Here's our weekly look at how the races for national seeds, regional hosts and at-large bids are shaping up. One thing is obvious: It's not easy to get to 64 teams. Division I lacks a deep pool of teams with quality at-large resumes. It's almost inevitable that one, two or three teams will get in that don't deserve to get in.
The NCAA doesn't release its official Ratings Percentage Index report until Tuesday afternoon, so we'll use the updated RPI rankings at WarrenNolan.com, whose Nitty Gritty Report includes detailed schedule breakdowns for every team in the top 105, plus all additional conference leaders. But we'll also consult the RPI Needs Report at boydsworld.com, keeping in mind that the RPI figures at WarrenNolan and Boyd's have slight variances.
We'll discuss 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 after the first 13 weeks of the season:
SECURE TEAMS: Texas, Virginia, Arizona State, Florida
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): South Carolina, Coastal Carolina, UCLA, Louisville
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Arkansas, Miami, Texas Christian
One change from last week: South Carolina replaces Arkansas as a national seed after sweeping the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. South Carolina is now very close to a lock for a national seed, even with an RPI outside the top eight (14th). The Gamecocks can probably even afford to lose their home series against Florida this weekend and still earn a national seed, provided they are not swept. South Carolina and Florida are three games ahead of any other team in the league, and the Gamecocks have lost only one SEC series all season. They also have a sterling 19-8 record against the RPI top 50, which offsets their 13 games against teams outside the top 200.
Arkansas, meanwhile, has lost three of its last four series and suddenly finds itself facing a huge week of four road games against ranked teams. If the Hogs drop their road series at Vanderbilt and finish the regular season with losses in four of their last five series, it's conceivable they could find themselves even shut out of hosting, especially if Auburn continues to surge.
Louisville and UCLA are the most vulnerable national seeds, with Fullerton, Florida State and Georgia Tech nipping at their heels. Those look like the teams most likely to capitalize if the Cardinals or Bruins falter over the next two weeks. If Louisville fails to overcome its half-game deficit against Connecticut in the Big East, it will likely need a deep conference tournament run to secure a national seed, because otherwise it is hard to envision the second-place team in the Big East landing a national seed.
TCU's national seed ambitions took a hit with its second loss of the season to Air Force (No. 255 in the RPI) this weekend. Coastal, meanwhile, solidified its position with a road sweep at Liberty, its only challenger in the Big South. The Chanticleers remain unbeaten in the Big South, and it's hard to see them faltering in the next two weeks. If they keep on winning, they will earn a national seed.
SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above, Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Texas Christian
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Auburn, Arkansas, Connecticut
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Rice, Oregon
One change from last week: Connecticut replaces Mississippi. The Rebels are still very much in the mix, but we're downgrading them after their second straight series loss and fifth series loss of the season. UConn, meanwhile, keeps on winning and stays atop the Big East standings. Perhaps the Huskies won't finish with a strong enough RPI to earn a No. 1 seed (they are currently 24th, and Boyd's says they cannot finish in the top 16), but their geographic advantages and consistent season give them a very good chance to host in Norwich as a No. 2 seed.
The stiuation in the SEC is fluid, and we're downgrading Auburn and Arkansas from the "safely in" category to the "bubble" category, because the SEC will produce just four or five hosts. Florida and South Carolina are locks, which means Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vandy are fighting for two or three hosting spots. Above, we discussed a scenario where Arkansas could finish the regular season with series losses in four of its last five weekends. If that happens, Vanderbilt would finish the series with four straight series wins, including a head-to-head series against the Hogs, and would finish near Arkansas in the RPI. Clearly, then Vandy would be more deserving of a host spot. But if Arkansas wins that series on the road, it will assuredly host and might even find itself back in the national seed picture.
The same goes for the Auburn-Mississippi series. If Ole Miss wins, it will be above Auburn in the hosting pecking order. If Auburn wins, the Rebels' hosting chances are sunk, and the Tigers could realistically land a national seed, particularly with a few wins in the SEC tournament.
Three of those four teams could host if UConn or TCU falls apart in the next two weeks, or if Miami gets swept at home by Virginia and continues to struggle in the ACC tournament. But we're not counting on any of those scenarios.
Virginia Tech also has a shot to host, and the Hokies are planning to submit a bid to host campus. "Our facility would need an additional 1,500 auxillary bleachers for our first-base side," Hokies coach Pete Hughes wrote in an e-mail. "That would be in addition to 1,500 seat backs and 2,500 naturally landscaped terraced seats. I believe the terraces make English Field one of the most unique venues for a spectator in college baseball. We would try to facilitate as close to 5,000 seats as possible for the bid. That's what we had when we played the Yankees two years ago."
