With one day of games remaining before the NCAA tournament field is unveiled, the postseason picture is finally starting to crystallize. We'll address the national seed, hosting and at-large races later, but let's kick off the Saturday roundup with a look at the teams that punched their tickets to regionals by winning automatic bids Saturday, and the bubble implications of each result:
• Top-seeded Charlotte beat Richmond, 9-4, to win the Atlantic 10 Conference title. Joe Yermal (6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) earned the win, and Most Outstanding Player Corey Shaylor had three more hits, capping a tournament during which he hit .636 for Charlotte, which swept through the tournament unbeaten for the third time in five years. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; the A-10 was going to be a one-bid league regardless of who won the automatic bid.
• Belmont won its first-ever Atlantic Sun Conference title (and secured its first trip to regionals) with a 9-7 win against Mercer, capping an unbeaten run through the conference tournament. Belmont, which won two of three at Stetson last weekend, became the first No. 6 seed to win the A-Sun tournament since Jacksonville in 2003. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: The Atlantic Sun was likely to be a three-bid league no matter how the title game played out, as Stetson and Jacksonville look like at-large teams. Mercer has an at-large case as well, and if the Hatters or Dolphins had won the automatic bid, the Bears would have had a real chance at an at-large spot. But it's hard to see them earning a bid as the fourth team in the A-Sun with an RPI in the 50s and a fourth-place finish in the regular season.
• Matt Dittman hit a grand slam and Corey Kimes threw the first complete game of his career to lead Illinois to a 9-1 win against Michigan State—the first Big Ten tournament title and NCAA tournament berth since 2000 for the Illini. This also marks the first time ever Illinois has won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles in the same season. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; the Big Ten was going to be a one-bid league regardless of who won the automatic bid.
• Coastal Carolina got seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball from Jordan Coons to beat Gardner-Webb, 6-1, and win the Big South title. The Chanticleers have won an unprecedented five consecutive Big South tournament titles (as well as five straight regular-season titles). BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: Coastal stood a good chance to snag an at-large bid if it failed to win the conference tournament, so its victory was good news for bubble teams, as it kept the Big South a one-bid league.
• Tyler Pill threw seven shutout innings to lead Cal State Fullerton to a 6-0 win at Cal State Northridge, clinching the Big West title for the Titans. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; Fullerton and UC Irvine were both going to regionals regardless of who won the automatic bid.
• James Madison throttled Old Dominion, 10-1, to win the Colonial Athletic Association title. Alex Valadja (6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K) was strong for the Dukes, who stretched the nation's longest winning streak to nine games and captured their second CAA title (their first came in 2008). In the always-interesting CAA, JMU became the first top seed to win the tournament title since Virginia Commonwealth in 2003. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; the CAA was going to be a one-bid league regardless of who won the automatic bid.
• Rice broke a 3-3 tie with a run in the 10th on Craig Manuel's walk-off RBI single to beat Houston, 4-3, and win the Conference USA tournament title. The Owls have won four C-USA tournament titles in the six years since joining the league. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: Terrific news for bubble teams, as Rice was a lock for regionals regardless of Saturday's outcome, while Houston would only go to regionals if it won the automatic bid. So C-USA is a four-bid league instead of a five-bid league.
• Top-seeded Manhattan completed a perfect 3-0 run through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association tournament with a 5-1 win over Siena, behind a brilliant outing from Mike Giordano (9 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 K). The Jaspers, who dominated the MAAC in the regular season, head to regionals for the second time in program history. The first time was in 2006, when Manhattan ace Chris Cody beat Joba Chamberlain and Nebraska in the opener. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; the MAAC was going to be a one-bid league regardless of who won the automatic bid.
• Kent State rebounded from Friday's loss to Eastern Michigan by blitzing the Eagles, 8-0, in Saturday's rematch, setting up a showdown with Miami (Ohio) for the Mid-American Conference title. The Golden Flashes also rolled through that one, 11-0, as David Lyon drove in five in support of David Starn (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K). Kent State heads to regionals for the third straight year, and the seventh time in the last 10 seasons. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: Kent State would have been squarely on the bubble for an at-large spot if it failed to win the automatic bid, but its tournament victory ensures that the MAC will be a one-bid league, which is good news for bubble teams.
• Five Creighton pitchers limited Wichita State to four hits, as the top-seeded Bluejays beat the Shockers 3-1 to win the Missouri Valley Conference title. Creighton's run through the loser's bracket ended with its second MVC tournament title ever, and its first since 2007. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: Great news for bubble teams, as Creighton was a very strong at-large candidate even if it lost Saturday. Instead, the MVC will be a one-bid league.
• John Hogan homered and drove in three in support of Zach Toney (6.2 IP, 8 H, 3 ER), as top-seeded Austin Peay State beat Jacksonville State, 7-3, to win the Ohio Valley Conference title. The Governors head to regionals for the fourth time, and the first time since 2007. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: None; the OVC was going to be a one-bid league regardless of who won the championship.
• Texas State completed its run through the loser's bracket with a 10-7 win against Nicholls State and a 9-0 win against Stephen F. Austin State to win the Southland Conference title. Senior Joseph Dvorsky threw a four-hit, complete-game shutout in his first career start in the title game, giving the Bobcats their first SLC tournament title since 2000. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: Good news for bubble teams, as Texas State had a real shot at an at-large bid if they failed to win the automatic berth, although they would have been squarely on the bubble like Kent State. Instead, the Southland is likely to be just a one-bid league (though Southeastern Louisiana has an outside chance at an at-large spot).
• Top-seeded Fresno State throttled Hawaii, 15-4, to win the WAC tournament championship for the fifth time in the last six years. Jordan Ribera had three hits and four RBIs to lead the Fresno offense. BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS: This is great news for bubble teams, as Fresno was a lock for regionals if it failed to win the automatic bid. Instead, the WAC will be a one-bid league.
