With the Cougs putting the finishing touches on a sweep by soundly beating USC again this afternoon -- they're slipping, as it was "only" 8-2 this time -- it's fair to get pretty excited about this team and where it's heading. They certainly seem to be rolling at the right time, now sitting all alone in third place in what is a ridiculously tough Pac-10.
This team that was once on the bubble now would seem to be a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament with just five games left in the season -- a road game at Gonzaga on Tuesday, a home game against Portland on Wednesday, and a three-game road series at UCLA starting Friday. Even if the Cougs go in the tank and win just one or two of those games, it's awful tough to see them getting left out of the field.
That's how we Cougs think, right? What's the worst case scenario, what if it happens, and will we get screwed if it does?
But then, something funny happened: I actually started to think like Bill Moos wants me to think. Instead of wondering what would happen if things go south, what if this team goes nuts over the last five games and wins them all?
USC isn't a great team, but nobody has done to the Trojans what we did this weekend in outscoring them 46-13. (Only UCLA, which outscored them 30-10, even came close.) Running the table doesn't seem so far fetched anymore.
And what if they do? Is the once unthinkable -- hosting a regional, an honor that with few exceptions goes to the top 16 teams in the field -- possible?
I threw the idea out there via Twitter last night, and someone responded that a commenter over at the Brand X message board said the Cougs don't have the required facilities to host a regional.
Craig Lawson, the sports information director at WSU for the baseball team, told me via e-mail last night that one of the reasons they invested in upgrading the facilities at Bailey-Brayton Field recently was for this very situation -- so that we could host a regional if the opportunity presented itself. To the best of his knowledge, WSU is able to do that.
However, Lawson said the bigger question is whether the tournament committee will see WSU as worthy of hosting a regional.
As of last night, he said the Cougs' RPI was No. 32, and apparently the committee relies heavily on that metric to compare teams. With games against Gonzaga and Portland coming up which are likely to hurt their RPI regardless of the outcome -- yay for flawed ranking systems! -- it's unlikely even a road sweep over UCLA would vault the Cougs up into the top 20.
Still, if the Cougs went down to Los Angeles and swept the Bruins, they would have finished the year by winning 14 of their last 15 games and would finish second in the conference ahead of UCLA -- a team ESPN projected this week as being in line to host one of those regionals.
I'm certainly no baseball bracketology expert, but at that point, I have a hard time believing that this team would not receive strong consideration from a committee made of humans for hosting a regional, regardless of some silly mathematical equation that's unduly influenced by the fact that WSU can't get tough nonconference opponents to come to Pullman.
The odds might be stacked against WSU, both in terms of RPI and in terms of sweeping a really, really good UCLA team on the road. But I've got to believe that hosting a regional is not out of the question.