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 Tuesday 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 pseudo-Ratings Percentage Index rankings at boydsworld.com, because the NCAA’s official weekly report had not yet been updated at the time of this writing. We’ll also reference the useful RPI Needs Report at Boyd’s World, which provide rough guidelines for what each team needs to do in order to reach important RPI benchmarks (such as top 45, for at-large position, and top eight, for earning a national seed, etc.) at the end of the season. 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 10 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Louisiana State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Virginia, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State, North Carolina State, Oregon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Carolina, Indiana, Florida State
No change from last week. We are being a little more cautious with our “secure teams” list, downgrading Virginia, Fullerton and Oregon State to national seed bubble status, although we still think all of those teams are on track to earn national seeds if they finish as expected. And we continue to think the winner of the series between Florida State and N.C. State in Raleigh will determine which team gets a third national seed out of the ACC. We are projecting the Wolfpack to win that May 11-13 series at home.
South Carolina moves into the national seed discussion after taking two of three at Louisiana State, helping the Gamecocks move up to No. 8 in the RPI. If South Carolina takes two of three from Vanderbilt this weekend, we’ll move the Gamecocks into national seed position, at the expense of a third ACC team or second Pac-12 team. But for now, we’ll assume the loaded Commodores win that series, keeping South Carolina on the outside looking in at a national seed. Getting swept twice (once at home) is a blemish on South Carolina’s resume, and its 7-5 record against the top 50 in the RPI doesn’t compare well with N.C. State’s 14-7 mark. Oregon is 8-8 against the top 50, and its sweep of Stanford this weekend helps it remain in national seed position.
Indiana’s little midseason slump is over, as the Hoosiers followed up a four-game losing streak (including three walk-off losses to Michigan State) with an eight-game winning streak. The Hoosiers are still in national seed range in the RPI (No. 12), and the Needs Report says they can climb into the top eight with a home sweep of Northwestern and six wins in their eight remaining road games (three at Nebraska, three at Ohio State, one apiece at Louisville and Kentucky). Whether IU finishes in the top eight or not, it should earn strong national seed consideration, because putting together such a robust RPI as a Northern team is extremely difficult. If the Hoosiers finish strong, they could certainly snatch a national seed away from an ACC, SEC or Pac-12 team.
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above; South Carolina, Indiana, Florida State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UCLA, Arizona State, Mississippi State, Louisville, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arkansas, South Alabama, Mississippi, Clemson
No change from last week. Oklahoma remains the team we currently project to host that needs to boost its RPI the most in order to secure its position. The Sooners are No. 41 in the RPI now, and the Needs Report says they can’t climb into the top 16, but they can get inside the top 32 by winning each of their last three series, which we think they will. If Oklahoma finishes in the 20s in the RPI and wins the Big 12, we still like its chances to host, for the sake of geographic and conference diversity.
Arkansas remains in the hosting discussion despite its No. 53 RPI, because it has a strong SEC record (13-7), and it still has a chance to boost its RPI into the top 32 by season’s end (though not the top 16). Just to get into the top 32, Arkansas will have to win eight of its last 10 games, although remaining series at Georgia and Auburn and home against Tennessee are very winnable. The SEC tournament could provide Arkansas with a further RPI boost, especially if it makes a deep run. So the Hogs have work to do, but if the SEC gets a fifth host, we still think it will be Arkansas.
Keep an eye on South Alabama as a hosting candidate. The Jaguars remain in great shape in the RPI (No. 14), and they have built a two-game lead in the strong Sun Belt Conference. A 4-7 record against the top 50 gives us pause, but if South Alabama finishes strong (with tough series left at Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy in the final two weeks), it could host, at the expense of the fourth Pac-12 team, Louisville or Oklahoma.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 18 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, Southwestern, Western Athletic, West Coast.
We are moving the WCC into the one-bid group because of its RPI woes. First-place Gonzaga had a rough 2-3 week that dropped it to No. 92 in the RPI, and the Needs Report says it cannot finish in the top 45. San Diego has the league’s best RPI but is in jeopardy of missing the four-team conference tournament. San Francisco needs to win all of its remaining 10 games to finish in the top 45—a tall order. The WCC now just looks very likely to be a one-bid league.
New Mexico, Austin Peay State and Central Arkansas all have the RPIs and overall resumes to contend for at-large spots if they fail to win automatic bids, and it’s worth noting that neither APSU nor UCA is currently in first place in its respective conference. None of those three teams would be an at-large lock, but they’d at least give the Mountain West, Ohio Valley and Southland conferences a chance to become two-bid leagues.
For the purpose of this exercise, we will assume that all 18 of those conferences wind up as one-bid leagues.
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 nine weeks. Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:
IN: Troy (Sun Belt), Baylor (Big 12), North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Oklahoma State (Big 12), South Florida (Big East), Campbell (Big South)
OUT: Stanford (Pac-12), Kansas (Big 12), Gonzaga (West Coast), Southern Mississippi (Conference USA), William & Mary (Colonial), Nebraska (Big 10)
Atlantic Coast Conference (8 total bids)
SAFELY IN: North Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina State, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No changes from last week.