Let's crunch some numbers:
Sure-fire one bid leagues (18 bids):
America East (Maine)
Atlantic 10 (Charlotte)
Big South (Coastal Carolina)
Big Ten (Illinois)
CAA (James Madison)
Horizon (Wright State/Valparaiso winner)
Mid-American (Kent State)
Missouri Valley (Creighton)
Northeast (Sacred Heart)
Ohio Valley (Austin Peay State)
Summit (Oral Roberts/South Dakota State winner)
SWAC (Alcorn State)
WCC (Gonzaga/San Francisco winner)
WAC (Fresno State)
Likely one-bid leagues (2 bids):
Southland (Texas State)
Southern Conference (Samford/Georgia Southern winner)
Locked-in multi-bid leagues (15 bids):
ACC (7): Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina State
C-USA (4): Rice, Southern Miss, Central Florida, East Carolina
Mountain West (2): New Mexico, Texas Christian
Big West (2): Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine
Leagues still in play (27 bids):
SEC (8): Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Louisiana State. A ninth team—Mississippi—is on the bubble (see below).
Big 12 (6): Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas State. For now, we're projecting the Big 12 to land six bids, but if Missouri beats Texas A&M in Sunday's Big 12 title game, the conference could easily land seven, as Kansas State has played its way into very good at-large position, as the league's last at-large team.
Pac-10 (6): UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Arizona, California. The first five are locked in, but California has played its way onto the bubble after losing its final three series and four of its last five, capped by a pair of losses to Stanford this weekend (the finale has been canceled by rain). Cal's RPI has fallen to No. 42 according to WarrenNolan.com's updated rankings, and its record against the top 25 is just 3-11—very dicey. It has a solid 18-17 mark against the top 100, however. Cal's RPI and top 100 record are both stronger than the other top bubble teams, so we're leaving the Bears in the field.
A-SUN (3): Belmont, Stetson, Jacksonville. A fourth team, Mercer, is on the bubble (see below).
Big East (2): Connecticut, St. John's/Seton Hall winner. The Red Storm also has a shot at an at-large bid if it loses Sunday, but its 1-6 record against the top 50 and its RPI around No. 50 would be unlikely to net it a third bid out of the Big East, and it certainly does not have as good a case as UConn—which isn't a lock but will probably get in. The Big East should be a two-bid league regardless of Sunday's outcome.
Sun Belt (2): Florida International, Troy. Florida Atlantic's 0-3 showing in pool play killed its chances. If Arkansas-Little Rock upsets FIU in the SBC title game Sunday, the Sun Belt has a chance at three bids, because FIU is an at-large lock, and Troy has a shot despite an RPI around No. 50 thanks to solid records against the top 50 (7-6) and top 100 (18-12).
Total: 62 bids
Bubble teams need to root hard for Texas A&M and Florida International on Sunday; if those teams lose, Missouri and UALR will earn automatic bids, bringing us to 64 teams, if you assume Troy is in as an at-large (which is not a slam dunk, by any means, but its case is better than all the bubble teams listed below). Assuming the favored Aggies, Golden Panthers and Red Storm win Sunday, here are the strongest candidates for the last two spots:
Cal State Bakersfield
East Tennessee State
Dallas Baptist has the best resume in this group, with an RPI in the mid-40s, a 7-5 record against the top 50 and a 12-9 mark against the top 100. All of these teams have serious flaws in their cases; Elon won its regular-season crown, but the SoCon is the No. 15 RPI conference, so winning it doesn't assure an at-large bid, and Elon's 2-6 mark against the top 50 and 11-17 mark against the top 100 torpedo its case. Mercer and Southeastern Louisiana both have much better records against the top 50 and top 100, but they each finished in fourth place in mid-major leagues, and each finished 5 1/2 games out of first place. Cal State Bakersfield has a decent 5-3 record against the top 25 and an 11-12 mark against the top 100, but it has the worst RPI in this bunch, which will probably be its undoing. Mississippi has a stonger RPI than those teams, but its 5-12 record against the top 50 and 12-23 mark against the top 100 are ugly. But someone has to be team No. 64, and we know the committee loves the RPI and the power conferences—so with the barest amount of conviction, we'll take the Rebels as the final team.
Clemson beat North Carolina State on Saturday, giving us extra confidence in the 16 hosts we projected Friday. We'll stick with them: five from the ACC (Virginia, UNC, FSU, Georgia Tech, Clemson), four from the SEC (Vandy, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas), two from the Big 12 (Texas, Texas A&M) and Pac-10 (Arizona State, Oregon State), Rice, Cal State Fullerton and Texas Christian. Last team out: Southern Mississippi.
Arizona State was blanked by UCLA, 7-0, to lose its second weekend series in the last three weeks and put its national seed in jeopardy. The committee would surely love to have a national seed in the West, but no Western team has a top-eight resume. Rice buttressed its C-USA regular-season title with the conference tournament title on Saturday, and its strong finish has vaulted it past Arizona State in the pecking order. Florida State also did what it needed to do Saturday, beating Georgia Tech to reach Sunday's ACC title game. Texas A&M also reached its conference title game, but the Aggies went 0-2 against Rice this year and have a worse record against the top 25 than the Owls and Texas, and they lost the head-to-head series against the Longhorns. So our eight national seeds are: three from the SEC (Vandy, Florida, South Carolina), three from the ACC (Virginia, UNC, Florida State), Texas and Rice. Last two out: Texas A&M and Arizona State.
Sunday is a travel day for me, so these are my final projections for hosts before they are announced at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon. I'll be back with my final full field of 64 projection on Sunday evening.