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 does not include Monday’s games. 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 (like 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 the WarrenNolan.com Nitty Gritty Report, which includes records against the 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 13 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Louisiana State,Virginia
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State, Oregon, Florida State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Carolina State, Indiana, Clemson, South Carolina
One change from last week: Florida State replaces North Carolina State as a national seed after taking two of three from the Wolfpack in Raleigh. We’ve been writing for weeks that whichever team won that series had the inside track at a national seed, and Florida State made a particularly loud statement since it was on the road.
FSU now leads the ACC’s Atlantic Division by a game over Clemson, which is suddenly surging into the national seed discussion as well. If the Tigers win their series in Tallahassee this weekend, they’ll have a real chance to edge both FSU and NCSU in the national seed race. But we expect the Seminoles to win that series at home and lock up a national seed. FSU also has an advantage in the RPI (No. 4 vs. No. 12) and a better record against the top 100 (22-10 vs. 19-13), so the ‘Noles have a chance to beat out the Tigers for a national seed even if they lose that final series. The ACC tournament could wind up playing a decisive role if the Tigers have a good weekend in Tallahassee.
Indiana is still in the mix, but a bad loss to Northwestern on Saturday was a minor setback. In the Pac-12, Oregon State travels to Oregon this weekend, and we still believe both teams will earn national seeds unless one of them gets swept this weekend, in which case it would fall out of national seed position, with Indiana likely benefiting.
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above; Indiana, North Carolina State, UCLA, Clemson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arkansas, South Carolina, Louisville, Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Alabama, Mississippi State, Arizona State, Mississippi
One change from last week: Kansas State replaces Mississippi State as a host. That assumes Kansas State wins a crucial home series against Oklahoma this weekend, giving the Wildcats their first series win this season against a team that we are currently projecting to make a regional. The Sooners are good enough to win that series on the road, but right now Kansas State is the hotter team, and it is at home, so we’ll give K-State the benefit of the doubt. The Wildcats carry a two-game lead in the Big 12 into the last weekend, and their records against the top 25 (7-5) and top 100 (21-11) both trump South Alabama’s mark against the top 25 (4-7) and top 100 (15-11). The Big 12 is also the No. 4 RPI conference while the Sun Belt is No. 5, so winning the Big 12 regular-season title does carry some weight. And Kansas State presents more geographic diversity as a host than South Alabama, which is in the same footprint as Florida State and Louisiana State.
The Jaguars do have a stronger RPI (No. 15 vs. No. 22), and they have positive momentum with six straight series wins, including two quality series wins against Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette. This weekend presents another chance for USA to pad its resume with a home series against the Trojans. The Jaguars are very much in the hosting mix.
So is Mississippi State, despite its six series losses. The biggest hole in MSU’s resume is that its best series wins have come against bubble teams (Florida, Alabama and perhaps Auburn), but it has lost all the series it has played against upper-tier teams (with a 2-2 overall mark with Ole Miss). This weekend gives MSU a chance to remedy that shortcoming, with a home series against South Carolina. Right now, the Gamecocks are ahead in the pecking order because their resume has higher peaks (series wins at LSU and against Clemson), and because they are ahead in the SEC standings. But the unbalanced schedule means MSU has played a more difficult conference slate, so if they can win two of three against South Carolina, the Bulldogs might have a better hosting case. Or perhaps both teams would host, giving the SEC five regional sites. If South Carolina wins that series on the road, it not only solidifies its hosting position but puts itself back in the mix for a national seed, with an SEC record of 18-11 or 19-10. So there is plenty on the line in Starkville this weekend.
Arizona State and Ole Miss are on the fringe of the hosting discussion, but have outside chances to host if teams in front of them stumble while they finish strong.
Louisville retains a host spot based on our assumption that the Cardinals will win their home series against Pittsburgh this weekend to capture the Big East regular-season title. If that doesn’t happen, remove the Cardinals from the hosting column.
