This time of year, a hefty majority of all questions submitted in our weekly college chat, as well as those sent via e-mail or Twitter, center around the battle for postseason positioning. Our readers want to know how the races for national seeds, host sites and at-large bids are shaping up—so every Wednesday here on the College Blog, we examine how the postseason picture has shifted over the weekend. Rather than get bogged down in the jigsaw puzzle that is a full field of 64 projection, we're not going to worry about which regionals teams get sent to. We're just looking at who's in, who's out, who's on the bubble. This discussion is weighted much more toward performance and remaining schedule than projection based on talent, but it's also not intended to show what the field would look like if the season ended today. We're still looking ahead.
During this discussion, we will reference the NCAA's official Ratings Percentage Index report, which was updated Tuesday. We'll also reference the useful RPI Needs Report at Boyd's World. And we'll make use of records against the top 50 or top 100 in the RPI, but keep in mind that those figures are not official, and there might be slight discrepancies between those figures and the NCAA's official figures.
We'll get to 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 through the first 12 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Virginia, Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Arizona State, Oregon State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida State, Texas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M
No change from last week. The Seminoles strengthened their position somewhat with a series win against Central Florida and a midweek win at Stetson. North Carolina and Georgia Tech are nipping at Florida State's heels for the second national seed spot in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets actually have a better conference mark (18-6) than either team, while UNC (16-8) has the same ACC record as FSU and won the head-to-head series against the Seminoles. All three teams are in the top nine in the RPI, and UNC has the best record against the top 100 (30-10, while the other two teams are both 23-12), so this situation is still very fluid. But the Tar Heels have the most difficult remaining schedule of the three, with a series at Georgia Tech and a home set against Virginia. Of course, that schedule also affords UNC an opportunity to solidify itself as a national seed—it controls its own destiny in this discussion, but it's not an easy road. Florida State's 3-1 record against Florida this season remains its trump card, for now at least. It's also possible that three of those teams could land national seeds, especially if one of the three SEC heavyweights falters or if Texas stumbles.
The Longhorns held their ground with a road series win at Nebraska, leaving them a half-game ahead of Texas A&M in the Big 12 (though they technically trail by percentage points). The season-ending series between the two clubs will go a long way toward determining if either is a national seed; that series is a must-win for the Aggies, who have slipped to No. 18 in the RPI and the outside of the national seed discussion in recent weeks.
Southern Miss is the darkhorse. The Golden Eagles shot up seven spots to No. 10 in the RPI after sweeping UAB last weekend, and they still control Conference USA, with a two-game lead over Rice. The Golden Eagles need to win their last two series—at Houston and against Rice—to overtake one of the teams ahead of them for a national seed. Right now the biggest flaw in USM's resume is just an 0-2 record against the top 25 in the RPI, but a series win against the Owls could help remedy that shortcoming.
SECURE TEAMS: The 12 teams listed in the national seeds discussion above
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Stetson, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas Christian, Clemson, Rice, Oklahoma State, Miami, Stanford, Fresno State
One change from last week: Arkansas replaces Fresno State as a host. After taking two of three from Florida, Arkansas padded its record against the top 25 in the RPI to 10-8, which compares very favorably to other host candidates in its region like Oklahoma (4-8), TCU (4-5) and Rice (3-2). TCU's series win at Oklahoma State, followed by a midweek win against Baylor, improved the Frogs to 10-4 against the Big 12 this season, giving their hosting chances a major boost. But TCU needs Oklahoma to slip up, because the Sooners still own a 2-0 record against TCU and a stronger RPI (No. 15 vs. No. 26).
Rice, meanwhile, climbed nine spots to No. 14 in the RPI after sweeping a series at Houston. If the Owls win their final two series, including a road set at Southern Miss in two weeks, they might be hard to deny. But competition is thick for host spots in that part of the country.
Fresno's hosting chances have sunk with series splits against Hawaii and Louisiana Tech over the last two weeks, dropping the Bulldogs from 19th to 29th in the RPI. Fresno now looks like a long shot, at best, to host.
There really is not a third Western team with a rock-solid hosting resume, but it stands to reason the committee will want a third regional somewhere in the West. Geography is the best thing Cal State Fullerton has going for it, because it is just 1-6 against the top 25 and 4-7 against the top 50. Even after sweeping UC Riverside, the Titans dropped two spots to No. 21 in the RPI. Fullerton needs to finish strong to maintain its hold on a hosting spot. Stanford remains the darkhorse to host a Western regional; the Cardinal is 15th in the RPI, owns a 5-10 record against the top 25 and an 11-12 mark against the top 50—all figures that trump Fullerton's resume. But at 27-16 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-10 (tied for fith), Stanford still has work to do in the last three weeks.
