This time of year, a hefty majority of all questions submitted in our weekly college chat, as well as those sent via e-mail or Twitter, center around the battle for postseason positioning. Our readers want to know how the races for national seeds, host sites and at-large bids are shaping up—so every Wednesday here on the College Blog, we examine how the postseason picture has shifted over the weekend. Rather than get bogged down in the jigsaw puzzle that is a full field of 64 projection, we're not going to worry about which regionals teams get sent to. We're just looking at who's in, who's out, who's on the bubble. This discussion is weighted much more toward performance and remaining schedule than projection based on talent, but it's also not intended to show what the field would look like if the season ended today. We're still looking ahead.
During this discussion, we will reference the pseudo Ratings Percentage Index figures at warrennolan.com, which are very close to the NCAA's official RPI rankings (which are released on Tuesdays but can change quickly). We'll also reference the useful RPI Needs Report at Boyd's World. And we'll make use of records against the top 50 or top 100 in the RPI, according to the Nitty Gritty Report at warrennolan.com.
We'll get to at-large chances in a bit, but let's start with a look at which teams are on track to earn national seeds and which are on track to host regionals through the first eight weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt, Oregon State, Arizona State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas A&M, Florida State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia Tech, Texas, North Carolina
One change from last week: Florida State replaces North Carolina as the last national seed. UNC, FSU and Georgia Tech are probably all competing for one national seed, and there is not much separation between the three teams—indeed, they rank sixth through eighth, respectively, in the RPI. Tech has the best conference record of the three (17-4), but its conference slate has also been less rigorous to this point. UNC's back-to-back series losses against N.C. State and Miami have dropped it to 13-8 in the conference and nullified the edge it got from winning a road series against Florida State. The Seminoles, whose case is built around a 3-1 record in midweek games against Florida and a 14-7 mark in the ACC, can strengthen their position with a series win at Miami this weekend, or fall behind in the pecking order with a series loss.
Other small tweaks: Arizona State moves into the "secure" category after sweeping a road series against California. We're also putting Oregon State in the "secure" column after a series win against Washington State—the Beavers did sweep Arizona State, after all, and they remain ahead of ASU in the Pac-10 standings, though their RPI is six spots back (No. 4 vs. No. 10) thanks to a softer nonconference schedule. Four straight midweek losses prevent Texas A&M from joining them in the "secure" group, but the Aggies are in good shape.
Cal State Fullerton falls off the national seed bubble following a series loss at Cal Poly. With just a 4-7 mark against the top 50 and an RPI that has fallen to No. 17, the Titans can afford few hiccups the rest of the way if they want to make a run at a national seed.
SECURE TEAMS: The 11 teams listed in the national seeds discussion above, Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southern Mississippi, Fresno State, Stetson, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Miami, Rice, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Stanford, East Carolina
Two changes from last week: Stetson and Oklahoma replace Rice and Arkansas as hosts.
Miami has rocketed into the hosting discussion with a road series win at North Carolina, but the Hurricanes are still fifth in the pecking order among ACC hosting candidates. Though Miami has the head-to-head edge over UNC, it is still just 7-8 against the top 50, compared with UNC's 10-6 mark. Should Miami win its series against Florida State this weekend, it will pass the idle Tar Heels, however.
Miami (No. 11) is much stronger in the RPI than Stetson (No. 25), but the Hatters probably have a better chance to earn the Sunshine State's third regional site, because the committee has shown a preference for putting regionals in new places when mid-majors have put together strong seasons. The RPI might wind up causing Stetson to be a No. 2 seed (though its 8-3 mark against the top 50 and 15-4 record against the top 100 both trump Miami's 7-8 and 16-11 marks), but it could still host as a No. 2, potentially with Miami as the No. 1.
Oklahoma's sweep of Nebraska and completion of a two-game season sweep of TCU in midweek action moves it back into hosting position. OU and Arkansas have very similar cases: they are back-to-back in the RPI (No. 15 and No. 16), they have identical records (28-11), and they have similar records against the top 50 (OU is 10-8 while Arkansas is 9-7). We're giving the nod to the Sooners over Arkansas, Rice and Oklahoma State just because it is the hotter team at the moment (the other three teams are coming off series losses to Kentucky, UAB and Texas A&M, respectively), but the race for hosting spots between those four teams is still very wide open.
