Today, the ACC Tournament begins for baseball. The Hoos slot into Pool C with both NC State and Florida State. It will be UVA's first games against those teams this season, so tournament pool play in Durham allows for some fresh action after a long season.
Heading into the tournament, the goal and mission are simple. The goal is qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the 15th consecutive season. The mission, in order to accomplish that goal, is to win the ACC Tournament. There are no other avenues available for achieving that goal. First, the Hoos must go undefeated in pool play, 2-0. Tournament tiebreakers leave no other option. Clear that hurdle and a sweep of the semifinals and finals is the next obstacle.
The odds are long but not impossible. Who saw a national championship coming in 2015? But like Robert Frost's two roads in the woods, the two teams certainly diverge from there. The 2015 team was much more talented than the 2018 squad. And the circumstances surrounding the two teams, while there are familiar echoes, are certainly different.
So what are the Hoos up against with NC State and Florida State? Twitter user College Baseball Analytics (Twitter Account) provided this infographic that sums things up nicely.
The Hoos are a decided underdog, especially due to their offensive output in comparison to the Wolfpack and Seminoles. Advancing out of Pool C will require timely hitting with runners on base and stringing together extra base hits at a level that's been unusual for this team all season.
I'm not going to predict a tournament title, winning Pool C, or anything of the sort. Either outcome is highly unlikely.
Daniel Lynch (vs FSU) and Derek Casey (vs NC State) will give the Hoos a chance to go out fighting if the offense responds in kind, however.
So, if the expected comes to pass and the 2018 season comes to an end after Thursday's game with NC State, should fans feel down on the program?
Absolutely not. Consider this.
Virginia Baseball currently holds the fourth longest consecutive NCAA Tournament streak.
- Florida State
- Cal State Fullerton
Name your favorite college baseball power, and other than three programs, they've missed the NCAA Tournament since the last time the Hoos sat at home. Rice needed a miracle to make the 2017 tournament and pulled a rabbit out of its hat to win the C-USA Tournament last year. They find themselves in the exact same spot this year too. By all accounts, their streak is also toast. Florida State and Fullerton will extend their streaks another year but things looked dicey for the Titans as they headed into Big West conference play before running away with the league title.
And if one looks at the tournament bubble, at some point during the season or even now, top programs have found themselves there: South Carolina, TCU, Vandy, LSU, Mississippi State, Arizona, Texas A&M, and Kentucky. D1Baseball, in their May 21 Field of 64 Projections, had Arizona, the 2012 national champion, on the wrong side of the bubble. Texas A&M, LSU, and Kentucky were listed in the Last 5 In section. And TCU, like the Hoos, isn't even on the bubble.
There will be a lot of developments and storylines between the beginning of the ACC Tournament and the first pitch in 2019. It promises to be an exciting time even if there's no march towards Omaha this year.