Welcome to our first 2018 edition of the RPI Watch List. For those who weren’t following along with this recurring piece last year, this is where we take a spin through a handful of interesting RPI cases in a given week.
Sometimes, the focus is on a team looking to secure a host spot. Other times, it’s a team with an interesting case for an at-large bid. And sometimes, it’s a team that you wouldn’t have expected falling well outside of the usual at-large range within the RPI.
Let’s get started.
UConn: RPI 9
With an RPI inside the top ten, the Huskies have made a clear case to be a host team, and probably would be if the season ended today, even if their 20-11-1 overall record isn’t altogether gaudy.
A big part of their success in the RPI is the sheer volume of road games they’ve played. So far, they’ve played just six games at home, all the while going 16-10 in true road games. This is the flip side of being a team forced to play most of the first half of the season away from home. Sometimes, that can lead to a team getting off to a tough start, putting them behind the eight ball from the beginning, but if you can weather that storm, as UConn has, it can really benefit you in the metrics.
It’s also not as if that’s all empty calories, as they’ve gone 5-3 against RPI top 50 teams, a comparable (or better) figure to that of other host hopefuls like Stanford, Mississippi, Oregon State, East Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. That number also stands to get better if certain teams they’ve beaten this year, like St. John’s (RPI 51) and UCF (RPI 55), sneak inside the top 50.
They can’t sleepwalk to a host spot, however, as the needs report suggests they have to stay hot to stay in the top 16 in the RPI. They need to win 13 or 14 of their final 18 games to do so, with the path to the top eight, winning 16 or 17 games, considerably harder still.
If UConn can finish strong and host a regional for the first time since 2010 (when they were a two seed, hosting one seed Florida State), the biggest reason will probably be that they won a bunch of road games and that they’ve captured their share of quality series wins. But you also can’t overlook some of the good fortune bad weather brought to them.
If that sounds counterintuitive (because, let’s face it, the weather has been incredibly frustrating this season) consider that they had games against Yale (RPI 171), The Citadel (RPI 267), Fairfield (RPI 197), and Quinnipiac (RPI 221) cancelled. Losses in any of those games could have really hurt and jeopardized their chances to host come June, which look pretty strong as it stands today.
Tennessee Tech: RPI 29
You have to do some pretty impressive things to put yourself into at-large position as a team from the Ohio Valley Conference. That’s not a dig at the OVC, that’s just the reality of situation. You have to be very good, and you have to have some things break your way, and that’s precisely what’s happened with Tennessee Tech in 2018.
The Golden Eagles sit inside the top 30 in the RPI for a couple of reasons. For one, they’ve absolutely laid waste to the teams on their schedule, as they’ve raced to a 31-5 record, including a current winning streak of 22 games. They’ve been very solid, 14-4, against teams in the top 100 of the RPI, and just as importantly, they haven’t tripped up against the worst teams on their schedule, as they have a 17-1 record against teams ranked 151 or worse in the RPI.
They’re also where they are because they’ve gotten some breaks on their schedule. For example, they couldn’t have figured that series wins against Little Rock (RPI 56) and Illinois State (RPI 86) would be top 100 RPI series wins when those series were scheduled. They’ve also been helped by the fact that West Virginia, who they beat in a two-game midweek series in mid-March, has stayed in the RPI top 25 (at least for now), despite a record right around .500. And their only series loss of the year is to Troy (RPI 43), another team probably doing better in the RPI than they could have even hoped for. That was also a road series, which helps.
The margins are fairly thin when you have some lower RPI teams on your schedule, though, and that’s reflected in what the needs report predicts for them. To stay in the top 32, they would need to win 14 or 15 of their final 18 games. To stay in the top 45, they would need somewhere between 11 and 13 wins. The former, with series against solid Southeast Missouri State and Morehead State teams still ahead and midweek games with Tennessee and Vanderbilt still to come, seems like a reasonable, but difficult task. The latter, though, seems incredibly reachable, particularly with how well they’ve been playing.
Barring an unexpected collapse, it looks like the Golden Eagles will finish inside the top 45 in the RPI, and if they don’t win the OVC auto bid, the key to their at-large case could be things like Troy staying inside the top 50, West Virginia doing the same, and their continuing to dominate the league in the regular season.
Arizona: RPI 31
Over the last few weeks, no one has done more to improve their at-large case as far as the RPI is concerned as Arizona. Less than a month ago, they were 113 in the RPI and they didn’t really have any true quality wins to speak of.
