PROJECTED FIELD OF 64
|Charlottesville, Va.||Lexington, Ky.||San Luis Obispo, Calf.||Seattle|
|1. (1) Virginia^*||1. Kentucky^||1.(5) Cal Poly^*||1. Washington^|
|2. Liberty*||2. Louisville||2. San Diego *||2. Cal State Fullerton|
|3. Tennessee||3. West Virginia||3. UCLA||3. San Diego State|
|4. Delaware State*||4. Wright State*||4. Sacramento State*||4. Bryant*|
|Columbia, S.C.||Coral Gables, Fla.||Lafayette, La.||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|1. (2) South Carolina^*||1. Miami^||1. (6) Louisiana-Lafayette^*||1. Alabama^|
|2. Kansas||2. Mississippi||2. Mississippi State||2. Oregon|
|3. Western Carolina*||3. Nebraska||3. Maryland||3. Mercer*|
|4. William & Mary*||4. Hartford*||4. Canisius*||4. Alabama State*|
|Tallahassee, Fla.||Gainesville, Fla.||Corvallis, Ore.||Las Vegas|
|1. (3) Florida State^||1. Florida^||1. (7) Oregon State^*||1. UNLV^*|
|2. UC Santa Barbara||2. Texas Tech||2. Oklahoma||2. Arizona State|
|3. New Mexico||3. N.C. State||3. Pepperdine||3. UC Irvine|
|4. Cornell*||4. Saint Louis*||4. Central Michigan*||4. Seton Hall*|
|Austin, Texas||Houston||Nashville||Bloomington, Ind.|
|1. (4) Texas^*||1. Houston^*||1. (8) Vanderbilt^||1. Indiana^*|
|2. Dallas Baptist*||2. Rice*||2. Clemson||2. Louisiana State|
|3. Arkansas||3. Texas Christian||3. Illinois State||3. Indiana State|
|4. Bucknell*||4. Sam Houston State*||4. SE Missouri State*||4. IPFW*|
|^ Regional Host|
|* Automatic qualifier|
Field of 64 Analysis
• Here’s a look at the conferences we project to earn multiple bids: SEC (10), ACC (6), Big 12 (6), Pac-12 (5), Big West (4), Missouri Valley (3), Mountain West (3), American (2), Big Ten (2), and WCC (2).
• The Southeastern Conference is deeper than any other league and is the top conference in the Ratings Percentage Index. Nine SEC teams are currently inside the top 40 in the RPI, and we project all of them to make regionals. If Arkansas (No. 76 in the RPI) can win about 15 of its final 23 games, it can finish inside the top 45, according to Boyd’s World’s RPI Needs Report, and we expect the Hogs to pull it off, giving the SEC a 10th regional team. Georgia, Auburn and Texas A&M are certainly still alive for at-large spots in the tightly bunched SEC, but we’re betting on those three teams missing regionals, along with last-place Missouri.
• We expect five SEC teams to host: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida, Kentucky and Alabama. Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State remain right in the thick of the hosting race, and that picture could shift week by week. The same goes for the national seed hunt in the SEC, but right now we believe South Carolina and Vanderbilt have the best combinations of resume and talent, so we expect that pair to finish as the top two teams in the SEC pecking order.
• The No. 2 RPI conference is the Big 12, which has just one team that looks like a strong bet to host a regional (Texas), followed by eight teams that could all wind up on the at-large bubble. Texas Tech (No. 15) and West Virginia (No. 24) are the strongest RPI teams in that eight-team cluster, while Oklahoma (No. 86) and Oklahoma State (No. 109) have a lot of RPI work to do. The Sooners have opened conference play with series wins against Kansas State and Kansas, and we anticipate their RPI will continue to climb as they go through Big 12 play, so we’re aggressively projecting them to land a No. 2 seed. The Big 12 has a deep pool of regional contenders, but few sure things, so trying to project how many bids it will get is difficult. We’ll go with six.
• The ACC is the No. 3 RPI conference, and it has a pair of elite teams in Virginia (our bet to win the league, and to boost its RPI from its current position of No. 10) and Florida State. Miami and Clemson look like regional host candidates, but we’re betting only one of them lands a home regional because the ACC is not as strong as usual. Maryland (No. 14 in the RPI) also is in good at-large position and has a navigable schedule remaining, so we expect the Terrapins to snap their 43-year regional drought. N.C. State (No. 42) needs a strong second half to boost its 5-10 ACC record, but its remaining schedule is very favorable, and we still believe in its talent. But we have less conviction in fellow regional mainstays North Carolina (No. 89) and Georgia Tech (No. 44), which have been swept in recent weeks by Duke and Pittsburgh, respectively. We expect the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets to miss the NCAA tournament.
• Oregon State needs to boost its No. 35 RPI considerably to land a national seed, but if it can finish inside the top 20 and win the Pac-12 title, we think it has a decent chance to snag a national seed, and we project it to do so. We also think Washington hosts a regional, while other West regionals go to upstarts Cal Poly and UNLV, as the Big West and Mountain West are both enjoying strong seasons, and the Rebels (No. 12) and Mustangs (No. 19) have good RPIs. Arizona State (No. 34) has emerged as a hosting candidate in the last few weeks by taking series at Oregon State and UCLA, but for now the Sun Devils remain just outside hosting position. We project the Pac-12 to earn five regional bids. Stanford has played a grueling schedule, making it No. 36 in the RPI despite an 11-14 overall record, and if the Cardinal can finish with a winning record they could have a shot at a regional spot too.
• Down years in the Pac-12 and ACC help mid-majors like the Big West, Mountain West and Missouri Valley get more bids than usual. The Big West is currently No. 5 in the RPI, followed by the MVC (No. 6), AAC (No. 7) and MWC (No. 8). Down at No. 10 is Conference USA, which we project to earn just one bid (Rice) due to RPI struggles. C-USA leader UAB (No. 61) has been a pleasant surprise, and East Carolina (No. 78) is red-hot, but both teams have RPI problems, and their remaining schedules figure to exacerbate those problems. They’ll need blistering second halves to remain in at-large striking range.
• Houston (No. 2 in the RPI) just misses a national seed, as we expect its RPI to drop somewhat as it goes through AAC play. But the Cougars remain a very strong national seed contender, and a likely regional host. They can put themselves in great position with a series win against Louisville this weekend.