Here's a quick look at the postseason ramifications of Wednesday's action in college baseball. We'll break it down by the races for national seeds, hosts and at-large spots.
NATIONAL SEED RACE
As we wrote in Tuesday's Stock Report, we see four candidates battling for the final national seed, and this week's action might determine whether South Carolina, Rice, Stanford or even Texas A&M gets it. We'll throw Kentucky into the mix as a fifth candidate (the Wildcats need a deep run in Hoover to make up for their sluggish finish to the regular season, but they got off to a good start with Tuesday's 2-0 win against Ole Miss; they were off Wednesday). Stanford is off until Friday, when it opens a three-game series against California.
We pegged the Gamecocks as a slight favorite Tuesday, but their recent struggles in the SEC tournament continued with a 3-2 loss to Vanderbilt. If South Carolina loses to Auburn in Thursday's elimination game to finish 0-2 in Hoover, they seem likely to get passed over by one of the other contenders, assuming they have strong weeks. Rice got off to a good start in the Conference USA tournament, winning their pool-play opener against Houston, 7-4, despite getting just two-thirds of an inning from No. 4 starter Andrew Benak. Rice's top three starters remain fresh, however, and the Owls did not use J.T. Chargois out of the bullpen Wednesday.
Texas A&M also won, 10-4 against Kansas, but the Aggies have more work to do to make up for their 1-6 record against the top 25 in the RPI and second-place finish in the Big 12 (four games out of first place). The Aggies probably need a Big 12 tournament title to have a chance, and getting a win Wednesday with No. 4 starter Daniel Mengden on the mound was a great start.
REGIONAL HOSTING RACE
On Tuesday, we listed 17 teams competing for 16 host spots. Arizona and Cal State Fullerton are off until this weekend, and Virginia opens its ACC tourney slate on Thursday. Mississippi State has emerged as a darkhorse candidate to host (perhaps at Kentucky's expense) thanks to its torrid finishing kick, and the Bulldogs followed Tuesday's 9-1 win against Arkansas with a 3-2 win against LSU that helped them climb to No. 20 in the updated WarrenNolan.com RPI rankings (the more accurate Boyd's World rankings aren't updated until the morning, so we'll reference the Warren Nolan pRPI in this post).
Mississippi State is still behind Kentucky in the SEC pecking order because it lost five SEC series and finished two games behind the Wildcats in the conference standings, but if MSU can beat Kentucky on Thursday to improve to 4-0 against the Wildcats over the last two weeks, then go on to win the SEC tournament, it could conceivably supplant the Wildcats as a host. The committee does look at momentum, and right now Mississippi State has it in spades. Kentucky lost nine of its last 15 regular-season games, capped by the sweep in Starkville. But the Wildcats stopped their downward slide Tuesday, and another win Thursday would sufficiently reverse their momentum and effectively sew up a hosting spot, likely ending MSU's hosting chances. So Thursday's meeting between the Wildcats and Bulldogs is a very big game.
• In the ACC, Georgia Tech desperately needs a winning week in Greensboro to bolster its at-large hopes after going 12-18 in conference play in the regular-season. Tech's most meaningful opportunity to improve its fortunes came Wednesday against top-ranked Florida State, and Jake Davies' two homers powered the Yellow Jackets to a 5-4 win. Another win wouldn't necessarily assure the Jackets of an at-large bid, but it would give them a fighting chance. If they lose their next two games in pool play against Virginia and Clemson, their hopes will most likely be dashed.
• With an RPI in the mid-40s and series losses in their final three regular-season weekends, Texas can ill afford an 0-2 showing in the Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns were blanked 5-0 by Rob Zastryzny (8.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R) and Missouri in Wednesday's opener, setting up a crucial elimination game Thursday against Kansas. One win in Oklahoma City might be enough to get Texas an at-large spot, but another loss would put the 'Horns in very shaky position—though it wouldn't be a sure-fire death knell.
Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State ace Andrew Heaney 1-0 on Garrett Carey's walk-off homer in the ninth, as Dillon Overton and Steven Okert combined on a six-hit shutout. The Sooners can breathe easy; we already thought they were probably safe, and Wednesday's win sews up an at-large spot.
• The Big East's two at-large candidates, Louisville and St. John's, both won Wednesday against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, respectively. Louisville is safe even if it loses its next two games; St. John's needs to at least reach the Big East title game to have a shot, and even that might not be enough to get it in as an at-large team. The Red Storm is No. 57 in the Warren Nolan RPI after Wednesday's win.
• Bubble teams need to root for Coastal Carolina to win the Big South tournament because the Chanticleers would get an at-large spot if they fail to capture the automatic bid. Coastal got off to a good start with a 5-3 win over Radford in their opener.