But that’s all changed in the blink of an eye. They’re 31 in the RPI now, well inside where they would need to be for an at-large bid, a series win over Oregon State has given them a signature series win, and thanks to Michigan’s recent hot streak, their win over the Wolverines at the Tony Gwynn tournament is now a top-50 win. Their series win over USC last weekend also pushed them to .500 in Pac-12 play at 6-6.
The needs report says that they need to win 14 or 15 of their last 21 to stay inside the top 32 and 12 or 13 to stay inside the top 45, both of which look doable with what they have in front of them. Their series this weekend against Stanford is a huge test, but if they can just capture a single game out of the three, they have to feel good about getting the rest of those needed wins against Utah, UCLA, Cal, Arizona State, and Oregon, the conference teams left on the schedule, with midweek games against Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, and Sacramento State mixed in.
If they can find a way to go 3-3 in the series against Stanford and UCLA (or perhaps even 2-4 would do it) and just simply take care of business against everyone else, they’ll likely have an RPI where it needs to be, and will have done just enough in the other metrics to play baseball in June.
Michigan: RPI 49
Michigan is another team that has risen from the ashes. They were 164 in the RPI after six weeks of play, and as bad as that number was, the play on the field was even less inspiring. After a loss to Division II Lawrence Tech on March 14, they were 4-11, and with the way some of the rest of the Big Ten had impressed to that point, it didn’t seem altogether likely that they would be factor in the league race or much of a contender for a postseason berth.
Since then, they’ve caught fire. They haven’t lost since that Lawrence Tech game, reeling off 17 victories in a row, and now are one of no fewer than six Big Ten teams that look the part of potential regional participants.
Depending on how you look at their schedule, they either lucked out with the Big Ten’s unbalanced scheduling, or they got hosed. The positive is that they miss some of the best teams in the league this time around in Indiana, Minnesota, and rival Ohio State, meaning they’ve got a pretty good chance to pile up quite a few Big Ten wins (they’re already 8-0 with series against Michigan State, Northwestern, and Maryland in the books) and potentially win the league.
That would certainly be quite the positive for their postseason resume, or at least you would assume so. Some years, regular season conference titles seem to matter to the committee more than in other years, so that remains to be seen. The flip side of that schedule, though, is that they’re missing some opportunities to improve upon their RPI, and perhaps more importantly, capture more wins against the RPI top 50, which is probably the biggest hole in their resume today.
A single win in a four-game series against Stanford is their lone top-50 win, to go along with four losses against this group of teams, and their series against Iowa (RPI 44) and Illinois (RPI 35) are their only chances against top-50 teams remaining, at least before the conference tournament.
The needs report says that they need to win 13 or 14 of their last 19 games to get inside the top 45. That seems pretty reasonable, but it seems like a good bet that their postseason case will hinge more on what they do in those key series against the Hawkeyes and Illini, their best chances for quality resume-boosting series wins.
Cal State Fullerton: RPI 66
We’ve seen this movie before. Cal State Fullerton gets off to a sluggish start, looks like a lock to be sitting at home for regional weekend, but then makes a move and ends up getting into the postseason after all on the heels of a torrid finish to the season.
It’s worth mentioning to begin that the Titans’ clearest path to the postseason is probably to just go ahead and win the Big West. It’s not a banner year for the league, and with their established talent, they look as likely as anyone to grab that automatic bid, which is awarded to the league’s regular season champ. And as of today, they’re in a virtual tie with Hawaii atop the standings, with a series between the two teams set for this weekend.
But beyond that, they’re also starting to creep up to within shouting distance of at-large range in the RPI after sitting at 118 just two weeks ago.
At this point, they’re just going to have to pile up wins at an unbelievable clip. Getting inside the top 45 isn’t always imperative for teams on the west coast, as they sometimes get a little bit of leeway from an RPI standpoint in the eyes of the committee, but it would behoove them to get as close as possible. And to get clear into the top 45, the needs report says they would have to win 17 or 18 of their last 20, so it seems safe to assume that they would have to get 15 or so wins to stay in the top 55 or so.
The bigger issue, though, is their overall resume, and specifically, their lack of quality wins. Right now, they’re just 1-7 against the RPI top 50, and they have just one game against a top-50 team left, a midweek contest against UCLA. San Diego State (RPI 60) stands a chance to slip into the top 50, giving Fullerton a backdoor top-50 win, but the Aztecs won that series, so that extra win would come with two losses.
They might be making a late run again, but it looks like it’s automatic bid or bust for the Titans.