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 NCAA's official Ratings Percentage Index report, which was updated Tuesday. 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, but keep in mind that those figures are not official, and there might be slight discrepancies between those figures and the NCAA's official figures.
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 13 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Virginia, Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oregon State, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas, Arizona State, North Carolina
Changes from last week: Texas A&M and Georgia Tech replace Texas and Arizona State. All 11 teams are strong contenders, and a lot can change in the next two weeks. Whichever team wins the Texas-Texas A&M series this weekend will capture the Big 12 regular-season title and have the inside track at a national seed, but for now we're giving the Aggies a miniscule edge after it swept Nebraska to climb a game ahead of Texas in the standings. The teams are back-to-back in the RPI (A&M is 10th, Texas is 11th), and the Aggies have a slightly better mark against the top 25 in the RPI (6-4) than the Longhorns (3-3). But it all comes down to this weekend, and perhaps the conference tournament.
Arizona State is still right in the national seed mix, but we're demoting the Sun Devils after their series loss at Southern California. Georgia Tech made a strong push with a series win against UNC; the Sun Devils and Yellow Jackets are back-to-back in the RPI, but Tech has the better record against the top 25 (7-5 vs. 3-4). Arizona State (No. 7 in the RPI) does have a significant edge over Oregon State in the RPI after the Beavers dropped nine spots to No. 20 in the wake of their series at Washington (No. 198), which included one loss. With that in mind, we're demoting Oregon State from the "safe" category to the "bubble," but the Beavers still deserve a national seed over ASU because they lead the Pac-10 by two games and own a series sweep over the Devils. If OSU wins its next two series (vs. USC, at Oregon), it will win the Pac-10 and finish the season without a series loss. That should be enough to overcome the RPI shortcoming—especially since Arizona State has two series losses.
North Carolina (No. 3 in the RPI) could have effectively sewn up a national seed if it held an 8-4 lead in the ninth inning Saturday to win the road series against Georgia Tech. Instead, the Tar Heels lost their fourth series of the year, putting them on the wrong side of the bubble, even with their sterling RPI. Still, no team has more wins against the top 100 (31) than UNC, so it can get right back into the national seed mix with a series win at home against Virginia this weekend. Of course, the ACC will not get four national seeds, and UNC won't be able to pass Virginia on the pecking order even with a series win, so the Tar Heels need Florida State (which hosts Clemson this weekend) or Georgia Tech (which travels to Virginia Tech) to slip up. For now, we're moving FSU into the "safe" category, but a series loss to Clemson could put the Seminoles back on shaky ground. There just is not much difference between the resumes of FSU, Georgia Tech and UNC—or any of the three SEC East heavyweights, for that matter. All of this will be sorted out in the next two weeks.
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above, Texas, Arizona State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Carolina, Southern Mississippi, Cal State Fullerton, Oklahoma, Texas Christian, Arkansas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Rice, Clemson, Stetson, Fresno State, Miami
One change from last week: TCU replaces Stetson as a host. The Hatters still have a shot thanks to a 24-6 record against the top 100, but losing four of their last six games (including big midweeks against Florida State, Florida International and Central Florida) hurt their case. TCU has come on strong, climbing five spots to No. 15 in the RPI after its MWC-clinching series win against Utah, and it owns a 10-4 record against the Big 12, a nice feather in its cap.
Arkansas hangs on to a hosting spot thanks to its strong record against the top 25 (9-6), but it must win its final series this weekend against Mississippi to remain a host. A series loss would be Arkansas' seventh of the year and would ensure that it finishes below .500 in the SEC. Also working in Arkansas' favor is geography; specifically, it's not located in Texas. Rice climbed to No. 11 in the RPI after Tuesday's win against Texas State, and the Owls have momentum. If they win their final regular-season series at Southern Miss this weekend, they'll win the C-USA regular-season title, and possibly knock Southern Miss out of hosting position. Or the Owls and Golden Eagles could both host and TCU could find itself left out, particularly if the committee balks at placing four regionals in the Lone Star State. But if Rice wins C-USA and TCU finishes strong, both teams will be hard to deny, which could leave Arkansas, Oklahoma and Southern Miss competing for two spots.
It's not easy to separate those five teams, and the next two weeks will determine which wind up hosting. Of course, if the committee is turned off by Arkansas' mediocre conference record and high number of series losses, Stetson could be another alternative, perhaps as a No. 2 seed. Bottom line: the hosting picture is very much up in the air.
