Valenti’s Verdict: SHU baseball needs to put more emphasis on non-conference games
For the second straight season the Pirates find themselves in the Big East Championship down in Clearwater, Fla. Last season the Hall earned a spot in the NCAA Regionals after an unexpected run to the conference title led to a NCAA Tournament appearance, but the team is going to need another run if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
This year the Pirates earned the No. 3 seed, finishing one game behind conference co-champions Louisville and St. John’s. Despite winning their series against both the Cardinals and Red Storm this season, on the road, the Hall need to win the conference tournament to make the Regionals while Louisville and St. John’s are all but locked in the 64 NCAA Tournament field, according to ESPN’s College Baseball Blog.
The Hall holds a similar overall record to both teams (33-22 for SHU, 33-21 for SJU, and 38-18 for UofL) but the main difference between the three team’s is how they played non-conference games and mid-weeks games.
Seton Hall holds a 16-12 record in non-conference games, but it is this portion of their schedule that damaged any hope of an at-large bid. Six times this year the Pirates lost to a team that finished the regular season under .500. The most damaging of these losses was getting swept by 24-31 Tennessee and a pair of mid-week losses to 20-34 St. Peter’s.
After the second St. Peter’s loss (a 7-0 loss), one of the players mentioned how he thought they underestimated the Peacocks. I can see how that is possible being a top Big East team going against a bad smaller conference team but if the NCAA Tournament is your goal that kind of performance cannot happen.
Coming into the year the Pirates had higher than normal expectations and would be looking at potentially a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance had it not been for these games. It is also these performances that are making it harder to view Seton Hall as consistent threat, despite their conference record, because good teams do not lose to bad teams that many times.
Just look at the two teams ahead of the Pirates in the conference, Louisville lost three out of conference games to teams under .500 and St. John’s only lost two all season to those teams.
Not being on the team, I do not know if there are other circumstances surrounding these losses but that many bad losses shows that the Pirates need to start taking non-conference games more seriously, and not just look to perform well in the Big East. If the Pirates do fail to make the NCAA tournament, look directly at their play in non-conference games as the reason why.
Stephen Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org