For the third consecutive season, the 22nd-ranked Bearkats are playing the waiting game to see if they’ve done enough to warrant inclusion to the 64-team NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament that gets underway this week.
The waiting will be over on Monday morning when the NCAA Selection Show is aired on ESPNU at 11 a.m. The Bearkats will gather at the Sam Houston Visitor’s Center to watch the selection show and fans are welcome to attend the Watch Party.
Unlike the previous two years in which Sam Houston State earned an at-large spot and squeaked into the NCAA tournament, the Kats are standing on much better ground of getting in and earning an at-large berth, which goes out to the 34 teams that did not earn their league’s automatic berth the selection committee deems most worthy.
A number of factors come into play for that scenario to come into fruition, such as how a team did in the regular season in its conference, its RPI and nonconference results.
Here’s a look at how the Bearkats fare in some of these factors and what it means for the Kats chances.
One of the keys that helped Sam Houston earn at-large selections the previous two years was that the Kats had won the Southland Conference regular-season championship outright.
Sam Houston was one of five teams from mid-major leagues that won its conference’s regular-season championship and ended up as an at-large selection.
Knowing that, the Bearkats buckled down in the final stretch of the regular season.
Sam Houston closed the regular season winning 14 of its final 15 games, none more important than sweeping its final four conference series against Houston Baptist, Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Southeastern Louisiana, which picked up the league’s automatic berth Saturday by winning the conference tournament.
The RPI or Ratings Percentage Index is a metric that is used to judge how strong a team is or if the record is due from having a light schedule. The RPI is calculated from a team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage and the winning percentage of the opponents’ opponents as well as the strength of schedule.
Typically, the RPI needs to rank in the top 50 for consideration as an at-large.
In that category, the Bearkats are doing much better this year than the previous two seasons.
In 2012, Sam Houston went 2-2 in the conference tournament and had an RPI of 49, according to Warrennolan.com. The Kats were tabbed as an at-large selection for the first time in school history.
Last season, the Bearkats were eliminated in three games from the Southland tournament and saw their RPI increase from 40 to 48. Again, the Kats were picked to play in the NCAA tournament.
This season, the Kats are primed to easily make the field.
Thanks to victories over Rice (RPI No. 8), TCU (No. 12), Texas Tech (No. 17), Texas A&M (No. 41), Houston (No. 11) as well as taking two of three from Dallas Baptist (No. 30), Sam Houston has positioned itself well.
Even after going just 1-2 in the conference tournament, the Kats have an RPI of 38 on Warrennolan.com and 37th on Boydsworld.com.
Strength of schedule
There were only a handful of teams that finished the regular season with at least 40 victories and the Bearkats were one of them.
Whenever teams reach that benchmark, the strength of schedule is pored over.
The Bearkats’ strength of schedule currently ranks 126th out of 302 teams in Division I. Despite the schedule ranking, which is higher than in previous years, the Kats have plenty going for them when it comes to looking at their performance this season.
What helps the strength of schedule is that Sam Houston didn’t play any schools from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, while also playing five games against teams from the Big 12 and two games against the SEC’s Texas A&M.
It was evident at the time, but it’s obvious to see now how much playing in the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park against TCU, Texas Tech and Texas at the beginning of the season has really paid off.
Other key metrics
While RPI and strength of schedule are two big factors, there are still others that also weigh heavily.
One has to do with the RPI and how a team fared against the RPI top 50 as well as Nos. 51-100.
This is another area that could put the Bearkats into the tournament. The Kats boast a record of 7-5 against Nos. 1-50 and 7-3 against Nos. 51-100.
Another metric that the selection committee looks at is a team’s nonconference performance, especially on the road.
Sam Houston went a strong 5-2 in true road games, excluding neutral-site contests, with victories against Rice, Houston and A&M.
Another factor is how a team performs down the stretch in the final 15 games. That can determine if a team gets picked as an at-large selection, gets chosen to host a regional or even become one of eight national seeds.
The Bearkats also rank positively in this category with a 12-3 mark since Apr. 27.
When it comes to nitpicking over whether a team belongs or not, there are pros and cons with each squad, even the ones up for the top overall seed.
Right now, the Bearkats hope what they’ve done this season is good enough to be back in the tournament for a third straight year.
Over the last few weeks, several college baseball websites have taken their own opportunity to play the role of the selection committee and draw up a tournament field.
As Sam Houston began to heat up in the final weeks of the season, the Bearkats started to rise in the national polls and the RPI rankings. As a result, the Kats have been tabbed as a shoe-in for the tournament.
Here’s what a few sites have to say about the Bearkats’ tournament chances.
“One at-large spot disappeared Friday when Sam Houston State was bounced out of the Southland Conference tournament with a 4-1 loss to Northwestern State,” Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt wrote. “At No. 38 in the RPI, with a regular-season title under their belts and a 7-5 record against the top 50, the Bearkats should be safe for an at-large spot, making the Southland a two-bid league.”
Kendall Rogers, who covers the college game for Perfectgame.org, echoed the sentiment.
“Not everything is great news for the bubble teams out there. In the Southland Conference tournament, top-seeded Sam Houston State, which will be in the field no matter what, dropped a 4-1 decision to Northwestern State,” Rogers explained. “The Bearkats have an RPI of 35 with a 7-5 mark vs. RPI Top 50 and 14-8 record vs. RPI Top 100 — both solid metrics. That means the SLC will be a two-bid league.”
As far as where the Bearkats would go if they get selected, that is still far from being determined.
There are still a number of teams vying for the last of national seeds such as TCU, LSU, Ole Miss and Miami.
Houston and Texas are also in the mix for hosting despite finishing third, and fifth, respectively, in their conferences due to strong performances in their league’s tournaments.
With Sam Houston most likely being either a No. 2 or No. 3 seed and there being plenty of teams from Texas in the mix, destinations for the Kats range from Houston to Fort Worth to Stillwater, Oklahoma, back to Louisiana in either Lafayette or Baton Rouge with even the possibility of going to Oxford, Mississippi.
NCAA Tournament Regional Sites
The 16 regional sites for the NCAA Tournament have been announced. If the Bearkats do earn one of 34 at-large bids, they’ll be playing at one of the following locations.