The Michigan baseball team can exhale.
The Wolverines, who came into Monday’s selection show sitting smack-dab on the bubble after a 27-17 regular season, received a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and were placed in the South Bend Regional, hosted by No. 10 national seed Notre Dame (40-16).
Michigan will take on No. 2 seed UConn (33-18) in its opening game on Friday, while Notre Dame will take on No. 4 seed Central Michigan (40-16).
The question hanging over the Wolverines’ heads wasn’t how the NCAA selection committee would view just their resume, but how it would view the Big Ten as a whole. The Big Ten played a conference-only schedule this season due to COVID-19, which depressed the RPIs and strength of schedules of every team in the conference.
This means that Michigan, despite an RPI (88) and a SOS (141) that would normally have it far off the bubble, was seen as safely in the tournament for much of the season by Baseball America and D1 Baseball among others. The Wolverines, who finished third in the Big Ten and possessed the conference’s best scoring offense and third-best pitching staff, were clearly among the strongest teams in a league that’s averaged 3.4 at-large tournament bids since 2015.
Had the Wolverines played a normal Big Ten slate of 24 games in addition to 30 or so games outside the conference, their metrics might have looked a lot different. Their postseason hopes essentially came down to — in addition to whatever national reputation they established with their surprise run to the College World Series final two years ago — whether the selection committee would make that same assumption.
Evidently, they did. But it might not have taken much to change that.
After the selection show was over, it was revealed that Michigan was the third-to-last team to make it in the tournament, just ahead of North Carolina and UC Santa Barbara. The Wolverines aren’t a stranger to that kind of drama: in 2017, they were the last team in the tournament, and they also were one of the last four teams in 2019.
Under coach Erik Bakich, Michigan has now made four of the last six NCAA Tournaments. In 2015, the Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament to claim the league’s automatic berth.
The winner of the South Bend Regional will take on the winner of the Starkville Regional in the Super Regional round with a berth in the College World Series on the line. The Starkville regional is hosted by No. 7 national seed Mississippi State and also includes Samford, Campbell and Virginia Commonwealth.
Check back on Maize n Brew in the coming days for a preview of the South Bend Regional.