Here's a quick look at how Friday's action could affect the NCAA tournament picture.
First off, a few teams won automatic bids Friday by winning their conference tournaments:
• Stony Brook won its second America East title in three years with a 4-2 win over Albany behind a stellar start from Fr. LHP Adam Brown (8.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K).
• Rider toppled top-seeded Canisius, 4-2, to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference crown for the second time in three years. The Broncs came on strong down the stretch, winning 12 of their final 14 games heading into the conference tournament, where they went a perfect 3-0. Jr. 2B A.J. Albee earned tournament MVP honors with six runs, five hits and four RBIs in the three games; he set Rider single-season records this year for runs (62), RBIs (60) and assists (173). Canisius, meanwhile, follows a sterling regular season with a disappointing MAAC tournament for the third consecutive year. The Golden Griffs have still never been to regionals.
• Texas Christian added a Mountain West tournament championship to its regular-season title with a 2-0 win against New Mexico behind a strong start from Jr. RHP Steven Maxwell (6 IP, 6 H, 0 R). The Horned Frogs are a mortal lock to host a regional and a darkhorse national seed contender, but they probably are still too low in the Ratings Percentage Index to break into the top eight. TCU's RPI did climb three spots to No. 17 after the victory, per WarrenNolan.com.
Six national seeds just about locked up at this point (Virginia, Texas, Arizona State, Florida, Coastal Carolina, UCLA), and Louisville has probably done enough to feel secure about its national seed prospects as well. The Cardinals came from behind to beat South Florida, 9-7, on Friday, ensuring at least two wins in the Big East tournament. After winning the league's regular-season title, racking up 48 wins and climbing to No. 6 in the RPI, probably all Louisville needed to do was avoid a losing record in the conference tournament, and it has done so.
The last national seed is very much up for grabs. South Carolina and Arkansas hurt themselves with 0-2 showings in the SEC tournament, seemingly opening the door for Auburn, Georgia Tech, Cal State Fullerton or even TCU. But the Yellow Jackets lost their ACC tourney opener to Virginia Tech (their second game, against N.C. State, was suspended Friday), and they need at least one and maybe two wins to claim the last national seed. Auburn went 1-2 in Hoover, which probably wasn't good enough. Fullerton is finishing strong, with 21 wins in their last 23 games, including their second midweek win of the season against UCLA on Tuesday. But the Titans do not have as many wins against the top 50 as the other candidates—they are just 9-8 in those games. And TCU has RPI troubles. For now, we're calling Georgia Tech the ever-so-slight favorite, assuming it shows well Saturday.
Fourteen hosts are secure, and Arkansas seems like a very strong bet for the 15th thanks to a robust RPI (No. 10) and solid overall resume. Vanderbilt's chances are probably shot after a loss to Florida on Friday, concluding a 1-2 trip to Hoover on the heels of a home series loss to the Razorbacks last week. Clemson's chances have taken a hit with two straight losses to open the ACC tournament against N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
That leaves two candidates for one spot: Florida State and Connecticut. The Seminoles looked like a sure-fire host all season until getting swept at Clemson last week, and their ACC tournament got off to an inauspicious start with a loss to Miami. But FSU bounced back with two convincing wins against Virginia and Boston College and now appears to have the inside track again, especially if the Cavaliers can beat Miami on Saturday—which would send the Seminoles to the ACC title game.
But it's worth noting that in the last five years, five teams have finished with RPIs in the top 10 and been sent on the road for regionals, and not as No. 1 seeds. Four of them were ACC teams that finished fifth or worse in the regular season (hat tip to Mark Etheridge of SEBaseball.com for that nugget). Florida State earned the fifth seed this year, and the Seminoles are just outside the top 10 in the RPI (11th, according to WarrenNolan.com).
So if history is any guide, Florida State could find itself on the road even if it wins the conference tournament, as Virginia did a year ago. Norwich would be a likely destination, and FSU would likely be the top seed there, with UConn as the No. 2. The Huskies improved to 2-1 in the Big East tournament with a 7-2 win against Pittsburgh today. Geographic diversity works in UConn's favor, but a poor showing in the conference tournament might have negated that advantage. By winning Friday, Connecticut assured itself at least a .500 performance in Clearwater, and that might be enough to host. It's anyone's guess what the committee will do, but at this writing I'm giving UConn the miniscule advantage in the race for that final hosting spot. I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow.
Concerning the at-large bubble, here are teams that hurt themselves by exiting their conference tournaments Friday but still stand decent shots at bids: New Mexico, Florida Gulf Coast, Pittsburgh. I still think all of those teams will get in unless an underdog wins the SoCon, Sun Belt or Big South, in which case Pitt is the first team to be omitted. But if the committee is forced to choose between the Panthers and, say, Liberty for the last at-large spot, Pitt's series win against Louisville and split against UConn will loom large, considering Liberty is 0-6 against the top 50. I included Liberty in the field of 64 in Tuesday's Stock Report, but the Flames remain more vulnerable than Pitt even after the Panthers went 1-2 in the Big East tournament.
California and Oregon State are also both very vulnerable, and I think both teams need to win their final regular-season series to get in. Fortunately, both teams are now just one win away after winning Friday against Oregon and Arizona, respectively. The Pac-10's eight-bid dream is inching closer to fruition. Both teams could feel a lot more confident, though if they can sweep those series.
Finally, here are a few fringe bubble teams that were eliminated from their conference tournaments Friday and that can be removed from at-large consideration: Middle Tennessee State, South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana.
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