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 11 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Florida State, Baylor, Kentucky
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisiana State, Florida, Stanford, Rice, North Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Carolina, Purdue, Oregon, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, North Carolina State
One change from last week: Stanford replaces UCLA as a national seed after winning a road series against the Bruins. UCLA (No. 4) is still four spots ahead of Stanford in the official NCAA RPI report, but the Cardinal has lost two fewer weekend series and has a better record against the top 50 (16-8) than the Bruins (14-11).
The SEC still seems like a very strong bet to land three national seeds, but it has four worthy candidates jostling for those three spots (the committee would almost certainly balk at the prospect of four national seeds from one conference). Because Kentucky has still lost just one series and owns a sweep over South Carolina and a series win over LSU, we're keeping the Wildcats in the secure category even though they dropped seven spots to No. 10 in the RPI this week. LSU and South Carolina are tied with UK for the best conference record in the SEC, but the Gamecocks have feasted against the bottom third of the league in recent weeks; they are still just 2-5 against the top 25, compared with Florida's 14-8, LSU's 7-5 and North Carolina's 6-4. For now, that's the reason the Gamecocks get squeezed out of a national seed, but they'll have ample opportunity to rack up quality wins over the next three weekends, with road series against Arkansas and Georgia followed by a home set against LSU. South Carolina controls its own destiny in the national seed debate: finish strong over the last three weekends and it will surely force its way into a national seed.
Purdue has climbed all the way up to No. 5 in the RPI—an incredibly difficult task for a Northern team. The flaw in Purdue's national seed case that it has played only one game against a team currently in the top 25 (a win against East Carolina) and just four other games against 26-50 teams (going 3-1). The Boilermakers are a lock to host (although where they would host has not yet been made public), and they have an opportunity to really solidify their national seed case with a series win at UCLA this weekend. Conversely, the Bruins can bolster into their national seed chances with a series win against Purdue. As strong as UCLA is in the RPI (and it needs just a 9-7 finish to stay inside the top eight, per the Needs Report), the Bruins stand a strong chance to earn a national seed if they can win three of their last four series (and none of their final Pac-12 series are against teams with winning conference records, though two of those series are on the road).
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above; South Carolina, Purdue, Oregon, North Carolina State, UCLA
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, Arkansas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas A&M, Central Florida, Mississippi, Virginia
One change from last week: Arkansas replaces Ole Miss as a host.
The race for the final hosting spot or two is very competitive and fluid. The Razorbacks get a huge jolt after winning a series in Gainesville, while the Rebels took a step back with a road series loss at Mississippi State. But Ole Miss can help its case with a series win this weekend against LSU—while Arkansas can further strengthen its own position with a home series win against South Carolina this weekend. The top four teams in the SEC seem locked in as hosts barring meltdowns, and six hosts from one conference is very unlikely, so Ole Miss and Arkansas are likely battling for one spot.
They also have to fend off Texas A&M and Central Florida, which also could beat out Arizona for a host spot. For now, those teams remain on the outside thanks to a lack of marquee wins. A&M helped itself with a series win against Texas, but it is still just 1-6 against the top 25 and 7-7 against the top 50, while UCF is 3-5 against the top 25 and hasn't played any teams in the 26-50 range. Arizona, meanwhile, is 5-6 against the top 25 and 11-9 against the top 50, and it remains tied for first place in a much stronger conference.
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.
The Mountain West could wind up as a two-bid league if Texas Christian (No. 41 in the RPI) doesn't win the conference tournament; currently the Horned Frogs are a game behind first-place New Mexico (No. 84). TCU isn't a slam-dunk at-large team, but it stands a solid chance. CAA leader UNC Wilmington (No. 48) is in similar position, but at least it leads its conference by three games. Stetson (No. 50) and Belmont (No. 60) are in good enough shape in the RPI to keep them in the bubble discussion, but neither is in first place in the A-Sun (which is led by No. 73 South Carolina-Upstate), and neither has an at-large resume at this point. The Sun Belt looks more and more like a one-bid league regardless of who wins the conference tournament. First-place Florida Atlantic—the only SBC team inside the top 100 of the RPI—slid from No. 53 to No. 72 after losing a series at Troy last weekend. For this exercise, we will assume all 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 11 weeks. Here are the changes from last week's field of 64, in a nutshell:
IN: Virginia Tech, Wichita State, Auburn, Texas State
OUT: Maryland, Indiana State, California, Texas-Arlington
Atlantic Coast Conference (9 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Miami
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Clemson, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Maryland, Boston College
One change from last week: Virginia Tech replaces Maryland in our field of 64. Maryland's 8-6 record against the top 25 can't prop it up any longer; a series loss at Virginia Tech dropped the Terps to last place (8-16) in the ACC's Atlantic Division. And Maryland's next conference series is a trip to Florida State. That provides an opportunity to give its at-large case a real jolt, but let's not bank on the Terrapins winning a series in Tallahassee.
