The disparity between the Arkansas Razorbacks’ ranking in the national polls and the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index is alarming.
Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs are ranked fourth by D1 Baseball and USA Today’s Coaches top 25 polls, and fifth by Baseball America.
Those are fair rankings for a team that has led the SEC Western Division all season long and has posted a 36-12 record overall and a 16-8 mark in what historically has been the toughest conference in NCAA play for the better part of two decades, if not longer.
The Razorbacks perhaps had their most impressive series win of the season last weekend, taking two of three from an Auburn squad that had been hot until running into Arkansas. The Tigers occupy the Nos. 20 and 21 spots this weekend in the aforementioned three polls.
However, when we look at the RPI, which is a tool used by the NCAA Baseball Selection Committee to guide selections and seedings for its annual baseball tournament, it looks topsy-turvy compared to the polls.
Next up for the Diamond Hogs
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium
Streaming: SEC Network Plus
Radio: 92.1 FM / AM 1590 (more)
Saturday Vanderbilt 6:30 p.m. SEC Network Plus
Sunday Vanderbilt 2 p.m. SEC Network Plus
The Razorbacks — who remember took two of three from Auburn over the weekend on the road — are No. 20 based on the calculations that produce the RPI, while Auburn is No. 10.
What’s up with that?
Who are we to believe: The polls or the RPI?
And, what’s the significance anyway?
Well, the significance, of course, has everything to do with seeding for the NCAA College Baseball Tournament, which opens play on June 3.
The top eight seeds in the tournament are known as national seeds, and each of those are guaranteed a host role through the first two rounds of the tournament as long as they advance.
Now unless the bottom just falls out, the Razorbacks in all likelihood will be a top 16 seed in the tournament and host a first-round series at Baum-Walker Stadium, the best on-campus baseball facility in the NCAA with arguably the best atmosphere in the college game.
There are a few atmospheres at college ballparks that some might consider on par with a Baum-Walker, but none that exceed it.
But the Hogs won’t be guaranteed a host role for the second round of the NCAA tourney unless they are selected as one of the top eight seeds.
Going by the polls, the Hogs are still in the hunt for a super seed, but the RPI says it’s not likely.
Now, the NCAA Selection Committee isn’t bound to the RPI. It’s just a tool they use to help in seeding.
That said, it would behove the Razorbacks to finish strong the final two weeks of the regular season in their home series against Vanderbilt and on the road at Alabama.
A deep run in the SEC Baseball Tournament, which the Hogs’ won last season, might also help their cause.
Arkansas did jump up five spots in the RPI this week after taking two of three last weekend at Auburn, but so many games have already been played already that even if the Hogs ran the table the next two weekends, there is no guarantee that they would vault into the RPI top 8 or 10.
Like Arkansas, the Commodores’ ranking in the polls doesn’t match their standing in the RPI. Vandy (31-15, 12-12 SEC) is No. 4 in the RPI, but ranked Nos. 21, 24, and 25 in the Coaches, D1 Baseball, and Baseball America polls. They face the same quandary as the Hogs, just in reverse.
So, this series is just as big if not bigger for Vanderbilt this weekend.
If I had my druthers, the Hogs’ RPI would more closely match their rankings in the polls, but this situation certainly adds some intrigue to what ought to be a marvelous series this weekend at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The crowd should be lit, and the joint should be rocking for what truly is a pivotal series for the Razorbacks and the Commodores.
The 2021-22 athletic year has treated Hog fans to several special occasions.
Think back to last September when Texas came to town for that butt-whooping by Sam Pittman’s Hogs in Razorback Stadium, or to early February when Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks out battled Kentucky and national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe in overtime at Walton Arena.
Those games were defining victories for two excellent seasons. This weekend’s baseball series with Vandy could be tantamount to those for the Diamond Hogs.
With no midweek game to play, Van Horn’s Razorbacks and their fans should be worked up into a lather by the time Friday gets here and the Commodores arrive for the big series.
As the late, great Baum-Stadium PA announcer Larry Shank use to say: “This is baseball!”
I’ve got goosebumps already.