What Does UH Need To Make The Tournament?

Houston Cougar Baseball Team
2019 Cougar Baseball – photo by Mario Puente

Cougars Have A Bit Of Work To Do

UH finishes the 2019 regular season at 32-22, 12-12 in the AAC and 40th in the RPI. This team is squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
The best hope is to do some damage in the AAC Tournament and end up as a three-seed in the NCAAs. Even if UH were to win the tournament title, it would still be difficult to get to a two-seed.
I started looking at the other bubble teams in the same RPI range as UH. Then, I decided to go back a couple of seasons to see if there were any notable trends among teams in the same boat that UH baseball finds itself in now. I had one thought as I went back: Kentucky didn’t get in last year with a really nice RPI but I knew they didn’t have a winning conference record, either.
So before we get to 2019, let’s look at what happened in the last two years.
I went back to look at the three-seeds from the past two tournaments. I eliminated those that were auto-bids – that was six teams from 2018 and 9 from 2017. I also wanted to compare those teams to teams high in the RPI that didn’t get in.

Understanding The Info

For the data, I used the NCAA’s “Nitty Gritty” from the end of the conference tournaments in 2018 and 2017 in order to spot trends and compare the teams that got in and those that were left out.
Based on what I’ve seen, and understanding that each selection committee has its own points of emphasis, here is what I think matters. In order of importance:
1. Conference Record (with some weight given to conference RPI)
2. RPI
3. Q1 record
4. Road record
5. W/L
6. Top 100 record
Let’s look at 2018 first.

Note: On a mobile device, the table is best viewed in landscape. And you can sort by any column in each of the tables

2018 At-Large 3-seeds

SchoolRPIW/LConf.RankRoadQ1 Top 100

Rank – Conference RPI Rank
Q1 – Wins over teams 1-50 in the RPI
Top 100 – Wins over teams 1-100 in the RPI
* – Last four in
NE’rn – my attempt to save table space. It’s Northeastern University
Bolded – Missed the tournament
I left out Nitty Gritty data that appears to not have an effect on selections. For example, non-conference record and non-conference RPI are included in the Nitty Gritty. But the 2018 Kentucky team went 21-4 OOC with an OOC RPI of 18. South Carolina was 19-6 in OOC in 2017 with an OOC RPI of 20. But both teams missed the tournament. At least anecdotally, that tells me that OOC record and OOC RPI is less important.
In 2017, 15 of the top 16 RPI teams hosted but that didn’t hold in 2018. Texas A&M had a top-16 RPI despite finishing under .500 in the SEC. Due to that 16-18 conference record, the Ags were demoted to a three-seed in Austin. Even still, that’s significant: A&M is the only below-.500 at-large that’s made it to the tournament during the last two years. They made the field solely due to their top-15 RPI.
Kentucky was left out of the field in 2018 even with 16 Q1 wins. Only 12 teams in the last two seasons combined have had more Q1 wins than the 2018 Kentucky team but that couldn’t overcome their poor conference record. They sat at home with an RPI of 30.
On the flip side, Washington, 63rd in the RPI, made the tournament on the strength of their 20 Pac-12 wins. They went on to sweep the regional, win a Super, and go to Omaha.
Northeastern’s 20 conference wins, winning the regular season title in the Colonial, and a desire for regional diversity all helped to put the Huskies in the field.
It’s easy to see that the conference record is paramount. At-large three-seeds were 189-112 (.628) in conference games in 2018.

2017 at-large 3-seeds

SchoolRPIW/LConf.RankRoadQ1 Top 100
S Carolina3235-2516-1929-88-1722-23

UCLA is a lot like Washington in 2018: a 50+ RPI and otherwise pedestrian numbers but 19 conference wins got them in the field.
And South Carolina is a lot like 2018 Kentucky: good, two-seed quality RPI but a losing conference record. Add in that they won just 32% of their Q1 games and it’s easy to see why they were passed over. Ole Miss was an RPI paper-tiger with terrible road, Q1, and top-100 records.
St John’s (36 RPI) and Ole Miss (37 RPI) are an interesting contrast: SJU had a winning league record but OM played 10 more league games (lost 11 more, too). Ole Miss played 32 Q1 games while St John’s just played one. But St John’s won twice as many road games and, come selection time, the Johnnies were safely in and OM didn’t make it.
For a team like Miami, with a winning conference record, you have to go down the line more: iffy RPI, bad road record, horrible Q1 record, and under .500 in top-100 games. McNeese won the Southland regular season but was hurt by their RPI being on the outer edges. Then they were killed by their Q1 and top-100 record.

2019 Bubble Teams

SchoolRPIW/LConf.RankRoadQ1 Top 100

I used the info from the last two years as a guide to choose my 2019 bubble teams. Each field will have its own characteristics but there are things we can compare to the last few years. I also added FSU to the mix – with a few wins in Durham this week, they could be the 2018 UW or 2017 UCLA of this field.
The elephants in the room here are the four SEC teams with great RPIs but under-.500 conference records. Looking at their quality of wins, Florida is in a lot of danger.
Tennessee and Auburn could easily get to .500 in the conference with deep runs in Hoover. If the Vols do it, they could host as only 6 schools have more Q1 wins. But if they don’t get to .500, they should be a three-seed like the Ags last year.
UConn is a puzzle and I think their bid could go either way. They played the RPI game well – 26 road games, 10 neutral games – but there’s something missing that I can’t put my finger on. They do have the benefit of being in the northeast – if they finish with a winning conference record, they’ll most likely get in.

What About The Coogs?

Houston is in the same boat as the team from Storrs – thankfully, we’re not in Storrs, though – and the Cougars need to do some work in Clearwater. UH can get by with a .500 conference record if we add a Q1 win or two. A short stay in Clearwater will give the committee an easy excuse to end our season.
On a high note, UH’s road and top-100 winning percentages are the highest on this bubble list. But no one has played fewer top-100 games than UH and only OU and UCF have fewer conference wins. No at-large three-seed has made it with less than 16 conference wins in the last two seasons.
It’s pretty obvious that the Cougars need to win some games and need top-40 RPI teams to win their conference tournaments (about 10 do each year). If that holds, as does UH’s RPI and the .500-or-better league record, the Coogs should sneak into the tournament.
But they’re cutting it awfully close.

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