Here's our weekly look at how the races for national seeds, regional hosts and at-large bids are shaping up. The NCAA doesn't release its official Ratings Percentage Index report until Tuesday afternoon (and it's only updated through Sunday's games), so we'll use the updated RPI rankings at WarrenNolan.com, whose Nitty Gritty Report includes detailed schedule breakdowns for every team in the top 105, plus all additional conference leaders. We'll also consult the RPI Needs Report at Boyd's World, keeping in mind that the RPI figures at WarrenNolan and Boyd's have slight variances.
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 11 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Texas, Virginia, Arizona State, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina, South Carolina, Louisville, Arkansas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Mississippi, Texas Christian, Cal State Fullerton
One change from the eight national seeds we listed last week: Louisville replaces UCLA, which was swept at home by Arizona State and is now just 8-10 since starting the season 22-0. Louisville's 4-0 week included an important midweek win against Kentucky and a sweep of Rutgers, helping the Cardinals climb to No. 5 in the RPI. Assuming the Cardinals can overtake Connecticut and win the Big East, they stand a good chance to land a national seed. But it's hard to see the No. 2 team in the Big East getting a national seed, regardless of how strong its RPI is. We're banking on a strong finish for Louisville, however.
Georgia Tech lost a road series at North Carolina State and has now dropped three of its last four weekend series. The Yellow Jackets still rank 11th in the RPI and remain just a game out of first place in the ACC, so they're still in the mix for a national seed if they can finish strong. Tech's series in two weeks against Miami will be critical. The only blemish on Miami's resume is the lack of a signature series win against a Top 25 team, but the Hurricanes will have opportunities to remedy that shortcoming over the final two weeks at Tech and home against Virginia.
Florida State already has a signature series win against Miami, and the Seminoles have an opportunity to improve their already-solid conference record (14-7) with series over the next three weeks against Boston College, North Carolina State and Clemson. But for now, Florida State falls short of a national seed because 16 of its 33 wins have come against teams 101-200 in the RPI. Failing to sweep Le Moyne this past weekend did not help.
Arkansas has lost two straight series to fall from solid national seed footing to more precarious ground, but the Razorbacks are still fifth in the RPI, still tied for the lead in the SEC West and still have a 24-8 record against the top 100. But they have the most difficult remaining schedule of any top SEC contender: at Mississippi, vs. South Carolina, at Vanderbilt. If the Hogs win two of those three series, they should be a national seed. We're betting on them pulling it off.
South Carolina, the SEC leader, should earn a national seed if it wins two of its final three series against Kentucky, Arkansas and Florida. The Gamecocks have won all seven of their SEC series, but 12 games against teams outside the RPI top 200 are a drain on their RPI, leaving less margin for error.
SECURE TEAMS: The 14 teams listed above
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UCLA, Auburn
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Oregon, Louisiana State, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Rice, Virginia Tech
The SEC West is volatile. LSU has been swept in back-to-back series and has lost three of its last four series overall to fall to 11-10 in the league, while Auburn has won three out of four series (including sets against Arkansas and LSU) to climb to 12-9 in the league and surge past LSU in the RPI. Just like that, upstart Auburn has replaced defending champion LSU in the hosting picture. Auburn can secure its position in two very winnable home series over the next two weeks against Mississippi State and Tennessee. LSU can still host if it rebounds down the stretch and one of the five SEC teams ahead of it falters.
Oklahoma won a big series against Kansas State to elbow its way into the hosting discussion, but the Sooners are still in fourth place in the Big 12 at 10-9, and they rank 22nd in the RPI with series left against Oklahoma State (No. 100), Memphis (96) and Kansas (62). Boyd's World says Oklahoma would have to go 11-1 against its remaining schedule to finish in the top 16 in the RPI. Oklahoma's best chance to host might be if TCU falters, as OU is 2-0 against TCU this year.
