SEC Baseball Conference Play Preview: What It Means

While our roundball counterparts are rightly happy about the beginning of March Madness, the SEC begins playing baseball in earnest this weekend. While nonconference games are important in the eyes of the selection committee -- LSU might be the No. 1 seed if the tournament began today -- tickets to Hoover are punched and most of the NCAA tournament seeding is decided when the league games begin.

So in a real sense, what's happened so far is just the preseason. We'll take a look at each team's schedule so far later this week. But until then, here's a few things to keep in mind before the SEC begins playing for keeps.

EVERYONE HAS A GOOD RECORD; EVERYONE MIGHT NOT BE GOOD

Even Georgia has an 8-8 record right now. (Way to make my call for you to bounce back look good, Dawgs.) Every other team is above break-even, but this is one place that our basketball friends might have an easier time understanding things than our football friends: A team from a baseball power conference has to be really, really bad to be sub-.500 in nonconference play. You need to look a little bit further than than to get a true sense for how good a team is and how well it might do in conference play.

First, you have to look at the strength of schedule. The best way of doing that is probably the Iterative Strength Ratings on boydsworld.com, a site that tries to simulate the baseball RPI as well as it can. So LSU's 15-1 record against the third-best schedule in the nation so far is even better than you might think in comparison to Tennessee's 13-2 record against a schedule that is only 68th.

That doesn't mean that Tennessee is bad; it simply means that Tennessee's record is far more likely to be smoke and mirrors than LSU's. You can guess what might be in Kentucky's future after the Wildcats put together a 9-7 record against their league-worst 153rd-strongest schedule.

EIGHT IS ENOUGH

The best part of the SEC baseball tournament, particularly in comparison to the roundball playoff, is that only eight teams make the trip to Hoover every year. That means that most of the league is still there for the first pitch, but there is some degree of merit involved in making it.

Here's how it works: The top two seeds go to the division winners, with the No. 1 seed going to the division winner with the best record. The rest of the spots are filled up based on record, with no regard for the divisions. So your team simply needs to be in the top eight teams in the conference to make the trip to Hoover.

And that's determined solely by conference record. So whatever a team does outside of the SEC is only to gain style points for the NCAA tourney; the SEC is the thing when it comes to the league playoff.

 WE'VE GOT A STREAK GOING HERE, TOO

It's a shorter national championship winning string than the football one, but the SEC has won the last two College World Series and has produced one of the two finalists for three years running. (Beginning with the 2002 season, an SEC team has appeared in the last series five times.)

So there's no football, and baksetball will be over soon enough. Why not enjoy a little bit of SEC baseball? It's pretty good, and the best is yet to come.

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