We're also moving North Carolina onto the hosting bubble despite its robust RPI and top 100 record. If the Tar Heels lose to top-ranked Virginia this weekend, they will have five series losses and could be in danger of losing out on a hosting spot to resurgent Clemson or a candidate from another region. Or UNC could beat Virginia and put itself back into the national seed mix. That's how fine a line the Tar Heels walk. ACC teams have finished in the top 10 in the RPI and been sent on the road for regionals before, and that seems very likely to happen again this year, though the smart money is on Clemson hitting the road, not UNC.
We're continuing to assume Arizona State will be eligible for the postseason. Its appeal of a 2011 NCAA tournament ban was heard Monday, and if the NCAA does not rule upon the appeal by selection day, the Sun Devils will be eligible. If their appeal is later denied, the Devils will have to sit out the 2012 postseason. If the ruling comes down quicker than expected and ASU is denied in the next two weeks, the West could wind up with just two hosts.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 20 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Big East, 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.
TCU is a lock for an at-large bid if it fails to win its conference tournament, and Fresno State is still in very good position, especially after climbing back into the top 20 of the RPI after a series sweep of New Mexico State last weekend. Kent State (No. 39), Connecticut (No. 45), Coastal Carolina (No. 50 in the RPI) and Creighton (No. 52) have shots at at-large bids if they fail to capture automatic bids, and Gonzaga (No. 55) has an outside chance as well, though it needs a 7-0 finish to climb into the top 45 at season's end. St. John's climbed nine spots to No. 49 after a sweep of Georgetown, but a series against Villanova this weekend won't help the Johnnies. Missouri State has also climbed into the periphery of the at-large discussion, but its RPI remains in the mid-60s, and it is a long shot at best. But for this exercise, let's assume all 20 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 13 weeks. Here are the changes from last week's field of 64, in a nutshell:
IN: Florida Atlantic, Louisiana State
OUT: Kansas State, Georgia
Atlantic Coast Conference (7 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, Miami
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): North Carolina State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. North Carolina State (No. 30 in the RPI) should be safe as long as it wins a series at Boston College this weekend to bolster its 12-15 conference record. A 14-16 mark in the ACC coupled with a good RPI should be sufficient.
Atlantic Sun (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Stetson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): East Tennessee State, Jacksonville
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. The Dolphins and Buccaneers both helped their causes with nice midweek wins against Florida and Georgia Tech, respectively, on Tuesday.
Big 12 (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Baylor
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kansas State, Texas Tech
Kansas State drops out after an RPI-killing sweep of New Orleans (No. 289) and a midweek loss to Wichita State. The Wildcats are just 9-14 in the Big 12 and 57th in the RPI, and their final series against Kansas (No. 81) won't help them boost that RPI back into at-large range.
Texas Tech (No. 41) is in better shape in the RPI, but losing two of three at Missouri last weekend keeps them on the outside looking in. The Red Raiders have a shot, though, if they can win their last series against Oklahoma State, which would improve them to at least 12-15 in the Big 12.
Baylor jumped five spots to No. 35 after its second straight road series win this past weekend against Oklahoma State, and the Bears further solidified their position with a win against Dallas Baptist on Tuesday. They're in good shape heading into their final series against Oklahoma.
Big West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. UC Irvine jumped nine spots to No. 46 in the RPI after a sweep at UC Santa Barbara last weekend. The Anteaters need to win their last two series against UC Riverside and Long Beach State to remain on the right side of the bubble; the RPI Needs Report says a 5-2 finish will land them inside the top 45 at season's end.
Conference USA (5 bids)
SAFELY IN: Southern Miss, Rice, East Carolina, Central Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Tulane
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
Tulane hangs on by a thread, after taking two of three from Marshall, which dropped them four spots to No. 60 in the RPI. The Green Wave is the last team in our field of 64, and the Needs Report says it must sweep East Carolina this weekend to climb into the top 45. Taking two out of three and winning a couple of games in the C-USA tournament might do the trick, as well.
UCF moves from the bubble to the "safely in" category after a sweep of UAB and a midweek win at Stetson. At 34-19 overall and No. 18 in the most updated pseudo-RPI rankings, the Knights are in great shape heading into their final series against Marshall.