The ACC's bubble teams are just beating the tar out of each other. The Hokies, who climbed to No. 32 in the RPI, own nice series wins in the last three weeks against Maryland and Miami. But they dropped a series at Wake Forest in between, and lost a road series at Georgia Tech in March. The Demon Deacons helped their case with back-to-back series wins against the Yellow Jackets and Hokies, then got swept at Boston College this weekend. Head-to-head results offer little help sorting out this mess. For now, we'll put all of the ACC's top 40 RPI teams in our field except for No. 39 Maryland—but the Deacs, Jackets and Hokies are all on tenuous footing. Realistically, the ACC is quite unlikely to get nine bids (a couple upsets in mid-major conference tournaments will leave less at-large spots to go around), but we need to get to 64 somehow.
Big 12 (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Oklahoma State
No change from last week. The Sooners still need to boost their RPI (No. 58), but the Needs Report says a 6-5 finish will land them inside the top 45. Oklahoma State isn't really on the bubble with a No. 100 RPI, but the Cowboys are tied with A&M for third place in the Big 12 (a game ahead of the Sooners), so they get a token spot in our bubble watch.
Big East (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Louisville
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): St. John's, South Florida, Connecticut
No change from last week. The Cardinals moved into the "secure" category with a second midweek win over Kentucky and a series win against UConn. St. John's is coming on like gangbusters, up six more spots to No. 69 in the RPI after sweeping a road series at Notre Dame. The Johnnies are two games ahead of second-place Louisville, USF and UConn in the standings, and if they win their last three series (vs. USF, at Louisville, vs. Seton Hall), they will not only win the Big East regular-season title but climb further in the RPI and own a signature series win (against Louisville). That could be enough to get St. John's into the field even with an RPI in the 50s; remember, the Red Storm got an at-large bid last year with an RPI in the 50s, and that was without a regular-season conference title. For now, however, St. John's is just 1-2 against the top 50 and still is not in at-large range in the RPI, so it remains on the wrong side of our bubble.
Big South (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Liberty, Radford
No change from last week. Coastal Carolina moved itself into the "secure" category with a sweep of Liberty, effectively locking up the regular-season title and dashing the Flames' at-large hopes. But there's a wrinkle: Coastal has lost ace Josh Conway for the rest of the season. Can the Chanticleers keep dominating the league without him? We think so, but it's something to monitor.
Big Ten (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Purdue
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Michigan State, Illinois, Nebraska
No change from last week. The Boilermakers effectively sewed up the regular-season title with a series win against the Spartans last weekend, but Michigan State avoided a sweep to salvage a big win Sunday, and it is hanging around the bubble discussion with a No. 51 RPI. But it is just 8-7 in the Big Ten (tied for fourth place with Illinois, Nebraska and Penn State) and just 2-6 against the top 50.
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. Long Beach and Fullerton are separated by percentage points at the top of the standings, and the Dirtbags climbed back above .500 (21-20) with a 3-1 week, meaning they would be eligible for an at-large spot if the season ended today. A ranking of No. 56 in the RPI is in range, but a 2-9 mark against the top 50 hurts. We still think LBSU needs to win the automatic bid to get in (and we are continuing to project the Titans to win it).
Conference USA (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Rice, Central Florida, East Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tulane
No change from last week. Tulane vaulted 20 RPI spots to No. 59 after winning two of three at East Carolina, breathing some life back into its at-large hopes. But getting swept by UCF at home last week stung, and Tulane is still just 3-7 against the top 50. The RPI needs report calls for an 11-0 finish to land inside the top 45 at season's end. Tulane is in the mix, but its resume remains short.
Independents (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Dallas Baptist
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. The Patriots are sliding after losing back-to-back series against Indiana State and Wichita State, but they remain 34th in the RPI, and the Needs Report says a 6-7 finish would keep them in the top 45. At 3-6 against the top 50, DBU's resume lacks impact wins, but the RPI is working strongly in its favor, so it gets the benefit of the doubt.
