While I was out of town in Vegas for a week, the Big 12 baseball tournament was happening. Honestly, I like to unplug when I go on vacation, not paying too much attention to the goings on in the world, and unwind and relax. When I got back and plugged in, I noticed some controversy and frustration on social media regarding the K-State baseball team not making the NCAA baseball tournament.
I am a casual baseball fan but paid enough attention this season to realize that K-State had a decent team this season. Were they great? Nope. They finished 13-11 in the Big 12 and 35-24 overall. They won more than they lost, which is always good, but they were far from world-beaters. I perused their schedule, and they only played one ranked team in the non-conference portion, number six LSU, whom they lost by a score of 7-3. They did not play any other ranked teams in the non-conference schedule, and the highest-ranked team in the RPI rankings that they played other than LSU was number 32-ranked Iowa, who they lost 6-5.
So why all the hubbub about them not getting selected for the NCAA tournament? The number one reason is that the Oklahoma Sooners were selected, and the Wildcats were not. K-State swept Oklahoma in a three-game series in March, which was the main thing that stuck in the craw of both Pete Hughes, K-State’s head coach, and Gene Taylor, K-State’s athletic director. Hughes put out a statement ridiculing the selection committee…
“The division 1 baseball committee and the system failed K-State, our program, and our seniors. It was obvious that the committee over-emphasized the RPI – a flawed metric. The regional disparities of the RPI are glaring and still were used as a tool to form, shape, and make decisions.
The most important criteria, that has “zero” gray area, is head-to-head competition. It’s definitive – someone wins and someone loses. We were left out in place of two teams that we finished ahead of in overall conference play and also two teams we beat head-to-head. Why play the games if the records are not valued? When did we stop rewarding winning? It’s inexplicable and disappointing. Our players and our community deserved better.”
K-State athletic director Gene Taylor piggy-backed on Hughes’ statement, saying “Couldn’t agree more. A selection system that needs to be changed so the main decision point is not just RPI. @KstateBSB deserved to be in a clearly a regional team.”
Texas Tech made it into the tournament despite finishing a game behind K-State in the conference standings at 12-12. K-State won two out of three against Tech in a regular season series. So why did Texas Tech and Oklahoma make it in over K-State? A look at the records and statistics shows that it is not very hard to figure out.
Here are the conference and overall records of the three teams:
2023 Big 12 baseball standings:
K-State: 13-11 Big 12 record, 35-24 overall
Texas Tech: 12-12 Big 12 record, 39-21 overall
Oklahoma: 11-13 Big 12 record, 31-26 overall
Here is the record against ranked teams by the three teams:
Texas Tech: 5-6
Oklahoma beat sixth-ranked Stanford twice. Texas Tech beat Stanford once and lost to them one time. I would bet the committee takes into consideration a signature win or wins like that when deciding who gets in.
Here is the strength of schedule of the three teams:
OU’s strength of schedule: 15
Texas Tech’s strength of schedule: 44
K-State’s strength of schedule: 51
Here is the RPI of the three teams:
Oklahoma’s RPI: 40
Texas Tech’s RPI: 41
K-State’s RPI: 55
K-State’s performance in the Big 12 baseball tournament may have also had something to do with who the committee selected. Texas Tech was one run away from making the final, losing to Oklahoma State 6-5. Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State (who tied for first place in the regular season) once and lost to both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, while K-State got shellacked by TCU 16-3 in the first round before beating Texas and Kansas and losing to TCU again, this time 6-3.
Is this outrage at K-State not making the NCAA baseball tournament justified, or is this just sour grapes? I lean toward sour grapes. If K-State wants to make the tournament in the future, they need to schedule and win games against better competition in the non-conference portion in order to get their strength of schedule and RPI numbers up. It might also be a good idea not to lose a game by 13 runs in the first game of your conference tournament. I am sure the committee saw that as well. After all, it is about which team is playing the best right now, not who swept a series back in March.
I believe the coach, athletic director, and fans need to calm down about this. I do not think it is a huge snub leaving K-State out like everyone is making it out to be. Win more games against quality competition and perform better in the conference tournament, and the Wildcats will get in next time. I do not see a lot to complain about here.