Wichita State could use a voice like Mark Kingston's on the NCAA baseball selection committee.
Illinois State's coach — a man who helped Miami and Tulane reach the College World Series — pitched WSU hard as an at-large team on Saturday. It's expected for conference brethren to stick up for each other, and Kingston did so enthusiastically.
"I think they're a regional team," he said. "Forty-one wins, and their weekend rotation is starting to get healthy now. I hope the committee does enough research to know that (Charlie) Lowell... is healthy. That's a team, with their weekend rotation, when they're healthy — I don't think many No. 1 seeds would want to see that team."
Kingston's Redbirds dumped the Shockers (41-19) into this precarious position with a 17-8 rout in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game. The Shockers must wait until today to find out if the 10-person selection committee, made up of two coaches, two conference officials and six athletic department administrators, finds room among the 34 at-large spots. The representative from the Midwest is Big 12 deputy commissioner Tim Weiser, who chairs the committee and is a former athletic director at Kansas State. Weiser's familiarity with WSU is a plus, but he's only one member of the committee.
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The others, including Stanford coach Mike Marquess and Minnesota coach John Anderson, will evaluate a WSU resume with mixed messages.
"The committee says they base everything on the full body of work," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "There's a lot of pluses that we have. I don't know what the committee's weight will be (on various factors). I have no idea."
The Shockers will gather this morning at Eck Stadium to watch in private.
"Stressful," WSU senior Bret Bascue said. "Hopefully they will see what we've done the last month and give us another chance."
In regional projections done by sources such as Baseball America and others, WSU is regarded as an outsider. Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com gives WSU no chance because of its 3-5 record against top 50 teams in the power ratings.
Those power ratings — known as the RPI — are a source of great frustration for WSU coaches, who maintain they unfairly punish Northern schools and protect warm-weather schools who play few road games.
The RPI is one tool the committee uses, and it doesn't help WSU much this season. The Shockers dropped to No. 56 after Saturday's loss, according to warrennolan.com. Their strength of schedule is ranked No. 122 and their best win is over No. 28 Washington State — a series shortened to one game by weather. The Shockers also won two of three against No. 47 Florida Gulf Coast, another at-large candidate that did not win its conference tournament.
WSU's record against the top 100, however, is 13-9, a stat that could be helpful depending on how the committee weighs it. In fewer games, WSU's .590 winning percentage against the top 100 is similar or better to teams presumed to be at-large locks, such as Kansas State (18-14, .563), Oregon (23-20, .534), or candidates such as Pittsburgh (8-10, .444).
WSU counters those numbers with its play over the past month. If peaking at the right time means something, the Shockers are a better candidate.
The Shockers are 18-5 — all against NCAA Division I opponents — since April 23. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and won five of six road games — including two at Illinois State — in May.
Lowell's health is also something to consider. He missed six starts with forearm tightness before returning on May 16. In two starts and a relief appearance, he has thrown 10 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run and striking out 17. With Lowell added to the rotation with Jordan Cooper and Tim Kelley, the Shockers appear capable of pitching with most teams in the field.
"We have two great starting pitchers who have had fantastic performances all the way through the end, and a third starting pitcher who has gotten well," Stephenson said. "That makes us a real bona fide contender in a regional."