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): Florida State, Texas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Southern Mississippi
One change from last week: Texas replaces Texas A&M as a national seed. The two teams are tied atop the Big 12 standings, but Texas surged 14 spots in the RPI after taking two of three from Oklahoma this weekend, while Texas A&M dropped seven spots to No. 16 after losing a series to last-place Missouri. After getting upset by Texas-San Antonio on Tuesday, the Aggies have lost five straight midweek games, putting a damper on their generally strong weekend record.
Florida State strengthened its position by winning a road series against Miami—and 10 of its last 11 games overall. But the Seminoles must continue to play well to hold off North Carolina and Georgia Tech for the ACC's second national seed, as those three teams remain fairly bunched together. In fact, six of the top 10 teams in the RPI hail from the ACC, but clearly Miami and Clemson are not national seed contenders, regardless of their RPIs.
SECURE TEAMS: The 12 teams listed in the national seeds discussion above
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Stetson, Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Miami, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Arkansas, Rice
No change from last week, though Fresno State and Oklahoma have tenuous grips on their host sites. The Sooners held their ground by going 2-2 last week on the road against TCU and Texas. Okahoma is 2-0 this year against fellow host candidate TCU and 2-2 against Oklahoma State. The team that wins the TCU-Oklahoma State series this weekend could make a strong move in the hosting discussion.
Fresno, meanwhile, could have used a home series win against Hawaii, but a split of the four-game series did not cripple its chances—especially since other potential hosts like Arkansas and Rice did nothing to boost their own chances, and there aren't any other legitimate hosting candidates in California other than Cal State Fullerton (which has slid toward the hosting bubble itself in the last two weeks). But Fresno State has little margin for error going forward.
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.
Fresno State and TCU are locks for at-large bids if they fail to win their conference tournaments. Creighton (No. 41 in the RPI) and Coastal Carolina (No. 45) have shots at at-large bids if they fail to capture automatic bids, and Gonzaga (No. 60) has a chance as well. Fresno State and Gonzaga are currently sitting in second place in their respective conferences. 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 11 weeks. Here are the changes from last week's field of 64, in a nutshell:
IN: College of Charleston, Baylor
OUT: Cal Poly, St. John's
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.
Atlantic Sun (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Stetson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Jacksonville
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): East Tennessee State
No change from last week. ETSU still has a strong RPI (No. 36), and if it can win a series against North Carolina State this weekend, it can reverse the damage from its mid-April swoon, when it lost six straight against Belmont, Virginia Tech and Kennesaw State. Jacksonville is behind in the RPI (No. 47), but still has a stronger case, thanks to a better conference record (16-8 vs. 12-10) and a head-to-head series win at ETSU.
Big 12 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kansas State, Baylor
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas Tech, Kansas, Nebraska
Baylor moves back into the field of 64 following a series win at Nebraska. The Bears are still just 9-12 in the conference, but the selection committee has a history of taking Big 12 teams with weak conference records but solid RPIs, which helps both Baylor and Kansas State (just 8-12 in the Big 12 after losing two games to Oklahoma State this weekend). The Wildcats are very strong in the RPI (No. 28), and they should even be able to withstand the hit they'll take by playing three games against New Orleans (No. 289) in two weeks. The Bears, meanwhile, have series remaining against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, which will ensure their RPI climbs from its current spot (No. 43). The Bears have a solid 10-10 mark against the top 50 and a 16-15 mark against the top 100—both marks will help their case. Baylor probably needs to go 3-3 in those last two series, however.
Big East (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Connecticut
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): St. John's, Louisville, South Florida
St. John's tumbles out of the field of 64 after getting swept at South Florida and dropping a midweek game to Iona (No. 258 in the RPI). The Big East is back to looking like a one-bid league, although UConn is in at-large territory—it just cannot afford to stumble at all down the stretch, with an RPI of No. 54. A 9-2 finish lands it in the top 45 at season's end.
Big West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Long Beach State, Cal Poly
Cal Poly falls back out of our field of 64 after losing a series to Long Beach State and dropping from No. 66 to No. 84 in the RPI. The Dirtbags control their own destiny; if they can fare well against their remaining schedule, they will certainly be in. But that won't be easy, because they're at Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton over the next two weekends, and they finish at UC Irvine. We're not expecting the Dirtbags to go 10-4 against that slate like they would need to in order to finish inside the top 45, per the RPI Needs Report.