Virginia Tech moves into the “safely in” category after taking two of three from Virginia, giving it a second marquee series win (it also took two of three from Florida State). The Hokies should improve their 11-13 ACC record with a gentle finishing kick against Wake Forest and Boston College. Miami and Georgia Tech have struggled lately (the Hurricanes lost a stunning series to previously winless-in-the-ACC Boston College this weekend, while the Jackets have lost six of their last seven games), but both are still strong enough in the RPI and the standings that we’re not going to downgrade either to bubble status yet.
Atlantic Sun (2 bid)
SAFELY IN: Mercer
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
One change from last week: North Florida joins our field of 64, making the A-Sun a two-bid league. The Ospreys remain in first place at 14-4, their RPI has climbed from No. 75 to No. 62 to No. 44 in the past three weeks, and they can finish in the top 45 if they win eight of their final 11 games. We like their chances.
Big 12 (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oklahoma, Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Baylor, Oklahoma State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kansas
Changes from last week: Baylor and Oklahoma State join our field, while Kansas falls out after getting swept at West Virginia, dropping the Jayhawks to No. 59 in the RPI and 9-9 in the Big 12.
Baylor has been in and out of our field over the last few weeks, but the Bears helped their cause with a 4-0 week, including a sweep of Texas. Suddenly Baylor is sitting pretty at 11-6 in the Big 12, its RPI is up seven spots from last week to No. 55, and it can climb into the top 45 if Baylor wins five of its last seven, per the Needs Report. That means taking care of business in midweek games against Texas-Arlington and Texas-San Antonio, and winning at least one of their final two road series at Kansas and Texas Tech. It’s not a slam dunk, but for now it’s good enough for us to forecast Baylor as an at-large team.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, have vaulted from No. 118 to No. 76 to No. 51 in the RPI over the last three weeks, putting them in the thick of the at-large race. If the Cowboys can win six or seven of their last 10 games (at Texas Tech, vs. Oklahoma at neutral sites, vs. West Virginia), they can finish in the top 45 in the RPI, and they’ll climb in the conference standings. They have a solid 6-3 record against the top 50, and they have positive momentum.
Kansas State moves up to the “safely in” category after a 3-1 week against Nebraska and TCU. The Wildcats have the Big 12’s strongest RPI (No. 29) and need to win just three of their last 10 games to finish inside the top 45. And they are in good shape in the Big 12 standings at 9-6.
Big East (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Louisville
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, South Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Seton Hall
One change from last week: South Florida joins our field of 64, making the Big East a four-bid league. The Bulls have catapulted from No. 137 to No. 96 to No. 77 in the RPI over the last three weeks. They still have work to do in the RPI, but if they can win eight or nine of their last 12 games, they can actually land in the top 45, per the Needs Report. We’ll project USF to win midweek games against Bethune-Cookman, Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast, win a home series against Rutgers, and take one out of three on the road at Notre Dame and Seton Hall. That would lead to a 7-5 finish—maybe not quite enough to get into the RPI comfort zone, but enough for an at-large bid when combined with USF’s strong standing in the Big East (currently first place at 13-2).
Pittsburgh needs to win 10 of its last 13 to land in the top 45, but its remaining schedule is favorable, with series against Georgetown and Villanova, four winnable midweek games, and a tough series at Louisville. We like Pittsburgh’s talent and believe the Panthers are peaking at the right time, so we’ll continue to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Notre Dame swept Connecticut last weekend to improve its conference record to 7-8, and it still has a strong RPI (No. 26) and the the most games against the top 50 (8-10) of any Big East team. The Irish remain in pretty good shape.
Seton Hall remains in the mix too, at No. 46 in the RPI and 10-5 in the Big East. The Needs Report says the Pirates need to win eight of their last 10 to finish inside the top 45, and we see them falling just a bit short of that goal. And SHU’s 1-5 record against the top 50 is a black mark on its resume.
Big South (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina, Campbell
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
One change from last week: Campbell rejoins our field of 64, making the Big South a two-bid league. If neither of these teams wins the automatic bid, it’s difficult to envision both of them getting at-large spots to make this a three-bid league, because Coastal and Campbell both have borderline cases. In Campbell’s case, an 0-1 record against the top 50 could ultimately submarine its case—but its overall consistency is impressive. At 37-8 overall and 14-4 in the conference, Campbell has managed to climb to No. 34 in the RPI despite its lack of games against the top 50, and it can finish in the top 45 with seven or eight wins in its final 10 games. That should be an attainable goal against its remaining schedule.
The Chanticleers have played more top 50 games but haven’t won many of them, going 3-8. Coastal does lead its Big South division at 13-5, and it needs to win eight of its final 11 to finish inside the top 45 in the RPI (it currently ranks 43rd). Assuming the Chanticleers can win one out of three at Georgia Tech and sweep their final two series at UNC Asheville and Charleston Southern, we think they’ll be OK.
Big Ten (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Indiana
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Michigan State, Ohio State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota
One change from last week: Nebraska tumbles back out of our field of 64 after a 1-4 week, dropping the Huskers back below .500 at 20-23 overall.
