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 it’s time to roll out our weekly Stock Report feature.
Every Wednesday, we’ll examine how the postseason picture has shifted over the previous week. 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 NCAA’s official RPI report, which is released every Tuesday and is updated through the weekend’s games. We’ll also reference the useful RPI Needs Report at Boyd’s World (which estimates how many wins a team would need to post against its remaining schedule to finish the season at various RPI benchmarks). And we’ll make use of records against the top 25, 50 or 100 in the RPI using the NCAA’s Nitty Gritty Report. Those figures were also updated through this past Sunday’s games, and do not include Monday or Tuesday games.
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 11 weeks of the season:
Virginia, Florida, Florida State
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN):
South Carolina, Oregon State, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana-Lafayette
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT):
Texas Christian, Rice, Houston, Cal Poly, Alabama, Louisiana State, Texas Tech, Miami, Vanderbilt
|Changes from last week: Indiana and Mississippi replace Texas and Cal Poly as national seeds.|
The Hoosiers climbed two spots to No. 2 in the RPI after winning a road series at second-place Illinois. Indiana needs to win eight of its final 11 to finish inside the top eight, but its remaining schedule is very friendly, and the Hoosiers lead the Big Ten comfortably. The Rebels climbed five spots to No. 4 in the RPI after sweeping a huge road series at Kentucky. Ole Miss is also tied with Alabama atop the SEC West, and its next two series are at home (vs. Arkansas and Georgia).
The Longhorns fell seven spots to No. 14 in the RPI after losing their second straight home series, this time against first-place Oklahoma State. At 10-8 in the Big 12, Texas has fallen to fourth place. If the Big 12 is to snag a national seed, the stronger bets now look like TCU (No. 13 in the RPI, second place in the Big 12 at 10-5) or even Texas Tech (No. 11, third place at 11-7). First-place OSU is too low in the RPI (No. 40).
The Horned Frogs are red hot, winners of nine straight games and 16 of their past 17, and their remaining schedule is favorable (vs. Kansas State and Oklahoma, at Baylor). If the Frogs can keep this hot streak going and win the Big 12, we like their chances to snag a national seed, even if their RPI ends up in the 10-15 range instead of the top 10.
If one of our other national seeds falters, TCU looks like it is first in line to capitalize. Rice (No. 7 in the RPI) could beat out the Frogs for a national seed in the Lone Star State, but the Big 12 is much stronger than Conference USA, so if TCU wins its league, that holds more weight than if Rice wins C-USA.
Cal Poly’s national seed hopes took a huge hit in the last week, with a series loss to Long Beach State and a midweek loss Tuesday against Pepperdine. The Mustangs are down to No. 17 in the RPI, and they need a blistering finish just to wind up in the top in the top 16 (they have no way to reach the top eight). A number of their best series wins early (vs. Kansas State, at UCLA, vs. Cal, vs. Cal State Fullerton) don’t look so good now that those teams have struggled, leaving the Mustangs just 3-2 against the top 50.
Oregon State made its expected move up the RPI rankings after sweeping Oregon. The Beavers jumped from No. 23 to No. 10, and took over first place in the Pac-12 by percentage points over Washington. A home series against the Huskies in three weeks is huge, but OSU looks like the strongest bet for a West Coast national seed.
|SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above (Virginia, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina, Oregon State, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana-Lafayette)|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): TCU, Rice, Miami, Washington, Alabama, Cal Poly, LSU, Liberty|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas Tech, Texas, Houston, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Kentucky|
|Changes from last week: Ole Miss, TCU and Liberty replace Kentucky, Houston and Texas as hosts.|
We broke down the Rebels and Frogs above; both are surging. Getting swept at home by Ole Miss was a killer for Kentucky, which dropped to 9-12 in the SEC. We’ll keep the Wildcats on the periphery of the hosting bubble because they could salvage their case with a torrid finish against a theoretically manageable schedule, but they now look like a long shot.
