BOCA RATON – Despite having won Conference USA’s regular season title and owning a resume that includes marquee wins over Miami, Florida, South Florida and Central Florida, FAU coach John McCormack is skeptical at the notion that his Owls have secured an NCAA tournament at-large berth,
“I think we’re on the bubble,” McCormack said. “Just because of the RPI.”
FAU (37-18, 22-8) swept MTSU during the season’s final weekend to secure the regular season title. Counterintuitively, those three wins actually dropped the Owls’ RPI three spots to 38. That’s because the Owls played at home and MTSU entered the weekend series with an RPI of 220, hurting Owls’ in the strength of schedule portion of the index.
The RPI, a component factored into the NCAA’s at-large bid process, doesn’t reward home victories nearly as much as those on the road.
“It’s kind of a tough pill to swallow when you win your league outright, and you win three games at home and you lose points,” McCormack said.
It’s been a down year for Conference USA as a whole, which is making an at-large berth from within the conference problematic. Southern Miss entered the weekend tied with atop the conference standings, but two losses to UAB dropped the Golden Eagles’ RPI to 56, all but quashing their at-large bid hopes.
“For the majority of the year, us, Southern Miss and La. Tech were the only teams in the [RPI} top 100,” McCormack said.
With Southern Miss and ODU now owning RPIs above 50, FAU might be the only team that doesn’t have to win the C-USA tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament.
In years past the C-USA title likely would have cemented at least an at-large bid for the Owls. Prior selection committees emphasized the performance of a team throughout the season, where a team finished within its conference and how strong of a non-conference schedule it played. But RPI was always factor.
“Now that the committee has changed over we’ll see where the emphasis lies,” McCormack said.
To feel comfortable about a potential at-large berth, McCormack would prefer to have an RPI in the 20s.
Even with a few wins in the C-USA tournament, it would be impossible for the Owls to climb that high. Of eighth-seeded Texas-San Antonio, fourth-seeded Western Kentucky and fifth-seeded Old Dominion – the opponents on FAU’s side of the tournament bracket – only the Monarchs (62) have an RPI inside the top 100.
And if the Owls don’t win the C-USA title, at least one loss and potentially two could drop their RPI into the 40s.
“I think if you look at our body of work we’re in, but that RPI is (38),” McCormack said. “That’s an iffy proposition.”
Of course, FAU can remove any doubt regarding its status by winning the C-USA tournament and claiming the guaranteed NCAA bid that comes with it.
The Owls open the Biloxi, Miss-based tournament at 5 p.m. on Wednesday against UTSA. FAU won two-of-three against the Roadrunners in the regular season’s penultimate series.
“They’re always a really good offensive team,” McCormack said. “Their outfielders are really good.”