Connecticut remains atop the Big East by a half-game over Louisville, and if the Huskies can hold on and win the league's regular-season title, they had a legitimate chance to host as either a No. 2 or maybe a No. 1 seed, particularly by giving the sport a potentially deserving regional host in the Northeast. UConn does not have the facilities to host on campus, but Huskies coach Jim Penders said in an e-mail that the school's administration is meeting with the short-season Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League about hosting at Norwich's Dodd Stadium. "I'm confident that we'll submit a bid should we play ourselves into that position," Penders said. "We have a lot of work to do before that submission becomes a reality." It helps the Huskies that Norwich's Double-A franchise moved to Richmond, Va., replaced by a short-season schedule that doesn't start until mid-June.
Oregon also offers geographic diversity, and the Ducks boast a sparkling new facility to show off. Amazingly, the Ducks have played themselves into the hosting discussion, too. They have won four consecutive weekend series, including road sets at Stanford and UCLA and a home series against Washington State this past weekend. Oregon is the team best positioned to capitalize if one of our 16 hosts falters; as it is, Oregon's resume is more impressive than UCLA's in every facet except the RPI. Oregon won the head-to-head series in Westwood; Oregon sits in third place in the Pac-10 (10-8) while UCLA is in seventh (7-8); and Oregon has come on strong in the last four weeks while UCLA has faded. But the committee frequently uses the RPI as a crutch, so the Bruins still have the inside track. The Bruins should also be able to rebound against a very manageable finishing stretch against Washington, Southern California, California and Washington State.
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 team in those leagues with a chance to earn an at-large bid if it fails to win its automatic bid is San Diego. We handicapped the races in the other 17 leagues likely to get one bid in Monday's Three Strikes.
For this exercise, let's assume all 18 of those leagues get just one bid. That leaves 12 potential multiple-bid leagues. Below 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 11 weeks.
Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:
IN: Tennessee, Washington, Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Elon
OUT: Boston College, Kansas, Kentucky, Washington State, South Alabama
Atlantic Coast Conference (7 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Boston College, North Carolina State
Boston College fell from the right side of the bubble to the wrong side after being swept at Virginia Tech. The Eagles are still 12-12 in the ACC and can still salvage their at-large hopes with a strong finish, but we're not betting on a strong finish in series against Florida State and Georgia Tech.
Big 12 (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kansas, Baylor
Kansas took a big hit with a series loss at Oklahoma State (No. 100 in the RPI). The Jayhawks are still alive, but they must go 8-2 down the stretch (including series against Missouri, Kansas State and Oklahoma) to climb back into the top 45 in the RPI, according to Boyd's World. There's certainly a decent chance they can pull it off, but for now they slide to the wrong side of the bubble.
Big East (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None.
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Rutgers, St. John's
Only one tweak here: Pitt moves from the bubble to the "safely in" category after splitting two games against UConn. The Panthers are in strong shape in the RPI (31st), and the challenging part of their schedule is over. Boyd's says they need to go 10-3 down the stretch to finish with a top-45 RPI, and that should be very doable.
Big South (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Liberty
No change from last week.
Big West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): UC Riverside, Long Beach State, Pacific
Nothing changed in the Big West since last week's Stock Report. Long Beach State's already remote chances took a huge hit when the Dirtbags lost a series to lowly Cal Poly. UC Riverside moved into third place in the league, but the Highlanders must win road series against Fullerton and Irvine in order to have a chance at raising their RPI into at-large range. Don't count on it.
Conference USA (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southern Mississippi, East Carolina
Conference USA continues to look like a one-bid league. Tulane fell off the bubble entirely this weekend when it was swept by Southern Mississippi, which is still just No. 69 in the RPI. The Golden Eagles must go 10-1 down the stretch to break into the top 45 in the RPI, according to Boyd's World. That remaining schedule includes series against East Carolina and at Rice. USM is playing better of late, but it's too much to expect it to win both of those series.
Mountain West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas Christian, New Mexico
ON THE BUBBLE: None.
No significant change from last week. New Mexico did solidify its position slightly with a midweek win against Texas Tech and a series win at San Diego State, and the Lobos can just about wrap up an at-large berth with a series win at home against TCU this weekend. New Mexico needs just a 5-4 finish to end the season in the top 45.