Houston is still right in the thick of the hosting race, but the Cougars have simply been passed by teams with stronger resumes.
Houston’s best asset is its RPI (No. 9), but its case is undermined by its 8-7 record in the AAC (fourth place) and a mediocre 6-7 mark against the top 50. If we’re looking for a third host in the Lone Star State, we prefer Texas Tech (No. 11 in the RPI, 7-6 against the top 25, 11-10 vs. top 50) over Houston and Texas (No. 14 in the RPI, 5-5 against the top 25, 10-8 vs. top 50).
Liberty (No. 22 in the RPI, 0-0 vs. top 25, 5-3 vs. top 50) doesn’t have as strong a resume as those three Texas teams, but the Flames do offer more geographic diversity and a gorgeous new ballpark. And Liberty has dominated the Big South, posting a 19-1 conference record. With only one other host (UVa.) projected in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, we think Liberty stands a decent chance to host in its new ballpark, even if it does so as a No. 2 seed. So for now, we’ll take Liberty over a team with a recently renovated facility, Texas Tech, as the last host.
There are 31 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 13 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues, regardless of how their conference tournaments shake out:
America East, Big East, CAA, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, SWAC, WAC.
The following conferences should be one-bid leagues unless the top RPI team is knocked off in the conference tournament: Atlantic 10 (Virginia Commonwealth), Atlantic Sun (Mercer), Northeast (Bryant), Southland (Sam Houston State), SoCon (Western Carolina), WCC (Pepperdine).
• Out of that group, Mercer (No. 21 in the RPI) looks like a very safe at-large contender. The Bears sit atop the A-Sun standings by two games, and they need just three wins in their final nine to finish inside the top 45, and six wins to land in the top 32. Their last two series are against teams that rank around No. 200 in the RPI, so Mercer should be able to finish strong.
• Pepperdine (No. 39) is also in good shape, needing about seven wins in its final 13 games to finish inside the top 45, and the Waves currently lead the WCC by four games in the loss column.
• Bryant (No. 30) leads the NEC by four games but needs to win 10 of its final 13 to finish inside the top 45.
• Sam Houston State jumped from No. 59 to No. 44 in the RPI after a midweek road win at Houston and sweeping Southeastern Louisiana. The Bearkats remain tied for third place in the Southland, two games behind Nicholls State, but their 4-3 mark against the RPI top 25 and 7-4 record against the top 50 buoy their case.
• VCU (No. 53) also has a strong RPI but is currently tied for third place in the A-10 and saw its RPI drop 18 spots in the last week. The Rams need a red-hot finish to keep their RPI in at-large range.
• Western Carolina (No. 58) has the worst RPI ranking of this group, and a 2-5 mark against the top 50 doesn’t help. A road series win at Samford this weekend did help, but the Catamounts remain a game behind Davidson in the SoCon. A regular-season title seems like a prerequisite for WCU to have a shot at an at-large spot, and it needs to win nine of its final 11 to finish in the top 45. A season-ending home series vs. Davidson is crucial.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll assume those all wind up as one-bid leagues.
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, in a nutshell:
|IN: Texas A&M, Southern California, UC Irvine, Evansville, Duke|
|OUT: San Diego State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Tennessee, Cal State Fullerton|
|Barely Hanging On: Clemson, Arkansas, New Mexico|
|Knocking On The Door: Auburn, East Carolina, Kansas|
|American Athletic Conference (3 total bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Houston, Louisville|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Central Florida|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None|
|No change from last week.|
The first-place Knights further strengthened their case with a sweep of Rutgers, helping them climb five spots to No. 45 in the RPI. A series win this weekend at Houston would cement UCF’s at-large credentials. As long as the Knights don’t get swept, they should be fine.