Arkansas remains a host because we are assuming it will win its road series this weekend at Auburn. A sweep would boost Arkansas (No. 44 in the RPI) into the top 32, and we think that possible. But even taking two out of three could be enough, because we expect the Hogs to boost their RPI further in the SEC tournament. We expect them to climb into the 20s in the RPI by the time selection day arrives, and that should be good enough to host when combined with 19 or 20 SEC regular-season victories and a 5-1 record against potential hosting competitors South Carolina and Mississippi State.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 18 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, Southwestern, Western Athletic.
We are moving the WCC out of the one-bid column (see below). Six teams in the leagues listed above have realistic chances to earn at-large bids if they fail to win their conference tournaments: Rice, Sam Houston State, Western Carolina, Austin Peay State, Creighton and New Mexico. None of those teams is a slam dunk for an at-large spot, so none can afford to falter down the stretch and still get an at-large spot. But all of them are at least in the mix for at-large spots, and we like their cases better than a number of other at-large teams we are including in our field this week, so bubble dwellers in other leagues should root for those six teams to win their respective conference tournaments in order to preserve the highest number of at-large bids available.
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 13 weeks. Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:
IN: Seton Hall, Illinois, Florida Atlantic, Brigham Young, UC Irvine
OUT: Stanford, West Virginia, South Florida, North Florida, Kansas
Atlantic Coast Conference (8 total bids)
SAFELY IN: North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Miami
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Maryland
No change from last week. Georgia Tech firmed up its at-large credentials with a huge series win against top-ranked North Carolina, so we’ll move the Yellow Jackets back into the “safely in” category. But Miami’s footing is more precarious than ever after the Hurricanes lost a series at Wake Forest this weekend, giving them series losses to Boston College and Wake over the last three weeks. Miami is just 12-15 in the league heading into a home series against Georgia Tech, and if the Hurricanes lose that series, they could be in serious trouble, even despite their top-20 RPI ranking. If they win that series, they should be safe. We’ll project them to lose two of three, to finish 13-17 in the ACC. That puts Miami on shaky ground, but still in better position than teams like UC Irvine and BYU. Unless the ‘Canes get swept, they should be able to back their way into a regional even with a series loss, because there aren’t 64 teams with stronger resumes.
Atlantic Sun (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Mercer
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida
One change from last week: North Florida falls out of our field of 64 after losing a series to Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles and Ospreys are now tied for second place in the A-Sun (16-8), a game behind Mercer. But neither team is in great RPI shape, ranking No. 64 and No. 59, respectively. Neither team can finish inside the top 45 at season’s end, according to the RPI Needs Report. UNF has more quality wins (4-4 against the top 50, 12-10 against the top 100), but losing the head-to-head series against FGCU hurts. The Eagles are just 3-8 against the top 50, 6-11 against the top 100. Those marks, combined with an RPI in the 60s, keep FGCU behind some other bubble teams in the pecking order.
Big 12 (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia
Changes from last week: Kansas and West Virginia fall out of our field of 64. No conference has been more fluid from week to week than the Big 12, where only Kansas State and Oklahoma State have sustained positive momentum down the stretch. West Virginia’s RPI woes meant it needed a torrid finish to get an at-large spot, and we gave it the benefit of the doubt because it had been playing very well. But losing two of three at home to TCU this past weekend was a death blow to WVU’s at-large hopes, dropping them 21 spots to No. 88 in the RPI.
Kansas remains on the bubble, but getting swept (by Kansas State) for the second time in three weeks puts the Jayhawks behind the eight-ball. Now KU is just 12-12 in the Big 12 (sixth place), though its RPI (No. 53) remains in at-large striking range. But a closing series at Utah (No. 160) won’t help Kansas in the Big 12 standings or the RPI. As the No. 4 RPI conference, the Big 12 feels like it should be a four- or five-bid league, but it isn’t easy to find four teams with solid at-large credentials at this stage.
