College Stock Report: Week 15

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 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. We’re not trying to show what the field would look like if the season ended today; we’re still looking ahead, trying to predict what the field will look like on Selection Monday.

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 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 14 weeks of the season:

National Seeds

SECURE TEAMS: Vanderbilt, Louisiana State, Oregon State, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Cal State Fullerton

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Louisville

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Indiana, Oregon, UCLA, North Carolina State, South Carolina

One change from last week: Louisville replaces Oregon as our eighth national seed. The Cardinals carry the nation’s longest winning streak (16 games) into the Big East tournament. Their hot streak has helped them climb to No. 14 in the RPI and carried them to the Big East regular-season title. Louisville is six spots behind Oregon (No. 8) in the RPI, but the Cardinals actually have better a record against the top 50 (8-4 vs. 6-10). Oregon has played series against three of the nation’s top seven RPI teams and five of the top 21, but it has lost all five of those series. That flaw figures to make the Ducks just a host, rather than a national seed.

UCLA (No. 17) is lower than Oregon in the RPI, but we actually think the Bruins’ national seed case is comparable to Oregon’s. UCLA won two of three in Eugene, and UCLA has serious momentum down the stretch, with six straight series wins (including three straight sweeps) heading into the final weekend. If the Bruins have a good weekend at Stanford while Louisville falters in the Big East tourney, we could see UCLA sneaking into a national seed.

But Indiana has a better shot to capitalize if the Cardinals stumble. The Hoosiers are No. 13 in the RPI and have more top 50 wins (9-8) than UCLA (5-7) or Oregon. The Big Ten regular-season title is a nice feather in Indiana’s cap, and the addition of a Big Ten tournament title would strengthen IU’s already robust case. The Hoosiers and Cardinals are competing with Oregon and UCLA for that last national seed.

We feel very comfortable with our other seven national seeds, enough to place all seven in the “secure” category. Florida State proved it deserved a national seed by finishing the regular season with series wins against North Carolina State and Clemson, earning the Seminoles the ACC Atlantic Division title. Oregon State also cemented its national seed status by taking two of three at Oregon. And Cal State Fullerton locked up its national seed case with a 4-0 week against UCLA and UC Irvine, clinching the Big West title.

Regional Hosts

SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above; Indiana, Oregon, UCLA, N.C. State, Kansas State

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi State, South Carolina, Clemson

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Alabama, Troy, Arkansas

One change from last week: Mississippi State replaces Arkansas as a host.

The Hogs’ hosting case was predicated on the notion that they’d finish strong and boost their RPI into the 30s, at least, by the end of the regular season. But Arkansas lost two of three at Auburn to end the season and finds itself ranked 49th in the RPI heading into the SEC tournament. That RPI is closer to the at-large bubble than the hosting bubble; only Arkansas’ third-place finish in the SEC and its 5-1 record against hosting candidates South Carolina and Mississippi State keep the Razorbacks in this discussion at all. But Arkansas must hope it can boost its RPI about 20 spots with a deep run in Hoover in order to have a shot, and even that might not be enough.

MSU, meanwhile, finally won a series against one of the marquee teams on its brutal schedule, taking two of three from South Carolina. Only LSU, Vanderbilt and North Carolina have more top 50 wins than Mississippi State (19-14), and the Bulldogs have a robust RPI (No. 10) and a winning record against a particularly grueling SEC schedule (16-14). That’s a hosting resume.

We feel pretty confident in our 16 hosts heading into the final week, but we’ll refrain from moving MSU, South Carolina and Clemson into the “secure” category for now, as an acknowledgment that a particularly ugly showing for one of those teams in its conference tournament could still prove costly.

At-large Bids

There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these five teams have already punched their tickets into the field of 64:

Army (Patriot)
Cal State Fullerton (Big West)
Columbia (Ivy)
Jackson State (SWAC)
Savannah State (MEAC)

Here are our picks to win this week’s conference tournaments in leagues that will definitely not send more than one team to regionals, regardless of who wins the tournament:

America East: Maine
Atlantic 10: Saint Louis
Horizon: Wisconsin-Milwaukee
MAAC: Rider
Mid-American: Kent State
Summit: South Dakota State
Western Athletic: Cal State Bakersfield

The following will be one-bid leagues if the team with the best RPI in the conference wins the automatic bid. These are teams that bubble teams in other conferences should be pulling for this week:

Missouri Valley: Creighton
Mountain West: New Mexico
Northeast: Bryant
Ohio Valley: Austin Peay State
Southern: Western Carolina
Southland: Sam Houston State

Out of these six teams, only Creighton and Austin Peay State failed to win their regular-season conference titles. The Bluejays went 13-8 in the MVC, finishing in third place, three games behind champion Illinois State (whose No. 70 RPI is outside at-large range). Creighton’s RPI (No. 46) gives it a chance at an at-large bid despite its third-place finish and its lack of impact wins (1-4 vs. the top 50, 6-8 vs. the top 100). But we don’t love Creighton’s case, and if Illinois State or another team wins the Valley tournament, we think the MVC is likely to be a one-bid league.

Austin Peay State is in better shape at No. 29 in the RPI and 11-6 against the top 100. The Governors finished 22-7 in the OVC, just a game behind Tennessee Tech in the loss column. If APSU fails to win the automatic bid, expect the Ohio Valley Conference to become a two-bid league, because the Governors will land an at-large bid.

The other four teams in that list (RPI No. 40 Sam Houston State, No. 48 Bryant, No. 50 New Mexico and No. 52 Western Carolina) have regular-season titles to fall back on, and the committee showed last year that it will award at-large bids to mid-major teams that win regular-season titles even if they land just outside the top 50 in the RPI. We think all four of those teams would get at-large spots if they fail to win automatic bids, at the expense of vulnerable bubble teams such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Pittsburgh or Florida (all of whom we included in our field this week, despite serious flaws in their resumes). Sam Houston State, in particular, belongs in the “safely in” category, while the others would land in the “bubble in” category.

But for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll assume all six of those conferences earn just one bid, which means we need to get creative to arrive at 64 regional teams.

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 14 weeks. Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:

IN: Auburn, Houston, North Florida, UC Santa Barbara

OUT: Kentucky, Notre Dame, UC Irvine, Pittsburgh

Atlantic Coast Conference (8 total bids)

SAFELY IN: North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None

No change from last week.

Atlantic Sun (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: Mercer

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Florida

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Florida Gulf Coast

One change from last week: North Florida rejoins our field of 64, making the A-Sun a two-bid league. If a team other than Mercer or North Florida wins the automatic bid, the Bears will definitely get an at-large spot, but we suspect the A-Sun would remain a two-bid league, costing the Ospreys a bid.

FGCU and North Florida remain in at-large striking distance of at-large RPI range at No. 59 and No. 56, respectively. Neither team has a regular-season championship to boost its resume, so both probably need to climb into the top 50 to boost their hopes, especially since the Eagles are just 3-8 against the top 50 while the Ospreys are 4-4. FGCU is just 6-12 against the top 100, which is the biggest blemish on its resume. North Florida is in better shape in that measure (12-9), making up for its head-to-head series loss to FGCU two weeks ago. And the Ospreys own a needed series win against Mercer. North Florida is certainly on shaky ground, but for now is one of our last teams to sneak into the field of 64.

Big 12 (3 bids)

SAFELY IN: Kansas State, Oklahoma State

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oklahoma

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT):  Baylor

No change from last week. Oklahoma finds itself on very precarious footing after finishing the regular season with a 3-9 mark in its last 12 games. OU’s No. 51 RPI lands it squarely on the bubble. The Sooners dropped their last three conference series to wind up as the No. 4 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Still, OU’s 16-12 record against the top 100 compares favorably with many other bubble teams, and we can’t get to 64 without the Sooners. But if at-large spots start disappearing and Oklahoma continues to slide, it could find itself left out of regionals.

Big East (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: Louisville, Seton Hall

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Pittsburgh, South Florida, Notre Dame, Rutgers

Changes from last week: Notre Dame and Pittsburgh fall out of our field of 64. The Irish still have an at-large RPI (No. 47), but they lost their last three series (including a crippling road set this weekend against a Cincinnati team that carried a 4-17 conference record into the series). At 10-14 in the Big East and with an ice-cold finish, Notre Dame managed to play its way out of at-large position despite its RPi.