Ohio State needs to go 5-0 this week against Northern Kentucky and Northwestern to put itself in decent shape down the stretch, because its finishing kick is brutal (two against Georgia Tech, three against Oregon, one against Louisville, three against Indiana). Fortunately all of those games are at home, and we still think the Buckeyes can win two or three of those last nine, which could sneak them into a regional.
Illinois has moved from No. 67 to No. 35 in the RPI over the last three weeks, putting it right in the thick of the at-large race. But we expect the Illini to drop road series against Michigan State and Minnesota down the stretch. If Illinois can win one game in each of those series, then sweep Penn State and win today’s midweek game against Southern Illinois, they can finish inside the top 45 in the RPI. But right now their resume lacks a quality series win against the other Big Ten contenders (they lost series to Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio State), so Illinois needs to win one or two of its remaining road series in order to feel good about its chances.
Big West (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal Poly, UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. Cal Poly is slipping, having lost back to back series against Fullerton and Long Beach State, but the Mustangs still have a strong RPI (No. 36), and they should be able to win 10 of their last 15 games to keep them inside the top 45, and in solid shape in the Big West.
Irvine’s schedule is backloaded, with four series left at UC Santa Barbara, vs. Cal Poly, at Cal State Fullerton, vs. Long Beach. That isn’t an easy stretch, but the Anteaters need to boost their No. 64 RPI, and that schedule will allow them to do so. They need nine or 10 wins in their last 15 games to finish inside the top 45, and we think they can do it.
Colonial Athletic Association (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: UNC Wilmington
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): William & Mary, Delaware
One change from last week: William & Mary drops out of our field of 64. The Tribe was already on tenuous ground after getting swept at Old Dominion, and it needed to sweep George Mason (No. 236) this past weekend, but it lost the middle game. That series dropped William & Mary 24 spots to No. 54 in the RPI, and we don’t like how the Tribe is trending. A series at UNC Wilmington in two weeks is critical; winning that series could put the Tribe back in at-large position. But we we’re betting on the first-place Seahawks to win that series, and the Tribe to finish outside of at-large position.
Conference USA (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southern Mississippi
One change from last week: Southern Miss drops out of our field of 64, even after sweeping Alabama-Birmingham to remain atop the C-USA standings. The Golden Eagles also dropped an important midweek game last week against Alabama. USM’s RPI dropped from No. 77 to No. 84 on the week, and the Needs Report says it must win each of its last 11 games to finish in the top 45 at season’s end. With road series left at East Carolina and Houston, we don’t see that happening. We still think the Golden Eagles will finish strong, and perhaps they can bolster their fortunes in the C-USA tournament, but earning an at-large bid won’t be easy out of the RPI-challenged Conference USA.
Houston, by the way, falls off the bubble altogether following an 0-4 week at Texas and UCF. The ice-cold Cougars have lost 12 of their last 16.
Pacific-12 (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arizona
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Stanford
One change from last week: Stanford falls out of our field of 64 after getting swept at Oregon, dropping the Cardinal 15 spots to No. 97 in the RPI. We have written over the last few weeks that Stanford’s path would not be easy, and there was little margin for error because of the Cardinal’s RPI problems. Stanford needed to avoid a sweep this weekend, at minimum, and it failed to do so. The RPI Needs Report says Stanford can still climb into the top 45 with 12 wins in its last 18 games, and we are losing faith in the Cardinal’s ability to beat front-line Pac-12 teams such as Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA, which remain ahead on the schedule.
Arizona is in better RPI position at No. 45, and its remaining schedule includes two very winnable home series against Washington and USC, plus challenging road sets at UCLA and Arizona State. We see Arizona winning about eight of its last 13 games, and that should be enough to keep it inside the top 45, and in the top half of the Pac-12 standings.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas A&M
No change from last week. Alabama secured its at-large position with a huge two-game sweep of a rain-shortened series against Texas A&M. We already thought the Crimson Tide had a better chance at an at-large spot than the Aggies, and this weekend cemented that notion. Alabama is 11-9 in the SEC heading into the final three weeks, which includes tough road sets at MSU and Vandy, plus a home series against Missouri. We see Alabama getting to 14 SEC wins, and that will be enough for an at-large berth.
Sun Belt (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Troy, Florida Atlantic
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
One change from last week: Troy joins our field after taking two of three at Florida Atlantic. The Trojans are up to No. 33 in the RPI, they need just five or six wins in their last 11 games to finish in the top 45, and they are in second place in a very strong Sun Belt Conference, which ranks No. 5 in the RPI.
Louisiana-Lafayette moves into “safely in” range after taking a road series at Florida International, giving the Cajuns four straight series wins (including huge sets against Troy and FAU). UL-L is up to No. 24 in the RPI, and it can finish inside the top 32 with five wins in its last 10 games—a very attainable goal.
FAU is tied for third place with the Cajuns at 12-9, and the Owls hold onto an at-large spot based on their record against the top 50 (7-10, better than any team in the Sun Belt except for Western Kentucky, which is 8-6). The Owls are still No. 38 in the RPI and can remain in the top 45 with seven wins in their last 11 games, per the Needs Report. We think they can do that, and we think the Sun Belt can send four teams to regionals.