Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Fayetteville among 16 host sites for NCAA baseball regionals
Arkansas fans call the Hogs Friday, April 14, 2023, during the seventh-inning stretch of the Razorbacks’ game with Tennessee at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — What has been assumed for weeks was made official Sunday evening: the college baseball postseason is returning to Baum-Walker Stadium.
Arkansas will be one of 16 host sites for regionals that begin Friday across the U.S. The Razorbacks will learn which three teams will be sent to their regional during the tournament selection show Monday at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.
Arkansas is one of eight SEC teams that will host a regional, along with Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina. No conference has ever hosted so many regionals.
“If people are paying attention to the whole season in baseball….we should have eight hosts,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Saturday on SEC Network. “I think that’s actually good for college baseball. You look at what you experience…at our stadiums — they’re full, it’s exciting, they’re passionate. Win or lose, I think teams want to play in those environments.”
Seven SEC teams rank in the top 11 of the NCAA’s Ratings Performance Index, which is a key metric used for seeding by the tournament selection committee. Nine SEC teams are in the RPI top 20.
“Either the RPI means something or it doesn’t,” Sankey said. “Just tell us. Either the whole season means something or it doesn’t. This isn’t about the first half [of the season] or the second half. This is about how teams have done to schedule to play and perform, and this is the hardest league with the best pitching in the country every week.”
The ACC has four teams hosting in Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia and Miami. Other host sites will be at Stanford of the Pac-12, Coastal Carolina of the Sun Belt Conference, Oklahoma State of the Big 12 and first-time host Indiana State of the Missouri Valley Conference.
For the first time in 10 years, no team will host from the state of Texas. That state has had a host in 22 of the previous 23 tournaments.
Unlike last year, Arkansas (41-16) did not sweat the regional site announcement. The Razorbacks are ranked fourth in the USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll, rank third in RPI and have the nation’s fourth-best strength of schedule.
Arkansas is expected to be a top-eight national seed for the NCAA Tournament, which would ensure home-field advantage for games in the regional and super regional rounds.
The Razorbacks are 30-4 at home this season. Only Tennessee (33) and Virginia (32) have more victories on their home fields.
Arkansas will host a regional for the 10th time since the NCAA adopted its 64-team tournament format in 1999. The Razorbacks did not leave Baum-Walker Stadium during the regionals or super regionals between 2017-21.
Arkansas won its last three home regionals and won home super regionals in 2018 and 2019. The Razorbacks lost to North Carolina State at home in the super regional round two years ago.
“Playing at Baum-Walker Stadium in the postseason, there may be some great places, and I’m sure there might be a couple that are just as good or close, but I don’t see how,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn told SEC Network last week. “It’s unbelievable, the atmosphere.”
With one of the highest win totals in college baseball, Arkansas was in contention to host a regional last season, but was hurt by an RPI that ranked 41st. The Razorbacks won a regional at Oklahoma State and a super regional at North Carolina — teams that hosted with worse win percentages than Arkansas — en route to a national semifinalist finish at the College World Series.
The Razorbacks hardened their non-conference schedule this year to include more teams that were expected to contend for their conference championships. In the process, Arkansas reduced the number of games scheduled against in-state teams.
It worked in the team’s favor.
The Razorbacks’ non-conference schedule strength ranks 37th (it was 157th last year) and they played four teams that won their regular-season conference titles — Oklahoma State (Big 12), Army (Patriot League), Wright State (Horizon League) and Lipscomb (ASUN). Arkansas played three other teams that finished second in their conference standings.
At least seven of the Razorbacks’ 16 non-conference opponents are expected to be included in the NCAA field. Army, Wright State, Lipscomb, TCU (Big 12) and Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley) earned their conference’s automatic bids. Texas is also expected to earn an at-large bid.
Arkansas played series against seven of the other nine SEC teams that are expected to be in the tournament field. In addition to the regional hosts, the SEC is expected to be represented in the tournament by Texas A&M and Tennessee.
The Razorbacks have a 25-10 record against teams expected to be in the tournament field.
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