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UM has ‘no excuses’ for NCAA snub; MSU also left out

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan infielder Jake Bivens

If this NCAA tournament Selection Committee used the basketball criteria, well, Michigan just might have gotten to keep playing.

Instead, Michigan baseball found itself on the wrong side of the bubble when the 64-team bracket was unveiled Monday afternoon.

The Wolverines, with the second-highest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) in the Big Ten behind only conference-tournament champion Ohio State, were clearly penalized for a sluggish finish to the regular season.

Meanwhile, Nebraska, with a 48 RPI to Michigan's 38, earned an at-large bid, seemingly on the strength of its strong finish.

Years ago, the NCAA tournament Selection Committee for basketball did away with rewarding teams for strong finishes or penalizing for poor finishes, and instead claimed all games would be weighted equally. Baseball hasn't adopted this approach.

"We really have no excuses," Michigan coach Erik Bakich said Sunday. "We haven't played to our potential."

Michigan (36-21) lost seven of its final eight regular-season games, when it was saddled with two huge injuries to the lineup.

‘Pretty exciting’: Revived Western Michigan treasures NCAA bid

Nebraska (37-20), on the other hand, won 15 of 19 to close the regular season, before being swept out of the Big Ten tournament in two games.

Interestingly, in the one series the teams played against each other, in mid-April, Michigan swept the three games in Ann Arbor, outscoring the opposition, 23-9.

That was right before Nebraska got on a roll.

Michigan won a game in the Big Ten tournament, but lost two to Ohio State to be sent packing -- and on Sunday, Bakich seemed to have an idea that his team might not get into the NCAA tournament. After making it last year, being on the outside this time only will serve as motivation going forward, especially on the recruiting trail.

"It's not like we're heading off to some barbecue; we're not a coaching staff that's looking at a vacation," Bakich said. "We're not looking forward to a summer of relaxation.

"This is a coaching staff that has zero hobbies, not a single one. This is all we do."

Minnesota, at 51, also had a worse RPI than Michigan, but was rewarded for winning the Big Ten regular-season championship.

Michigan was ranked multiple times in Baseball America's top 25, earlier in the season.

Actually, so was Michigan State (36-20), which also missed out on the NCAA tournament. That wasn't a huge surprise.

Michigan State also limped home in the regular season, losing five of six entering the Big Ten tournament. There, the Spartans made a run, needing only to beat Ohio State once in the semifinals to play for the championship and automatic bid; but Ohio State, with its hot hitting, won twice and went on to beat Iowa for the title.

The Spartans, who haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2012, needed the championship to make it, given their low RPI of 77. Their RPI was much better a year ago, when they thought they made a case for a berth, but were on the outside of the bubble.

The Spartans' were penalized for a weak nonconference schedule, which might help explain how they started the season 18-3.

Still, 36 wins still is pretty good, tied for fourth all-time in program history. So it's not all disappointment at MSU.

"I know that can be cliche," said Michigan State coach Jake Boss Jr., "but in my 20 years of coaching, this is one of the finest groups I've ever had the pleasure of working with.

"At the end of the day, I guess it's how you define success. It my book, it is."

Western Michigan (22-32), winner of the Mid-American Conference tournament, is the lone team from Michigan to make the NCAA tournament. The Broncos open Friday night against regional host Louisville.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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