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 it's time to roll out our weekly Stock Report feature. Every Tuesday here on the College Blog, we'll 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 RPI report, which is released every Tuesday and is updated through the weekend's games. We'll also reference the useful RPI Needs Report at Boyd's World, which provides a rough sketch of what teams need to do in order to reach important RPI benchmarks like finishing inside the top 45 (a loose target for an at-large bid). And we'll make use of records against the top 25, 50 or 100 in the RPI—there is some margin for error with those figures, but they are accurate enough to serve our purposes.
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 nine weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Kentucky, Florida State, Baylor, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisiana State, UCLA, North Carolina, Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Carolina, Oregon, Cal State Fullerton, Purdue, Arizona, North Carolina State
One change from last week: Rice replaces Oregon as a national seed.
The Ducks actually climbed nine spots in the RPI last week, from No. 30 to No. 21, but their resume took a hit with a home series loss to Washington State. Winning the Pac-12 would cancel out a weaker RPI in the race for a national seed, but the suddenly banged-up Ducks have plenty of competition in the conference, and they trail both UCLA (No. 5) and Stanford (No. 13) in the RPI. For now, we'll keep the Bruins as a national seed out of the Pac-12, but replace the Ducks with Rice, which climbed into the top 10 in the RPI with a series win against East Carolina. South Carolina (No. 7) is a few places higher than Rice in the RPI, but a Conference USA champion based in Texas seems a likelier national seed than a fourth SEC team based in the Southeast. Plus, Rice's 7-4 record against the top 25 stands out against South Carolina's 1-5 mark. The same is true for North Carolina, which is 7-5 against the top 25, offsetting its up-and-down last few weeks. The Tar Heels also have the worst of their schedule behind them and expect to get 2011 Freshman of the Year Colin Moran back in May from a broken hand.
Keep an eye on Purdue as a national seed dark horse. The Boilermakers leapt from No. 16 to No. 8 in the RPI last week, and they have a chance to make a major statement in two weeks with a road series at UCLA. Win that series and continue taking care of business in the Big Ten, and Purdue will be a prime national seed candidate.
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above; South Carolina, Oregon, Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Purdue, Stanford, North Carolina State, Arizona, Mississippi
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Central Florida, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Miami
One change from last week: Ole Miss replaces Texas A&M as a host.
The Aggies fell from the thick of the national seed race to outside the hosting picture after a disastrous 0-4 week against Rice and Baylor. That week also knocked them down 11 spots to No. 18 in the RPI. A&M is just 1-6 against the RPI top 25 and 4-6 against the top 50, while Ole Miss is 5-4 against the top 25, 12-8 against the top 50. The Rebels also have two quality series wins against hosting candidates Florida and Arkansas, two series that trump anything on A&M's resume. The Aggies can still host, but they must finish strong, starting with a series win against Texas this weekend.
UCF vaulted from No. 25 to No. 12 in the RPI after sweeping a road series at Tulane, putting the Knights right in the middle of the hosting discussion. But UCF suffers from the same blemish as Texas A&M: a lack of marquee wins. The Knights are 3-5 against the top 25 in the RPI—and they haven't played any games against teams in the 26-50 range, and just two against teams 51-75. By contrast, Purdue is just 3-1 against the top 50, but is 10-4 against teams 51-75. And of course the Boilermakers have the advantage of geographic diversity.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 16 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Sun Belt, Southwestern.
We are adding the A-Sun to the list of likely one-bid leagues, regardless of who wins the conference tournament, as Belmont has lost back-to-back weekend series to put its at-large hopes in jeopardy, and no other A-Sun team has an at-large-caliber resume. Stetson is No. 58 in the RPI, putting it in at-large striking distance, but the rest of its resume is sorely lacking, with just an 0-3 record against the top 50, 2-7 against the top 75.
We are adding the Sun Belt to the list of likely one-bid conferences, with the acknowledgement that Florida Atlantic has at least a shot at an at-large bid if it fails to win the conference tournament (but no other Sun Belt team is within shouting distance of an at-large spot). Texas Christian and UNC Wilmington have strong enough RPIs to have realistic shots at earning at-large bids if they fail to win their automatic bids, as well. If TCU and UNCW do not win the MWC and CAA tournaments, respectively, those will be one-bid leagues, which is what we will consider them for this exercise.
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 10 weeks. Here are the changes from last week's field of 64, in a nutshell:
IN: Georgia Tech
Atlantic Coast Conference (9 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Miami, Virginia
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Clemson, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Maryland
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Virginia Tech
One change from last week: Georgia Tech moves back into our field of 64, giving the ACC a ninth bid, while the SEC falls back to eight bids. Winning a road series at North Carolina was crucial for the Yellow Jackets, who climbed 13 spots to No. 34 in the RPI. Tech still can't afford to stumble too much in the last four weeks, but it is back on the right side of the bubble for now.
Maryland's chances took a blow when it was swept at home by Clemson this past weekend, but the Terrapins are still No. 35 in the RPI. At 8-9 against the top 25, the Terps have more wins against the top 25 than any team outside the top three teams in the RPI rankings (Florida, Florida State, Kentucky). That resume easily trumps anything other bubble dwellers (such as Washington, Auburn, Tennessee, Michigan State, Liberty, Long Beach State) can point to.
Big 12 (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. Despite playing three games against Alabama State (No. 257 in the RPI) last week, the Sooners find themselves at No. 55 in the RPI this week, still within at-large striking distance.