San Diego is not submitting a bid to host a regional but has a chance to land a No. 1 seed in a regional somewhere else, such as Norwich. But the more likely scenario sends the Toreros to Fullerton or UCLA as a No. 2 seed.
There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 18 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:
America East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big Ten, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Southwestern, Western Athletic, West Coast.
The automatic bids for the Ivy League (Dartmouth) and WCC (San Diego) have already been claimed. Florida Gulf Coast (No. 51 in the RPI), Wichita State (65) and Michigan (69) have very outside chances to earn at-large spots if they fail to win their conference tournaments, but those teams are a combined 3-18 against the RPI top 50. In other words, don't count on any of them getting at-large bids.
For this exercise, let's assume all 18 of those leagues get only one bid. That leaves 12 potential multiple-bid leagues. Below is a conference-by-conference look at which teams are on track to make the field, and which teams are on the wrong side of the bubble through 13 weeks.
Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:
IN: Kentucky, Oregon State
OUT: North Carolina, Tennessee
Atlantic Coast Conference (6 total bids)
SAFELY IN: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Carolina, Boston College, North Carolina State
North Carolina still has a better chance to earn an at-large bid than Boston College and N.C. State if it can get into the ACC tournament, but the Tar Heels no longer control their own destiny after being swept by Virginia last week. UNC is now in ninth place in the ACC, a game behind NCSU and two games behind BC. The Tar Heels win the tie-breaker against the Wolfpack by virtue of their head-to-head series win, so if they can win more games this weekend against Virginia Tech than the 'Pack wins against Duke, they will be in. But the Hokies are more dangerous than the Blue Devils, so the smart money is on N.C. State holding off the Tar Heels.
Boston College, meanwhile, hosts Georgia Tech. Since BC and UNC did not play this year, the tie-breaker is "head-to-head competition of the tied teams compared to common opponents with the highest overall conference winning percentage and continuing until one team gains an advantage," according to the league's manual. Both the Eagles and Tar Heels were swept by Virginia (which currently has the best record in the league), so the next tie-breaker would be their record against the No. 2 team. It's unclear which team that will be, but both teams went 1-2 against Florida State, and UNC was swept by Georgia Tech, so even if the Yellow Jackets sweep BC, the tie-breaker will come down to each team's record against Miami. The Hurricanes swept UNC, but Boston College won a game against Miami, so it would win the tie-breaker against the Tar Heels. That means UNC needs to sweep Virginia Tech, and needs Georgia Tech to sweep BC in order to pass the Eagles.
Now, if North Carolina wins its series against Virginia Tech but still misses out on the ACC tournament, it might have an outside shot at an at-large spot, because its RPI is already in the top 30 and would likely get a boost from wins against the Hokies. But no team that failed to make the ACC tournament ever has earned a regional bid, and it seems unlikely that the committee would make an exception this year for a UNC team that is just 4-13 against the top 50 heading into this weekend.
N.C. State (No. 59 in the RPI) has two signature series wins (against Virginia and Geogia Tech) on its resume better than anything on UNC's resume, and if the Wolfpack makes the ACC tourney over the Tar Heels, it could get the nod over UNC despite a 30-place difference in the RPI. But NCSU would probably need to bolster its case with a couple of wins in the conference tournament. The committee has proven that it puts weight on nonconference strength of schedule, and N.C. State has played 17 games against teams outside the top 200.
Boston College (48th in the RPI) has a shot at a bid, but its 4-18 record against the top 50 will be tough for the committee to overlook.
For now, we're downgrading the ACC to a six-bid league, with the caveat that the Tar Heels, Eagles and Wolfpack are all still alive if they can finish strong and get some help.
Big 12 (6 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Baylor
Texas Tech and Kansas are in extremely precarious positions after losing series to Baylor and Kansas State, respectively. For now, both those teams still get the nod over Baylor, which is just 9-13 in the Big 12, but none of the three has any margin for error. Texas Tech is in good position in the conference standings at 13-11, and it has played well in the second half, winning its previous five series before this past weekend. If the Red Raiders sweep Nebraska to finish 16-11 in the Big 12, they should feel pretty good about their at-large chances. Even a 15-12 finish in the conference might be enough to get them into a regional—but they absolutely must win the Nebraska series.
