The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

College World Series Introduction

The College World Series will begin this Friday and I have to admit that the set up of the tournament is somewhat mystifying, even to someone like me who probably follows such things more closely than most. If you visit the official site, you can see a schedule of games, but there’s not really much insight into who might be playing in those games. ESPN has now put something up too, but it's not overly helpful either.

Before I get into predicting who will win the whole thing, I thought it would be best to lay out for you how the tournament essentially works. There are eight teams left in the tournament. However, not all of those eight teams will play each other (although they could have up through the 2002 tournament, but the format has been changed – and for the better). This year’s tournament (like last year’s) is broken up, essentially, into two four-team regionals, much like the ones that were played the weekend of June 4th. The survivors of those two four team brackets will face off in a best of three, winner take all series that takes place June 26th, June 27th, and June 28th (if necessary).

The two four team brackets (I again apologize for my inability to either format a bracket on this site or to have found one elsewhere) for this year’s CWS are:

A: Arizona vs. Georgia; Arkansas vs. Texas
B: Fullerton vs. South Carolina; Louisiana State vs. Miami

Although I haven’t been able to confirm it, I listed the teams in order of when I expect the games to be played (early first, then late) with the higher seed listed second (assuming that the higher seed will be the designated “home” team in the opening games). South Carolina is the second seed and Miami the third, but I’m guessing the television folk at ESPN will prefer to have the LSU – Miami matchup in primetime as opposed to during the afternoon, particularly given the history of the two clubs. Either game looks like a good one though.

After those initial matchups, it works much like the regionals. The two teams from each group that lose their games will face off and the loser of that game will be eliminated. The winners of the first two games will face off, with the winner waiting to play either the team they beat in their second game or the team that won the matchup of the second round “losers” bracket game. Let me try to illustrate this with how the B bracket may go (no – these aren’t my predictions yet):

Saturday – South Carolina beats Fullerton; Miami beats LSU
Monday – Fullerton beats LSU (LSU eliminated); Miami beats South Carolina
Tuesday – Fullerton beats South Carolina (South Carolina eliminated)
Wednesday – Fullerton beats Miami
Thursday – Miami beats Fullerton (Fullerton eliminated, note that had Miami won on Wednesday, the Thursday game would not have been necessary)

For those of you who are completely unfamiliar with this, “eliminated” teams are simply no longer allowed to participate in the tournament. No physical harm is inflicted upon them after they lose two games.

The other bracket works much the same, with the one exception being that instead of playing Saturday/Monday first round games, they play Friday/Sunday games. This makes for a slight advantage, which can be helpful later on, in that there is an extra off day between your team’s second and third games (relative to the bracket that starts the tournament later). While this may sound like a slight advantage, if any, it is really rather significant as coaches try to preserve their pitching staffs.

Once the two brackets of four teams are worked through, two teams remain. These two teams face off in a best of three series that is very similar to the Super Regionals, which were played this past weekend. Results from the previous week or so in the CWS are essentially reset. If one team enters with no losses and the other with one loss, it does not matter. The series is a straight forward best of three with each team on equal footing. Both of these teams are guaranteed an off day on Friday the 25th. If either or both clubs are able to reach the championship series without a loss, they will also have the 24th off as well.

The College World Series is a grueling tournament. Unlike other NCAA championships, you can’t simply schedule inferior regular season opponents and win a bowl game and go home with a national championship. You also can’t find yourself with a lucky draw and go on a six game over three week hot streak and win “the big dance.” An easy schedule might get you into the tournament, but it won’t guarantee that you win it. In order to simply reach the College World Series, each team must win at least five games. A team could qualify for the CWS after playing in eight postseason games.

Once in the College World Series, a team must play at least five games to win it, and an eventual champion could play up to eight more games. It is a grueling schedule, but the double elimination format makes it more fair. Any team could have one bad day, but if you have two, you’ve earned your way out of the tournament. However, losing also forces a club to have a deeper pitching staff if they are to come back and win.

Check back tomorrow for the first series of predictions. I will focus on the four teams that will begin play on Friday. On Thursday, I will take a look at the four teams that will begin play on Saturday. And on Friday, I will make my picks for the championship series.


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