Pittsburgh played much better down the stretch, but getting swept at Louisville to end the regular season really hurt the Panthers, dropping them from first place in the Big East into the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. Thanks to 27 games (and five losses) against teams outside the top 200 in the RPI, Pitt is stuck at No. 65 in the RPI, undermining its at-large chances even though it reached 40 wins for the first time in school history. Pitt needs a deep run in the Big East tournament to boost its RPI 15 spots or so. We have a feeling the math isn’t going to work out for the Panthers, even though they have a regional-caliber club.

South Florida remains in the mix at No. 64 in the RPI and 17-7 in the league, but a 2-10 record against the top 50 torpedoes the Bulls’ case, and they’d need to boost their RPI significantly just to have a shot anyhow.

Big South (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: None

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina, Campbell

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None

No change from last week. The Camels and Chanticleers each held steady in the RPI (No. 42 and No. 41, respectively) despite playing series against weak RPI teams last week. We can’t quite call them “safely in” with RPIs in the 40s, but they’re awfully close. Both teams are strong bets to make regionals. If a team other than Coastal or Campbell wins the Big South tournament, does this have a shot to be a three-bid league? It might. Coastal and Campbell both have better resumes than a half-dozen or more teams in our field this week.

Big Ten (4 bids)

SAFELY IN: Indiana

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None

No change from last week. Michigan State went 12-9 in the Big Ten to finish in seventh place, outside the six-team conference tournament field. On the surface, that might seem to disqualify the Spartans from at-large contention, but committee chairmen in years past have explicitly said they don’t place much weight on whether or not a team makes its conference tournament. Teams in power conferences have regularly earned at-large spots after missing their conference tournaments, and Michigan State itself earned a bid last year with a pedestrian fifth-place finish in the Big Ten and an RPI hovering around 50. This time around, the Spartans are even stronger in the RPI (No. 39), and they have more quality series wins, including sets against the other three teams we are projecting as at-large teams (Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State). Michigan State’s 8-6 record against the top 50 stacks up very well against many other bubble teams. We believe the Spartans have a solid change to get an at-large bid, even though they’ll spend this weekend at home.

Ohio State’s case is also fascinating. The Buckeyes were tied for the Big Ten lead heading into the final day of the season, settling for second place at 15-9. They have 10 wins against the top 50 (most of any Big Ten team) but also 15 losses against the top 50—and because 11 of those losses came at home, Ohio State took an RPI hit (a home loss is weighted as 1.3 losses under the new RPI formula, while a road loss counts as just 0.7 losses). So OSU finds itself ranked 60th in the RPI despite finishing the season with eight straight games against teams ranked in the top 25 of the RPI. Still, we think the Buckeyes’ strong showing in the Big Ten standings and their 10 wins against the top 50 will get them into a regional if they can boost their RPI close to the top 50 in the Big Ten tournament. Ohio State is one of our last teams in the field of 64, and if at-large bids start disappearing because of upsets in other conference tournaments, the Buckeyes will be one of the first teams on the chopping block. Michigan State is in the same position, albeit for different reasons.

Big West (3 bids)

SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Santa Barbara

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): UC Irvine

One change from last week: UC Santa Barbara replaces UC Irvine in our field of 64. The Anteaters saw their postseason hopes dashed this weekend, when they were swept at Cal State Fullerton, dropping them to 13-11 in the Big West and No. 66 in the RPI. The Gauchos sustained a bad loss to No. 241 Pacific but still won the series, and they remain in striking distance of at-large range at No. 58. A midweek game at UCLA today provides a huge opportunity to earn an RPI-boosting win, and the Gauchos need it, because they finish with three games at No. 232 UC Davis. Still, if they can sweep that series to finish 17-10 in the Big West, with six straight series wins to end the season, they might have a chance. A respectable 5-6 mark against the top 50 and a 14-15 record against the top 100 help their case. UCSB won’t get in unless it can boost its RPI a bit, but if it lands inside the top 55, it will have earned a bid.

Colonial Athletic Association (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: UNC Wilmington, William & Mary

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None

No change from last week. The Tribe finished the regular season ranked No. 36 in the RPI and in second place in the CAA (17-10). Those credentials are solid enough for us to move William & Mary into the “safely in” category.