Fresno State holds onto its home regional for now, but Stanford is a threat to steal a regional in Northern California. The Cardinal have 20 games against the top 50 (and a 10-10 record in those games), while Fresno has just four games against the top 50 (4-0).
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 19 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Big South, Big Ten, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Southwestern, West Coast, Western Athletic.
Changes: We've added the WCC to the list of one-bid leagues after Gonzaga dropped a home series to St. Mary's. The Zags still have a shot at an at-large bid if they fail to win the conference title (currently they trail San Francisco by a game), but they have work to do. We also removed the Big East from the one-bid list thanks to surges by Connecticut and St. John's.
Fresno State and TCU are locks for at-large bids if they fail to win their conference tournaments. Creighton (No. 49 in the RPI) and Coastal Carolina (No. 52) have shots at at-large bids if they fail to capture automatic bids, but their RPI situations and lack of top 50 wins (they have two between them) make that an uphill battle. But for this exercise, let's assume all 19 of those leagues receive one bid.
Below is a conference-by-conference look at which teams are on track to make the field in potential multi-bid leagues, and which teams are on the wrong side of the bubble through 10 weeks. Here are the changes from last week's field of 64, in a nutshell:
IN: Kansas State, Alabama-Birmingham, Florida International, St. John's, Cal Poly
OUT: Baylor, Cal State Bakersfield, Louisiana State, Western Kentucky, Long Beach State
Atlantic Coast Conference (7 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Clemson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Carolina State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. The Wolfpack held its ground by following up its sweep of North Carolina with one road victory against Virginia, though it lost the series.
Atlantic Sun (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Stetson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Jacksonville
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): East Tennessee State
No change from last week. Stetson further solidified its position with a series win at Jacksonville, but at least the Dolphins did not get swept. They remain 45th in the RPI and have a decent 13-9 record against the top 100, so they remain in the field, though they are very much on the bubble. East Tennessee State continued to slide with another series loss, this time to Kennesaw State. With just a 2-4 record against the top 50 and no series wins against regional contenders, ETSU does not have close to a regional resume, but its mysteriously high RPI (No. 43) keeps it in the bubble conversation anyway.
Big 12 (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kansas State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, Nebraska
Kansas State surges into the field of 64 thanks to a series sweep of Texas Tech and a midweek sweep of two games at Cal State Bakersfield. The Wildcats are strong in the RPI (No. 30), have a respectable 7-10 mark against the top 50, and have climbed to 8-10 in the Big 12.
Baylor falls out of the field of 64 after losing its fourth straight series—at home against last-place Missouri. Still, Baylor's 10-10 mark against the top 50 compares favorably with other bubble teams like Kansas State and Cal Poly, and it can still finish in the top 32 of the RPI with a 9-4 stretch run. But that will be a tall order, with road series against Nebraska and Oklahoma State followed by a home set against Oklahoma.
Big East (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Connecticut, St. John's
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisville, West Virginia
We're continuing to assume first-place UConn grabs the automatic bid in the Big East, but the Huskies also have climbed into at-large bubble range. Their current 11-game winning streak has boosted their RPI to No. 56, and they are good enough to go 13-3 down the stretch to climb into the top 45. St. John's might have an even better chance at an at-large spot, even though it was swept by UConn and trails the Huskies in the standings. The Red Storm is 37th in the RPI, and a 12-4 finish against its very favorable remaining schedule will land the Johnnies in the top 45 at season's end. Sweeping Lousiville two weeks ago was huge.
Big West (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine, Cal Poly
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Long Beach State
Cal Poly replaces Long Beach State as the Big West's third team. Both UC Irvine (No. 66 in the RPI) and Cal Poly (No. 68) need strong finishes to boost their RPIs into at-large range, but both have already played Cal State Fullerton (and the Mustangs won that series), and their remaining schedules are manageable. Until some other bubble teams with better resumes step forward to edge out the Anteaters and Mustangs, we're including them in our field.
Conference USA (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Southern Miss, Rice, East Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Central Florida, Alabama-Birmingham
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Memphis, Tulane, Houston
A week after getting swept by Memphis and falling out of our field of 64, UAB won a series against Rice to move back in. The Blazers are 46th in the RPI and have a tidy 8-5 record against the top 100, and back-to-back Tuesday wins against Troy also help their case.
