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PROVO — After two-straight losses in the West Coast Conference tournament, the BYU baseball team now waits to hear whether the NCAA selection committee chooses them to participate in regionals as an at-large team.
Here are some reasons why the selection committee will choose the Cougars and some reasons it will not.
Reasons to be optimistic
The Cougars played several quality opponents this season and were able to snag a few wins from them. The highest ranked team that the Y. faced this season in terms of RPI was No. 25 Gonzaga. The Cougars won the regular-season series two games to one and lost a close contest in the WCC tournament. BYU also beat No. 38 Creighton and No. 69 Saint Mary’s for some quality RPI wins.
While not sporting as strong of an RPI, it’s worth noting that the Cougars also took two out of three games against instate rival Utah, which clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 title Saturday. BYU had some strong wins this season that should get them a look from the selection committee.
Piggybacking off talks about beating highly ranked teams, the Cougars have built a good RPI for themselves. It’s important to note that their RPI is "good" and not "great." As of May 27, the Cougars' RPI was 52, which puts it squarely on the bubble for the 64-team tournament. It could very well come down to whether or not the selection committee believes that the WCC is a two-bid league. If Gonzaga wins the WCC tournament and gets the auto-bid, BYU’s RPI gives it a chance if the committee thinks the league deserves a second team to be awarded a bid.
Hot start and strong finish to regular season
For the first month and a half of the college baseball season, you would be hard-pressed to find a hotter team than BYU. The Cougars racked up victories to begin their season, winning 19 of their first 20 contests. The Cougars cooled off considerably after their hot start but also won six of their last eight games and finished the regular season on a sweep to capture a piece of the WCC regular-season title.
If the selection committee for baseball is similar to the one that chooses brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament, heavy emphasis will be placed on how a team finished. This would help BYU, at least with how it finished the regular season.
Reasons to be less-than-optimistic
Poor showing in the WCC tournament
BYU head coach Mike Littlewood acknowledged prior to the WCC tournament that he felt that his team would have to at least make the championship game to receive an at-large bid. The Cougars simply did not put up a good showing in the tournament. In their opening matchup against Gonzaga in the WCC tournament, BYU hitters looked overwhelmed, striking out an unsightly 17 times.
Part of that can be contributed to a tremendous outing from Gonzaga's Brandon Bailey. But in their second game, the Y. spotted Pepperdine five runs in the first inning and again Cougar hitters could not seem to get anything going. In what was the team’s last audition to make an impression on the selection committee, it laid an egg.
The Cougars struggled in middle of season
As great as the start of the season was, the middle of the season was tough for the Cougars. From April 4 to May 12, BYU went just 9-11. One of those losses was an ugly home defeat by Utah Valley in extra innings. Injuries factored greatly into the team’s steep descent. Most notably, the Cougars lost their No. 2 pitcher in Maverik Buffo. Without Buffo, the Cougars had to piece together a pitching rotation and could not seem to find a consistent mix that worked. The Y. went from possibly hosting a regional after its incredible start to potentially not being selected to play at all in large part because of this bad stretch.
BYU is too reliant on one pitcher
After Buffo went down, BYU became almost completely dependent on ace Mike Rucker. Rucker was terrific all season, no question about it. Prior to the WCC tournament, he was a perfect 11-0. When he was on the mound, the Cougars had a great chance of beating anybody. The problem was, when he was not on the mound, the team was wildly inconsistent. This led to BYU taking the first game of a series and then dropping the last two on numerous occasions. The selection committee realizes that regionals are double-elimination and may count the Cougars’ lack of a bonafide second pitcher against them.
BYU has had a terrific season. It was on the cusp of greatness had it not been for season-ending injuries to some key contributors. Unfortunately, it does not look good for the Cougars to get an at-large bid. Their only hope is that Gonzaga wins the auto-bid and the committee decides to reward the conference for its strength and parity this season by giving a second team an at-large bid.