Tennessee baseball’s season is alive for at least one more week after the Vols won the Clemson Regional this weekend to advance to the super regionals for the third straight season.
The Vols will face Southern Miss who came all the way out of the loser’s bracket to win the Auburn Regional Monday afternoon.
Tony Vitello’s sixth Tennessee squad now awaits its fate as the NCAA Tournament selection committee will announce who hosts the super regional at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday morning.
“The committee will make a determination of that when the situation comes up and the site would be announced Tuesday morning,” NCAA Media representative Jeff Williams said in a statement. “Since there is no true seeding of #2s, it would largely just be looking at the merits of the two bids (venue, hotels, guarantees, etc.) but it would be a full committee decision.”
Both teams are well equipped to host when it comes to venue and hotels. Tennessee and Southern Miss have hosted super regionals including last season.
Lindsey Nelson Stadium has a base capacity of 4,387 while Southern Miss’ Pete Taylor Field seats 3,265 fans. However, Southern Miss packed over 5,000 fans into Pete Taylor Field for last season’s Hattiesburg Super Regional.
“I think the case is the way the city has handled (hosting) in the past,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said Sunday night. “Obviously, it has good size and has handled many events. Heck, the events you get to go to in that arena (Thompson-Boling Arena) itself. But then also what these guys have done on the field, competing in our league.”
Both Knoxville and Hattiesburg are plenty big enough to have no shortage of hotels so the host could come down to who has the better resume.
Tennessee is 41-19 (16-14 SEC) and entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 20 in RPI. Southern Miss is 45-18 (22-8 Sun Belt) and entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 21 in RPI. After the opening weekend of the tournament the Vols are No. 12 in RPI and Southern Miss is No. 18.
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Why does RPI matter so much? NCAA Tournament selection committee uses RPI more than any other metric and 15 of the 16 regional host teams were in the top 16 of RPI. Many of the final teams in the field landed in the tournament over those that didn’t due to RPI.
While Southern Miss has more wins than Tennessee, they did it against a much weaker schedule. The Golden Eagles played just three SEC teams and six games against power five opponents. Southern Miss went 0-3 against the SEC and 1-5 against power five opponents in the regular season.
The Golden Eagles did go 3-0 against NCAA Tournament participant Dallas Baptist. Even so, Tennessee’s strength of schedule (19) is 25 spots higher than Southern Miss (44).
Tennessee’s three-game sweep of the Clemson Regional (No. 4 overall seed) was more impressive than Southern Miss’ Auburn Regional win.
While Tennessee boasts a better resume, Vitello and the Vols are focused on what they can control. They know they’ll be well represented on the road as well.
“It’s one of those things that is out of our control,” Vitello said. “I think we’ve grown as a program learning different things. Control what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. I don’t know where they’ll send us, if we’re playing on our field, which I do think we’re deserving of, but I do know our fans will follow. Coach Bakich made a great comment about the game last night about how our fans travel. Cautious to not take that for granted because it has kind of become the norm, even in your average game or a fall game even. It helps these guys and it makes it more fun regardless of how the outcome turns out.”