The Tulane baseball team will play no weekend series against bottom feeders in 2016, and that’s exactly the way coach David Pierce wanted it.
The schedule, which the Green Wave released this week, features 32 home games, including a season-opening series against 2015 super regional participant Illinois, a trip to San Diego for the Tony Gwynn Classic and a three-game set at 35-time College World Series participant Texas.
More significant in Pierce’s mind, though, is the absence of any team that finished below 200 in the RPI aside from in-state opponents UNO and Southern. The NCAA had 301 Division I teams baseball schools last season.
The Green Wave ran into repeated RPI trouble when it was on the borderline for an NCAA regional at the end of former coach Rick Jones’ tenure. In 2012, 10 games against Siena, Brown and UMBC killed the Wave’s schedule strength.
Barring an unexpected collapse, those days are over. Permanently.
“It’s a very conscious decision of how we schedule it,” said Pierce, who guided the Green Wave to a 35-25 record and its first regional since 2008 this past spring in his debut. “We want to stay away from anything that’s lower than a 150 (opponent’s RPI from the previous season). Staying away from a 150 or below is much more important than playing a top 25.
“It’s very strategically done.”
In addition to its annual home-and-home single games against LSU (at Alex Box Stadium on March 29 and at Turchin Stadium on April 26), Tulane will play Louisiana-Lafayette twice for the second time in three years after facing the Ragin’ Cajuns sparingly in the previous 10 years.
“It was critical when we got here that we looked at seeing all of the teams in Louisiana and in our area,” Pierce said. “Louisiana-Lafayette has been one of the dominating teams of the past five to 10 years, so we definitely wanted to get them back on the schedule. They are in a good league, are going to have a great RPI and are going to draw fans, too.”
The Wave also has home-and-home games against Southeastern Louisiana, UNO and Nicholls State and a game against Southern at Turchin Stadium.
Half of Tulane’s roster at the beginning of fall practice, which will end next week, featured newcomers, but the Wave returns its entire starting rotation of pitchers Emerson Gibbs, Alex Massey, Corey Merrill and Patrick Duester.
They will be tested severely right away. Opening-weekend opponent Illinois went 49-10-1 last year for the highest winning percentage in the nation.
Just as a year ago, Tulane will play four home series and four road series in the American Athletic Conference, which finished third nationally in the RPI. The Wave gets East Carolina, Cincinnati, Houston and Memphis at home, traveling to Connecticut, Central Florida, South Florida and Houston.
Home series against Pepperdine, Illinois State and Furman round out the schedule along with two games against Southern Miss — one at Turchin Stadium and one at MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi.