Some analysts are calling the Oxford regional of the NCAA Tournament the “group of death” referencing the World Cup’s traditional nickname for the toughest pool play.
Maybe it’s true, but as very qualified and respected bloggeurs on the world wide web, Red Cup had to try and see what these opponents have accomplished this season and where they’ve come up short.
Obviously, its difficult to compare apples and oranges — the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Ohio Valley Conference and Conference USA schedules are never going to be equivalent in terms of difficulty, talent level or depth.
However, we can look at some of the highlights and lowlights of each team’s season as baseball provides a lot of opportunities to shit the bed or shock the world with your collective play.
First up, Southern Miss, the vaunted Mustard Buzzards out of C-USA went 37-19 this season with a strong 22-9 conference record. Clearly, they’re a consistent team who knows how to win, but let’s take a closer look at a few NCAA tournament opponents and how the Hattiesburg squad fared.
USM played UConn early on in the season, grabbing a 2-1 series win with the Huskies grabbing an at large bid in the Notre Dame regional. Granted, it was at home, but it’s still a decent series win comparably. Meanwhile, one of the more disappointing showings this season was against South Alabama as the Jaguars swept USM in three games played over the course of the season. USA nabbed a spot in the Gainesville regional and are traditionally a solid program.
There’s a couple games against SEC opponents in Mississippi State and Alabama that USM split in mid-week series. Both games were fairly low scoring (4-1 and 5-4), so in my opinion, it shows Southern can show up and play up to competition at least once with just about anyone.
Unfortunately, the La Tech Bulldogs were on the schedule a lot against USM. This is a quality opponent clearly as they are a regional host and one of the best 16 teams in the country according to the selection committee. In 11, yes ELEVEN, games between LT and USM, the Bulldogs went 7-4 in three separate series. So over the course of a long weekend, it’s likely USM will need bats to heat up and some breaks to go their way against good to great talent.
The Seminoles (30-22, 20-16 ACC) were a bit more of a mixed bag this season, and thusly FSU was named a three seed for good reason.
First off, a season sweep at the hands of Pitt in Tallahassee is not ideal, but the Noles also lost two of three to a sub-.500 Wake Forest team at home as well. In fact, an 18-13 home record was most likely what did this team the most damage in terms of seeding in the tournament.
Because on the road, the Noles went 11-8, which is solid, and this included a series win at national seed Notre Dame, a series win at tourney team Georgia Tech, and a sweep of Miami.
There is little doubt FSU is going to be a dangerous squad from the standpoint of overall depth plus its players have seen more quality opponents over the last few months.
The Ohio Valley Conference is nothing to thumb our nose at, you guys. Just because a team is a four seed, there’s always the ability of any team to get hot at the right time.
The Redhawks (30-20, 17-10 OVC) started its season by going to Mobile, Ala. and stunning South Alabama two out of three. Yes, the same Jaguars who swept USM. Additionally, SEMO went 4-2 against the second place OVC Murray State Racers (33-25, 18-12 OVC).
Outside of that, there’s a lot of teams whose names you won’t coincide with traditional college baseball powers who SEMO beat along the way, but a four game series against top seeded Arkansas resulted in a 0-4 trip to Fayetteville. What is interesting about that series against the Razorbacks is the first game — a 6-5 loss in extra innings. SEMO blew a three run lead in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to go into extras. YIKES.
Ole Miss has to get past Friday with a win to play in a very significant game Saturday. I don’t think SEMO has the depth to pull the entire regional off, but they are definitely pesky enough in one very big game to give another team some problems.
Ultimately, I feel like we have to say this every year... it’s the dadgum playoffs for a national championship, and it’s never going to be as easy as anyone thinks. Let’s play ball.