The ASUN tournament is coming up, starting on Tuesday of next week. Due to the nature of the amount of games played over the final week of the regular season (May 19-21) and also the actual tournament itself, there are different battles and wars to be fought by each team in the ASUN.
There are 12 teams in the ASUN - 6 in the East Division and 6 in the West Division. The top 3 teams in the East and Top 3 in the West automatically advance to the ASUN Tournament, which is comprised of the Top 8 teams in the ASUN overall. The funny thing about our league this year is that conference play is comprised of a Home & Home series with every team in their own division for a total of 30 games of regular season conference games. The East, consists of Kennesaw State, Liberty, FGCU, North Florida, Jacksonville, and Stetson. The West consists of Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, Central Arkansas, Lipscomb, Bellarmine, and North Alabama. Basically the East and West divisions might as well be their own conferences, because nobody from the East has played anybody from the West, thus far.
So as I mentioned, the top 3 teams in each division automatically advance to the 8 team ASUN Tourney. But it gets very tricky this year, so you'll need to pay attention. RPI plays a huge factor in the tournament, and perhaps it's even more of a factor than just the usual "who finished with a better record". RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index - in layman's terms, they are mathematically calculated rankings that help the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee make their selections for at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament. You can view the RPI rankings here: https://www.ncaa.com/rankings/baseball/d1/rpi. Unlike in basketball, where usually only the bigger leagues have multiple teams selected for tournament play and ASUN basketball would never have an at-large bid, baseball is a different monster in itself. The ASUN historically has had 2-3 bids per year in a strong year. RPI not only matters for the NCAA tournament at-large selection process, but it will also matter for the seeding in the ASUN tournament.
The 2022 ASUN tournament consists of 8 teams with 2 pools of 4 teams each, and each pool will play round-robin to determine the semifinals matchups. The top 3 teams record-wise in each Division are guaranteed a spot in the ASUN tournament. The other 4 teams not in these pools will be eliminated from all postseason contention (North Alabama/Bellarmine are donezo). Here’s where it starts to get unique – there is Pool A (I’ll call it the Olympic Pool) and there is Pool B (I’ll call it the Kiddy Pool) – shout out to Trey Fowler and Nolan Alexander for these names. The Olympic Pool gets an automatic bid from the winner of the East and an automatic bid from the winner of the West. This year due to a higher RPI, the winner of the East will be the #1 seed and the winner of the West will be the #2 in the Olympic Pool. The remaining two seeds in the Olympic Pool will be the next two highest RPIs, regardless of whether the teams come from the East or West. The Olympic Pool will likely consist of Kennesaw State, Liberty, FGCU, and whoever wins the four way battle in the West for first place in the standings, with 3 regular season games remaining. The Kiddy Pool will likely consistent of Jacksonville from the East due to their RPI, plus whoever finishes #2 and #3 in the West standings. The final spot would go to whoever has the highest RPI remaining between the final teams in contention which would be Stetson or UNF from the East, and whoever finishes #4 in the standings in the West.
There is a reason that the ASUN uses RPI to place teams in the tournament pools, as opposed to just saying "okay, the top 2 in the East and top 2 in the West are in the Olympic Pool." There is a more drastic shift in RPI when a good team loses to a bad team. So the goal is to keep the good teams playing each other, to not hurt their RPIs as badly, and affecting any NCAA Tournament bids that the ASUN gets. The East is MUCH MUCH MUCH better this year than the West. At minimum the Top 4 teams in the East will finish with a higher RPI than any team in the West, and it could be as many as 5 teams in the East that finish with better RPIs than any Western team. Also what is messed up is, Central Arkansas has a chance to win the West, and their RPI is #207 in the nation right now. To put that in perspective, the worst team in the East is #156 at this moment and there are only 301 teams in the country.
So what is the advantage of swimming in the Olympic Pool vs. being stuck in the Kiddy Pool? I’ll get to that. In each pool, the teams will play round-robin style, where they all play 1 game vs. each of the other 3 teams. Out of both the Olympic and Kiddy Pools, 4 total teams will advance to play a 1 game semi-finals, and then a Championship game. Here’s the big difference between the pools and why you want to be in the Olympic Pool: The Top THREE teams in the round robin out of the Olympic Pool advance, whereas only ONE team in the Kiddy Pool advances to the Final 4. Not only do you have a 75% chance of advancing from the Olympic Pool to the semifinals, but it’s implicitly not cut throat sudden death. In the Olympic Pool if you win game 1, you’re in great shape and can possibly see how things shape up before making any further pitching decisions. Remember that there are only 3 days off in-between game 1 of the ASUN Tournament (May 24) and the Championship game (May 28), so it’s a battle of managing your starters and your bullpen. The Kiddy Pool does not have this luxury at all – they will have to go all out and try to win each and every one of those three round-robin games as if their life depended on it, and there’s no tomorrow. Here’s where the incentive comes in for winning the Olympic Pool – they get to play the Semifinals game against the Winner of the Kiddy Pool. The winner of the Kiddy Pool will likely have just spent 3 excruciating days trying to stave off elimination and using whatever arms they could scrape up, and before that, they likely would played for survival in a 3 game series to end the regular season as well. The other two teams who place #2 and #3 from the Olympic Pool will face off in the other semifinals matchup. The winner of those games will advance to the one game Finals on Saturday.
