Baseball, Columns/Opinion, Justin Jackson, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU’s tough slate could keep it out of tourney

In the weeks to come, the fate of this season’s WVU baseball team will be determined.
If fate sees it not fit for the Mountaineers to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament with a Big 12 tournament championship, then WVU will instantly become one of the more interesting bubble-team discussions.
And the NCAA selection committee’s decision to include WVU or not may ultimately be a piece of an answer to the ultimate question of scheduling philosophy.
To be sure, this WVU baseball team has the ability to beat and compete with the best teams in the nation. Looking at players such as Kyle Gray, Darius Hill, Marques Inman and Braden Zarbnisky, there is no question about WVU being one of the top 64 teams in the country.
What it will ultimately come down to is the Mountaineers’ record and standing in the Big 12.
Which opens the door to the scheduling conflict: Do you schedule for the record or do you schedule to challenge your program?
WVU head coach Randy Mazey ultimately chose the latter, something most would commend him on.
For those who are in love with Power 5 conferences, a baseball schedule that features games against Jacksonville, Coastal Carolina and Tennessee Tech won’t impress you, until you find out those are all top 25 baseball programs, according to the RPI, a power poll that calculates rankings bases on overall record and strength of schedule.
UNLV is a top 100 RPI program and Pitt and Maryland are just past the cutline of the top 100.
WVU went 5-6 against those programs and is 4-8 against Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas — all in the RPI’s top 50 — in Big 12 play.
It all adds up to the Mountaineers being 40th in the RPI with a 26-21 record heading into Saturday’s game, at TCU. WVU’s overall strength of schedule is ranked No. 23 and its non-conference schedule is ranked No. 26 in the nation.
All of it respectable, but the challenge will always be to win games.
It’s one thing to play a great schedule, but if the goal is to play in the NCAA tournament, you’ve got to win, too. A few games over .500 probably won’t cut it.
The other option is to understand whether or not your team plays in a strong conference — in baseball, the Big 12 is — and so you pad the non-conference schedule with beatable teams and put forth a great record overall that would be hard for the selection committee to overlook.
That is done frequently, too. Teams in the ACC and SEC know they are going to play great teams in conference play, and so you have a Louisville sitting at 35-15, but with a non-conference strength of schedule at 210, or a Missouri, which is 31-18, but played a non-conference schedule ranked 195th in the country.
Both teams are ranked ahead of WVU in the RPI. The Mountaineers, too, could very well be a 30-something win team right now and pushing for 40 if Mazey had chosen to schedule for that purpose.
He instead chose to challenge his players in hopes of preparing them for Big 12 play and beyond.
The NCAA selection committee will ultimately decide if that was the best option.