Tuesday, March 27, 2012

fear not

OK, so do you remember the early, nonconference portion of the baseball schedule, when we lost to Seton Hall and Wright State and Liberty(!) and we were all like shitshitshit yo?  Like, how we gonna make the tournament now?

Admittedly, there's a ton of precedent for the tournament committee to penalize us way strongly for that really awful showing, which also included a loss to ACC subbasement dweller Boston College.  Most of that precedent is infamously filed under "2009," when the committee, headed by the brilliant and charming Tim Weiser, placed UVA in the Regional of Death, forced the Hoos as a #2 seed to travel further than any team in the entire tournament, and cited UVA's "less than stellar" OOC schedule.  And that time we actually beat most of the teams in that schedule.  So there's no doubt UVA has done some damage to its tournament hopes.  That said, all is not lost.  In fact, things look pretty good.

Amazingly enough, the top 20 of the RPI - an NCAA tournament committee's favoritest-ever selection tool - is dominated by the ACC.  Six of the top 20 teams are ACC teams; even the SEC can only claim four.  And #21 is Maryland.  (That probably won't last, but still.)  UVA sits at #20 (without yet taking into account tonight's win over Towson, which could send us a slot or two in either direction) and stands to improve on the season simply by playing all those teams in front of us.  There're five of them, and we've played only FSU; the rest are NC State, Miami, UNC, and, get this, Wake Forest.  Maryland is also in our future, as is #39 Virginia Tech.

Second point in our favor: Liberty happens to be 23-5.  Chances are pretty good that they'll burn through their Big South competition and end up with 40-some wins; we really shouldn't lose to any instate opponent, ever, but probability says that if you play enough games against them, eventually you will, and this one probably won't be held against us.

Keep in mind also that in 2009, UVA was only the 6th seed in the conference tournament with a pedestrianish 16-11-1 record, which might've been a contributing factor.

So as the schedule moves on, we see the RPI get puffed up by virtue of adding a bunch of good teams to the resume, yes?  Part two, of course, is the responsibility to win against that competition every so often.  If you don't, people tend to get the impression that you suck.  Weird, I know.  UVA controls its destiny in this respect, of course, but it'll be a slog, and against some teams that look tougher than originally advertised.  NC State and Wake, in particular.  Maryland even made their way to a poll ranking earlier in the year, so maybe they'll end up with more than five ACC wins this year.

At any rate, here's the prescription, and it's so amazingly doable it's not even funny: Win the series against NC State, Wake, Duke, underachieving GT, and sweep Maryland.  That adds up to 11 wins, which would bring our record to 16-8 before we've even taken into account what happens against UNC and Miami.  Can we even just take one game each against those two?  Si, se puede.

That gets us to 18-12, which tends to get you comfortably into the ACC tourney even if only as a five seed, and since 18-19 wins is what I predicted at the beginning of the year, it would make winning the series against UNC and/or Miami a bonus bit of cake icing, if all other business is properly taken care of.

If you're feeling like this is a tall order, don't.  UVA leads the conference in BA, OBP, OPS, strikes out less than any other team, and is generally the best-hitting team in the conference right now.  The Hoos are also in the top half of the league in pitching stats.  We don't lead in any, but to be where we are - 6th in ERA, 5th in Opp.BA, 6th in K/9, 3rd in BB/9, etc. -  after losing Danny Hultzen, Tyler Wilson, Will Roberts, and Cody Winiarski, that's remarkable.  The problem has not generally been pitching, and it's definitely not hitting - it's fielding, the most easily fixed of the three.  UVA leads the league, or is last if you prefer, in unearned runs, but I bet you we don't end the season that way.

So fulfilling the prescription is not only possible, it ought to be the expectation.  Which means you shouldn't have to worry about making the tournament.  I wish I could say there'll be a Charlottesville Regional yet again, but I think it'd take an unlikely (though not implausible) set of circumstances to make that happen.  But.  If you think that's an insurmountable obstacle, then you didn't pay attention in 2009 after all.  If you've got any fears over not making the tournament, I say drop 'em, and reset your expectations.  Performing as I think they should during the ACC schedule will earn this team a solid two-seed in a regional hosted by a non-nationally-seeded team (that is, someone "seeded" between 9 and 16.)  Anything less means either we underperformed, or we're in for a refreshing reminder why Tim Weiser is a numbskull.

No comments: