Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Analysis: Fayetteville field typically has 'regional' feel
Arkansas pitcher Matt Cronin celebrates after the Razorbacks beat Dallas Baptist 4-3 in a college baseball game in the NCAA regional tournament Sunday, June 3, 2018 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE Who will be sent to Fayetteville for this week's NCAA regional?
That is the question on the minds of Arkansas fans as Monday's NCAA Tournament selection show nears.
The Razorbacks will be hosting for the third year in a row and in a regional for the 17th time in 18 seasons. That consistency provides good context for what the NCAA selection committee tries to accomplish in its regional pairings.
There can be some surprises, such as Arkansas being sent to Arizona State in 2011 or to Virginia in 2014, but for the most part regionals have a regional feel.
Take last season's Fayetteville Regional, for example. The No. 2 seed was Southern Miss, the No. 3 seed was Dallas Baptist and the No. 4 seed was Oral Roberts - all three teams from states that border Arkansas.
The year before, the Fayetteville field was about as regional as it gets, with all three visitors - Missouri State, Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts - from within a three-hour drive.
Since the current NCAA Tournament format was put in place in 1999, Arkansas' seven home regionals have included at least one visiting team from a bordering state or Kansas each time; two teams from a bordering state or Kansas five times; and all three teams from bordering states in 2017.
In part because the NCAA foots the travel bills during the postseason, attempts are made to keep teams close to home, but that isn't always doable. Teams in the Northeast and near the West Coast typically make up a low percentage of the 64-team field, so teams from those areas are often sent farther from home than teams from the South or the Mid-Atlantic.
Likewise, teams can be sent from far away to compete in regionals hosted in those areas with scarce representation. From the Pac-12 this year, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State will host, but there are only a handful of teams from west of the Rockies that will make the field.
To complicate matters, two teams from the same conference will not be paired in the same regional. That can lead to longer travel distances for West Coast teams that do not host, or for No. 2 or No. 3 seeds from conferences like the SEC and ACC, which combined make up 10 of the 16 regional host sites.
With that in mind, here are some teams from nearby states that could be placed in this year's Fayetteville field:
No. 2 Seeds
Baylor: Arkansas will be one of the closest available regionals for the Bears (34-17), who are likely to be the Big 12's highest seed that does not host. A Big 12 team has been sent to Fayetteville in five of seven home regionals previously hosted by Arkansas, and since 2003 the Razorbacks have been sent to five regionals on Big 12 campuses. An Arkansas-Big 12 pairing has been a safe bet more often than not.
Nebraska: With an RPI in the mid-30s, the Cornhuskers (31-22) are likely in the NCAA regionals after finishing runner-up at the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha on Sunday. The 'Huskers are not from a state that borders Arkansas, but the distance from Fayetteville to Lincoln is about 425 miles, more than 100 miles less than last year's No. 2 seed, Southern Miss, from Arkansas' campus. Because most regional sites are in the South or on the coasts, Arkansas could be the most logical destination for a team from Nebraska, as you'll see multiple times to come.
Creighton: The Blue Jays (38-11) won the Big East regular season and tournament championships. While that is not a power conference that typically produces No. 1 or 2 seeds, Creighton's top-25 RPI should make it a lock as No. 2 seed somewhere. Located in downtown Omaha, Creighton is essentially the same distance from Fayetteville as Lincoln. Creighton was sent to Arkansas' regional in 2007.
No. 3 Seeds
Dallas Baptist: Like Nebraska, DBU (41-18) could probably fit as a No. 2 or 3 seed in a regional. We'll call DBU a No. 3 seed because it failed to win the Missouri Valley's conference tournament as a favorite, but still should make the tournament as an at-large selection. DBU was sent to Arkansas last season, but there are a number of other regionals nearby - Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU - that might make more sense for the Patriots.
Houston: The Cougars (32-24) are on the bubble and might be locked out because of results in conference tournaments like the Missouri Valley, but Houston would be a No. 3 seed if it makes the field over tournament champions with low RPIs. If Houston makes the field, there are no fewer than a half-dozen of regionals that would make geographic sense, one of which would be Arkansas.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles (38-19) jumped off the bubble Sunday by winning the Conference USA Tournament. Like Houston, Southern Miss makes sense in a number of regionals across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It seems unlikely that a team from so far would be sent to Arkansas two years in a row, but anything is possible in the committee's hands.
Texas State: The Bobcats (36-20) won the regular-season championship during a strong year for the Sun Belt Conference, but Texas State lost at the conference tournament. Can the Bobcats make the field as an at-large? Like all of the teams in this section, Texas State makes geographic sense at a number of sites.
No. 4 Seeds
Nebraska-Omaha: The Mavericks (31-22) won the Summit League on Oral Roberts' home field in Tulsa, ending ORU's run of four consecutive years in a regional. Might UNO replace ORU as Arkansas' first-round opponent, too? The Razorbacks defeated ORU in three regional openers between 2015-18, and ORU was also sent to Fayetteville in 2006.
Southern: The Jaguars (32-22) are the automatic qualifier from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. In 2010, Arkansas hosted the SWAC champion, Grambling State. No team from southern Louisiana has ever been sent to a regional at Arkansas.
McNeese State: The Cowboys (35-24) defeated Central Arkansas in the Southland Conference championship game Saturday, eliminating what would have been a no-brainer matchup between the Razorbacks and Bears in the first round. Like Southern, McNeese State is located in southern Louisiana, and no Southland champion has ever been sent to Fayetteville.
Past NCAA Fayetteville Regional Fields
3 Missouri State
2 Wichita State
1 Oklahoma State*
3 Oral Roberts
3 Oklahoma State*
2 Washington State
3 Kansas State
4 Grambling State
2 Missouri State*
3 Oklahoma State
4 Oral Roberts
2 Southern Miss
3 Dallas Baptist
4 Oral Roberts
*-Denotes regional champion
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