Missouri Valley (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Missouri State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Wichita State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Indiana State, Illinois State
One change from last week: Wichita State replaces Indiana State in our field. The Sycamores tumbled from No. 48 to No. 61 in the RPI after taking a bad home loss Sunday to first-year Division I member Nebraska-Omaha (No. 269). The Shockers, meanwhile, are 6-6 in the MVC (two games behind Indiana State and four back of first-place Missouri State), but their 5-5 record against the top 50 is the best in the MVC, and they vaulted 15 spots to No. 55 in the RPI after winning a series against Dallas Baptist last week. Wichita's series at Indiana State this weekend is critical; the winner figures to find itself in better bubble position—though the MVC could also wind up getting only one bid if Missouri State wins the conference tournament.
Pacific-12 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southern California
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington, California, Washington State
One change from last week: Cal drops out of our field of 64. The Golden Bears took a major blow by getting swept at Oregon last week, dropping them back down into the 70s in the RPI and into 10th place in the Pac-12.
The Huskies went to Utah and finally won their first conference series since the opening week of Pac-12 play against Oregon, though their RPI actually dropped seven spots to No. 49. USC also earned a much-needed series win at Oregon State, but its RPI fell three spots to No. 53 after a 2-2 week. This weekend's series between Washington and USC at Dedeaux Field has huge at-large ramifications; we'll give the home team the nod for now. But both teams have very difficult schedules over the final three weeks—especially USC (at Oregon, vs. Arizona, at UCLA)—so it's entirely possible neither team winds up in the field. For now, we don't have anyone better than USC at the back of our bubble, so we'll leave the Trojans in.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Kentucky, Louisiana State, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Vanderbilt
One change from last week: Auburn rejoins our field of 64 after sweeping Tennessee to climb from No. 62 to No. 46 in the RPI. Auburn's season has been a roller coaster, but it still has three series wins (at Ole Miss, vs. LSU, vs. Mississippi State) that trump any series on many bubble teams' resumes. Auburn's 8-11 record against the top 50 compares favorably with, for instance, Washington's 5-9 mark, Michigain State's 2-6, or Tulane's 3-7.
Mississippi State is on the brink of moving into the "secure" category after its third series win in the last four weeks, helping it climb 12 spots to No. 31 in the RPI. Georgia, meanwhile, falls out of that category and into bubble territory after losing its fifth series in the last six weeks. The Bulldogs have just one quality series win (vs. Ole Miss) and need to finish very strong—but the schedule opens up for them now, with two home series remaining (a critical showdown against Auburn this weekend followed by South Carolina the following week) and a winnable road series at Alabama. Auburn's road (at Georgia, at Arkansas, vs. Florida) is considerably harder.
Southern Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: College of Charleston, Appalachian State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Samford
No change from last week. Elon ended its recent skid with a sweep of UNC Greensboro last week, and its resume still includes huge series wins against CofC, ASU and hard-charging Samford. That's enough to keep it in our field of 64. The Cougars and Mountaineers, with top-30 RPIs, are safe.
Southland Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Sam Houston State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southeastern Louisiana, Texas State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas-Arlington
One change from last week: Texas State replaces Texas-Arlington in our field. After losing six straight games, the Bobcats have rebounded with back-to-back series wins, while the Mavericks fell 10 spots to No. 64 in the RPI after a 1-3 week, which included a road series loss at Stephen F. Austin State (No. 173). Texas State's footing is precarious, but it is hovering around the top 50 in the RPI and owns a respectable 5-7 record against the top 50.
West Coast Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: San Diego
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Pepperdine, Gonzaga
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Portland, Brigham Young
No change from last week. Gonzaga has fallen from the hosting discussion to the at-large bubble over the last two weeks, losing back-to-back series to San Francisco (a sweep at USF) and Loyola Marymound (two of three in Spokane). The Zags still have a robust RPI (30) and an adequate 5-5 mark against the top 50, so we'll keep them in our field for now, but they have tumbled to seventh place in the tightly packed WCC (7-8) and need to climb back up the conference standings to feel better about their chances.
Western Athletic Conference (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: New Mexico State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Nevada
No change from last week. The Aggies stayed just about static in the RPI (falling only a spot to No. 21) after getting swept in two games at Baylor. They're sitting pretty.
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