Arizona State opens NCAA baseball tournament play with a team from New England but then the road to Omaha gets significantly more difficult.
After meeting Central Connecticut State on Friday, the Sun Devils will play the winner of UNLV vs. New Mexico State in the second round of the Tempe Regional at Diablo Stadium.
"I think this is a very formidable field," ASU coach Pat Murphy said.
Should the Sun Devils win the regional, they would play the super regional against the winner of the Fullerton Regional.
Host Cal State-Fullerton has Arizona, Notre Dame and San Diego in its field. That means the ASU faithful will have to pull for Murphy's old school, Notre Dame, or, horror of horrors, Arizona, in order for ASU to host the super regional. ASU was denied a top-eight seed, while Fullerton received a No. 7 overall seed and would host a super regional if it wins.
Having been ranked in the top 10 all year and compiling impressive numbers at the plate and on the mound, the sixth-ranked Sun Devils (50-12) were hoping for one of the top eight seeds. Once again the RPI did in the Devils.
The Boyd's World "Pseudo RPI" correctly calculated the top eight teams, though not in the same order as the NCAA baseball committee. Boyd's World and the NCAA concurred that Florida State was the overall No. 1 seed for the 64-team field.
Boyd's World had ASU's RPI at No. 21 Sunday morning.
The difference between national ranking and NCAA rating was a reflection of ASU's schedule. Murphy bristled when queried by ESPN about the schedule during the announcement show.
As he has often stated on selection day during his nine-season tenure, Murphy said he would match his schedule with any other national power.
There were howls in the ASU camp over Miami (Fla.), which is on NCAA probation, getting one of the eight seeds. But Boyd's World had the Hurricanes No. 2 overall in its RPI computations. The NCAA didn't have the 'Canes that high, but Miami still landed the last of the eight seeds.
While the baseball committee said it didn't adhere to the 400-mile travel restrictions of a year ago, which were inspired by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the pairings suggest the committee adhered to another stated postseason goal of the NCAA: making the regionals easier on the players' families. Western teams stayed home to fill up four sites — ASU, Fullerton, Long Beach and Stanford.
The West had complained in the past about getting only two or three sites. But in granting the West four sites, the NCAA eliminated the need to send a western team east. So no more than two teams from the West will qualify for the College World Series.
"It's bad for the sport," said Murphy, who believes some teams have easier paths to Omaha than others.
New Mexico State (42-16), an at-large selection and regional third seed, is making its second straight trip to the East Valley. UNLV fans will be able to drive to the Valley or take advantage of numerous flights between Phoenix and Las Vegas to attend and help ASU make budget.
UNLV (45-15) has an RPI of 37 but Murphy indicated the Rebels are better than that.
"Some people thought UNLV should have been a No. 1 seed," the ASU coach said. "They have been dominating teams. We'll have our hands full. They've got experience. They can run. They can pitch."
Whenever a traditional power faces a lightly regarded team, the first thing to do is see if there's an Andy Benes (Evansville), Frank Viola (St. John's), Bob Welch (Eastern Michigan) or Bill Swift (Maine) lurking as a No. 1 starter.
Central Connecticut State (31-15-2) doesn't appear to have one.
Murphy, who tries to follow everything in college baseball, said he knew little of Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut State.
The Blue Devils of New Britain, Conn., whose unofficial RPI is 183, are making a second straight NCAA appearance.
ASU had already secured the school's 27th bid to the NCAA playoffs when the regional sites were announced Sunday, so the only suspense Monday was what teams were going to visit Tempe.
"We'd have liked to have been one of the eight seeds," said outfielder Nick Walsh. "You have to play good teams and beat good teams anyway."
The Devils aren't concerned with who they play, but how they play. They've lost their past two home regionals, including last year when Houston went through undefeated.
"It adds a little bit of grit," outfielder Andre Ethier said of last year's setback. "We definitely don't want to go out the same way."