Baylor, despite getting swept by Kansas in its last series, can finish ahead of the Jayhawks in the standings if it wins a road series at Texas Tech this weekend. Winning out (against Texas-San Antonio and sweeping Texas Tech) would land the Bears inside the top 45 in the RPI, according to the Needs Report. And a 7-8 mark against the top 50 (and 14-19 against the top 100) would at least put Baylor in the discussion if it finishes strong. But Baylor also was swept in two nonconference series against fellow bubble dwellers UC Irvine and Illinois, which is one reason we’ll give both those teams the nod over the Bears. Still, home series wins against Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia, plus a split at Oklahoma State, give Baylor a solid collection of victories. If Baylor finishes strong and adds some wins in the conference tournament, it could still sneak into a regional, but for now we’ll leave it on the outside looking in.
Big East (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Louisville, Seton Hall
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Florida
Changes from last week: Seton Hall moves into our field of 64, while South Florida falls out. We’re moving the Pirates all the way up into the “safely in” category after they swept South Florida, helping them climb to No. 33 in the RPI and 16-5 in the standings. The Pirates have gone 33-7 since starting the season 0-9 and are currently riding a 12-game winning streak, and the selection committee loves hot finishers. The committee also tends to reward teams that succeed on the road, and the Pirates are 18-13 away from home.
Getting swept by Seton Hall dropped the Bulls from first to fourth place in the Big East (15-6), dropped them to 2-10 against the top 50, and dropped them 14 spots to No. 66 in the RPI. Their at-large window is likely closed.
Notre Dame remains in much healthier RPI shape (No. 42), but the Irish are wasting their RPI buffer by playing poorly. Notre Dame lost its second straight series—at St. John’s—to fall to 9-12 in the Big East, tied for sixth place. The Irish need to win out (at Western Michigan and Cincinnati) to remain in the top 45, and those are very winnable games. Doing so would also level Notre Dame’s Big East record at 12-12, but is a .500 Big East team really going to get an at-large bid?
Series wins against Seton Hall and at Cal Poly help, as do single wins against Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Michigan State and Florida Gulf Coast. And remember that Michigan State got an at-large berth last year with a 13-11 record in the Big Ten (fifth place) and an RPI ranking of No. 48. So Notre Dame still stands a solid chance to sneak into a regional, but its margin for error has disappeared. We’ll assume the Irish go 4-0 to finish the regular season, and add some wins in the Big East tournament, propelling them into the NCAA tourney.
Pittsburgh is one of the hottest teams in college baseball, with wins in 20 of their last 22 games. But sweeping Villanova (their fifth straight series sweep) actually dropped the Panthers 20 spots to No. 64 in the RPI, keeping them on the bubble. The RPI Needs Report says Pitt can finish in the top 45 if it wins three of its last four, but that would require winning a series at Louisville, and we don’t expect that to happen. Still, we think the committee will reward Pitt with an at-large bid for finishing right near the top of the conference standings, even if its RPI is in the 50s. Pitt gets the benefit of the doubt with a soft bubble.
Big South (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Coastal Carolina, Campbell
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. Campbell keeps on winning, and its RPI keeps on climbing—up 11 spots from last week to No. 29. But the Camels still need to sweep their last series against 6-39 New Orleans to remain in the top 45. That’s a safe bet, so we’ll move Campbell into the “safely in” category.
Big Ten (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Indiana
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Nebraska
One change from last week: Illinois moves into the field of 64 after sweeping Penn State. The Illini remain strong in the RPI (No. 37), and just one more win at Minnesota will keep them in the top 45, while a sweep of the Gophers would land them inside the top 32. Illinois has lost its series against the Big Ten’s other four at-large contenders (IU, Ohio State and Michigan State on the road, and Nebraska at home), but it wasn’t swept in any of those series, and its 12-9 conference record is acceptable. A road sweep of Baylor is also a nice feather in the Illini’s cap.