Big East (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisville
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Florida, St. John's, Connecticut
No change from last week. The Cardinals helped their cause with a road series win at South Florida, vaulting them 23 spots to No. 40 in the RPI and bringing them within a game of first place in the Big East. None of the three teams tied for first (USF, St. John's, Connecticut) rank better than 75th in the RPI, leaving them on the outside of the field of 64. But if one of them wins the automatic bid, Louisville looks to be in solid position to earn an at-large.
Big South (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Liberty, Radford, Campbell
No change from last week. Liberty's at-large hopes took a blow with a series loss at UNC Asheville.
Big Ten (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Purdue
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska
No change from last week. The Cornhuskers had a chance to make a major move with a home series against Purdue, but the Boilermakers won two of three in Lincoln, keeping Nebraska on the wrong side of the bubble. Ohio State's mysteriously high RPI has begun to drop—the Buckeyes are down to No. 51 this week after losing their second straight series, at Illinois. Michigan State helped itself with a series win against Minnesota, but the Spartans still need a very hot finish to boost their RPI (No. 61) into at-large range.
Big West (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Long Beach State, Cal Poly, UC Irvine
No change from last week. Cal Poly and UC Irvine both lost another series this weekend—each team's bubble has just about burst. But Long Beach State is a fascinating case. With their series win against UCI this weekend, the Dirtbags have now won five straight series, and they remain tied with Fullerton for first place in the Big West. But they are still 18-19 overall, so if the NCAA tournament started today they would be ineligible. LBSU is still just 1-6 against the top 25 and 2-9 against the top 50, so the automatic bid still looks like its most realistic path to regionals. And we'll continue to project the Titans to win the automatic bid.
Conference USA (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Rice, Central Florida, East Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tulane, Southern Mississippi
No change from last week. Tulane had a chance to make some hay against UCF, but the Green Wave crashed, getting swept at home. Southern Miss swept Memphis but is still just No. 89 in the RPI, making it a long shot to extend its regionals streak to 10 years, barring a run to the C-USA tournament title.
Independents (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Dallas Baptist
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. Despite losing a road series to Indiana State, DBU remains in good at-large position at No. 33 in the RPI.
Missouri Valley (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Missouri State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Indiana State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Illinois State, Wichita State
No change from last week. The Sycamores helped themselves with a big series win against Dallas Baptist this past weekend. They remain inside the top 50 in the RPI, and they'll need to continue playing at a high level to finish there. Home series in the final three weeks against Wichita State and Missouri State will make or break Indiana State's at-large case.
Pacific-12 (7 bids)
SAFELY IN: UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southern California, California
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington, Washington State
No change from last week. Washington (No. 42) remains ahead of USC (No. 50) and Cal (No. 64) in the RPI, but the Huskies have won just two of their last seven series (one of them against No. 153 Cal State Bakersfield). Give UW credit for not getting swept against quality opponents like Arizona, Stanford and Oregon State, but not getting swept isn't enough—at some point, the Huskies need to start winning series. Cal's head-to-head series win against Washington—plus its big series win against Texas—gives it the edge, and its RPI will climb into the top 45 with just an 8-8 finish. An 11-5 finish would land the Golden Bears inside the top 32 at season's end. The Trojans, meanwhile, have the benefit of winning the home series against Cal, and they also get to play Washington at home in two weeks.
Washington State thrust itself back into the at-large discussion with a series win at Oregon this weekend. The Cougars are still just No. 73 in the RPI, but a 12-7 finish will land it inside the top 45, per the Needs Report. For now, the Cougars remain on the outside of the field of 64, but their dangerous offense is capable of bashing a path to regionals.
Southeastern Conference (8 bids)
SAFELY IN: Kentucky, Louisiana State, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
One change from last week: Auburn falls out of the field of 64 after getting swept by South Carolina. Series wins against LSU and Mississippi State can no longer buoy Auburn's case, as the Tigers have lost three straight series against Alabama and Vanderbilt (the last-place teams in their respective divisions) and South Carolina. Compare Auburn's case with that of the ninth team in the ACC—Maryland—and it's not close: Maryland has the stronger resume.
Mississippi State boosted its at-large credentials with a huge sweep of fellow bubble dweller Tennessee last week. But there is more work to be done: MSU is still just 2-8 against the top 25, 2-10 against the top 50. A home series against Ole Miss this weekend is big.
Southern Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: College of Charleston, Appalachian State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Western Carolina, Georgia Southern
No change from last week. CofC and ASU had good weeks and find themselves in strong RPI range at No. 32 and No. 30, respectively. Put them both in the secure category. Elon owns series wins over both of them, but the Phoenix have stumbled of late, losing road sets to Furman and Wofford over the last three weeks. We'll leave Elon in the field, but its footing has become more precarious.
Southland Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Sam Houston State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southeastern Louisiana, Texas-Arlington
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas State
No change from last week. Southeastern's 8-0 record against the top 50 stands out amongst other bubble teams, and UTA's 5-7 mark is respectable. Both teams took care of business this past week, as the Lions won a road series at UTSA while the Mavericks swept Northwestern State.
West Coast Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: San Diego, Gonzaga
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Pepperdine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Portland, Brigham Young
No change from last week. Gonzaga's hosting hopes took a big hit when it was swept at San Francisco this weekend, but the Zags remain 25th in the RPI, in no danger of falling out of at-large territory. Pepperdine is also inside the top 30 after winning a road series at Santa Clara.
Western Athletic Conference (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: New Mexico State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Nevada, Hawaii
No change from last week. The Aggies swept last-place Louisiana Tech and remain in the top 20 of the RPI. This weekend, they'll travel to Baylor for two games, giving them an opportunity to inject some real life into their chances of earning a No. 1 seed in a regional—though they lack the facilities to host.
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