The Missouri baseball team’s late-season slide proved costly Monday when the NCAA announced its tournament field of 64. Once considered a near lock to make an NCAA regional earlier this month, the Tigers lost their final five games and six of their last seven and were again left out of the NCAA field.
Mizzou, 34-22-1 overall this season and 13-16-1 in the robust Southeastern Conference, was among the first four teams left off the bracket, the NCAA Selection Committee confirmed, along with Houston (32-24), Texas State (36-20) and Central Florida (36-21). At No. 31, Mizzou had the highest ranking in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index among teams left out of the NCAA field. In fact, Mizzou had a higher RPI than the final four teams selected for the NCAA field: No. 39 Michigan, No. 44 Duke, No. 50 Florida State and No. 59 TCU. Of the bracket’s 33 at-large selections, Mizzou posted a higher RPI than 10.
Mizzou should have the biggest gripe with TCU making the field. The Horned Frogs (32-26, 11-13) finished tied for sixth place in the Big 12, a conference that produced just five at-large bids and was two games under .500 in conference play. During the selection show on ESPNU, selection committee chairman Ray Tanner, the athletics director at South Carolina, noted that TCU has had injuries to its pitching staff this year — so has Mizzou — but is getting healthier for the postseason. TCU didn't exactly finish the season strong, going 4-6 in its final 10, with losses to Lamar (RPI No. 215) and Kansas (No. 67). Mizzou also had the stronger schedule, ranked No. 29 compared to TCU's No. 45.
Just two weeks ago Mizzou was ranked as high as No. 14 in the RPI and in contention to serve as one of 16 NCAA regional hosts, but Steve Bieser’s team dropped two of three at No. 1 Vanderbilt — though the Tigers’ lone win over the eventual SEC tournament champion on May 11 is Vandy’s only loss in its last 23 games — then was on the wrong end of a three-game sweep at home against Florida, another NCAA bubble team. With one last chance to boost its NCAA credentials, Mizzou bowed out of the SEC tournament in the first round last Wednesday, losing 2-1 to Ole Miss.
The Tigers had other chances to avoid Monday's letdown. They were swept in two other SEC series against Arkansas and Georgia and could have won their final game at Texas A&M were it not for a two-run error in a game that ended in a 2-2 tie. Mizzou also started slow, losing four of its first seven games to North Florida, Rhode Island and Northeastern.
The Tigers haven’t made the NCAA postseason since joining the SEC, last earning a regional bid in 2012 for winning the Big 12 tournament. MU’s last at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament came in 2009.
By missing out on the NCAA field, Missouri’s two best players have all but certainly played their final college games. Center fielder Kameron Misner is widely projected as a first-round pick in next week’s MLB draft. Left-handed pitcher T.J. Sikkema, a junior, like Misner, is projected as another early-round selection. Sikkema was a second-team All-SEC selection. He ended his outstanding junior year without throwing a single pitch in the postseason.
Things only get murkier from here for the Tigers. At some point the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee will make a final ruling on MU’s appeal of the sanctions dropped on the program in January for academic misconduct. The sanctions include a one-year postseason ban. Unless the appeals committee overturns the ban, Bieser’s team will be ineligible for the SEC and NCAA tournaments in 2020.
The SEC led all conferences with 10 teams in the NCAA field with six serving as regional hosts: Vanderbilt (No. 2 overall seed), Georgia (No. 4), Arkansas (No. 5), Ole Miss (No. 12) and LSU (No. 13). Also in the field from the SEC are Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.