The postseason picture is starting to come into focus. We’ll discuss the national seed and host races toward the bottom of this post, but let’s start with the at-large race. After Friday’s action, we have a better idea how many at-large bids will be available for bubble teams. So let’s update our field of 64 from Tuesday’s Stock Report. Here are the changes, in a nutshell:
IN: San Francisco, Big East automatic qualifier, SoCon automatic qualifier, Southland Automatic qualifier
OUT: Ohio State, Michigan State, Houston, Florida
• Sam Houston State and Western Carolina were both eliminated from their conference tournaments Friday, but we are projecting both teams to earn at-large bids, making the Southland and Southern two-bid leagues. Sam Houston is a safer bet than WCU thanks to a slightly better RPI (No. 47 to No. 52, in the updated WarrenNolan.com rankings) and better records against the top 50 (3-1 vs. 0-3) and top 100 (15-11 vs. 10-10). But for now we’ll keep the Catamounts in on the strength of their SoCon regular-season title and an RPI close to the top 50.
• Louisville and Seton Hall have both been eliminated from the Big East tournament, and Louisville is a lock for an at-large spot, while SHU is on the bubble. But with a No. 43 RPI, a second-place finish in the Big East and a strong second half, we’re betting on the Pirates getting an at-large bid, making the Big East a three-bid league. If Notre Dame fails to win the automatic bid, its RPI (No. 35) gives it at least a shot to earn an at-large spot, but we don’t feel good about the Irish’s poor second half and its 10-14 conference record, so we think they’ll be left out of the field unless they win the automatic bid. Either way, we expect the Big East to be a three-bid league.
• Mercer was eliminated from the Atlantic Sun tournament Friday, but at No. 26 in the RPI and with an A-Sun regular-season title in their pocket, the Bears are an at-large lock. We already had the A-Sun as a two-bid league Tuesday, and we’ll keep it that way. We expect North Florida to take home that automatic bid, saving us the trouble of trying to determine whether or not the Ospreys can earn an at-large spot and make the A-Sun a three-bid league (they are right on the bubble).
• Gonzaga and Brigham Young were both eliminated from the four-team West Coast Conference tournament Friday, leaving San Francisco and San Diego as the last teams standing. Gonzaga was the tournament’s top seed, but its No. 100 RPI will keep it from at-large contention. The WCC has a chance to get three bids, and we think San Diego gets in whether it wins Saturday’s winner-takes-all title game or not. These teams are all close to the top 50 in the RPI, and San Diego has the best resume of the three thanks to the best records against the top 50 (7-4) and top 100 (19-11). The Dons and Cougars are competing for our last two at-large spots with Texas A&M and Florida. Obviously the SEC teams have stronger schedules, but San Francisco actually has more top 100 wins (11-12) than the Aggies (10-22) despite playing 10 fewer top 100 games. BYU (10-13) has as many as the Aggies. Both the Dons (20-12) and Cougars (11-10) have better road records than the Aggies (6-13). Despite A&M’s SEC tournament wins over Florida and Vanderbilt, we can’t get past those two crippling numbers: 10-22 against the top 100, 6-13 on the road. The Aggies get left out, despite a No. 32 RPI.
• The Gators, meanwhile, have a shot thanks to the nation’s toughest-rated schedule, but they finished just one game over .500 overall and fizzled out down the stretch, losing their last three series and going one-and-done in Hoover. The last regular-season series loss at last-place Georgia was a killer; ultimately, we think that keeps Florida out of regionals, making the SEC an eight-bid league.
• UC Santa Barbara holds on by a thread at No. 57 in the RPI after taking the first two games of its final Big West series against UC Davis. The Gauchos have decent records against the top 50 (7-9) and top 100 (14-16), and at 16-10 in the Big West, they remain in third place in the No. 7 RPI conference. Their fringy RPI is the only real strike against them, but if they can stay in the 50s, we’ll leave them in our field—barely.