|Atlantic Coast Conference (7 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Virginia, Florida State, Miami|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Clemson|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest|
|Changes from last week: Duke joins our field of 64, while Maryland and Wake Forest fall out of our field.|
Getting swept at Boston College was a crushing blow for Maryland, which has lost six of its last seven at the wrong time. The Terrapins are down to 9-14 in the ACC. Wake Forest was swept at home by Duke, causing the Demon Deacons to plummet from No. 44 to No. 81 in the RPI.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are surging, with nine straight victories, including back-to-back road series sweeps at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Duke also owns a home sweep of fellow bubble dweller North Carolina, which is a big feather in its cap, and a 15-9 ACC record. Teams that finish with winning records in the ACC usually make regionals, but the Blue Devils are still battling RPI troubles, though they vaulted from No. 90 to No. 61 in the last week.
The RPI Needs Report says they need to win seven or eight of their final 10 games to finish inside the top 45, and that won’t be easy with series remaining against Miami and at Florida State. They could get into a regional with an RPI in the 46-55 range if they can get to 17 or 18 ACC wins. If they can win one of those last two series, we like their chances to end a 53-year NCAA tournament drought; just avoiding getting swept in both series could be sufficient. And they just might be good enough to pull it off. They remain behind Clemson (No. 45), UNC (No. 42) and Georgia Tech (No. 33) in the pecking order primarily because of RPI, but they sneak into our field as the final team.
Getting swept at home by Miami put Clemson on notice. The Tigers are in bubble range in the RPI, they are just 12-11 in the ACC, and they are 2-11 against the top 25. Two home games against UNLV will be huge, and the Tigers must take care of business against Notre Dame and Boston College in the final two weeks. Their wiggle room is gone.
|Big 12 (5 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): West Virginia|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kansas|
|No change from last week.|
The Mountaineers gave their case a major boost by sweeping Kansas State on the heels of a series win at Oklahoma. WVU is now up to .500 in the Big 12 at 7-7, and its RPI remains strong (No. 27). Kansas kept its at-large hopes alive with a road sweep of Baylor, reversing a funk that saw the Jayhawks lose nine of their previous 11. Kansas can boost its No. 57 RPI if it fares well in its two remaining home series against Texas Tech and WVU. For now, the Jayhawks remain on the outside looking in.
|Big South (1 bid)|
|SAFELY IN: Liberty|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): High Point|
|No change from last week.|
High Point actually saw its RPI climb from No. 41 to No. 36 after sweeping No. 195 Winthrop, but we still think the Panthers’ resume is lacking. HPU is just 11-7 in the No. 16 RPI conference, third place in the North Division (seven games behind Liberty). And they are just 0-6 against the top 50. Strong RPI notwithstanding, that’s not an at-large resume.
|Big Ten (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Indiana|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Nebraska|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Illinois|
|No change from last week.|
Nebraska solidified its position somewhat by taking a road series at Michigan, a week after losing a bad series at home against Northwestern. The Huskers climbed 11 spots to No. 43 in the RPI, and they moved into a tie for second place with Illinois at 10-5. They need to win seven of their last 11 to stay in the top 45, and we think they can do it, and will be rewarded for it with an at-large bid.
|Big West (3 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Cal Poly|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State|
|Changes from last week: UC Irvine enters out field of 64, and Cal State Fullerton drops out.|
The Big West might be the toughest league to project. Irvine swept a road series at UC Davis to take over sole possession of first place at 11-1, but the Anteaters have yet to play the other four best teams in the league, who are lined up for the next four weeks (vs. UCSB, at Cal Poly, vs. Fullerton, at Long Beach). That stretch should be good for UCI’s RPI (No. 54), and the Needs Report says the ‘Eaters need to win just half of their 14 remaining games to finish inside the top 45. We think they can do that, and coupled with their current strong position in the standings, that is enough for us to move them into the field, even though we expect they could take a few lumps in the final month.