Independents (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Dallas Baptist
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
Dallas Baptist hangs on to an at-large spot even after Tuesday's loss to Baylor, which dropped them from No. 48 in Tuesday's official RPI rankings to No. 54 in Wednesday's pseudo-RPI rankings. But a sweep of Charlotte this weekend will land the Patriots back inside the top 45, and their 6-3 record against the top 25 in the RPI gives them a major boost.
Pacific-10 Conference (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Arizona State, California, Stanford, Arizona, UCLA
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None
No change from last week. UCLA fell six spots to No. 47 in the RPI after a 2-3 week, and it could find itself on the bubble if it drops a home series to California this weekend. But for now, the Bruins remain secure thanks to a 14-7 conference record, tying them for second place in the Pac-10.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi, Louisiana State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia
One change from last week: LSU replaces Georgia as the SEC's ninth team. With a 15-12 conference record, we still like Georgia's chances of getting a bid if it can finish over .500 overall (a requirement for an at-large bid), but we're skeptical it will be able to pull that off. Georgia is just 27-26 overall, and it faces a major challenge this weekend when Vanderbilt comes to town. If Georgia can take two of three this weekend—and the series is in Athens—then it will still need to win one game in the SEC tournament to ensure a winning overall record. If it loses two of three this weekend, it will need to win at least three games in Hoover. Neither path is easy.
LSU could benefit if the Bulldogs miss out. The Tigers took care of business against lowly Tennessee last weekend, sweeping the series to climb to 11-16 overall. If they can win their final regular-season series at Mississippi State, they could get a bid even if they miss the SEC tournament, because they remain very strong in the RPI (No. 24), and the committee has taken plenty of at-large teams with conference records comparable to or even worse than 13-17 in recent years. But we can't see LSU getting in as the SEC's 10th team with its resume, so it needs Georgia to finish .500 or worse, or Ole Miss to drop its final series against Arkansas.
The Rebels (No. 37) trail the Tigers by 13 spots in the RPI, and they lead the Tigers by only one game in the standings, so it's very conceivable that LSU could pass Ole Miss in the pecking order if Mississippi cannot win its tough road series this weekend. If LSU and Ole Miss both drop their final series, both teams could be left out, and the SEC could wind up with as few as seven teams in regionals if Georgia also misses out. Of course, for that to happen, other candidates would have to emerge from other conferences, and it's hard to find a likely benificiary. More likely, a favorite like TCU or Fresno State could fail to win its conference tournament, taking up at-large bids at the expense of the SEC's bubble teams. Even that seems unlikely, however, because Dallas Baptist and Tulane are in more precarious spots from an RPI standpoint than either LSU or Ole Miss. Knowing how heavily the committee values the RPI, it's hard to fill out the 64-team field without nine SEC teams.
Keep in mind also that Auburn is just three games over .500, but if it can win two of three at Tennessee this weekend, it will be assured a winning record even if it goes 0-2 in the conference tournament. Auburn seems to be in good shape.
Southern Conference (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): College of Charleston, Samford, Georgia Southern, UNC Greensboro
No change from last week. After Elon (No. 36), no SoCon team ranks higher than 58th (CofC) in the RPI, and none has a realistic chance to finish the year inside the top 45. Charleston has the best chance at an at-large spot, but it's not a very good shot, because the committee just does not take teams in the 50s very often.
Southland Conference (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Sam Houston State
No change from last week. Texas State lost another midweek game against a quality opponent (in this case, Rice) on Tuesday, dropping it to 1-10 in midweek games against teams other than Houston Baptist and Prairie View A&M. Still, the Bobcats have dominated the Southland and remain in the top 40 in the RPI. Southeastern Louisiana climbed inside the top 45 with a series win against Stephen F. Austin State, and the Lions can stay there with a sweep of Northwestern State this weekend. Both teams are squarely on the bubble, but good luck finding other bubble teams with better cases.
Sun Belt Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida International
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Troy, Florida Atlantic
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana-Lafayette, Western Kentucky
One change: FAU moves back into the field of 64 after a series win against Arkansas-Little Rock and a big road win at Miami on Tuesday, which vaulted the Owls back inside the top 45 in the RPI. They need to win only one game at FIU to stay inside the top 45, and that should be manageable.
The Golden Panthers move into the "safely in" category after running their unbeaten streak to 16 games. They ranked No. 32 in Tuesdy's official RPI, and they need one win against FAU to stay in the top 32, per the Needs Report. Troy, meanwhile, needs to sweep a road series from South Alabama to finish the regular season inside the top 45.