• Houston drops out of our field after falling to 1-1 in C-USA pool play with a loss to Southern Miss on Friday. The Cougars are down to No. 60 in the RPI, and they finish with No. 137 Tulane on Saturday. That game is a must-win for them to have any shot, and we don’t expect their RPI to climb back around No. 50, where it needs to be for them to get an at-large bid.
• We are assuming Rice wins the Conference USA tournament. If it does not, it should earn an at-large bid, making C-USA a two-bid league, at the expense of UC Santa Barbara or the third WCC team. Likewise, we’re assuming Austin Peay State wins the Ohio Valley and New Mexico wins the Mountain West, as both teams are sitting pretty, unbeaten in their respective conference tournaments. If they wind up failing to win automatic bids, both should get at-large bids. And we’re assuming Campbell wins the Big South, and Coastal gets an at-large, keeping that a two-bid league. If the Camels lose, they and the Chanticleers could earn at-large spots, making it a three-bid league.
• Top-seeded UNC Wilmington is out of the CAA tournament, but it will earn an at-large bid. Second-seeded William & Mary, the other at-large contender in the CAA (the No. 8 RPI conference), lost Friday but is still alive; it needs to beat Northeastern and Towson on Saturday, then Towson again on Sunday to earn the automatic bid. If the Tribe fails to do so, it still has a shot to earn an at-large bid, making the CAA a three-bid league, thanks to its No. 42 RPI. But William & Mary’s resume lacks a single series win against a likely regional team, and it is just 2-5 against the top 50, 8-8 against the top 100. Ultimately, we think the Tribe winds up outside the field if it fails to win the CAA tourney, so we’ll keep the CAA as a two-bid league in our projection.
• We made the Big Ten a four-bid league on Tuesday because that exercise was based on the assumption that all mid-major favorites would win their conference tournaments, making the maximum number of at-large bids available. We knew that was unlikely to happen, and we figured Michigan State and Ohio State would be in trouble if bids started disappearing. The Spartans do have a good RPI (No. 39) and a 7-6 record against the top 50, but in the end we can’t get past their seventh-place finish in the Big Ten, keeping them out of the six-team conference tournament. And Ohio State is down to No. 61 in the RPI; unless it can shoot back up into the top 50 with a couple of wins Saturday, its chances are probably shot. Illinois is safe with a No. 35 RPI and a 14-10 showing in the Big Ten, and we’ll assume Indiana wins the Big Ten tournament, making it a two-bid league.
• Bryant staved off elimination from the Northeast Conference tournament with an 11-1 win against Monmouth, but the Bulldogs are down to No. 56 in the RPI, and they are just 1-7 against the top 100. If they fail to win the automatic bid, we don’t think they’ll land an at-large spot, keeping the NEC a one-bid league.
In summation, here are our 64 teams, listed by conference. This is not our final projection; we’ll update our field Saturday and Sunday.
One-bid leagues (16): America East, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy, MAC, MAAC, MEAC, MVC, MWC, NEC, OVC, Patriot, Summit, SWAC, WAC.
ACC (8): North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami.
SEC (8): Vanderbilt, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Auburn.
Pac-12 (4): Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State.
Sun Belt (4): South Alabama, Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida Atlantic.
Big 12 (3): Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma.
Big East (3): Louisville, Seton Hall, automatic qualifier.
Big West (3): Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara.
WCC (3): San Diego, San Francisco, BYU.
A-Sun (2): Mercer, automatic qualifier.
CAA (2): UNC Wilmington, automatic qualifier.
Big Ten (2): Indiana, Illinois.
Big South (2): Campbell, Coastal Carolina.
SoCon (2): Western Carolina, automatic qualifier.
Southland (2): Sam Houston State, automatic qualifier.