I’ve posted the tournament schedule below this post, so you can see the dates of the matchups, and can see how little rest there will be and the tough decisions to be made. Not included below is the final week of the ASUN regular season, where teams will be playing for RPI, conference standings, seedings, at-large bid chances, etc. The final week is 3 games from May 19th through May 21s. Here's where it gets tricky for the many of the coaches in the ASUN, and each have their own unique situations and questions to ponder over. The next 10 days will consist or many individual battles to fight, some of the battles will be there by choice/strategy, and other battles will need to be fought for pure survival. For example, if a team wants to start their #1 starter this Thursday in conference play, they may or may not have the choice to limit their innings, for the tournament, which starts after only 4 days off. This isn’t MLB - in college ball, pitchers are used to full week’s rest between having to start again. How quickly can these pitchers bounce back and be effective?
Kennesaw State Assessment
Kennesaw State needs to beat Liberty 3 times on the road to win the East Division and get the #1 seed in the Olympic Pool. If KSU wins 2 of 3 at Liberty, we would tie them in record, and head to head, and likely have a lower RPI, giving Liberty the #1 seed. To me, this is one of those battles that is worth fighting to an extent, but not worth sacrificing the war, which is ultimately winning the ASUN tournament to play in the regional. There are only two days off between the final regular season game and the beginning of the tournament, so if you fire your starting pitches on Saturday for 100 pitches, he won’t be available until at least Wednesday, and probably much later than that. All the decisions are built on managing your pitching staff, and at our level, most of the teams don’t have a full bullpen they can trust, or even 3 starters they can trust, so you have to balance using your best guys, preserving their arms, maxing them out, and resting them, etc.
KSU’s RPI is in the low 50’s right now, and we probably won’t have a strong chance for an at-large bid unless it is in the 30s somewhere, at worst, which would require sweeping Liberty and having a super strong showing in the ASUN tournament. Liberty is in the driver’s seat for an at-large bid, sitting in the high 30s in RPI right now, so they have to decide whether to go all in on these games this weekend, to try and push their RPI into an at-large bid, as sort of a backup plan for if they lose the ASUN tournament next week. But again, if they go all in this weekend, especially with their starting pitchers, they risk not having them available or as effective in the tournament. Luckily (or unluckily) KSU does not have that problem, because even if we sweep Liberty, I don’t think we have a high likelihood of getting selected for an at-large bid. At the very least I don’t think KSU should plan on this bid being an option, or anticipate it, in the decision making process with how to strategize the final 10 days. We are pretty solidly locked 20 points ahead of FGCU in the RPI, for the #3 seed in the East (assuming we don’t sweep Liberty, and get #1). All the games this weekend for us should be about momentum and building confidence. Even if KSU lost all three to Liberty, and FGCU won all three vs. lowly UNF, I still don’t think they’d be able to catch us in RPI. The advantage of finishing #3 in the Olympic Pool vs. #4, is the potential tie breaker for advancing to the Semifinals in the ASUN tournament.
To me, it’s all about making a Regional (and going from there). Winning the ASUN and getting the #1 overall seed might help with recruiting or might look pretty on paper, but nobody is going to remember that in 2 years. Every player on KSU would rather play in a Regional than win a regular season conference championship. I’d rather win this weekend for the momentum shift, rather than focusing on the #1 seed. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. We’ll get a chance to see who will be heroes and who can handle big situations, and who folds under the pressure. Play ball!
Schedule of final week of Regular season
May 19th-21st Kennesaw State @ Liberty
Schedule of ASUN Championship Play
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
11 AM: Pool B #6 v. Pool B #7 - JetBlue Park
11 AM: Pool A #1 v. Pool A #4
3 PM: Pool A #2 v. Pool A #3
7 PM: Pool B #5 v. Pool B #8
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
11 AM: Pool B #6 v. Pool B #8 - JetBlue Park
11 AM: Pool A #1 v. Pool A #3
3 PM: Pool A #2 v. Pool A #4
7 PM: Pool B #5 v. Pool B #7
Thursday, May 26, 2022
11 AM: Pool B #7 v. Pool B #8 (if necessary) - JetBlue Park
11 AM: Pool A #1 v. Pool A #2
3 PM: Pool A #3 v. Pool A #4
7 PM Pool B #5 v. Pool B #6 (if necessary)
Friday, May 27, 2022 - Semifinals
11 AM: Pool A Winner v. Pool B Winner
3 PM: Pool A Runner-Up v. Pool A Third-Place Finisher
Saturday, May 28, 2022
1 PM: ASUN Championship: Semifinal Winners
*All games will be played at Swanson Stadium unless otherwise noted.