Clemson has gotten hot after a rocky first half, and a series win two weeks ago against Georgia Tech resuscitated the Tigers' hosting hopes. Clemson's RPI is robust (No. 8), but the ACC seems unlikely to get five hosts, so the Tigers need Georgia Tech or UNC to struggle down the stretch, because both those teams still have stronger overall resumes than Clemson, which is still just 13-11 in the ACC.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 20 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big South, Big Ten, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Southwestern, West Coast, Western Athletic.
TCU is a lock for an at-large bid if it fails to win its conference tournament, and Fresno State is still in very good position. Coastal Carolina (No. 43 in the RPI), Kent State (No. 45), Creighton (No. 49) and Connecticut (No. 52) have shots at at-large bids if they fail to capture automatic bids, and Gonzaga (No. 59) has an outside chance as well, though it needs a 10-1 finish to climb into the top 45 at season's end. The MAC-dominating Golden Flashes are still just 4-4 against the top 100 (and 0-4 against No. 109 Louisville), but they have still managed to build a solid RPI and own a pair of solid wins against Coastal and UAB. In order to keep that top 45 RPI, Kent needs to finish 7-0 against three teams with RPIs outside the top 250—which is doable. But for this exercise, let's assume all 19 of those leagues receive one bid.
Below is a conference-by-conference look at which teams are on track to make the field in potential multi-bid leagues, and which teams are on the wrong side of the bubble through 12 weeks. Here are the changes from last week's field of 64, in a nutshell:
IN: Dallas Baptist, East Tennessee State, Tulane
OUT: Alabama-Birmingham, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic
Atlantic Coast Conference (7 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Clemson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Carolina State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. Even after losing two of three from East Tennessee State last weekend, the Wolfpack remained steady at No. 33 in the RPI.
Atlantic Sun (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Stetson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Jacksonville, East Tennessee State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
East Tennessee State moves into the field of 64 after taking two of three at North Carolina State last weekend. ETSU has a robust RPI (No. 32) and can still finish inside the top 45 even with a 3-5 finish. The Buccaneers should be able to do better than that, with a home series remaining against Campbell followed by a road series against a dangerous Mercer team, as well as midweek games against Georgia Tech and Clemson. A 12-10 record in the A-Sun doesn't look great, but the RPI makes up for it, and that series win at N.C. State was huge.
Big 12 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Baylor, Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas Tech
Kansas State hangs on by a thread after a series loss to Missouri. The Wildcats are still strong in the RPI for the moment (No. 38), but they will drop after playing three games this weekend against New Orleans (No. 290), and they'll need a 7-0 finish to remain inside the top 45. K-State is just 9-14 in the league, so its regular-season finale against Kansas is a must-win. But it does have a respectable 8-12 mark against the top 50 and a 16-18 mark against the top 100, both better than other bubble teams like College of Charleston, Sam Houston State and Florida Atlantic.
Texas Tech is just a spot behind in the RPI, but is hurt by a 5-14 record against the top 50, and it was swept at Kansas State, giving the Wildcats the edge over the Red Raiders.
Baylor is behind both teams at No. 40 in the RPI, but its vitals are stronger: a 5-5 record against the top 25 and a 10-10 mark against the top 50. The Bears still probably must split their last two series at Oklahoma State and at home against Oklahoma, but for now they get the nod.
Big West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Long Beach State
No change from last week. UC Irvine is teetering on the bubble with an RPI of 55th, just a 2-3 mark against the top 50 and an 8-10 record against the top 100. But RPI figures should be used to compare teams with other teams in their region, and the Anteaters stack up favorably with most other teams in the West. Still, a strong finish (at UC Santa Barbara, at UC Riverside and vs. Long Beach State) is critical.
