Maryland may be hosting, but Michigan has a cleaner path to Omaha
Michigan is the most recent Big Ten team to reach the College World Series, making it all the way to the final in 2019 before losing to Vanderbilt.
The Wolverines are 1 of 2 Big Ten teams in this year’s NCAA regionals. (That number should be 3, but Rutgers was denied a spot in a mind-boggling selection committee decision.)
If a Big Ten team returns to Omaha this season, Maryland should certainly be considered the favorite. The Terrapins have been among college baseball’s best all season and will host a regional for the first time as a result.
But when you break down the brackets, a different truth is revealed.
Maryland has a better team than Michigan. But Michigan has a better path to the College World Series. And if the B1G is to be represented in Omaha, the Wolverines are the more likely team.
Trouble ahead for Terps
Maryland suffers from the same ailment as Rutgers, albeit with a much better outcome.
With the No. 15 national seed, the Terps are under-seeded. Maryland is No. 9 as measured by RPI, ranked 9th in the Baseball America Top 25, and 10th in the D1 Baseball Top 25. But the Terps were punished by the same metric the committee used to keep Rutgers out of the field — strength of schedule.
Maryland is 107th in strength of schedule and 140th in nonconference strength of schedule, which are among the lowest marks for regional hosts. Because the committee decided that’s more important than it actually is, the Terps were penalized.
Being a 15-seed — instead of say, a 12 — becomes an issue in Super Regionals. If both hosts win their regionals, Maryland will be sent across the country to play No. 2 seed Stanford.
It’s a double-whammy. Maryland wouldn’t just need to upset the nation’s 2nd-ranked team. The Terps also have to adjust their body clocks by 3 time zones. That’s a decidedly unfriendly path.
But just getting there would be an accomplishment because Maryland is hosting 1 of this tournament’s potential sleepers in its regional.
Of the 8 teams ranked ahead of Maryland in RPI, only 2 aren’t hosting regionals. And 1 of those teams, Wake Forest, is the No. 2 seed in the College Park Regional. The Demon Deacons are 6th in RPI. As a whole, the ACC is rated as the nation’s No. 2 conference this season.
Third-seeded UConn is another potentially dangerous opponent. The Huskies don’t get many cracks against top teams in the Northeast but went 8-2 against Quad 1 and 2 competition this season. UConn also possesses 1 of the nation’s top pitching staffs, ranking 3rd in ERA.
The Terrapins have the talent to get through. But there’s nothing easy about the path they’ve been asked to take.
Michigan, on the other hand, has some conceivable wiggle room.
How Michigan can manage
Without a win over Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, Michigan wouldn’t be here. As a result, the Wolverines are tucked away as the No. 3 seed in the Louisville Regional.
But Michigan has a chance to get out of that regional and potentially make even more noise.
At No. 17, Louisville has the 3rd-lowest RPI of any regional host. The Cardinals are as susceptible to an upset as any host due to their pitching struggles. Louisville is a somewhat shocking 118th nationally with a 5.29 ERA. And the Wolverines, who are 11th nationally with 133 doubles, can certainly hit for power.
Before Michigan can worry about Louisville, though, it has to get through 2nd-seeded Oregon. The Ducks are decent but far from overwhelming on the mound, ranking 55th in ERA and 94th in WHIP.
Michigan’s own pitching could render this all very moot, as the Wolverines are 236th nationally with a 6.81 ERA. Winning the first 2 games will be crucial, as they lack the depth to come through the loser’s bracket. But it’s not crazy to think Michigan can club its way through the regional and keep going.
The winner of the Louisville Regional faces the winner of the College Station Regional. Texas A&M earned the No. 5 national seed but has the lowest RPI of all regional hosts at No. 22.
The Aggies may also be dealing with an opponent that has an axe to grind.
Former TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle is in his first year at A&M, and his former team is the No. 2 seed in the region. One assumes his former players would derive no greater pleasure than ending his season a year after he left them behind in Fort Worth.
The Horned Frogs would be hosts and favorites in a scenario where TCU and Michigan both advance. But a Super Regional against an opponent that was a No. 2 seed in its regional is a much less daunting task than facing the No. 2 seed in the entire country. And that’s why it’s not crazy to think Michigan could return to the ballpark where it just clinched the Big Ten Tournament.
If it came down to a 3-game series between Maryland and Michigan, I’d take the Terrapins in a heartbeat. But when it comes to what’s actually ahead, I feel much better about the Wolverines’ chances.
DraftKings has Michigan as +20000 to win the College World Series. DraftKings is one of a few books that is available for Michigan online sports betting.