Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fresno State's magic numbers ... and what those numbers mean


We're entering the final week of Mountain West softball, and first-place Fresno State holds the inside track to the conference regular-season championship and the accompanying automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The red-hot Bulldogs, winners of 13 of their past 14 games, will carry an 8-game winning streak into the last week of the season.

Fresno State enters the final week holding a 2-game lead in the loss column over both San Diego State and San Jose State.  The Aztecs have completed their regular season, while the Bulldogs and Spartans both have three games left to play.

While there are several different scenarios, this one is the easiest:  If Fresno State wins at least two games of the 3-game series against UNLV, nothing else matters.  The Bulldogs do not have to scoreboard watch this week because they control their own destiny and even have a bit of wiggle room.  San Jose State and San Diego State do not have that same luxury.

Here's the deal:

Fresno State's magic number to eliminate San Diego State is 1.

The Bulldogs are 17-4 in Mountain West play and SDSU has finished the season at 18-6.  Fresno State, by virtue of winning its series against the Aztecs in San Diego last month, holds the tiebreaker.  The bottom line:  One Fresno State victory this week in the Bulldogs' series at UNLV will eliminate San Diego State from contending for the Mountain West's automatic NCAA bid.  If Fresno State finishes in a 2-way tie for the title at 18-6 with SDSU, the teams would be declared co-champions but the Bulldogs would earn the automatic NCAA bid.

Fresno State's magic number to eliminate San Jose State is 2.

The Bulldogs are 17-4 in Mountain West play and SJSU is 15-6 and closes the season with a 3-game road series at New Mexico this week.  San Jose State, by virtue of winning its series against the Bulldogs in March and the Aztecs in April, holds the tiebreaker in the event there is a 3-way tie for the title at 18-6.  The bottom line:  One Fresno State victory this week in the Bulldogs' series at UNLV, combined with one additional Fresno State win or one or more San Jose State loss at New Mexico will eliminate the Spartans from contending for the Mountain West's automatic NCAA bid.  San Jose State must sweep New Mexico to have a shot at winning the automatic NCAA bid, and even then it would not be enough if Fresno State wins at least two of three against UNLV.

San Diego State faces long odds of winning the automatic NCAA bid.

The Aztecs have completed their Mountain West season with an 18-6 record, but face long odds because they don't hold any tiebreak scenario against either the Bulldogs or Spartans after losing conference series to both.  In fact, SDSU is caught between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, because it must hope for at least one San Jose State loss against New Mexico.  But a Spartans loss also helps Fresno State and would mean the Bulldogs would win the Mountain West title and the automatic NCAA bid with just one win against UNLV.  San Diego State's only means of capturing the automatic NCAA bid is for San Jose State to lose at least one game to New Mexico, and for Fresno State to be swept in its 3-game series against UNLV.  How long are those odds?  The Bulldogs are riding an 8-game winning streak and have won 13 of their last 14 games and have never been swept in Mountain West play.  Moreover,  Fresno State has been swept in a 3-game conference series only twice in the Bulldogs' 38-year program history.

San Jose State has an outside chance at winning the automatic NCAA bid.

While currently two games behind Fresno State in the conference standings with three games left to play, the Spartans still have a shot.  It will require a set of circumstances that fall exactly right for San Jose State, and defy the odds of what's happened so far this season.  SJSU must become not only the first Mountain West team this season to sweep a 3-game series from New Mexico in Albuquerque, but also the first to even win a series in Albuquerque.  UNM is the only team in the conference to win each of its home series this season.  Even one loss eliminates San Jose State from both the regular-season title and winning the automatic NCAA bid.  And, as outlined above, even sweeping the 3-game series at New Mexico will not be enough if Fresno State wins at least two games against UNLV.

Fresno State wins the automatic NCAA bid if any of these scenarios happen:
  • the Bulldogs sweep UNLV
  • the Bulldogs win the series against UNLV (2 of 3)
  • the Bulldogs win 1 game against UNLV, and San Jose State does not sweep New Mexico
 San Jose State wins the automatic NCAA bid if this exact scenario happens:
  • the Spartans sweep New Mexico, and Fresno State does not win more than 1 game against UNLV
San Diego State wins the automatic NCAA bid if this exact scenario happens:
  • San Jose State does not sweep New Mexico, and Fresno State is swept against UNLV