Michigan State sustained a setback this past weekend, losing two of three at Iowa. The Spartans remain No. 41 in the RPI, but they need to win each of their last four games (at Central Michigan, at Penn State) to remain in the top 45. We think they can do it, and we think their series sweep of Indiana plus series wins at Ohio State and vs. Illinois will help them get into a regional.
Ohio State is in great shape in the standings, tied with Nebraska for second place at 14-7. If the Buckeyes can win two of three against Indiana this weekend, they will capture the league’s regular-season title, which will be enough to get them an at-large bid. We’ll project them to finish 1-3 in home games against Louisville and Indiana, which won’t be enough to help their RPI climb into the top 45 (they need three wins for that). But it should remain in the 50s, which could be enough for an at-large bid when coupled with OSU’s strong conference record.
Big West (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal Poly, UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge
One change from last week: UC Irvine rejoins our field of 64 after taking two of three from Cal Poly. The Anteaters still need to boost their RPI (No. 63), but the Needs Report says they can crack the top 45 by winning six of their last eight. Let’s assume the Anteaters win four of their remaining five home games (vs. San Diego, vs. USC, and three vs. Long Beach State) and one of three at Cal State Fullerton this weekend. That should get them inside the top 50 and keep them in the top two or three of the Big West standings. And their records against the top 50 (5-4) and top 100 (19-11) are favorable, compared with many other bubble teams.
If the season ended today, UC Santa Barbara would be in our field of 64, because the Gauchos have climbed to No. 51 in the RPI by winning five of their last six series, including big series against Cal Poly, Irvine and Northridge. Unfortunately, UCSB has two weeks left to play, and their schedule features two bad RPI series against Pacific (No. 245) and UC Davis (No. 220). Those series will drag Santa Barbara’s RPI down. The fact that UCSB was swept at Big 12 basement dweller Texas earlier this season also hurts its chances, because Big 12 bubble teams Kansas and Baylor both won series against the Longhorns. Still, Santa Barbara is trending in the right direction, and if it can win five of its last six conference games to finish 17-10 in the Big West, it might have a chance. We’ll hold off, for now.
Cal Poly remains in very good RPI shape (No. 30), and nonconference series wins on the road against Kansas State and San Francisco help the Mustangs remain secure, even though they are now tied for fourth in the Big West with UCSB at 12-9.
Colonial Athletic Association (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: UNC Wilmington
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): William & Mary
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. William & Mary did what it needed to do this weekend, winning one game at UNC Wilmington. The Tribe actually climbed eight spots to No. 39 in the RPI in the last week, and it can remain in the top 45 by winning three of its final four against Old Dominion and Georgia State. We expect the Tribe to do so, and to earn an at-large spot.
Pacific-12 (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Stanford
One change from last week: Stanford falls out of our field of 64 after getting swept at home by Oregon State. The Cardinal has lost five straight and eight of its last 11 at a time when it needed a strong finish to bolster its RPI, which remains stuck at No. 81. Stanford just hasn’t done what it needed to, and it will likely be on the outside looking in on selection day.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Vanderbilt, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Mississippi
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida, Kentucky, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Auburn, Texas A&M
No change from last week. Kentucky now finds its back against the wall after it was swept at home by Vanderbilt, dropping it to 10-17 in the SEC. The Wildcats need to sweep a road series at Missouri this weekend to get to 13 wins in the SEC in order to put themselves in at-large position, and they might need a couple of wins in Hoover on top of that. The committee will not look kindly upon Kentucky’s second-half nose dive, which includes 16 losses in its last 22 games. Still, series wins against Mississippi State, Michigan State, Florida and Ole Miss (with the latter two coming on the road) will probably be enough to get the Wildcats into a regional if they can reach 13 conference wins. We think they will.
