Baseball’s NCAA drought due to the two worst schedules ever

Well, here we are again.  Another season with more than 35 wins. Woo!

That’s one way to look at it, I guess, but no one in baseball judges teams based on 35 wins. Instead, it is regional appearances, Super Regional appearances, and trips to Omaha. Using those common-sense metrics, here is how 2013-2023 looks in Texas:

SchoolRegionalsSuper RegionalsCWS
Texas A&M942
Dallas Baptist91
Texas Tech855
Texas St1

As GoCoogs pointed out earlier in the week, this is the 8th time in the Todd Whitting era (12 full seasons), as well as the 4th year in a row, that UH will not make the Tournament.

2023 was a fun season if you like to see the Coogs win games and don’t care about who they beat or if they go to the NCAA Tournament.  UH won a lot of games and contended for a regular season title until the last day.

But if you want to see UH in the NCAA tournament, you might have a different outlook on the season. You might view losing two out of 3 against 18-40 Tulane in the AAC Tournament as a catastrophe.

Tulane is #164 in the RPI, while UH fell out of the top 100 after going 1-1 on Saturday.

A once great program has lost its way

I can deal with losses.  Losses happen.  What I struggle with is that, in the last three years, UH had virtually no chance to earn an NCAA bid outside of winning the conference tournament. These regular seasons have been meaningless with the horrible schedules the Cougars have played. The only hope to advance was to put together a good week in May to slide into the bracket.

Todd and I were teammates at UH when Rayner Noble took over the program after the 1994 season. After the SWC imploded, Rayner worked to play the most challenging schedule possible. He knew  Conference USA would be much weaker, so UH had to compensate for that.  It was a strategic move to attract the best talent possible and prepare the team for the NCAA tournament. Top players want to be the best and compete against the best.

Todd became an assistant coach at UH after his playing days ended in 1995. He was a part of building those schedules and knows first-hand how and why Rayner went in that direction. Not surprisingly, the years 1997-2003 were the most successful in Cougar Baseball history.

Now, UH tries to schedule as many gimmes as possible and hopes no one notices the data behind it.  Tied for the most 35-win seasons since 2013 in Texas looks good in a tweet, but it rings hollow once you learn that four of those eight 35+ win seasons ended without an NCAA tournament appearance.

Since no one expected the AAC to be strong, the non-conference schedule was even more critical in 2023.  You have to schedule appropriately to get an NCAA bid, but this year’s non-conference strength of schedule is ranked #250.

That’s 250th. The overall schedule is ranked 200th and the Cougars did not play a game vs. a top-100 team after April 11th (25 games).

For reference, the non-conference SOS in 2022 was #108, and in 2021, it was #204.  The 2023 team played the worst non-conference schedule that UH has played in at least 30 years and the second-worst overall schedule in 30 years. 

This season’s schedule featured the fewest games played against teams in the top 100 (13); UH went 4-9 in those games.  The second lowest number of games in that category was last year when UH was 8-13.

This is how bad the schedule was: 175 teams (out of 305) played more top-100 games than UH did. In a state with so many 35-game winners, scheduling that poorly takes a concerted effort. And that’s the reason UH will sit home for another NCAA Tournament and why Whitting’s contract, which ended with the AAC Tournament, has not been renewed.


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