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June 04, 2007 - Image 14

Resource type:
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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2007-06-04

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Monday, June 4, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
BASEBALL
Big Ten baseball proves its worth

By COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
On Baseball
The Big Ten's baseball coaches
agreed that on the national stage,
their teams are underestimated and
often overlooked.
After their performance in this
weekend's NCAA Regional play,
Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio
State showed they clearly belonged
in the spotlight.
Last Monday, the NCAA chose
the 34 teams that received at-
large invitations by analyzing each
school's strength of schedule and
its rating percentage index, which
is composed of the team's winning
percentage, opponents' records and
opponents' strength of schedule.
After winning the Big Ten Tour-
nament, Ohio State received the Big
Ten's automatic bid. Michigan and
Minnesota earned at-large bids to
give the Big Ten three teams in the
NCAA Tournament.
With a regional opponent like
host No. 1 Vanderbilt (53-12), which
lost just two games at home before its
Saturday night loss, many assumed
Michigan would have no chance of
advancing this weekend.

I

Many national media outlets saw
Michigan's No. 2 seed in the Nash-
ville regional as too high. Rivals.
com gave Nashville the title of the
"easiest regional," said the Wol-
verines were "definitely one of the
lower two seeds in the field" and
named the Wolverines' seeding as
one of the biggest surprises in the
selection process.
And just in case the Wolverines
needed further proof the Big Ten is
lightly regarded in baseball, CSTV.
com also criticized Michigan's seed-
ing before this weekend's play.
"CSTV said that they didn't send
a real No. 2 (seed) to the Vander-
bilt Regional," Michigan coach
Rich Maloney said. "All the guys
knew. We did read it to the team
and we did talk about it, but in the
actual playing of the game, it's all
about making pitches and getting
the timely hits. If you play the No. 1
team, you're always going to have a
tighter focus, especially in front of a
hostile crowd."
While playing for an audience
which was largely unfamiliar with
Northern teams, the Wolverines
defied expectations by winning
against Memphis and Vanderbilt,

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earning a spot in the regional cham-
pionship game. All three Big Ten
teams won at least one game this
weekend.
Minnesota, which reached 40
victories but earned just one of
the last at-large bids, eliminated
regional host and No. 8 overall
seed San Diego Saturday. And Ohio
State, which wouldn't have made
the NCAA Tournament if not for its
surprise Big Ten Tournament vic-
tory, eliminated Le Moyne from the
NCAA Tournament.
"I honestly thought that we were
a better team than San Diego when
we played them earlier this year (in
a 7-6 loss March 9, after leading 6-
4 going into the ninth inning), and
for Minnesota to go there, take care
of business and knock them out says
a lot about the strength of our con-
ference," Maloney said. "With Ohio
State winning a game and certainly
our big win (over Vanderbilt), at
least people can't say that we didn't
deserve to be in the Tournament."
The strong showing from the
three Big Ten teams in this week-
end's Regionals justifies the selec-
tion of the two at-large bids, though
it will probably have little immedi-
ate impact on the Southern per-
ception of Midwestern baseball as
largely inferior - a fact Ohio State
coach Bob Todd said effected the
number of Big Ten teams that make
the NCAA Tournament.
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from the warm-weather schools,"
Todd said. "They still believe, which
I do not, thatthe sixth-placeteamin
some of the warm-weather confer-
ences is better than the third- or
fourth-place team in the Big Ten.
AndItruly disagree withthat, espe-
cially when you look at how success-
ful some of our programs have been
when we play those people in May
(in the NCAA Tournament)."
Having three teams in the Tour-
nament this year is a significant
achievement for the Big Ten. Last
year, the Wolverines were the only
Big Ten team in the 64-team field,
and in 2005, they received the con-
ference's only at-large bid.
But the ACC received seven tour-
nament bids, the Big 12 earned six
and the SEC received five, which
many considered too few.
The Big Ten coaches said the
smaller number of NCAA Tourna-
ment teams in the conference is
partly because of the Midwest's
less-than-ideal baseball climate,
which forces teams like the Wolver-
ines to travel south and play difficult
games on the road for the first part
of the season. Cold temperatures
and snow can make it impossible to
play, as with Michigan's cancelled
four-game series against Minne-
sota in April. With fewer games,
Big Ten teams lose the opportunity
to improve their RPIs and records,
which makes it harder to compete
with Southern schools.

Minnesota coach John Anderson
said Big Ten coaches had discussed
a "baseball improvement plan" that
couldhelptominimizethedisadvan-
tages of Midwestern cold weather
by starting the season three or four
weeks later. They also favored the
idea of a geographical RPI system to
determine NCAA Tournamentbids,
and their plan called for each team
to be rated in relation to others in
its region instead against the entire
nation. The 64-team NCAA Tour-
nament field would be determined
by the teams with the top eight RPIs
from each of the eight regions.
"We'd like to see the RPI system
not used as a determining factor,"
Anderson said. "I think they use it
against you when they don't choose
you, and they say they don't use it
all the time, but it's ammunition to
say that's why you didn't getin ... We
lost five games (in the regular sea-
son) because of weather and travel
restrictions, but we can't change
where we're located geographically.
I think the RPI system is not a good
system for college baseball."
By qualifying a team that was on
the bubble on Selection Monday,
a team that was mediocre at best
in the regular season and a team
which suffered from a disappoint-
ing, late-season slump, the Big Ten
earned a little respect. And with
each of those teams notching wins,
they showed they could compete
with the warm-weather elite.

4

I

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