|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64|
|Gainesville, Fla.||Tallahassee, Fla.||Fullerton, Calif.||Stanford, Calif.|
|1. (1) Florida^*||1. Florida State^||1. (5) Cal State Fullerton^*||1. Stanford^|
|2. Florida Atlantic||2. Florida International*||2. California||2. Mississippi|
|3. Nebraska||3. Auburn||3. San Diego*||3. Fresno State*|
|4. Bethune-Cookman*||4. Jacksonville State*||4. Stony Brook*||4. Army*|
|Los Angeles||Waco, Texas||Nashville||Eugene, Ore.|
|1. (2) UCLA^*||1. Baylor^||1. (6) Vanderbilt^||1. Oregon^|
|2. Georgia Tech||2. Louisiana State||2. Southern Mississippi||2. Miami|
|3. UC Riverside||3. Oregon State||3. Louisville||3. Hawaii|
|4. Dartmouth*||4. Wright State*||4. Jackson State*||4. Brigham Young|
|Fort Worth||Austin||Clemson, S.C.||Columbia, S.C.|
|1. (3) Texas Christian^*||1. Texas^||1. (7) Clemson^*||1. South Carolina^|
|2. Arizona||2. Tulane||2. Coastal Carolina*||2. College of Charleston*|
|3. Texas State*||3. UC Irvine||3. Georgia||3. North Carolina State|
|4. Monmouth*||4. Kent State*||4. Georgia State*||4. Mercer*|
|Norman, Okla.||Houston||Norwich, Conn.||Charlottesville, Va.|
|1. (4) Oklahoma^*||1. Rice^||1. (8) Connecticut^*||1. Virginia^|
|2. Arkansas||2. Texas A&M||2. North Carolina||2. St. John’s|
|3. Wichita State*||3. Washington State||3. East Carolina||3. Liberty|
|4. Oral Roberts*||4. Minnesota*||4. Marist*||4. Charlotte*|
|* Automatic qualifier|
• The Pacific-10 Conference sent 80 percent of its 10 teams to regionals in 2010, tied for the highest percentage ever (with the Big 12 in 2009). The Pac-10 looks very strong again, leading all conferences with six teams in Baseball America’s preseason Top 25. We’re also projecting seven teams from the league to make regionals in 2011, and that does not include 11th-ranked Arizona State, which was barred from the tournament this year for violating NCAA rules. The Sun Devils planned to appeal the postseason ban, but no decision is expected before mid-April at the earliest, and a reversal seems unlikely. Still, Arizona State should be a major factor in the Pac-10, and it could rack up conference wins at the expense of fringe-regional contenders like Southern California. But if ASU remains ineligible for the postseason, it could clear paths for Stanford and Oregon to host regionals.
• The Pac-10 ties the Southeastern, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences with three regional hosts in our projection, while the SEC is the only conference to produce multiple national seeds in Florida and Vanderbilt. The SEC also lands the most teams in our regional field (eight), just ahead of the Pac-10 and ACC (seven). Kentucky, which just missed an at-large NCAA tournament berth last year, once again lands just outside our field as the ninth-place team in the SEC.
• The Big East sent three teams to regionals last year, and all three—Connecticut, St. John’s and Louisville—earn spots again in our projection. Louisville is no longer the favorite, having lost numerous mainstays from its regional-hosting 2010 club, but the Cardinals reloaded with another strong recruiting class and should make a strong push to join the more experienced Huskies and Johnnies in the tournament. UConn hosted a regional last year at Norwich’s Dodd Field, home of the short-season Connecticut Tigers, and we project them to host there again in 2011, as the New York-Penn League season does not open until June. 17, so the facility should be available.
• The Mountain West has earned multiple NCAA tournament bids each of the last two years, and we expect it to do so again. Texas Christian is a mortal lock, of course, and Brigham Young has a talented, experienced roster capable of earning an at-large bid. The Cougars will get a chance to pad their at-large resume with 19 quality nonconference games against Washington, Portland, Oregon, Pepperdine, Washington State, Arizona State and Gonzaga.
• The Western Athletic Conference also lands two teams in our field, with Hawaii earning an at-large spot a year after winning the conference tournament. The Rainbows return a veteran team built around pitching and defense, which is a winning formula in the era of less potent bats. Hawaii will get a chance to solidify its at-large credentials with back-to-back four-game series at home against Oregon and Texas to start the season, and eight more home games later in the season against Cal State Fullerton and Wichita State. If the Rainbows can hold their own in those 16 games—and we believe they can—they will benefit greatly in the Ratings Percentage Index.
• Another of our final at-large teams, Liberty, does not have nearly as rigorous a nonconference schedule, so the Flames might have to improve upon their 42-win 2010 season to snag a bid. Liberty did upgrade its schedule a bit, though, opening the season with four games at Atlantic Sun Conference favorite Mercer and a trip to the Keith LeClair Classic at East Carolina in March. But Liberty’s April 1-3 series at Coastal Carolina figures to make or break its season, as its 0-4 record against the Chanticleers a year ago likely doomed its at-large chances.
• Conference USA was in danger of sending just one team to regionals last year before Southern Mississippi won the conference tournament to snag the automatic bid from favored Rice, which landed an at-large spot. We project CUSA to bounce back and send four teams to the NCAA tournament this spring, and all four are strong enough to compete for No. 2 seeds or better. Central Florida also has a chance at a bid but lands on the wrong side of our bubble.
• The Southern Conference is usually a multiple-bid league, but entering the season there is no clear No. 2 team after favored College of Charleston. If the Cougars run away with the league and win the conference tournament, the SoCon could wind up with just one team in regionals in 2011. The Sun Belt, meanwhile, has two strong teams at the top in Florida International and Florida Atlantic, which both earn No. 2 seeds in our projection. Louisiana-Lafayette lands on the wrong side of the bubble, but the Ragin’ Cajuns do have a solid chance to make the Sun Belt a three-bid league.
• Other teams that land just outside the field of 64 are Illinois State, Elon, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Florida Gulf Coast and Cal Poly. All are strong NCAA tournament contenders. The Redbirds tied Wichita State top the Missouri Valley Conference standings a year ago and won the league’s conference tournament to make regionals for the first time in 16 years. Illinois State is talented enough to do so again, but it probably lacks the strength of schedule to land an at-large bid. Seven games against Oakland and Chicago State will be an RPI drain.