Conference USA (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Southern Miss, Rice, East Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tulane, Memphis, Houston
The Knights are hanging on by a thread after losing a series to Houston and falling to 7-11 in C-USA. But UCF still has a few nice nonconference wins to hang its hat upon (Stetson, two against Florida, Florida Atlantic) and a robust RPI (No. 29), and it has a chance to make a statement this weekend with a series against Florida State. Then the Knights travel to UAB in a crucial showdown between bubble teams. The Knights must win their final two series against UAB and Marshall to get into the field 64.
The Blazers also took a step back last weekend, losing two of three at Tulane, and now they must travel to Southern Miss. It's a tough two-week stretch upcoming, and it will make or break UAB's case. For now, it remains in thanks to its series win against Rice and pair of midweek wins against Troy in the last two weeks. UAB also owns a nice series win against ECU.
Independents (0 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Dallas Baptist, Cal State Bakersfield
Losing eight of their last nine games has destroyed the Roadrunners' chances, but Dallas Baptist has emerged as a stronger independent contender for at at-large spot. The Patriots shot all the way up to No. 63 in the Boyd's RPI after beating Texas Tech on Tuesday (they remain 77th in the Warren Nolan RPI that we're using, and ranked 71st in the official RPI after Sunday's games), and they have a chance to make some noise this weekend, with a three-game series at Texas A&M. If they win that series and their final series against Charlotte, they might well find themselves in the field of 64. But for now, we'll hold them out of our field; if they take two out of three from the Aggies, we'll move them in next week.
Pacific-10 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Arizona State, California, Stanford, Arizona, UCLA
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington State
No change from last week. We'll move Arizona back to the "safe" category after it swept Southern California last weekend. At No. 44 in the RPI, UCLA is starting to slide toward the bubble, but for now we'll leave the Bruins in the "safe" category thanks to their 11-7 record in the Pac-10.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana State
LSU has put itself right back into bubble range with a five-game winning streak, including a sweep of Kentucky last weekend. But the Tigers remain in last place in the SEC West at 7-14; if they can win a series at Alabama this weekend, we'll move them into next week's field.
Georgia (24-21) put a bit of distance between itself and the all-important .500 mark with a series win against Arkansas. Auburn (23-21) and Ole Miss (24-20) find themselves fighting to stay above .500 after each was swept by SEC East powers last weekend. Alabama, meanwhile, moved back into the "safe" category with a series win at Mississippi State, which hangs on to a regional spot thanks to a strong RPI (No. 26) and a decent 10-13 mark against the top 50. A sweep of Auburn really props up MSU's case; it has lost its other six SEC weekend series, so its next three weeks—at Tennessee, at Ole Miss, vs. LSU—are critical. That's a manageable stretch, though.
Ole Miss has a two-game edge over LSU in the standings but is 19 spots back in the RPI (the Tigers are No. 21, the Rebels are No. 40). And the Rebels have another tough weekend coming up against South Carolina. Really, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State and LSU are all on equally precarious ground. We expect three of the four to find their way into regionals, but it is not easy to determine which three. For now, we'll leave LSU out because of its place in the standings, but that could change quickly.
Southern Conference (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Elon, College of Charleston
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Samford, Georgia Southern, UNC Greensboro
Suddenly, College of Charleston has caught fire, winning seven straight games to climb to No. 57 in the RPI and a tie for second in the SoCon (14-7). Charleston's remaining schedule is favorable, with two of its last three series at home (starting with a big one this weekend against equally hot UNC Greensboro), and we're anticipating a strong finish from the Cougars, which will land it in regionals.
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. Stephen F. Austin remains tied with Texas State for first place (17-7), but an RPI of 108th torpedoes the Lumberjacks' at-large hopes.
Sun Belt Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Troy
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida Atlantic, Florida International
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana-Lafayette, Western Kentucky
No change from last week. FAU and FIU both strengthened their positions significantly, as the Owls won a series from Troy, and the Panthers ran its winning streak to nine games and climbed to No. 34 in the RPI. The Sun Belt is the No. 6 conference in the RPI—right behind the five power conferences—and it's looking more and more like a three-bid league.