SEE ALSO: Top 25 Coverage
SEE ALSO: Field of 64 Coverage
The Southeastern Conference is generally one of the top—if not the top—conferences in college baseball in terms of talent, often producing multiple regional hosts, national seeds and Omaha-bound teams. The SEC remains deep, ranking No. 2 on WarrenNolan.com in conference RPI. However, one of the key questions in putting together this Field of 64 and for the second half of the season as a whole is: Which teams will separate themselves from the pack?
The SEC, at the moment, is tightly clustered in both the East and West divisions. In the East, first-place Kentucky (No. 10 RPI), South Carolina (15), Florida (12) and Vanderbilt (20) all have Top 20 RPIs and are within two games of each other in the standings. In the West, there’s a three-way tie in the standings among Arkansas (No. 22 RPI), Auburn (28) and Mississippi State (26) with Louisiana State (16) just one game back and Mississippi (39) and Texas A&M (32) within striking distance. All of those teams are in this Field of 64 with the exception of Ole Miss, which is sitting on the bubble as the first team out. But there’s little separating the top of the pack from the bottom.
So which team will come out on top? That answer will likely fluctuate over the next few weeks as these teams face each other head to head. This week, coming off a series win at Arkansas, LSU is the choice to represent the SEC as a national seed, supplanting Florida and leapfrogging the Gamecocks and Wildcats, as well. All three of those teams are coming off of series losses, and based on the talent at LSU’s disposal and its upcoming schedule, the Tigers earned the nod. However, that pecking order can change in a hurry and it is completely conceivable that the conference could end up with a second national seed in the end.
Elsewhere, the Big 12 ranks first in conference RPI and is tied with the Atlantic Coast Conference with seven teams projected in the field. With 13 straight wins, Texas Christian (No. 9 RPI) has surged into first place in the conference, but Texas Tech (5), West Virginia (14) and Oklahoma (17) remain close. Coming off a quality series win against Oklahoma, the David Pierce-led Texas Longhorns have played their way into the tournament picture. Baylor and Oklahoma State are on shakier ground. Though the Bears rank 13th in RPI, they’ve lost four straight series and are sliding in the standings. The committee has shown in previous years that a top 20 RPI doesn’t necessarily supersede performance in conference. The Cowboys, too, are approaching dangerous territory. An Omaha team last year, Oklahoma State is on the bubble with its No. 58 RPI and needs to start putting together series wins to remain in the tournament picture.
Not much changed in the field for the other Power Five conferences. Oregon State and North Carolina remain the No. 1 and No. 2 national seeds, respectively. Nebraska joins the field as the fourth Big Ten squad, with Michigan now the projected Big Ten champion. Out of the ACC, Virginia, with its No. 7 RPI and lighter second-half conference slate, is now projected as a regional host.
Though the Big West has just two teams in the field, both Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State currently project as hosts. The Dirtbags have won three straight series and have an impressive road series win against UNC on their resume to go with its No. 8 RPI.
The American Athletic Conference, as it has since its inception, remains tightly packed and could move in a multitude of directions. Connecticut, which joined the Top 25 this week, projects as the AAC champion, but the Huskies have South Florida, Houston, Central Florida and a suddenly red-hot Tulane team on their heels.
East Carolina, the preseason No. 6 team, has had a disappointing start to conference play, going 0-6 against the Huskies and Cougars. The Pirates, at No. 67 in the RPI and 19-15 overall, don’t have a regional-quality resume at this point and have dropped out of the field. Also dropping out of the field this week is Florida Gulf Coast, which started Atlantic Sun Conference play with back-to-back series losses. Jacksonville takes over as the conference’s projected champion, but the Eagles remain in the mix. Their RPI has fallen to No. 49 and they have only four games left against top 100 RPI teams. FGCU will need to find a way to improve its RPI to get back in the field as an at-large team.
|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64
|Corvallis, OR||Norman, OK
|1. (1) Oregon State^*||1. Oklahoma^|
|2. St. John’s*||2. Houston|
|3. Southeastern Louisiana||3. Texas A&M|
|4. Niagara*||4. Oral Roberts*|
|Chapel Hill, NC||Columbia, SC
|1. (2) North Carolina^*||1. South Carolina^|
|2. Connecticut*||2. Southern Mississippi*|
|3. Minnesota||3. North Carolina State|
|4. Navy*||4. College of Charleston*|
|Fort Worth||Fullerton, CA|
|1. (3) Texas Christian^*||1. Cal State Fullerton^*|
|2. Missouri State*||2. Oregon|
|3. Washington||3. Texas|
|4. Alabama State*||4. Rhode Island*|
|Tucson, AZ||Long Beach, CA|
|1. (4) Arizona^||1. Long Beach State^|
|2. Mississippi State||2. Stanford|
|3. New Mexico*||3. Oklahoma State|
|4. Bryant*||4. San Diego*|
|Lubbock, TX||Winston-Salem, NC
|1. (5) Texas Tech^||1. Wake Forest^|
|2. Arkansas||2. Auburn|
|3. Nebraska||3. Central Florida|
|4. New Mexico State*||4. Dartmouth*|
|1. (6) Louisville^||1. Kentucky^|
|2. West Virginia||2. Michigan*|
|3. Wright State*||3. Florida State|
|4. Binghamton*||4. Kent State*|
|Clemson, SC||Gainesville, FL|
|1. (7) Clemson^||1. Florida^|
|2. Vanderbilt||2. South Florida|
|3. Coastal Carolina*||3. Mercer*|
|4. Tennessee Tech*||4. Bethune-Cookman*|
|Baton Rouge, LA||Charlottesville, VA
|1. (8) Louisiana State^*||1. Virginia^|
|2. McNeese State*||2. Maryland|
|3. Baylor||3. Old Dominion|
|4. Jacksonville*||4. Liberty*|
|*-Automatic bid; ^-Regional host|
Last Four In: Oklahoma State, Washington, North Carolina State, Minnesota
First Four Out: Mississippi, Florida Gulf Coast, Indiana, Florida Atlantic
Next Four Out: Missouri, Charlotte, Michigan State, East Carolina
New Hosts: Long Beach State, Louisiana State, Virginia
New Auto Bids: College of Charleston (Colonial), Jacksonville (A-Sun), Tennessee Tech (Ohio Valley)
New At-Large Bids: Central Florida, Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, South Florida
Dropped Out: Charlotte, Dallas Baptist, East Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette, Mississippi
Bids by Conference:
7: ACC, Big 12
4: AAC, Big Ten
2: Big West, Conference USA, Southland
1: A-10, A-Sun, America East, Big East, Big South, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Summit, Sun Belt, SWAC, WAC, WCC