking unmotivated is even tougher.

* Does an 11th-place team that didn't make its conference tournament deserve a bid?
Yeah, I'm talking about Tar Heel Nation.  UNC-CH coach Mike Fox's shot at former assistant Chad Holbrook's USC team aside, I wonder if North Carolina should get an NCAA bid after failing to make the 10-team ACC Tournament.

It always bugged me when the NCAA loaded up on ACC & Big East teams for the men's basketball tournament because of strong RPI. I always felt throwing out an occasional second bid to some of the mid-majors at the expense of an eighth-place ACC team would help the tournament grow fans in new places.

North Carolina's baseball RPI is No. 17 (ahead of regional host TCU, mind you). How much should RPI help when a major reason for it being so high is the caliber of conference opposition? I don't have an answer.

I guess the NCAA is using the same rationale USC's Holbrook mentioned when lobbying for (what some might view as excess) multiple national seeds for the SEC: if your resume merits inclusion, you should be included.

But strong RPIs for a region are cyclical. Five or six years ago I thought the RPIs of California were disproportionately higher. Fast forward to this year. There are no regional hosts west of the Rockies and Utah -- not an Arizona of California school -- won the Pac 12.

In North Carolina's defense, look at the ACC Tournament a year ago. Virginia needed to win the play-in game to reach pool play, where it promptly went  0-3, then went on to win the College World Series.

* Face it, SEC fans; the ACC is a deeper conference this season
The ACC went 60 years between it first College World Series title (Wake Forest) in 1955 and its second in 2015 (Virginia).

In between, the SEC evolved into replacing the Pac 8/10/12 as the premier baseball conference in the country.

The SEC is still good -- it has seven teams in the Top 11 in RPI -- but this year the ACC is deeper. There are 11 ACC teams with NCAA-worthy resumes.  Beyond the record seven regional hosts, the SEC may not get another team in the tournament.  Alabama and Kentucky offer tepid resumes. Georgia has the eighth-best RPI in the SEC, but the Bulldogs couldn't engineer a winning record against the toughest schedule in the country (How tough? Add series with Clemson and Georgia Tech to series against six of the SEC's seven regional hosts.)

* Baseball is a big deal in South Carolina
The successes and expectations for Clemson, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina are well known. Lander's trip to the NCAA Division II World Series marks the third for a state school this decade.

Region 10 teams regular contend for the NJCAA World Series and USC Beaufort is emerging as an NAIA power.

Clemson, Coastal and USC have showcase stadiums. Minor league parks in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville are outstanding. Francis Marion and Lander lead a host of attractive parks in the Divisiion II level.

Lexington County Ballpark serves as home of the Blowfish summer collegiate league team and had what observers tell me was a successful stint as host of the Big South Conference Tournament this week.

Fluor Field in Greenville and Patriots Point in Charleston made the SoCon and CAA tournaments feel welcome.

I'm glad there's a lot of interest -- and pride -- in baseball in this state, because it brings folks like you to my website.

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