It was a minor quip which the media in attendance let hang, perhaps not fully taking hold of what said. Following Ohio State's 2-0 win over Louisville on April 14, head coach Greg Beals answered questions from the media in the largest postgame contingent, which was fitting after Ohio State's biggest victory of the year. While most questions pertained to the on-field action as Ohio State ending a nine-game skid to the Cardinals, one writer asked whether or not he felt a postseason projection placing Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament as a no. 3 seed was just.
"I think if the season were to end today we're in the NCAA Tournament and probably a three-seed, and I'm fine with that," Beals said. "I would have to look at it deeply, see where you'll have to go before I get really critical on it. We haven't been in NCAA Tournament in a while so it's hard to get critical on where they send us, what seed they give us. We'll just go dance wherever they say we do."
While qualifying his statement to make note there were 20 or so games remaining, now just 17, for the 27-10 Buckeyes, Beals went to bat for his team, not backing down or ho-humming, going on record in stating he feels Ohio State has a regional-worthy club.
Finishing, Beals said, "We have to finish strong. If we finish strong we may play here."
There was sly grin on his face, perhaps an acknowledge that as a coach he shouldn't play to the ifs, but there was truth in Beals' statement.
Following Ohio State's weekend win at Nebraska, and taking the first of two midweek games against Morehead State, the Buckeyes are No. 14 in the NCAA's official college baseball RPI. With a 14-6 home mark paired with a 11-6 record in neutral and road contests, the Buckeyes are the top RPI-rated Big Ten team, one with a 4-3 mark against RPI top 25 teams, a 12-7 showing against teams rated in the top 100.
Currently in third place, Ohio State sits 9-3 in Big Ten play, one and one-half game behind Big Ten leader Illinois, with Iowa at 10-2 in-between the two. The Illini are ranked in the top ten of in each of the five college baseball polls the NCAA recognizes, a team with an RPI of 21 who travels to Columbus for a big series to open May. After the Illini leave town, the Buckeyes then welcome Maryland, a team rated 30 in the RPI. The Buckeyes conclude the regular series with three games in Bloomington against two-time defending Big Ten champion Indiana, the RPI's current No. 59 rated team.
After this weekend's series at Northwestern, Ohio State concludes the regular season with back-to-back-to-back weekends against teams currently inside the RPI top 60. A strong finish there, and who knows?
In D1Baseball's latest NCAA Tournament projection, Ohio State is a two-seed in a Los Angeles Regional hosted by UCLA. The Buckeyes are one of five Big Ten teams in the field of 64, which would be a conference record, joining Illinois, Iowa, Maryland and Nebraska. Equally as noteworthy, two are projected to host a regional, Illinois and Iowa.
Through 37 games Ohio State has the resume to make the NCAA Tournament, and an RPI deserving of a hosting opportunity. In comparing their resume to that of Illinois and Iowa, the Buckeyes should be right there in the discussion of teams opening NCAA play at home.
With strength of schedule numbers provided by Warren Nolan, here's how the three teams in discussion compare.
Non-conference RPI: 25
W-L vs. RPI top 25: 4-2
W-L vs. RPI top 50: 8-3
W-L vs. RPI top 100: 13-4
W-L vs. RPI 101-200: 6-1-1
W-L vs. RPI 200+: 13-1
W-L vs. non-D1: 1-0
Non-conference RPI: 54
W-L vs. RPI top 25: 1-2
W-L vs. RPI top 50: 3-3
W-L vs. RPI top 100: 9-5
W-L vs. RPI 101-200: 10-5
W-L vs. RPI 200+: 4-1
W-L vs. non-DI: 3-0
Non-conference RPI: 18
W-L vs. RPI top 25: 4-3
W-L vs. RPI top 50: 6-4
W-L vs. RPI top 100: 12-7
W-L vs. RPI 101-200: 14-3
W-L vs. RPI 200+: 1-0
W-L vs. non-DI: 0-0
Though their strength of schedule leaves a bit to be desired, Illinois is a deserving regional host. The Illini are on a 14-game winning streak, notched two strong non-conference weekend victories against Oklahoma State and South Florida, while rolling through the Big Ten at 10-1.
Iowa on the other hand, may be a bit more questionable. Rick Heller's club is enjoying a turnaround season. The Hawkeyes haven't appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1990, and being on pace to do so now is quite the story. But a good narrative can only go so far, and the numbers do not support Iowa's case to host when compared to Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the edge in games and wins versus RPI top 25, 50 and 100 clubs, a decided advantage in RPI and SOS. Iowa is properly seeded on the No. 2 line in the projected Iowa City Regional, but that's not a regional hosting resume.
The Buckeyes last played an NCAA Tournament baseball game on their home field in the 2003 Columbus Super Regional, falling shy of the College World Series in dropping a three-game set against Southwest Missouri State. So far, they have done everything to put themselves in position to bring NCAA Tournament baseball back to Bill Davis Stadium. A grueling road awaits but as Beals said the if the team can finish strong, they may not need to pack their dancing shoes.