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, 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. But we'll also consult the RPI Needs Report at boydsworld.com, 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 12 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Texas, Virginia, Arizona State, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina, Arkansas, Louisville, UCLA
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Carolina, Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Texas Christian, Cal State Fullerton, Auburn
Just one change from last week: UCLA edges past South Carolina for the eighth national seed. The Gamecocks still control their own destiny in this discussion. If South Carolina wins its last two series against Arkansas and Florida, the committee will not be able to deny it a national seed, even if its RPI remains outside the top eight (and the Needs Report says the Gamecocks, currently 20th, cannot climb back into the top eight). Even going 3-3 over those last two weekends might be enough. But losing a road series at Kentucky this past weekend was an unexpected setback, and coupled with the Gamecocks' RPI deficiencies, that series temporarily knocked them out of the driver's seat for a national seed.
UCLA moved back into national seed position with a road series sweep of Washington, rebounding admirably from a sweep at the hands of Arizona State the week before. The Washington series moved the Bruins into a tie for second place in the Pac-10, and their remaining schedule (Southern California, at Cal, Washington State) is very manageable. UCLA is in good shape in the RPI (No. 8), and has a nice 21-10 record against the top 100 in the RPI.
With Auburn and Fullerton surging, there are now 15 teams with plausible shots at the eight national seeds, and a lot can change in the next three weeks.
SECURE TEAMS: The 15 teams listed above
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Connecticut, Oklahoma, Rice, Vanderbilt, San Diego, Virginia Tech, Oregon
No changes to our 16 hosts from last week. Louisiana State falls off the hosting bubble after dropping its third straight conference series at home against Vanderbilt, and Oregon's prospects sag after it was swept by Oregon State. Connecticut won another series to remain atop the Big East, and the Huskies stand a very good chance to host—probably at the expense of one of the five SEC teams currently projected as hosts—as either a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed if they can hold on and win the conference title. But for now, it's hard to deny any of those five SEC teams, as all are at least six games over .500 in a much stronger league, and all have considerably more wins than UConn against the top 50. The Auburn-Ole Miss series the final weekend could loom large, as the loser could find itself locked out of hosting, especially if said losing team also drops its upcoming series this weekend.
Vanderbilt moves into the hosting discussion following a series win against Louisiana State. Vandy is 16th in the RPI and 12-12 against the top 50—both solid numbers—but trails five other teams in the SEC hosting pecking order.
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, which has moved into the "lock" category after sweeping second-place Portland and beating Oregon State on Monday to climb to No. 21 in the RPI.
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 12 weeks.
Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:
IN: Washington State, Kansas
OUT: Washington, Western Kentucky
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
No change from last week. For the Tar Heels, the path to regionals is simple: make the ACC tournament, and they're in. Right now UNC is tied for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament with North Carolina State, and UNC owns the tie-breaker by virtue of its head-to-head series win. N.C. State has a slightly more favorable remaining schedule: both teams have one very difficult road series, at Virginia and at Florida State, respectively, but the Wolfpack also face Duke at home, while UNC hosts dangerous Virginia Tech. Even if the Tar Heels do not beat out the Wolfpack, they can still pass Boston College, which has one ACC series left against Georgia Tech. If the high-powered Yellow Jackets sweep BC, then UNC needs to go 3-3 in its final two weekends to make the conference tourney. If the Jackets win two of three, then UNC needs to go 4-2.
If the Eagles do win that series against Georgia Tech, they'll have a shot at an at-large spot, because their RPI is decent (48th). But a 4-18 record against the top 50 might be hard for the committee to overlook.
The Wolfpack have two outstanding series wins against Virginia and Georgia Tech but is 66th in the RPI and 6-14 against the top 50. Getting swept at home by BC two weeks ago was a killer. State's at-large hopes remain dim, at best.
Big 12 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas A&M, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Baylor
Kansas moves back into the field of 64 after sweeping Missouri. The Jayhawks still are just 56th in the RPI, but Boyd's says a 4-3 finish will boost them into the top 45 (at-large territory). That would mean at least one series win against Kansas State or Oklahoma over the final two weeks, which would also improve Kansas in the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks remains on very precarious ground, but they needed to sweep Missouri to get back into position to earn an at-large bid, and they did just that.
Big East (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None.
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): St. John's
No change from last week, other than Rutgers falling off the bubble completely following a series loss to Villanova.
Big South (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Liberty
No change from last week. As long as Liberty does not get swept this weekend by Coastal, it is in good shape. A Chanticleers sweep will likely cause the Big South to get just one bid.
Big West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Pacific
No change from last week. UC Riverside and Long Beach State were already long shots at best, and both saw their hopes dwindle further over the weekend, as the Highlanders were swept by Cal State Fullerton, and the Dirtbags dropped a home series against Stanford.
