Nationwide Abundance of Three-Game Sweeps Opens Conference Seasons: Anomaly or Omaha?
DALLAS – Okay, folks, get out the brooms and let’s look at some of the first weekend results of conference play in many areas nationally, to examine all the three-game sweeps.
One of the most stunning occurred in Columbia, MO, as upstart Missouri rolled past defending Southeastern Conference champion, and national No.1 for most of 2022, Tennessee by scores of 9-1, 7-4, and 7-1, the latter two games shortened to seven innings each as part of a Sunday doubleheader the SEC requires on getaway day.
Still, it was not expected, as the Volunteers entered the road series at 15-3 overall and ranked as high as No. 2 nationally earlier in the week. The Tigers last year opened 2022 SEC activity with a three-game road trek to Nashville, TN, suffering a trio of setbacks to the Vanderbilt Commodores, on the way to a 10-20 SEC final worksheet and last place finish in the SEC East Division that followed a 12-5 overall start.
And the Tigers were not alone in sweeping visiting SEC squads. Kentucky (over traditional SEC contender Mississippi State), Vanderbilt (over defending NCAA champion Ole Miss), and South Carolina (over fellow SEC East contender Georgia) joined the lone SEC West “sweeper” Arkansas (over fellow West rival Auburn) as teams to start the year at 3-0 in the nation’s top conference by the Ratings Percentage Index.
It is early, early, though, as conference races such as the SEC play out over a grueling 30-game and 10-weekend slate. And, a 2022 first weekend comparison reveals other factors not always true to form.
Tennessee, for example, opened 2022 with 12 consecutive SEC triumphs over four series and tied the SEC record for most conference victories in a regular season at 25-5, before ever beginning the league tournament. The Vols similarly marched through that SECT field in Hoover, AL, for double SEC titles before suffering a rude awakening in Knoxville, as Notre Dame downed UT in the NCAA Super Regional round to advance the Irish to Omaha instead of the Volunteers. Tennessee ended its season and went to the house with a 57-9 overall record – most wins in NCAA Division 1 last year.
National Champion Ole Miss, by comparison, initially downed Auburn twice in three SEC contests in 2022 and then lost the second of Tennessee’s four straight opening sweeps to start SEC activity at 2-4, on the way to a 14-16 conference mark. Some three months later, the Rebels downed that same Auburn squad and fellow SEC rival Arkansas in the Men's College World Series, then swept Oklahoma in the MCWS Finals to capture the NCAA trophy with a final 42-23 slate.
Some observers related that Ole Miss also was in all likelihood the 64th team to be selected, as an at-large in the 2022 NCAA Division Championship field. That assumption came after an opening single-elimination loss in the SEC tourney to Vanderbilt, before the Rebels caught fire on the road to win the NCAA Coral Gables (FL) Regional, the Hattiesburg (MS) Super Regional, and six games in the College World Series to end the year with an 11-1 run to the crown.
Outside that always-interesting SEC race to open the season, the Atlantic Coast Conference became one of the first D1 loops to start conference clashes on March 10 and finds that same Coral Gables regional host Miami atop the two-week standings at 5-1. Maine (a frequent entry in the 1960s-1980s NCAA World Series) opened America East play with a sweep over famed NCAA men’s basketball bracket “ruiner” UMBC, and nationally-ranked UCLA got a 5-1 conference record jump on the Pac-12 Conference field.
In the evenly-matched Big 12 Conference, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech each won 2-of-3 league extravaganzas for the first week with Kansas, Texas, and West Virginia given an additional week to prepare for their circuit openers.
Contending Division 1 leagues such as the Big Ten and American Athletic chose to begin their intra-loop competition on March 24, along with the Southland Conference and Ivy League.
And, hats off to the sturdiness of Mid-American Conference clubs who overcame frigid temperatures, and even snowfall in certain areas, to get in two weeks of conference activity, which finds Ball State leading the way at 5-1, and Kent State sweeping Northern Illinois to go 3-0 in the MAC and 14-4 overall.
Other conference teams off to initial 3-0 starts have been Stetson, Central Arkansas, and Jacksonville State in the Atlantic Sun; Campbell, Gardner-Webb, and Charleston Southern in the Big South; and UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego (in just its fourth season in NCAA Division I and coached by former Texas Tech standout Eric Newman) in the Big West.
Yes, fans, it is often a good omen to sweep that first conference series, but it also is a reality check that most conferences still have 21-27 circuit contests left to play. And, that’s just regular season, prior to 29 Division 1 conference postseason tournaments (the Big West Conference regular-season champ advances to NCAA play since there is no post-2023 meet in that league). Lots of opportunity remains to earn, or lose, one of the 30 NCAA automatic berths or 34 at-large bids for the field of college baseball’s “big dance.” There are no four-team play-ins on the current docket, although that has been discussed by the NCAA Baseball Committee.
Trivia Questions taken from the COLLEGE BASEBALL CENTRAL LIBRARY (answers below):
Through games of March 19, there were three Division 1 players with a qualifying number of plate appearances hitting .500 or better. Two are from the SEC, Charlie Condon of Georgia at .514 and Dylan Crews of LSU at .508. Who leads the nation and for what team does he play?
Through games of March 19, two D1 pitchers have already started seven games each. Name them and their teams.
Through games of March 19, this team not only leads D1 in the number of double plays but also in average per game. Who are they?
Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3, as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at ncbwa.com and join today!
1. Jamal Green of Alcorn State at .529
2. Landon Smiddy of ETSU (25.2 IP, 3-3) and Matthew Marchal of Wofford (24.1 IP, 2-1)
3. Southern Illinois, 33 DP in 21 games, 1.57 PG.