These seven teams punched their tickets to regionals by winning their conference tournaments Saturday: Liberty, Austin Peay State, Towson, Saint Louis, Wichita State, Central Arkansas and San Diego.
Austin Peay’s third straight Ohio Valley Conference tournament win is good news for at-large bubble teams, because the Governors likely would have gotten an at-large bid if they failed to win the conference’s automatic bid. Instead, the OVC is a one-bid league. Of note: APSU ace Lee Ridenhour, who missed three starts due to injury, made his first appearance since April 26, throwing 2.1 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief to pick up the win.
Liberty (Big South Conference) and Towson (Colonial Athletic Association) winning is bad for bubble teams, because neither would have garnered at-large consideration. (How about Towson, by the way? The Tigers’ baseball program was on the chopping block heading into this season, but after they beat William & Mary 5-2 on Saturday, they’re headed to regionals for the first time since 1991. Remarkable story). The Big South and CAA will send at least two teams to regionals, as we believe Campbell (No. 37 in the updated WarrenNolan.com Ratings Percentage Index rankings) and UNC Wilmington (No. 30) will earn at-large bids.
But each league has a third contender that is on the bubble: Coastal Carolina (Big South, No. 46 RPI) and William & Mary (CAA, No. 45). Coastal has the better resume, with a 5-8 record against the top 50 (compared to the Tribe’s 2-5 mark), a 13-13 mark against the top 100 (compared to the Tribe’s 9-12), and a quality series win at Georgia Tech (William & Mary does not have a quality series win against a potential regional team). The Big South has never been a three-bid league, and has been a one-bid league in each of the last six years, but we’re going to include the Chanticleers in our field this year, while William & Mary just misses out.
So here are our changes from Saturday’s field of 64 projection, in a nutshell. Keep in mind that we already reserved spots for automatic qualifiers in the CAA and Southland conferences last night, so Towson and Central Arkansas aren’t additions to our field.
OUT: Brigham Young
With one day of games remaining before Selection Monday, the field is still far from set. Six teams that have chances for at-large bids will play for automatic bids Sunday against teams that do not have at-large chances, which means the pool of bubble candidates could grow tomorrow, or it could remain the same. Here are the games with bubble ramifications:
Oklahoma faces Kansas for the championship. The Sooners now look safe for an at-large spot, as their RPI has climbed to No. 36 with a 3-0 showing in pool play (including a win against Kansas State on Saturday). But Kansas does not have an at-large shot (No. 65 in the RPI), so if the Jayhawks win, that’s one fewer at-large spot available. We think that would make the Big 12 a four-bid league, but it’s possible that Oklahoma State could get squeezed out if Kansas wins because the Cowboys have fallen to No. 52 in the RPI. But we still like OSU’s resume more than a number of other bubble teams included in our field.
Notre Dame faces Connecticut for the Big East title Sunday. The Huskies (No. 84 in the RPI) will get in only by winning the automatic bid, but the Irish will have a shot at an at-large spot thanks to a No. 29 RPI, 8-7 mark against the top 50 and 15-13 record against the top 100. Its deep run in the Big East tournament offsets its poor finish to the regular season somewhat. If UConn wins, it is possible that the Irish could snag a bid at the expense of Seton Hall (No. 44 in the RPI, 1-6 against the top 50, 10-13 against the top 100). Of course, the Pirates went 18-6 in the conference, while the Irish went 10-14. It would be interesting to see how the Seton Hall-Notre Dame debate shakes out if Notre Dame loses. Both teams could conceivably get in, making the Big East a four-bid league, depending on what happens elsewhere.
Nebraska won two games Saturday, beating second-seeded Ohio State in an elimination game, then knocking off top-seeded Indiana 7-6 on Tanner Lubach’s walk-off homer in the 12th. Nebraska is an outstanding defensive team with a dangerous lineup, a regional-caliber team with a regional-caliber RPI (No. 28). But they are just 29-29 overall, and teams must have winning records to be eligible for at-large bids, so Sunday’s game is win-or-go-home for the Cornhuskers. If they do beat Indiana, the Big Ten could become a three-bid league because we still like Illinois’ case (No. 40 in the RPI). But if enough bids disappear, the Illini could get squeezed out by a Nebraska win. We don’t expect that to happen, however. The math doesn’t work out for Ohio State (No. 64 in the RPI) or Michigan State (No. 43 in the RPI, but seventh place in the Big Ten).
Rice takes on Southern Miss for the C-USA title. If Southern Miss wins, C-USA will be a two-bid league, with Rice getting an at-large bid. If Rice wins, it will be a one-bid league.