Conference USA (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Southern Miss, Rice, East Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Central Florida, Tulane
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Alabama-Birmingham
Tulane replaces UAB as C-USA's fifth team, but the margin is razor-thin. The Blazers took a hit this weekend, getting swept by Southern Miss, and Tulane owns the head-to-head tie-breaker, having won two of three from UAB two weeks ago. Tulane is five spots ahead in the RPI (No. 56 vs. No. 61) and owns a better record against the top 100 (16-18 vs. 12-19), but the Green Wave needs to finish 6-0 to climb into the top 45 by season's end, with series left at Marshall and vs. East Carolina. That's a tall order, and Tulane probably will not wind up in the top 45, but it could still grab an at-large spot because its resume compares favorably with those of other bubble teams like Florida Atlantic, Texas Tech and UAB.
A 2-2 week on the road against South Florida and Florida State is enough to keep UCF in the field, thanks to a sterling RPI (No. 28), a strong 6-7 mark against the top 25 and a 9-10 record against the top 50. The committee has proven it does not look hard at conference records, so UCF's 7-11 mark in C-USA is not a killer, but it needs to hold its own in its last two series (at UAB, vs. Marshall).
Independents (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Dallas Baptist
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
A 2-2 week on the road against Texas Tech and Texas A&M vaulted Dallas Baptist up nine spots to No. 62 in the RPI, and the Patriots can climb all the way into the top 45 with a 6-2 finish against Alcorn State, Baylor (midweek) and Charlotte. That's very doable. Dallas Baptist's 4-3 record against the top 25 and 8-5 mark against the top 50 both stack up well against other bubble contenders.
Pacific-10 Conference (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Arizona State, California, Stanford, Arizona, UCLA
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Georgia, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana State
No change from last week. Alabama solidified its position with a big series win against LSU, which put the Tigers further behind the 8-ball. LSU is just 8-16 in the SEC but remains strong in the RPI (No. 27), so it's not dead in the water yet. Seven times in the last eight years, a team that finished with 13 or fewer wins in the SEC has earned an at-large spot, and 12-17 teams have gotten bids twice, so LSU might still sneak into the field with a 5-1 finish against Tennessee and at Mississippi State—not the most challenging slate. But still, LSU is clearly on the outside looking in.
Auburn and Georgia have strong enough RPIs and enough quality wins that both should be fine if they can finish above .500 overall. Both teams enter this weekend at 25-23 and need to make hay against Tennessee (Auburn's final regular-season opponent) and Kentucky (which Georgia plays this week).
The Rebels helped themselves immensely with a series win against South Carolina, helping them climb to No. 37 in the RPI. Mississippi State also took care of business last weekend, sweeping Tennessee to climb to No. 26.
Southern Conference (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): College of Charleston, Samford, Georgia Southern, UNC Greensboro
One change from last week: College of Charleston drops back out of our field after losing two of three at home against UNC Greensboro. Because of the RPI, the Cougars are still the only team with a real shot to earn an at-large bid aside from Elon, but they need a 7-0 finish to land inside the top 45, with series remaining against Appalachian State and at Samford. Right now, CofC sits at No. 64, and it is just 0-4 against the top 25 and 3-8 against the top 50. Even an undefeated finish might not be enough to salvage its chances.
Southland Conference (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Sam Houston State
No change from last week. Sam Houston State leaps into the at-large discussion following a sweep of Stephen F. Austin State that launched the Bearkats from No. 64 to No. 48 in the RPI, and Southeastern Louisiana took a step back with a series loss to Nicholls State, but we're sticking with the Lions as the Southland's second team. SELA is 5-4 against the top 50 (compared to Sam Houston's 3-4 mark), and 14-8 against the top 100 (SHSU is 8-10), and the Lions won the head-to-head series two to one.
Texas State remains on the bubble, and a 1-8 record against the top 50 could still torpedo the Bobcats if they fail to win the conference tournament. But we like their domination of the Southland Conference (20-7), and a solid 13-11 mark against the top 100 mitigates some of the midweek struggles.
Sun Belt Conference (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Troy, Florida International
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Western Kentucky
One change: FAU falls out of the field after a series loss at Western Kentucky. The Owls still own a solid 6-5 record against the top 50, but they are just 11-16 against the top 100 (compared with Kansas State's 16-18 mark, for instance), and they rank 50th in the RPI. They can finish inside the top 45 with a 5-2 finish—which will be a challenge. After a home series this weekend against Arkansas-Little Rock, FAU plays four games on the road against Miami and FIU.
We are downgrading Troy to bubble status, as its RPI is just No. 44, which is hardly "lock" territory. Red-hot FIU, winners of 12 straight, actually owns the Sun Belt's best RPI (No. 34), and its at-large resume is coming together nicely.
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