Normally the No. 1 seed isn’t the first team to leave the party, but that’s what happened to Rice baseball after 6-5 losses to Florida International and Middle Tennessee State Wednesday and Thursday.
Rice entered the Conference USA Tournament in Hattiesburg with an outside shot of hosting an NCAA Tournament regional. They left not knowing for sure if the Owls season would even continue.
“I hope we are in a Regional but there is no certainty there,” said Rice coach Wayne Graham after Thursday‘s setback.
The 64-team field will be announced at 11 a.m. CST Monday on ESPN U. A total of 31 bids go to conference or conference tournament champions, including the winner of today’s unexpected C-USA title game between 6 seed UAB and 8 seed FIU. Rice will be vying for one of 33 at-large bids.
Will Rice partake? The Owls brings to the table a 35-20 record and 22-8 mark in Conference USA. The team was 21-8 at home, 14-9 on the road and 0-3 in neutral games.
The Owls own a series win at Arizona, and series splits with Texas and Stanford. The Owls also have a May sweep on the road against a ranked Florida Atlantic squad, who also is eagerly awaiting Monday’s bids after losing in the C-USA semifinals on Saturday.
Rice lost single games at TCU and Texas A&M and two of three to Houston, all of which figure to be No. 1 or 2 seeds on the road to Omaha.
The committee can’t fault Rice for not having a tough schedule, and the Owls did alright in those games, going 10-9 against the before-mentioned seven teams. As for bad losses, Rice has a few but not an unusually high amount.
Almost all the NCAA Tournament projections before the Conference USA Tournament had Rice as a 2 seed. It’s difficult to envision the Owls dropping out completely after two more losses, especially since the FIU loss seems not as bad now as it did four days ago. The Conference USA regular season title, Rice’s excellent baseball tradition and the top 25 rankings in most polls for the most of the season also help the Owls’ stock.
Before the C-USA tournament, Rice had won 9 of its past 11. The losses in Hattiesburg, however, didn’t leave a good last impression.
“We just didn’t play well,” Graham said. “It is hard to understand at this time of year that stuff happening, but it does. They are young. We hope we will rebound from it.”
The gut feeling here is Rice gets in as a 3 seed. The question then becomes whether the committee keeps Rice in town at a regional hosted by Houston. Or will Rice travel to a regional in the region, such as TCU, Texas A&M or LSU.