San Diego State forced a winner-take-all rematch against top-seeded New Mexico with an 8-7 win Saturday night, after the Aztecs stayed alive with a 6-2 win against UNLV earlier in the day. If New Mexico wins, the Mountain West will be a one-bid league. If the Aztecs win, we expect UNM (No. 43 in the RPI, and the regular-season champs by seven games) to get an at-large spot, making the MWC a two-bid league.
Bryant has rallied through the loser’s bracket to force a decisive game against Sacred Heart on Sunday. The Bulldogs beat Long Island 16-1 in an elimination game, then topped the Pioneers 6-3 in the nightcap. At No. 50 in the RPI, Bryant would have at least a shot at an at-large bid, but a 0-4 record against the top 50, 1-7 mark against the top 100 and No. 214 strength of schedule work against it. We think this will be a one-bid league either way, but it’s worth acknowledging the possibility that it could get two bids.
At the moment, these are our 64 teams, listed by conference. This picture could change dramatically by Sunday evening. For the purpose of this exercise, we’re assuming the favorites win all six of the games listed above, preserving the maximum number of available bids. Teams in one-bid leagues that have already clinched bids are listed in parentheses.
One-bid leagues (16): America East, Atlantic 10 (Saint Louis), Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy (Columbia), MAC, MAAC, MEAC, MVC (Wichita State), MWC, NEC, OVC (Austin Peay State), Patriot (Army), Summit, SWAC (Jackson State), 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, Oklahoma State.
Big East (3): Louisville, Seton Hall, automatic qualifier.
Big West (3): Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara.
Big South (3): Liberty, Campbell, Coastal Carolina.
WCC (2): San Diego, San Francisco.
A-Sun (2): Mercer, automatic qualifier.
CAA (2): Towson, UNC Wilmington.
Big Ten (2): Indiana, Illinois.
SoCon (2): Western Carolina, automatic qualifier.
Southland (2): Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas.
These are our last teams in the field—the teams that will be sweating while monitoring those six crucial games Sunday—listed from least secure to most secure: Western Carolina, UC Santa Barbara, Coastal Carolina, San Francisco, Campbell, Seton Hall, Oklahoma State. If the committee emphasizes RPI more this year (and we think it might), that could be bad news for the Catamounts (No. 55), the Gauchos (No. 56), the Dons (No. 51) and the Cowboys (No. 52).
National Seeds: Vanderbilt, North Carolina, LSU, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, Virginia, N.C. State, Florida State.
We’re making one change to our national seed projection: Florida State, despite going 0-4 this week, gets the last national seed over Indiana. We hear from multiple sources that the committee is not placing much emphasis on conference tournaments, and that it will not balk at the prospect of having four national seeds from the same conference. The Seminoles do have more quality wins (14-15 vs. the top 50, 24-15 vs. the top 100) than the Hoosiers (9-9 vs. the top 50, 14-11 vs. the top 100), and they have a No. 18 strength of schedule, compared to Indiana’s No. 70 SOS. Ultimately, those will be the deciding factors.
Regional Hosts: The eight national seeds listed above; Indiana, Oregon, Mississippi State, UCLA, Kansas State, Louisville, South Carolina, Virginia Tech.
We’re making a change here as well, based on what we hear through the grapevine. South Carolina replaces Arkansas as our final host, because sources tell us the committee is placing more emphasis on RPI this year, and because two bad losses (to No. 257 Western Illinois and No. 243 Pacific) hurt Arkansas. The Gamecocks are No. 12 in the RPI, while the Hogs are No. 32. If we were constructing the field, we’d still go with Arkansas as a host, based on its third-place finish in the SEC, its sweep of the Gamecocks in Columbia, its better record against the top 50 (17-16 vs. 11-14), and its stronger showing in the SEC tournament (the Hogs beat Ole Miss and LSU before losing to LSU on Saturday, while the Gamecocks went 0-2). But we don’t sit on the committee, and we now believe South Carolina will host over Arkansas.
The final host race, then, could come down to Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas, and again the RPI is a deciding factor in Virginia Tech’s favor, as the Hokies rank 11th. Virginia Tech did finish sixth in the ACC in the regular season, but it racked up three more excellent wins in the conference tournament, and it went 3-1 against both Virginia and Florida State this year, which is loud. So the Hokies get the nod. With all 16 regionals on television this year, the committee might be tempted to showcase college baseball’s best stadiums, which would favor Arkansas over Virginia Tech. But the Hokies certainly have a good enough facility to host, and we think it will satisfy the committee.