Let's take a look at how the NCAA tournament picture is shaping up, focusing on who's in and who's out as opposed to where everyone gets sent.
We'll discuss at-large chances in a bit, but let's start with a look at which teams are on track to earn national seeds and which are on track to host regionals after the first nine weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Arizona State, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, UCLA
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana State, Florida State, Louisville, Coastal Carolina, Miami
Of the eight national seeds, five seem likely to come from the ACC and SEC, with Virginia and Arkansas as the two safest bets. Softer nonconference schedules hurt Georgia Tech and South Carolina, but the Yellow Jackets lead the ACC (and have a three-game cushion over Florida State), so we'll give them the nod over the Seminoles and Hurricanes.
In the SEC, let's take South Carolina, which has won its first five conference series, and Florida, which has lost just one series all year, over LSU, which has lost two series. The Gators are the shakiest team in this picture, but they have played a considerably tougher schedule than LSU, and their series win at Miami is the deciding factor in their favor.
Louisville is the non-power-conference team with the best shot at a national seed, but the Cardinals must win the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. Currently, they are a game behind Rutgers and Connecticut in the standings.
SECURE TEAMS: The 13 teams listed above
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas Christian, Cal State Fullerton, Arizona
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Mississippi, Rice, Oregon
There are just three changes here from our midseason projection two weeks ago. First, Clemson has fallen off and South Carolina has continued to play well, so the Gamecocks get the nod as the second Palmetto State host, joining Coastal Carolina. Second, Mississippi is replaced by Miami. Three Florida teams hosting is not ideal, but neither is five SEC hosts. The Rebels have tumbled to 42nd in the Ratings Percentage Index (according to WarrenNolan.com), and Miami is 10th. And scuffling Oregon State is replaced by Arizona, which gets the nod over Oregon by virtue of its head-to-head series win against the Ducks. The darkhorse here is Rice, which is coming on strong and can take a strangle-hold on Conference USA with a series win at home this weekend against East Carolina.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 18 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big Ten, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Southwestern, Western Athletic, West Coast.
The only teams in those leagues with a chance to earn at-large bids if they fail to win their conference tournaments are San Diego, Ohio State, Michigan, Wichita State, Charlotte, Michigan State and James Madison, in rough order of their at-large chances.
But for this exercise, let's assume all of those leagues get just one bid. That leaves 13 potential multiple-bid leagues. Here is a conference-by-conference look at which teams are on track to make the field, and which teams are on the wrong side of the bubble through nine weeks:
Atlantic Coast Conference (7 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Clemson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Virginia Tech, North Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Carolina State
North Carolina is the last team into our field of 64. The Tar Heels have a lot of work to do to shore up their credentials, because right now they really do not have a regional-caliber resume. They are just 6-12 in the ACC (ninth place) and have not won a series this season against a likely regional team; their best series win came against North Carolina State two weeks ago, and since then they have been swept at Miami. The RPI works in UNC's favor (34th), but the remaining schedule is difficult, with series at Clemson and Virginia and home against Virginia Tech, as well as a must-sweep home series against Wake Forest.
North Carolina State is in better shape in the conference standings at 9-9, but the Wolfpack has played 19 games against teams outside the top 200 in the RPI, dragging NCSU's RPI to 84th. Unlike UNC, the 'Pack does have a signature series win (at home against Virginia), but plenty of work remains to offset that atrocious nonconference schedule.
Big 12 (6)
SAFELY IN: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kansas, Texas Tech
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Baylor
Kansas State has improved its position in the last two weeks by surging to second place in the Big 12 at 9-3. Kansas gets in thanks to its series wins at LSU and at Baylor. Texas Tech has won three straight series to climb into third place in the conference and above .500 on the season.
Baylor is still very much within striking range of a regional bid thanks to a series win against Texas A&M and a decent nonconference resume, but the mediocre Big 12 seems unlikely to get seven bids this year, so the Bears need to make a run. They fell to eighth place in the league after being swept by Kansas State this weekend.
Big East (3)
SAFELY IN: Louisville, Connecticut
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Pittsburgh
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Rutgers
The Big East has four legitimate regional contenders, but it seems unlikely to get four bids. Louisville is a lock, and UConn is the second-most talented team in the league and also has the second-best RPI (28th), so we'll pencil the Huskies in as well. Pitt (39th in the RPI) and Rutgers (48th) are a toss-up. The Scarlet Knights won the head-to-head series between the two teams, but the Panthers won a series against Louisville last weekend. That signature series win, coupled with a slight RPI edge, gives Pitt the inside track.
Big South (2)
SAFELY IN: Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Liberty
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Virginia Military Institute
Liberty's sweep of VMI last weekend makes all the difference here. The Flames are now 37th in the RPI—solid at-large territory.
Big West (2)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Pacific, UC Riverside, Long Beach State
Remarkably, the Big West looks like it will get fewer bids than the Big East. Irvine's stock is tumbling after it lost a series to Pacific, but the Anteaters still have the talent and experience to make a second-half run. Pacific, Riverside and Long Beach will have difficulty overcoming their RPI woes.
Conference USA (3)
SAFELY IN: Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): East Carolina, Tulane
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Central Florida
The Pirates (58th in the RPI) and the Green Wave (70th) both have work to do, but ECU has positive momentum. Tulane won the head-to-head series between those teams but will not get in unless it gets hot down the stretch and improves its RPI significantly. We're betting on that happening.
Mountain West (2)
SAFELY IN: Texas Christian
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): New Mexico
The Lobos have challenged themselves with four midweek nonconference games at Arizona and Arkansas, but they are 0-4 in those games. Still, a strong MWC finish coupled with a season-opening series win at Texas will get New Mexico in.
SAFELY IN: Arizona State, UCLA, California, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Oregon State, Washington State, Washington
The Pac-10 has never gotten more than five bids, so it seems extremely unlikely it will get more than six this year despite its abundance of regional-worthy teams. Oregon and Stanford surged past Oregon State as likely regional teams in the last two weeks, as the Ducks won road series at Stanford and UCLA, while the Beavers lost home series to the same two teams. The Huskies and Cougars are both in the 50s in the RPI and are just a few games over .500 overall, so their roads will be difficult.
Southeastern Conference (9)
SAFELY IN: Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Mississippi State
In a year where getting to 64 deserving teams is a challenge, the SEC has a strong chance to get nine bids. Alabama and Kentucky have the weakest resumes of the nine (both are 5-10 in the conference), but both have top-25 RPIs, giving them the inside tracks at bids.
Southern Conference (2)
SAFELY IN: The Citadel
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): College of Charleston
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Western Carolina, Appalachian State, Elon, Georgia Southern
The SoCon looks like a two-bid league, and only the first-place Bulldogs look secure. We'll give the second bid to Charleston, thanks to single wins against Coastal Carolina and Alabama and a solid 12-6 conference record.
SAFELY IN: None.
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Northwestern State
The top three teams in the Southland are competing for two spots. Southeastern Louisiana gets the nod after winning a huge series against Texas State, and the Bobcats are still leading the conference at 13-5, so they get a bid as well. Northwestern State can put itself in the driver's seat with its own series win against Texas State this weekend.
Sun Belt (2)
SAFELY IN: None.
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Alabama, Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee State, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette
No conference is more muddled than the Sun Belt. WKU is just 9-6 in the league but has the strongest nonconference resume and the best RPI (31st), so the Hilltoppers get in. FAU surged to 38th in the RPI after sweeping Western Kentucky last weekend, so the Owls get the second nod. But the Sun Belt picture is subject to change at a moment's notice—stay tuned.
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