Posted: 8:30 a.m. Monday, May 20, 2013
By Chris Fuhrmeister
On April 28, Auburn dropped a doubleheader to a bad Missouri team, scoring two total runs and losing the series. At that moment, the Tigers' NCAA hopes -- not that there had been much of any since SEC play began -- seemed pretty much shot. Now, Auburn has closed out the regular season with three consecutive series wins and worked its way into the mix for a regional berth. Should the Tigers be considered favorites to make the NCAA Tournament?
|RPI ranking (out of 298)||32|
|SEC RPI ranking (out of 32)||2|
|Strength of schedule||29|
|Average non-conference opponent RPI||145.6|
|vs. RPI top 50||11-15|
|vs. RPI 101-200||15-6|
|vs. RPI 200-plus||6-0|
RPI rankings via warrennolan.com
While Auburn's conference record isn't sparkling, the Tigers are helped by the fact that the SEC is the second-best conference in America. Winning their last three series against top-50 teams Ole Miss (18), Florida (26) and Arkansas (48), plus seven of 10 games doesn't hurt, either. The selection committee usually likes hot teams at the end of the year, and Auburn is streaking in the right direction. The Tigers' 11 wins against RPI top-50 teams are solid, and they don't have any catastrophically bad defeats.
John Pawlowski's team might not have any truly terrible losses, but dropping six games against teams ranked between 101 and 200 isn't good. The loss on Tuesday to Jacksonville State (108) during the Tigers' stretch of good play will stick out, and early-season defeats at the hands of Kennesaw State (154), Eastern Illinois (175) will give the committee reason for pause.
When Auburn drew up its non-conference schedule, it wasn't too ambitious. The Tigers originally had a home series slated against defending national champion Arizona to open the season, but instead, they swapped it out for a four-game set against Maine (150). Other lightweights Auburn faced: three games against Brown (284), two against Alabama State (247), one against Wofford (244) and two against Samford (182). If it comes down to the Tigers and one other team for the final spot, and that other team scheduled real opponents in non-conference action, don't be surprised if Auburn is punished for its cupcake feast.
Anyone who values the opinions of national college baseball writers probably feels pretty good about Auburn's chances. Going into the Arkansas contests, the general feeling was that a series win against the Razorbacks would put the Tigers on the good side of the bubble, but winning an SEC Tournament game or two wouldn't hurt.
Mark Etheridge at Southeastern Baseball says Auburn's impressive final three weeks of the regular season likely did the trick and pushed the Tigers over the top. In his latest projections, he has Auburn as the No. 3 seed at the Charlottesville, Va. Regional.
Auburn likely played their way into a Regional taking series from Ole Miss, Florida, and Arkansas the past three weekends. The 13-17 conference record isn't great but it is probably the minimum for an SEC team to reach. Their RPI sits at #33 today and shouldn't slip much win or lose against Alabama (#30) on Tuesday.
At Baseball America, Aaron Fitt is ready to add Auburn to his regional projections, although he says a win Tuesday would make the Tigers feel much better.
The Tigers earned the No. 10 seed in the SEC tournament and will face rival Alabama in Tuesday's single-elimination round; both teams could get at-large bids, but the winner of that game will have to sweat a lot less on Selection Monday.
Kendall Rogers, who writes for Perfect Game, says Auburn greatly helped its case by taking the Arkansas series. While he didn't declare Auburn a tournament team after the final game Saturday, he mentioned multiple times earlier in the week that winning two of three against the Hogs would be enough.
What They Need To Do:
Stay hot in SEC play. Winning the series vs. Arkansas will be a great start and the usual advice - go far in the post-season tournament. But also hope this committee is one of those SEC-sympathizers, as they've been from time to time in the past.
Will Auburn make the NCAA Tournament? It'll be close, but unless a bunch of big underdogs win conference tournaments and steal automatic bids, the Tigers should be in good shape. Ending the season last in the SEC West and four games under .500 in conference play hurts, but the hot finish and solid RPI should outweigh the negatives on the resume. A loss against Alabama in Hoover would make it close but, barring any huge surprises, more than likely wouldn't knock Auburn out. A win against the Crimson Tide should make the Tigers a lock.