• In a critical Conference USA matchup, Tulane beat East Carolina 4-3 to improve to 3-1 this season against the Pirates. The Green Wave sits at No. 55 in the Warren Nolan RPI, while ECU is No. 28, but Tulane finished ahead in the standings and now owns a decisive head-to-head advantage. Could the Green Wave get in as an at-large team over ECU despite the RPI gap between the two teams? It's hard to know from year to year whether the committee will place more value on the RPI or factors like conference standings and head-to-head matchups, but both teams need to win more games this week to improve their position. The Pirates lost three of their last four conference series, and a losing record in Pearl could submarine their ship even despite their RPI. Both teams have a quality RPI game remaining against Central Florida, plus another against Alabama-Birmingham.
• Utah Valley improved to 37-1 in its last 38 games with a 9-8 win over Houston Baptist in the Great West tournament. The winner of that tourney does not get an automatic bid, but the Wolverines must win it to have any shot of convincing the committee to overlook their No. 72 RPI and 39 games against teams outside the top 200. Even if they win out, they'll be a real long shot.
• The Missouri Valley Conference is a fascinating case. The top three finishers in the regular-season standings (Indiana State, Missouri State, Wichita State) all entered the tournament as at-large candidates with RPIs inside the top 50, but the Sycamores and Shockers each fell flat in the conference tourney, going 0-2. Indiana State's regular-season crown gives it a better chance at snagging an at-large spot (with a No. 48 RPI and a 5-5 record against the top 50) than third-place Wichita (No. 45 in the RPI, 6-8 against the top 50). The Shockers are most likely on the wrong side of the bubble after Wednesday's loss to Missouri State (No. 39), which could probably wrap up an at-large bid with a win Thursday against Bradley. Illinois State is also a factor with an RPI of No. 51, but the Redbirds finished fourth in the standings and went 2-8 against the top 50, so they almost certainly need to win the automatic bid—and they lost their winner's bracket game Wednesday against Creighton.
If a team other than Missouri State wins the automatic bid, Wichita is out for sure, because the Sycamores and Bears would stand ahead of the Shockers in the pecking order, and the MVC won't get four bids. In that scenario, Missouri State could beat out Indiana State for a second bid thanks to its season-ending series win in Terre Haute, stronger RPI and stronger showing in the conference tourney. The Bears finished just a half-game out of first place, after all. Both teams could possibly get in as at-large teams in addition to the automatic qualifier, depending on how many upsets there are in other mid-major conferences.
• In the SEC, Auburn and Georgia met in an elimination games that effectively served as a "play-out" game; whichever team went 0-2 in Hoover was likely out of the running for an at-large spot, as both teams are currently outside the top 50 in the RPI. The Tigers jumped on Michael Palazzone for three runs in the first three innings and held on for a 3-2 win, effectively ending Georgia's season. Auburn (No. 58) still has a lot more work to do to rescue its own at-large ambitions; a win against South Carolina tomorrow is a prerequisite, but that alone might not be enough, despite Auburn's impressive collection of quality wins (11-15 against the top 25 in the RPI). Eight games against teams outside the top 200 are just a huge drag on Auburn's RPI, just as the bottom teams on Tulane's schedule sabotage its RPI. Auburn, at least, has many more quality wins than the Green Wave. Tulane fared better in its conference standings, but C-USA is not nearly as strong as the SEC. In any case, both teams need to keep winning.
• Two of the SoCon's bubble teams lost their openers in the double-elimination tournament, as Georgia Southern throttled Elon 19-2, and The Citadel knocked off second-seeded College of Charleston 8-6. We had Elon out of our field of 64 heading into the tournament, and now it needs to run through the loser's bracket and at least reach the tournament title game to have a real chance. Charleston is in better shape after sharing the regular-season title with Appalachian State; if it loses Thursday's elimination game against the Phoenix, it will be in similar position as Indiana State. The two teams are close in the RPI (CofC is No. 46, per Warren Nolan) and have the same number of top 50 wins (Charleston is 5-10). Two more wins this week should earn the Cougars an at-large spot, and one might be sufficient, but an 0-2 showing would make matters dicey. As for Applachian State, it won its opener against Furman 7-5. The Mountaineers are sitting pretty at No. 31 in the RPI; even if they lose their next two games, they're in.
• In the Southland, top-seeded Sam Houston State was toppled by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 9-2. The Bearkats are in the same position as College of Charleston; they rank 49th in the RPI and have a 4-5 mark against the top 50. Considering they won the regular-season title by four games, they figure to get a bid if they can avoid an 0-2 showing this week, meaning they need to beat McNeese State in Thursday's elimination game. Another couple of wins after that would give them some breathing room.
Second-seeded Southeastern Louisiana and third-seeded Texas State won their openers against Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin State, respectively. The Bobcats (No. 60) need a very deep run to have a chance, while the Lions can feel OK about their chances if they can win two more games, the way we see it.
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