The Titans rebounded from six straight losses by sweeping Hawaii yet tumbled from No. 48 to No. 64 in the RPI. After a midweek loss to San Diego, they fell even further, to No. 76. The Needs Report now says they must win 13 of their final 15 to climb into the top 45, including road series at Long Beach and Irvine. Our confidence in Fullerton is shaken, especially with head coach Rick Vanderhook’s status still not resolved (he remains on administrative leave).
The wild card is Long Beach State, which surged from No. 72 to No. 55 in the RPI after handing Cal Poly its first series loss of the year. The Dirtbags are still under .500 overall (20-21) with home series remaining against Fullerton and Irvine, plus road sets at Hawaii and UC Riverside. If they can win 10 of their final 15 to get to 30 wins overall, their RPI should be in the 45-50 range, giving them a shot. But as up-and-down as the Dirtbags have been, we don’t have confidence that they will get hot enough to pull it off.
|Conference USA (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Rice|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Old Dominion|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): East Carolina, Southern Mississippi, Florida International|
|No change from last week.|
Old Dominion gave its at-large case a huge shot in the arm with a win against No. 1 Virginia on Tuesday, helping the Monarchs climb to No. 24 in the RPI. They still aren’t a lock because of a 3-6 mark against the top 50 and a pedestrian 13-11 mark in C-USA, good enough for sixth place.
But their RPI is too robust to ignore, and they need to win just four of their final 10 games to stay in the top 45. If they win seven of their last 10, they can land in the top 32. The last two series—at Marshall and vs. Long Island-Brooklyn—appear very winnable, as is a home series this weekend against disappointing Florida Atlantic, which is just 22-22 overall. This weekend is critical; recall that Notre Dame missed out on regionals last year despite a No. 33 RPI, because the Irish was just 10-14 in the Big East. Conference standings matter, so ODU still needs a strong finish.
East Carolina is on the rise, with series wins in six of its last seven weekends, highlighted by a road series win at Rice in early April. The Pirates climbed from No. 71 to No. 63 in the RPI after earning a midweek home win against North Carolina and a road series win at Florida Atlantic, and they climbed to No. 55 after beating UNC again yesterday in Chapel Hill. The Pirates are still just 2-4 against the top 25, 4-7 against the top 50, and they are tied for third in C-USA at 13-8. They need to fare well in the next two weeks vs. FIU and at Southern Miss to improve their place in the standings and the RPI. They need to win seven of their last 10 to land inside the top 45, and they have a real shot to pull it off. For now, they remain just outside our field, but we’ll re-evaluate after the FIU series.
|Missouri Valley (4 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Indiana State, Dallas Baptist, Illinois State, Evansville|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Wichita State|
|One change from last week: Evansville joins our field of 64.|
The Purple Aces find themselves in first place (9-3) in the No. 5 RPI conference after sweeping Bradley, and they vaulted from No. 77 to No. 51 in the RPI.
They won a road series at Dallas Baptist the previous weekend, and took two of three from Wichita State before that. Evansville has one challenging series left, vs. Illinois State at home in two weeks, and their other two series are winnable road series against sub-.500 teams (Southern Illinois and Missouri State). The Needs Report says the Aces can finish inside the top 45 if they win eight of their final 11, and the schedule opens up nicely for them.
Illinois State (10-5 in the standings, No. 32 in the RPI), Indiana State (9-6, No. 19 in the RPI) and Dallas Baptist (7-5, No. 31) remain in solid shape in the standings and great shape in the RPI, so we’ll upgrade the MVC to a four-bid league. The Sycamores strengthened their position by taking two of three from DBU this weekend. Dallas Baptist is now just 1-6 against the top 25 in the RPI, 4-9 against the top 50, so a strong finish in the conference standings is critical. Fortunately, the schedule opens up for the Patriots with home series against Missouri State and Southern Illinois sandwiched around a road trip to 22-22 Wichita State.
|Mountain West (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: UNLV|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): New Mexico|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): San Diego State|
|One change from last week: San Diego State falls out of our field of 64.|
UNLV solidified its at-large footing by sweeping New Mexico, making the Rebels 5-1 against the Lobos on the season. The two teams are now tied for first place with .667 winning percentages in conference play. The Lobos barely hang on to a spot in our field of 64, with an RPI of No. 50 and a 3-8 record against the top 50.