Can the ACC get four national seeds? It has four worthy candidates, with North Carolina and Virginia as locks, and Florida State and North Carolina State in the mix. We had the Seminoles as a national seed coming into this week, but they have lost their first three games of the week (counting Monday’s nonconference loss at UNC), while the Wolfpack won its first two games in pool play, beating Clemson and Miami. FSU won the division by a half-game and won the head-to-head series in Raleigh, but N.C. State has the better top 50 record (18-9 vs. 14-14) and better top 100 record (26-12 vs. 24-14). And this week could tilt the scale in the Wolfpack’s direction, especially if FSU loses Saturday against Virginia, and/or N.C. State beats UNC. If both teams win Saturday, maybe both teams wind up as national seeds, but we think the committee would balk at awarding one conference four national seeds. For the moment, we’ll give N.C. State a slight edge, and bump Florida State out of a national seed.
That means Indiana gets our final national seed, assuming it buttresses its Big Ten regular-season title with a conference tournament championship (and it advanced to the title game with Friday’s win against Ohio State). Indiana’s resume is far from perfect; its strength of schedule is No. 70, and its 9-8 record against the top 50 doesn’t scream national seed, especially compared with Mississippi State’s 21-14 mark against the top 50. But it is very difficult to build a No. 12 RPI as a Big Ten team, and we think the committee will reward Indiana for it. The Hoosiers lost just one series all year, while Mississippi State lost six, which remains a black mark against it. The Bulldogs are also just 8-9 on the road, while the Hoosiers are 15-9 (including a series win at Florida). Florida State and N.C. State probably have objectively stronger cases than either of them, but again, we’re not sure the ACC will land four national seeds. If Indiana does not win the Big Ten tournament, however, we think the national seed will go to a fourth ACC team or Mississippi State.
If the Bulldogs win the SEC tournament, that could put them over the top, regardless of what these other teams do. If they do not, we think they’ll fall short of a national seed.
Oregon and UCLA are also in the discussion, but both teams have worse records than Indiana against the top 50 (Oregon is 6-10, UCLA is 5-8), despite playing in the Pac-12. UCLA must win its final two games at Stanford to have any shot at a national seed, as it lost Friday’s opener. Oregon’s biggest problem is that it lost all five series it played against likely regional teams. That includes three series losses to top-10 RPI teams (Vandy, Fullerton and Oregon State) plus series losses to No. 15 UCLA and No. 21 Arizona State. But the bottom line is it isn’t enough just to play good teams; you need to beat some of them. Mississippi State, at least, can offset its six series losses with that 21-14 mark against the top 50. We’re leaving Oregon out of a national seed despite its No. 8 RPI.
National seeds: Vanderbilt, North Carolina, LSU, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State, Virginia, North Carolina State, Indiana.
Arkansas was idle Friday but still moved up four spots to No. 30 in the RPI, and we continue to like its chances to host over South Carolina (for reasons we laid out yesterday). With another win against LSU on Saturday, the Hogs will cement their hosting case, in our view.
Virginia Tech improved to 3-0 in pool play at the ACC tournament, beating Georgia Tech 3-2. Clemson, meanwhile, blew a five-run lead in the ninth inning and went on to lose to North Carolina in 14, dropping the Tigers to 0-2 in pool play. That swing is enough for us to move the Hokies into hosting position ahead of Clemson and South Carolina (which went 0-2 in the SEC tournament). Virginia Tech’s 6-2 record against Florida State and Virginia gives its case a huge boost, and it actually has a higher RPI (No. 11) than the Gamecocks (No. 13) or the Tigers (No. 14). And of course, Virginia Tech finished hotter. The Hokies went just 15-14 in the ACC during the regular season, but those other factors make up for it. We’ll give Virginia Tech the slight edge for the last host spot, sending both Clemson and South Carolina on the road, as odd as that seems. Virginia Tech can put an exclamation point on its case with a win in Sunday’s ACC title game against either UNC or N.C. State.
Hosts: The eight national seeds listed above; Florida State, Mississippi State, Oregon, UCLA, Kansas State, Louisville, Arkansas, Virginia Tech.