Independents (0 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Cal State Bakersfield, Dallas Baptist
Bakersfield's current five-game losing streak (all at home, against UC Riverside and Kansas State) puts it behind the eight-ball for an at-large spot. The Roadrunners fell to No. 62 in the RPI, but they can get back into the top 45 with an 11-8 finish against their tough remaining schedule, which includes series against Irvine, Loyola Marymount, UCLA, Fresno State and Cal Poly, plus two midweeks at K-State. That's a tough road.
Dallas Baptist is a long shot thanks to an RPI of 101st, but the Patriots do have a 6-3 record against the top 50 thanks to a host of quality midweek wins (most notably this week against Texas Christian), and a 14-3 finish can vault them into the top 45. But winning a series against Texas A&M in two weeks is critical, and we're not counting on that.
Pacific-10 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Arizona State, California, UCLA, Stanford
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arizona
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington State
No change from last week, though Arizona slid closer to the bubble with a series loss at Oregon. The Wildcats are in seventh place in the Pac-10 at 6-9, but their remaining schedule is favorable.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Auburn
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana State
LSU falls out of our field of 64 after getting swept by Vanderbilt. The Tigers have lost five of their first six conference series to fall to 4-14 in the SEC, putting them in last place in the West. But the good news is the schedule gets easier now, and the Tigers still have an at-large caliber RPI (No. 29), so they'll have a chance to play their way back into a regional. There is very little margin for error, however.
Georgia is on the bubble because of its overall record—just 22-20. But if the Bulldogs can stay above .500 to remain eligible for an at-large bid, they'll have a good chance to get in, thanks to a robust RPI (No. 14) and 14 wins against the top 50.
The SEC West remains wide open, with three teams tied for first place at 9-9 (Arkansas, Mississippi and Auburn), and two other teams within two games of first (Alabama and Mississippi State). All of those teams have RPIs in the top 40, and all but Ole Miss are inside the top 31. Arkansas (No. 16) and Auburn (No. 12) are in the best shape; the other three teams need to firm up their resumes down the stretch to feel comfortable, but right now there aren't enough teams with better credentials to shoulder them aside. Auburn's 22-18 overall mark gives it less wiggle room as it, like Georgia (or any school), can't nab an at-large berth with a sub-.500 record.
Southern Conference (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia Southern, College of Charleston, Samford
Georgia Southern helped itself with a series win against Elon (which remains in first place by a half-game), but the Eagles are still on the wrong side of the bubble thanks to a lagging RPI (No. 71). It will take a 14-1 finish to boost that figure into the top 45, so Georgia Southern remains on the outside looking in, despite four more wins against the top 50 five more wins against the top 100 than Elon. The SoCon is usually a two- or three-bid league, but this year it's shaping up like a one-bid league—it ranks 13th in conference RPI.
College of Charleston might be a dark horse, despite having series losses against Elon and Georgia Southern. The Cougars have a better RPI (No. 57) than the Eagles, and an 11-3 finish can land them in the top 45. A sweep of Furman last weekend boosted CofC to 11-7 in the SoCon, tied for third place.
Southland Conference (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Stephen F. Austin State, Sam Houston State
No change from last week, though we're downgrading Texas State from "SAFELY IN" to the bubble following a midweek loss to Texas. The Bobcats fell to 1-5 in midweek games against Big 12 opponents and 2-8 in midweek action overall (counting a 13-inning win against Houston Baptist and losses to Arkansas, Rice and TCU), and those midweek woes could torpedo the Bobcats' at-large chances, should they fail to win the automatic bid. But right now, which of the teams on the wrong side of the bubble have a stronger case?
Sun Belt Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Troy
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida Atlantic, Florida International
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette
Florida International replaces Western Kentucky in our field of 64. The Hilltoppers were already on shaky RPI ground, and getting swept at Troy was a big blow to their at-large hopes—they really needed to win that series to make some noise. FIU, meanwhile, has climbed into a tie for third place in the Sun Belt (10-8) and boasts a solid RPI (No. 36) and a respectable 10-14 mark against the top 100. FIU's remaining schedule is very favorable, and an 8-6 finish would land it in the top 45 at season's end. It can wind up in the top 32 with an 11-3 closing stretch.
Florida Atlantic remains in the field despite a series loss to Arkansas State. The Owls, like FIU, can wind up in the top 45 with an 8-6 finish, and they are currently a game ahead of the Panthers in the Sun Belt standings (11-7). FAU's road is far more difficult, though, with a home series against Troy looming this weekend and road sets against WKU and FIU to follow. Still, the Owls are talented enough to stay afloat during that stretch.