Conference USA (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: None

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Rice, Houston

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None

One change from last week: Houston joins our field of 64, prompting us to move C-USA from the one-bid section to the potential multi-bid list. We still don’t think Conference USA will send more than two teams to regionals, so if a team other than Rice or Houston wins the automatic bid, it will cost the Cougars an at-large spot. But Houston put itself back in the at-large discussion by taking two of three at Southern Miss this weekend. Houston ranks 57th in the RPI, and its 5-5 mark against the top 50 and 16-9 record against the top 100 look good compared to many other bubble teams (including Rice, which is 0-4 against the top 50, 10-10 against the top 100). But the Owls are probably safe after winning the regular-season title in C-USA, and they also enjoy a 12-spot RPI advantage over Houston. The Cougars need a nice showing in the C-USA tournament to boost their RPI into at-large range and make up for earning the No. 6 seed in the conference tourney. Houston is one of those very fragile teams that we’re including to get to 64, but it is easy to envision the Cougars becoming a casualty of disappearing at-large bids.

Pacific-12 (4 bids)

SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arizona, Stanford

No change from last week. The Wildcats and Cardinal both won their weekend series—Arizona took two of three at Arizona State, while Stanford swept Cal. But in both cases, it’s too little, too late.

Southeastern Conference (9 bids)

SAFELY IN: Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Arkansas

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Alabama, Auburn, Florida

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas A&M, Kentucky

One change from last week: Auburn replaces Kentucky in our field of 64. UK’s second-half meltdown culminated in a series loss at Missouri, dropping the Wildcats to 11-19 in the SEC. Kentucky wound up as the No. 11 seed in the conference tournament, and even a deep run in Hoover likely won’t be enough to salvage its at-large case after an 11-win SEC campaign and a 6-15 finish.

Auburn played its way in with three straight series wins at the end of the season against Ole Miss, at Florida and against Arkansas. Auburn climbed to 13-17 in the SEC and No. 32 in the RPI, and unlike Kentucky, the Tigers have positive momentum. Auburn and Alabama could both use a win in their SEC tournament opener against each other in order to cement their at-large credentials, but we suspect both teams will get in regardless.

But Tuesday’s Florida-Texas A&M game has the feel of a postseason elimination game. Florida reached the 14-win mark in the SEC while A&M went 13-16, but both teams have glaring flaws on their resumes. A&M is just 8-19 against the top 50 (and 8-20 against the top 100), and its 6-13 road record figures to turn off the committee as well. The Aggies don’t have a particularly robust RPI (No. 44) considering the RPI advantages that come with being in the SEC. Texas A&M needs a nice run in Hoover to bolster its case.

Florida has a bit more leeway because its schedule ranks as the most difficult in the nation. The Gators have a far better record against the top 50 (14-17) and top 100 (19-22), and they played just three games against teams outside the top 200. But they are just two games over .500 overall (29-27), and they finished poorly, losing three straight series, including a home set against Auburn and a road series against last-place Georgia this past weekend. Florida must reverse its momentum with at least one win in Hoover, and we’d feel better about its chances if it can win two games this week. For now, Florida sneaks in as one of the final teams in our field of 64.

Sun Belt (4 bids)

SAFELY IN: South Alabama, Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida Atlantic

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None

No change from last week. We’ll move FAU back into the “safely in” category after it finished the season on a seven-game winning streak, including road sweeps of Western Kentucky and Florida International. At No. 34 in the RPI and fourth-place in the strong Sun Belt, the Owls are safe.

West Coast (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: None

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): San Diego, Brigham Young

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): San Francisco

No change from last week. We still think San Diego has the best chance to grab an at-large bid out of the WCC thanks to its 6-1 record against the top 50 (including a series win against Oregon State) and its 18-12 mark against the top 100. San Diego picked the wrong time to open a new ballpark; they built a home-baked schedule, going 20-13 at Fowler Park at a time when the RPI rewards teams that go on the road. The Toreros fell a few spots to No. 54 in the RPI in the last week, but very few bubble teams can match USD for quality wins. And Kris Bryant probably helps San Diego get into the tournament as well—the committee might not say it publicly, but the opportunity to showcase the nation’s premier power hitter on a national stage must be an appealing proposition.

Gonzaga must be regarded as the WCC tournament favorite after winning the league by three games, even though its No. 92 RPI ranking keeps it from at-large contention. If the Zags win the automatic bid, this has a chance to become a three-bid league, because we think BYU has a decent case as well (we’d give the Cougars the edge over the Dons because of their head-to-head series win against USF and their solid nonconference series wins against Kansas and UC Irvine). But two bids seems like the likeliest outcome for the WCC, in some permutation or another.

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