Alabama is already sitting on 13 SEC wins after taking two of three from Missouri, so the Crimson Tide could get in even if it gets swept at Vanderbilt this weekend (as we suspect it will). But winning one game in Nashville would put ‘Bama on much firmer footing. The Crimson Tide is 13 spots behind Kentucky in the RPI at No. 41, and its only series win against a potential regional team came at Florida Atlantic in Week Two. ‘Bama could use a win in Nashville or a run in Hoover.
Florida took a hit by losing two of three at home against Auburn this weekend, but fortunately the Gators finish up at Georgia, which is 5-19 in the league. If the Gators take two of three in Athens to get to 15-15 in the SEC, they’ll be safe. That seems likely.
Auburn remains in last place in the SEC West (11-16), but the Tigers have rallied late, with back-to-back series wins against Ole Miss and at Florida. If Auburn can take two of three at home against Arkansas this weekend to get to 13 wins, it has a real chance at an at-large spot. But we don’t expect that to happen.
Texas A&M is still alive at 11-15 in the league, and a sweep of Tennessee this weekend would get the Aggies to 14-15 in the conference, giving them a chance at an at-large spot as well. Of course, A&M is just 4-12 away from home this year, so we don’t feel great about its chances in Knoxville. That lowly road record will also hurt A&M’s standing with the committee, and it has already hurt A&M’s RPI (No. 49), since road wins are weighted more heavily this year.
Sun Belt (4 bids)
SAFELY IN: South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida Atlantic
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
One change from last week: Florida Atlantic rejoins our field of 64 after sweeping Western Kentucky on the road. The Owls are No. 48 in the RPI and need to win their last four games (vs. UCF, three at FIU) to land in the top 45, per the Needs Report. That probably won’t happen, but we think they can remain around the top 50, which could be enough for an at-large spot when coupled with a sweep of South Alabama, a 12-12 record against the top 100 and a third- or fourth-place finish in the No. 5 RPI conference. FAU is one of our last teams in the field of 64 and is vulnerable, but for now it’s hard to find 64 teams with better resumes.
West Coast (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): San Diego, Brigham Young
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): San Francisco
Last week we projected the WCC as a one-bid league, but it has three teams that have at least a chance for at-large spots, and we’ll put two of them in our field for now. San Diego wound up winning three of its last four series to climb to 15-9 in the WCC and earning it the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. The Toreros are No. 50 in the RPI, 6-1 against the top 50 and 17-16 against the top 100. Their huge series win against Oregon State and their sweep of BYU buoy their case, but they also have nice single wins against Cal State Fullerton, UNC Wilmington and Coastal Carolina (the latter two coming on the East Coast). If the WCC gets an at-large bid, USD looks like the strongest contender for it.
BYU won six of its last seven series, capped by a series win against San Francisco this past weekend, helping the Cougars climb to No. 52 in the official RPI report. Series wins against fellow bubble teams UC Irvine, Kansas, Creighton and USF bolster BYU’s resume, which includes a mediocre 12-15 record against the top 100. A series against St. Mary’s (No. 243) this weekend will likely hurt BYU in the RPI, but we like the Cougars’ positive momentum and collection of quality series wins. But if top-seeded Gonzaga or San Francisco wins the WCC’s automatic bid, we suspect San Diego would be ahead of BYU in the pecking order for an at-large bid, and we don’t expect the WCC to be a three-bid conference.
Despite winning the WCC by three games, Gonzaga is not an at-large candidate because of its No. 100 RPI ranking. But USF is still in the mix with an RPI of No. 54 and just one game remaining (against No. 271 San Jose State) in the regular season. The Dons’ best series win came at San Diego, and they split two games at Oregon State and four games at UC Santa Barbara in the season’s first month. If San Fransisco had won that series at BYU this past weekend, we would have felt better about its chances. For now, a 3-5 record against the top 50 and a 12-16 mark against the top 100 are not good enough.