Pacific-10 (7 bids)
SAFELY IN: Arizona State, UCLA, California, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Washington
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington State, Oregon State
One change from last week: Washington replaces Washington State as the seventh team from the Pac-10. The Huskies jumped up to No. 46 in the RPI by sweeping Stanford this weekend, while the Cougars fell to No. 56 after dropping a series against Oregon. Washington, in a strong first-year campaign under coach Lindsay Meggs, also won the head-to-head series against the Cougars earlier this season. The Huskies are in fifth place in the loaded Pac-10 at 8-7, but their position remains precarious, and their regional hopes will depend on how they finish. The remaining schedule is fairly challenging: vs. UCLA, at Oregon State, vs. Oregon, at Southern California.
Oregon State was swept at Cal to fall to 4-11 in the league. The Beavers are in freefall, having lost 11 of their last 12 games, and the only reason they're listed as a bubble team at all is because their solid RPI (No. 42) makes an at-large bid still possible if they can turn the season around down the stretch. But their chances now look extremely remote.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Auburn, LSU, Vanderbilt, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Tennessee
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kentucky
Kentucky's at-large hopes dwindled further when the Wildcats dropped two of three at Tennesse. They are still 29th in the RPI, but at 24-20, 7-14 SEC, they've lost six of their seven conference series, so their RPI is irrelevant unless they can catch fire down the stretch.
Tennessee now moves into position to claim a ninth bid from the SEC. At 8-13 in the league and 24-21 overall, the Volunteers are far from safe, but there is simply a lack of bubble teams from other conferences with better resumes. Tennessee can finish in the top 45 of the RPI with a 7-4 finish against Georgia, Auburn and Alabama. The Vols have the talent to make that happen, and they have some momentum after winning back-to-back series against Vandy and Kentucky.
Southern Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): College of Charleston, The Citadel, Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia Southern, Samford, Appalachian State, Western Carolina
With Conference USA scuffling, there is a real opportunity for the SoCon to capitalize and seize a third bid, but there is no obvious candidate right now. Western Carolina and Appalachian State are both in the top 40 in the RPI, but the Catamounts are just 8-9 in the league (seventh place, 7 1/2 games behind The Citadel), which submarines their case. However, WCU should improve its place in the conference standings, as it finishes with series at home against Davidson and Furman, the league's bottom two clubs, sandwiched around a trip to Samford. A strong finish would give Western a better chance of seizing an at-large bid than Appalachian State because it has quality series wins against CofC and at Georgia Southern. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are just 1-4 against top 50 teams and have racked up the bulk of their wins against teams No. 101-200 (9-0) and 200-plus (14-2). ASU needs to pick up some wins in remaining series against Elon and CofC to have a chance.
But for now, we're going with Elon as the third team out of the SoCon. The Phoenix don't have the resume right now (they are No. 67 in the RPI and sit in fifth place in the league at 14-10), but they very well might by the end of the season. Boyd's World says Elon needs to go 7-2 down the stretch to climb into the top 45, and their last two series are very winnable home sets against Appalachian State and Samford.
Southland (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas State.
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southeastern Louisiana
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Northwestern State
Southeastern Louisiana is teetering on the bubble. Two weeks ago, the Lions were in. Last week, they were out after losing a series to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Now, they're back in after a 3-1 week, due in part to tumbles by the likes of Boston College and Kansas. Southeastern needs a 7-3 finish to land in the top 45, and their most challenging remaining series (Northwestern State during the final weekend) is at home.
Sun Belt (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida Atlantic.
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Alabama, Middle Tennessee State, Florida International
Florida Atlantic surged to No. 30 in the RPI after sweeping Arkansas State this weekend. The Owls are in first place in the Sun Belt, and they are the most secure at-large team in the league, as well.
South Alabama was off this past weekend, but its stock took a hit with two midweek losses to Nicholls State and Southern Miss last week. That caused USA to tumble to 59th in the RPI and out of our field of 64. Louisiana-Lafayette, meanwhile, has momentum after sweeping Middle Tennessee State and has won 14 of 16. The Ragin' Cajuns climbed to third in the Sun Belt and 35th in the RPI—good enough for an at-large bid.
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