San Diego State (No. 56 entering the week, but No. 61 after a loss to Loyola Marymount on Tuesday) needs to win six of its final 10 to climb into the top 45, and the remaining schedule is very challenging: at New Mexico, vs. UNLV, at Fresno State. The Aztecs are on the wrong side of the bubble.
|Pacific-12 (5 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Washington, Oregon, Arizona State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southern California|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Stanford|
|One change from last week: USC joins our field of 64.|
The Trojans had won nine straight games before losing to UC Irvine on Tuesday. Back-to-back sweeps against the last two national champions (vs. Arizona, at UCLA) helped them climb to 12-9 in the Pac-12, tied with Arizona State for third place. And their RPI spiked 20 places to No. 48 entering this week (though it fell back to No. 57 after Tuesday’s loss).
The Trojans have no margin for error, but a road series at Washington State this weekend and a home set against Cal are both winnable, and at least USC gets to play Oregon State at home in the final week. The Trojans need to win seven or eight of their final 11 to land inside the top 45, but there’s a little more RPI latitude for West Coast teams, so we think they can snag an at-large spot with a low-50s RPI if they can get to 16 or 17 Pac-12 victories. That goal looks achievable, though it is hardly a slam dunk.
Arizona State moves from the bubble to the “safely in” category after winning a road series at Arizona. The Sun Devils have won five of their last six series and are in solid RPI shape (No. 35).
|Southeastern Conference (10 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas A&M, Arkansas|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Auburn, Tennessee|
|One change from last week: Texas A&M replaces Tennessee in our field of 64.|
The Aggies vaulted from No. 64 to No. 38 in the RPI after taking two of three at Mississippi State. Texas A&M has two quality road series wins in the last three weeks (at Vandy was the other), and a home series win against Florida in March is a huge boost. The Aggies are up to 10-11 in the SEC, and their remaining schedule is challenging, but at least two of their final three series are at home (vs. LSU this weekend, vs. Ole Miss in Week 14). In between, they travel to Arkansas. Every series is huge, and this picture can change quickly, but Texas A&M’s three marquee series wins are enough for us right now.
Likewise, Arkansas hangs on to its at-large spot on the strength of three marquee series wins, against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Alabama—all at home. A home series loss to Auburn this weekend was a setback, and now the Hogs must travel to Ole Miss, but the final two weeks are more favorable (vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri). They’ll need to win five of their last nine to climb into the top 45, and we think they can do it. That would also get them up to 15-15 in the SEC, which should be enough for an at-large spot.
Auburn certainly helped its chances by taking two of three at Arkansas, but the Tigers had lost their previous four series, and they remain just 9-12 in the league. And we don’t love their chances to finish strong against a tough schedule (vs. Mississippi State, at Kentucky, vs. LSU).
Tennessee is in even worse shape in the league at 8-13, which undermines its strong RPI (No. 28). Like Auburn, the Volunteers have three tough series ahead, with two of them coming at home (vs. Kentucky, at MSU, vs. Florida). Tennessee now has too much work to do in the standings, and the road ahead looks too challenging.
|Sun Belt (1 bid)|
|SAFELY IN: Louisiana-Lafayette|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arkansas State|
|No change from last week.|
Arkansas State remains on the edge of the at-large discussion with a No. 60 RPI, and this weekend offers the Red Wolves their only chance to make their at-large case: they’ll host the Ragin’ Cajuns. If they win that series, they’ve got a real shot at an at-large spot. If not, they’re sunk. And we’re betting on the Cajuns.