A week ago, Auburn had to feel pretty good about its chances at making the NCAA Tournament. Now, not so much. The Tigers aren't completely dead -- far from it -- but they appear to be right on the in/out line of the bubble.
We felt pretty good and thought a win over Alabama in Hoover would have likely clinched a regional berth, but instead, Auburn lost its only game at the SEC Tournament. With that, several other bubble teams were able to jockey for position while the Tigers watched at home. Auburn's credentials have their pluses and minuses, and it will all come down to which carry more weight for the selection committee.
The current resume
|RPI ranking (out of 298)||43|
|SEC RPI ranking (out of 32)||2|
|Strength of schedule||31|
|Average non-conference opponent RPI||147.9|
|vs. RPI top 50||11-16|
|vs. RPI 101-200||15-6|
|vs. RPI 200-plus||6-0|
RPI rankings via warrennolan.com
By losing the single-elimination game against Alabama at the SEC Tournament, the Tigers' RPI took a pretty decent hit. Auburn was ranked No. 32 going into the tourney, but because it didn't have any more chances to improve, other teams improved and moved past John Pawlowski's club. Sitting around 30, Auburn would have felt pretty good on Selection Monday, but at No. 43, it's much more dicey.
The Tigers' non-conference schedule was awful, they finished four games below .500 in conference play and last in the SEC West and they failed to win a game in Hoover. Really, the only thing going for Auburn is its final three weeks of the regular season. Series wins against Ole Miss (RPI No. 20), Florida (35) and Arkansas (31) doubled the amount of top-50 wins the Tigers had going into that stretch. If Auburn makes a regional, it's absolutely because of those three weeks.
Auburn, Florida or Texas A&M
The SEC features seven teams that are locks for a regional: Vanderbilt, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Alabama. The most the conference has ever sent to the tournament is nine, and Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M are all pretty much coin flips this year. It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see two of the three in and one left out.
If you look at head-to-head matchups, you'd think "Great, Auburn won road series at Florida and A&M, so the Tigers should be the top pick of the three." That makes logical sense, but logical sense doesn't always work with the selection committee. In fact, based on what the committee is looking at this year, the Tigers might be the third choice. Florida has a pretty crummy record at 29-28, but the Gators' strength of schedule is No. 2, and teams that play tough non-conference games usually get rewarded. Texas A&M finished a half-game ahead of Auburn in the regular-season standings, and the Aggies' RPI (33) is 10 spots better than the Tigers'. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt reports that the committee may be rewarding RPI a little more this year, and if that's the case, A&M has the advantage. Also, it won't hurt the Ags that their athletic director, Eric Hyman, is on the committee.
The following teams that wouldn't have otherwise made a regional won their conference tournaments, and they come from conferences with teams that are either on the bubble or locks for at-large bids:
Liberty, Towson, San Diego State, Connecticut, Central Arkansas, East Tennessee State
So, if you're keeping score at home, that's six potential at-large spots gobbled up by conference-tournament underdogs. That number is a little high for our liking.
After its quick exit from the SEC Tournament, national pundits are split on Auburn.
Southeastern Baseball has Auburn as the No. 3 seed in the Raleigh, N.C. Regional. The Tigers are listed as one of the last five teams in. Although, Mark Etheridge says Auburn is probably ranked behind A&M and Florida, which could spell doom. UPDATE: Southeastern Baseball's final Monday morning projection has Auburn as the first team out.
Texas A&M then Florida then Auburn. Which means at least Auburn probably gets send Quahog. Again.
Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers likes A&M and Auburn as his last two in and has the Gators as his first out.
UPDATE: In his Monday projection, Rogers says Auburn will be the No. 3 seed at the Tallahassee Regional.
Jeremy Mills, who covers college baseball for the Worldwide Leader, doesn't think Auburn will make the field, listing the Tigers as the fourth team out.
UPDATE: College Baseball Daily includes Auburn as the 3-seed in Tallahassee. They say they've correctly picked the field in five straight seasons, whatever that's worth.
In or out?
Obviously, it's going to be close. Really close. Auburn is either going to just scrape by as one of the last teams in the tournament, or the Tigers' hearts will be broken as one of the first teams left out. The gut feeling here: Auburn is out. We wouldn't put money on that, and hopefully it's wrong, but the Tigers' RPI slid a little too far in the last week, and that, plus the awful non-conference schedule, will keep Auburn home this postseason. If Florida or A&M get in over the Tigers, it will be a great injustice.