The SEC's baseball national seeding storyline takes an interesting turn with Vanderbilt and Tennessee

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

Has Tennessee jumped Vanderbilt in the national seeding picture?

D1 Baseball released its regional projections on Sunday morning, and there was one significant change for the Southeastern Conference: Tennessee, in the aftermath of its advancement to the semifinals of the conference tournament finals, has jumped Vanderbilt in the national seeding picture. In fact, the Vols jumped three spots from being fifth on Saturday and Vanderbilt (which hadn't played a game in the meantime) fell from two to four.

That seems a little unusual this stage in the game--conference tournaments often don't get a ton of weight--but it's been an unusual year. And "unusual" doesn't necessarily mean undeserved; I've often thought league tournaments probably should carry more weight than they do, or at least if you knock out some heavyweights during your advancement. 

But none of that really matters. What matters is how the teams stack up head to head and so let's look at that.

Overall and league records

Tennessee: 45-15, 20-10 SEC, No. 20 overall strength of schedule

Vanderbilt: 40-15, 19-10, No. 9 SOS

The Vols played five more games and one more in the league as Vanderbilt lost a home game with Alabama due to a rainout; the Vols therefore won the East based on winning percentage. Obviously if Vanderbilt had played that game and lost, nothing would have changed, but if the Commodores won it, they've have won the East based on beating Tennessee head to head.

Now, if you want to include SEC tournament results, the Vols are 23-11 in the league where Vanderbilt is 20-12. Tennessee's path was easier (two games with Alabama, one with Mississippi State, one with Florida) than Vandy's (two games vs. Ole Miss and one with Arkansas) but the Vols also earned an easier path with regular-season play.

One more note: SEC regular-season schedules are different. Vanderbilt avoided the best team in the country (Arkansas) but also did not play the league's 12th- and 13th-best teams (Auburn, Texas A&M). Combined league records of those three: 41-49.

The Vols also didn't play Auburn, but avoided Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which had combined records of 48-42.

Home-road

The Vols were 16-5 in true road games, while Vanderbilt was 12-7. In neutral-site games (for each, that's the SEC tournament games), Tennessee is 3-1, while Vandy is 1-2. 

So Tennessee was 19-6 away from home, while the Commodores were 13-9. 

RPI and RPI tiers

Vanderbilt is No. 2 in the RPI on Sunday morning, while the Vols are fourth. How much that means, I'm not sure; obviously it's still an evaluation tool, but, the RPI is wonkier than ever this season due to teams not playing normal conference schedules. 

On the other hand, I think the comp is probably more valid comparing teams within leagues rather than teams in different leagues. Still, the difference between 2 and 4 seems fairly negligible given how close the teams were this year. 

Here's how the teams performed vs. different RPI tiers, with Tennessee listed first and then Vandy:

1-25: 8-6 vs. 11-10

26-50: 10-6 vs. 8-2

51-100: 12-2 vs. 2-2

101-150 5-0 vs. 9-0

151-302: 10-1 vs. 10-1

The biggest discrepancy here is that the Vols out-performed Vandy in the "NIT tier" of the RPI, for whatever that's worth. Continuing with the hoops analogies, the Vols probably had fewer "lay-up" games than did Vandy, however, Vanderbilt's schedule was more top-heavy with top-25 teams. 

Let's look at who each team beat within the top 50 in order of RPI, with games noted as home (h), road (r) or neutral-site (n):

Tennessee                     Vanderbilt

1-Arkansas (h)              4-Tennessee (r)

2-Vandy (h)                  4-Tennessee (r)

7-Mississippi State (n)   7-Mississippi State (h)

17-Florida (n)               7-Mississippi State (h)

17-Florida (h)              12-Oklahoma State (r)

17-Florida (n)              12-Oklahoma State (r)

18-South Carolina (r)   13-Ole Miss (r)

18-South Carolina (r)   13-Ole Miss (n)

 29-LSU (h)                  17-Florida (r)

29-LSU (h)                   18-South Carolina (h)  

29-LSU (h)                   18-South Carolina (h)

30-Indiana St. (h)        26-Wright St. (h)

30-Indiana St. (h)        26-Wright St. (h)

32-Alabama (n)           28-LSU (r)

32-Alabama (r).           28-LSU (r)

32-Alabama (h)            28-LSU (r)

41-Georgia (r)             32-Alabama (h)

41-Georgia (r)             32-Alabama (h)

                                  41-Georgia (h) 

If you dig into "who you beat" within the top 50, Vanderbilt's got a mild edge as it comes to beating better RPI teams, and it also beat more of them on the road (nine vs. six), though if you add neutral-site games, the Vols have an edge there (three vs. one). 

If you want to dig deeper:

Records vs. D1's projected top-8 national seeds: Tennessee 3-4, Vanderbilt 4-3

Vs. hosting teams 9-16: Tennessee 3-1, Vanderbilt 3-5

Vs. teams that are projected 2-seeds in regionals: Tennessee 2-2, Vanderbilt 4-2

Vs. teams that are projected 3-seeds in regionals: Tennessee: 5-2, Vanderbilt 3-0

(Wright State, which Vanderbilt beat 2-0, is projected as a 4 despite a 26 RPI)

Summary

If you want to give the edge to Tennessee on grounds that it won the East by a half game and has performed better in Hoover, it's not an unreasonable case. 

Likewise, if you want to say Vandy has small edges in other places (for instance, overall RPI, tougher strength of schedule, more wins vs. teams that could make the field without needing to win a conference tournament), and that the head to head series win against the Vols (in Knoxville, no less) gives the Commodores the edge, that's also reasonable.

Personally, I lean towards Vanderbilt because it's close and the 'Dores got the series win in Knoxville. But if Tennessee beats Arkansas in Sunday's title game in Hoover, it might be enough to tip the scales.