Conference USA (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southern Mississippi
Southern Miss is surging, having won 11 straight games, including sweeps of Houston, Tulane and East Carolina. The Golden Eagles now control their own destiny; with series wins against Rice and Memphis over the final two weeks, they will be in position to grab an at-large bid. But the Rice series is on the road, and we're not ready to bet against the Owls in that set. And it really is a must-win; Southern Miss is still just No. 60 in the RPI.
Mountain West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas Christian, New Mexico
ON THE BUBBLE: None.
No change from last week. New Mexico did not hurt itself much by losing a home series to TCU—the Lobos at least avoided a sweep, which was critical. They are still 36th in the RPI, and they need a 4-2 finish to remain in the top 45. Their remaining games against Delaware State and Utah are all winnable.
Pacific-10 (7 bids)
SAFELY IN: Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): California, Washington State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Oregon State, Washington
Last week, Washington replaced Washington State in the field. This week, the Cougars leapfrog back over the Huskies for the seventh bid after sweeping Cal, while the Huskies were swept at home by UCLA. Washington State is 9-9 in the conference and 45th in the RPI, and they can remain in the top 45 with a 7-6 finish. That won't be easy with road series remaining against Stanford and UCLA, but Wazzu does have quality series wins against Cal, Oregon State and Arizona State on its resume. For now, that's enough to get them back into the field of 64.
Oregon State looked left for dead last week, when it was 4-11 in the conference and riding a four-series losing streak. But the Beavers have put themselves right back in the thick of the race for an at-large bid with a sweep of Oregon. That's still not enough to overcome the four straight series losses (and a 7-14 record against the top 50) and get them into our field of 64, but it gets them knocking on the door. Two of OSU's remaining series are at home—against Washington and Arizona—but it also must travel to Arizona State in two weeks. The Beavers are strong in the RPI (No. 31), and they can finish in the top 32 with a 7-5 closing stretch. They just need to go 5-7 to land in the top 45. But a strong RPI likely won't be enough unless the Beavers win at least two of their final three series. For the time being, they remain on the outside looking in.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Auburn, LSU, Vanderbilt
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Tennessee, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kentucky
Does the SEC have a chance to get 10 bids? If mid-majors like Liberty, New Mexico, Louisiana-Lafayette or The Citadel stumble down the stretch, and Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky play well, then the answer is "yes", as distasteful as that might be to many fans around the country who object to any team that misses its conference tournament earning an at-large bid. But Kentucky saved its season (for now, at least) with a huge series win against South Carolina this past weekend. RPI is not an issue for the Wildcats (No. 25), but they're still just 9-15 in the conference, having lost six of their eight SEC series. The good news is they still have a series left against Georgia over the final weekend, and a home series against LSU this weekend suddenly looks winnable. Short answer: Kentucky is right back in the mix, but we're still not prepared to put them in the field of 64 until they win another series or two.
Alabama has two quality series wins on its resume: Vanderbilt and Auburn, both at home. But the Tide has lost four of its last five series and now trails Tennessee by a game for the eighth and final spot in the SEC tournament. 'Bama must travel to Tennessee in a critical series the final weekend that could be a make or break for both teams, especially since both have tough series ahead this weekend (Alabama hosts Ole Miss and Tennessee travels to Auburn). But both teams are ahead of Kentucky in the conference standings, and we'll give Tennessee the nod over the Wildcats despite a 20-spot difference in RPI. The Volunteers have won three straight series, including a head-to-head series win against UK.
Southern Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: College of Charleston
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): The Citadel, Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia Southern, Western Carolina
Charleston solidified its position with a huge series win this past weekend against The Citadel, which slid toward the bubble. The Bulldogs have lost back-to-back series at Samford and CofC, and a mid-April series loss to Indiana State doesn't help, either. The Citadel probably needs to win its last two series (against UNC Greensboro and Georgia Southern) to secure an at-large spot.
Elon climbed into the top 50 in the RPI after sweeping Appalachian State, and a 3-1 finish (against East Carolina and Samford) would put the Phoenix in the top 45. Elon is up to fourth in the SoCon standings and is still in striking range of first place. We're assuming Elon will take care of business down the stretch and put itself in at-large position.
Samford and Appalachian State fall off the bubble entirely following series losses.
Southland (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southeastern Louisiana
No change from last week, other than Northwestern State falling off the bubble entirely following a series loss to Lamar. Southeastern Louisiana is far from safe, but a 4-2 finish would put the Lions in the top 45.
Sun Belt (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida Atlantic
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisiana-Lafayette
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Alabama, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State
One change from last week: Western Kentucky falls out of the field of 64 after losing a series to Arkansas-Little Rock. The Hilltoppers have lost three of their last four series and fallen to sixth place in the Sun Belt.
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