Favorites have come up big in the early games today, giving some hope to fringe at-large contenders. We’ll break down the bubble teams at the bottom of this post, but first here’s a look at today’s big news:
• Middle Tennessee State has won the Sun Belt Conference tournament with a 3-1 win over Louisiana-Monroe, ensuring the Sun Belt will be no more than a two-bid league (if Western Kentucky gets in—which is very much in question, in light of WKU’s 1-6 record against the top 50 RPI teams).
• In the Big East, Louisville cruised to an 11-3 win over Connecticut, which will probably make the Big East a one-bid league, though Notre Dame does have a shot at an at-large berth.
• Rice held off a late Southern Mississippi rally to win the Conference USA title 8-6. The Owls might have earned the eighth national seed with their strong week. Southern Miss is right on the bubble, but its strong week and slightly better RPI might give it the edge over Tulane for Conference USA’s third bid (though I think Tulane is more deserving, for reasons stated in my comment at the bottom of this post). It’s hard to see CUSA getting four bids with so many other strong at-large candidates floating around.
• Jacksonville beat Lipscomb 7-4 to win the Atlantic Sun title. The Dolphins have a top-50 RPI and might have had a shot at an at-large spot, but their victory today ensures the A-Sun will be a one-bid league.
There are no other championship games left to play where a potential at-large team is facing a team that can only make regionals by winning the automatic bid. So, let’s assume Georgia Southern is in whether it beats Elon today or not. And let’s award bids to the top eight teams in the SEC; the top seven in the ACC (with Boston College earning the final one over Duke); the top six in the Big 12 (with Kansas getting the nod over Baylor); the top three in the Big West and Big Ten; and the top two in the Mountain West, Pac-10, Southland and SoCon.
That leaves 57 bids are accounted for, leaving the following candidates for the final seven spots (listed in order of RPI, as of this morning on warrennolan.com):
George Mason (40)
Oregon State (45)
Western Kentucky (46)
Notre Dame (47)
San Diego State (51)
Western Carolina (52)
Southeastern Louisiana (54)
Southern Miss (55)
San Diego (56)
Rhode Island (57)
Missouri State (64)
Eastern Illinois (69)
San Jose State (75)
The Citadel (77)
Out of that group, I rank the seven leading candidates as follows, in order of likelihood to get a bid, with each team’s case in a nutshell in parentheses):
1. San Diego State (40 wins, reached MWC finals, has the game’s marquee player)
2. George Mason (won CAA regular-season title in dominating fashion, strong RPI)
3. Missouri State (MVC regular-season champ, nonconference series wins over Oregon State, Oral Roberts)
4. Western Kentucky (tied for regular-season crown in solid Sun Belt Conference, reached SBC tourney finals)
5. Rhode Island (A-10 runner-up in regular season and tourney, quality wins against Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma State)
6. Eastern Illinois (OVC regular-season champ, wins against Oklahoma, Indiana, South Florida and a series against Southeastern Louisiana)
7. Oregon State (series win against Arizona State, but needs to beat Stanford today to avoid losing five of last six series)
I’ll have my final full field of 64 projection later this afternoon, after regional hosts are announced at 3:30 ET.
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