The regular season is coming to an end for Gopher baseball. A team that was slotted to finish 4th or 5th in the Big Ten is a couple games away from wrapping up a conference championship and has their sites set on hosing an NCAA Regional.
What is it going to take for that to happen? It won’t come easily.
For those of you who aren’t aware, there are 16 teams who will get to host the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. RPI is a decent indicator of which teams will earn that right. It is an indicator, though it isn’t necessarily as easy as saying the top 16 teams in RPI will host. With that said, getting into the top 16 by the time the selection committee makes their selections would be good. As of today, Minnesota’s RPI sits at 18.
Take Care of Business
First and foremost, the Gophers need to take care of what they can control. They are facing Rutgers this weekend. Rutgers saw their RPI move up this week to 159! That’s not good. Even sweeping the Scarlet Knights will likely cause our RPI to take a dip. But the flip side of that...if they drop even one game this weekend, their RPI will likely fall too far to overcome.
Step 1 is sweep Rutgers. Win all three games, wrap up a Big Ten title and get ready for the Big Ten Tournament.
Step 2 is a little less clear but they need to do very well in the Big Ten Tournament. Getting to the title game, at a minimum. Winning it would be huge. But we’ll talk about that next weekend.
Around the Country
Besides winning this weekend, the Gophers could always use a little help. So here are the other regional host contenders and what they have going on this weekend.
- RPI 12 - Auburn (SEC)
First thing here is that Auburn actually has a losing conference record. A very high RPI, but one has to wonder if a team with a losing conference record deserves to host. The answer is probably a yes, but they still have games to play. Auburn hosts LSU (14-13 in SEC with 46 RPI) this weekend. Dropping a couple to LSU isn’t out of the question and would see Auburn drop a bit.
- RPI 13 - East Carolina (AAC)
The Pirates host UConn this weekend. The Huskies are 4th in the AAC while East Carolina is fighting for the 2-seed for the AAC Tourney.
- RPI 14 - Texas A&M (SEC)
The Aggies are at home this weekend and are hosting South Carolina (15-12 and 38 RPI). The Gamecocks are in the thick of things for improving their SEC seed and locking down an NCAA Tournament bid. This is a big weekend for both squads.
- RPI 15 - Duke (ACC)
The Blue Devils are at Georgia Tech this weekend (12-15 and 54 RPI). This is a spot where Minnesota can make up some ground if Duke were to drop a game or two. Rooting for Tech.
- RPI 16 - NC State (ACC)
Currently second in the ACC’s Atlantic division, the Wolfpack have a strong case to be a regional host as of today. But they have a difficult weekend ahead of themselves as they head to Florida State (14-12 and 10 RPI). This is a very real opportunity for a team ahead of Minnesota to lose 2 or 3 games and fall behind them in RPI rankings.
- RPI 17 - Kentucky (SEC)
Another team with a losing conference record and would be a 7 or 8-seed in their conference tourney if it began today. The Wildcats go to Vanderbilt (13-14 and 36 RPI) for a weekend series and this should be an interesting series.
- RPI 18 - Minnesota (Big Ten)
- RPI 19 - Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt)
The Chanticlears are very much in a similar position to Minnesota as they face Appalachian State (8-19 and 186 RPI). They have to have a sweep as well or their RPI will take a major hit. If both programs sweep, I don’t see Coastal leapfrogging Minnesota.
- RPI 20 - Texas (Big 12)
A very interesting matchup as the Longhorns take on TCU (10-10 and 63 RPI) at home. The Gophers took 2 of 3 from the Horned Frogs earlier in the season. Now TCU can do the Gophers a favor by winning this series. Should TCU take 2 of 3, that would not only prevent Texas from jumping head in the ratings but it would also give a little boost to our own RPI as TCU would move up.
Those are the teams we should be watching most closely this weekend. Having Arizona (RPI 43), who we beat earlier in the year, sweep Arizona State would be nice too; but less important than teams ahead of us losing.
This Gopher baseball team is quite good. I’ve said this much before. But this squad ranks in the top 2 in the Big Ten in hitting, pitching and fielding. It is complete. Still work left to do, but get on the bandwagon now.