Kansas (No. 56 in the RPI) also must win its last series, at home against Oklahoma (No. 23). The Jayhawks do not have the conference record or the RPI to get a bid if they lose this series, but we're anticipating they win two of three at home to finish 13-13-1 in the conference and in the 40s in the RPI. That could be enough for Kansas to sneak into the field of 64—but they are one of the last teams into our field of 64.
Baylor cannot finish .500 in the Big 12 even if its it sweeps its last series against Oklahoma State. The Bears need to get into the conference tournament and make some noise there.
Big East (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None.
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): St. John's
No change from last week.
Big South (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Coastal Carolina
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Liberty
No change from last week. Liberty actually climbed to No. 39 in the RPI after being swept at home by Coastal Carolina. Let's let that sink in for a while.
The Flames are still very much on the bubble—they are just 0-4 against the top 50, after all—but their RPI and their good records in league play (18-6), on the road (17-6) and overall (37-15) should be enough to get them into the field, provided they at least win a couple of games in the Big South tournament.
Big West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): UC Riverside, Pacific
No change from last week. Irvine, at No. 50 in the RPI, remains on the bubble, but the Anteaters are in pretty good shape after winning their fourth straight series and taking a midweek game against UCLA. The Big West is extremely unlikely to get more than two bids.
Conference USA (1 bid)
SAFELY IN: Rice
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southern Mississippi
Southern Miss really needed to win its series at Rice this past weekend to feel good about its chances, but the Golden Eagles blew a 10-run lead in Sunday's rubber game, and now they find themselves right back behind the eight-ball. USM's biggest problem is the RPI, where it ranks 62nd, and a remaining series against Memphis (No. 95) offers no chance for an RPI boost. Southern Miss could still snag an at-large bid with a mediocre RPI if it finishes strong and other bubble candidates limp to the finish, but for now it remains on the outside looking in.
Mountain West (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Texas Christian
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): New Mexico.
No change from last week, though New Mexico fell nine spots to 45th in the RPI after sweeping Delaware State. Still, the Lobos should be in solid shape for an at-large spot.
Pacific-10 (8 bids)
SAFELY IN: Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Washington State
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): California, Stanford, Oregon State
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Washington
One change from last week: Oregon State gives the Pac-10 an eighth team in the field of 64. The Beavers have rebounded nicely from four straight series losses, having won back-to-back series against Oregon and Washington. Here's where it gets tricky: OSU travels to Arizona State this weekend, then hosts Arizona the final weekend. Winning one of those two series ought to get the Beavers (32nd in the RPI, 19-19 against the top 100) into the field, and we're betting they take care of business at home the last weekend.
Washington State moves into the "safely in" category after winning a series at Stanford, which slides onto the bubble. Stanford has enough feathers in its cap—most notably a 12-10 record against the top 50—to garner an at-large bid if it wins one of its final two series, and maybe even if it can go 2-4 in its last six conference games. The road is challenging, however: Stanford travels to Arizona this week, then hosts ASU. For the time being, though, sweeps at Oregon State and home against Cal and Rice get the Cardinal into the field.
Southeastern Conference (9 bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi, Vanderbilt
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kentucky, Louisiana State, Alabama
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tennessee
Four teams—Kentucky, LSU, Alabama and Tennessee—are tied for sixth place in the SEC at 12-15, and just two of them can make the conference tournament. Every team that reaches Hoover should be safe for regionals, and a ninth team has a good chance to earn a bid as well, because mid-majors like the SoCon and Sun Belt have not taken advantage of the vacuum created by CUSA's down year.
We are assuming Kentucky and LSU win their final series against the two worst teams in the SEC, Georgia and Mississippi State, and thus we are putting both teams in our field of 64. Kentucky is in better position than the Tigers after sweeping the head-to-head series this past weekend, and Kentucky has a 16-18 record against the top 50, compared to LSU's 12-14 mark, so if push comes to shove between those two teams, LSU could be in trouble. But LSU ought to sweep its home series against Mississippi State, and that will get the Tigers to Hoover, and into a regional.
Tennessee hosts Alabama, and the winner of that series should be in decent shape for a bid—especially if the winner is Alabama, which has a much stronger RPI (17th) than Tennessee (41st). If the Vols win that series, the committee might still take the Crimson Tide over them, or it might even take a 10th team from the SEC. Alabama, after all, does have three quality conference series wins on its resume, against Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Auburn, plus a nice nonconference series win against College of Charleston. But we are predicting the Tide wins that series in Knoxville and snags a ninth bid from the SEC whether it makes the conference tournament or not, and Tennessee finds itself locked out of regionals.
Southern Conference (3 bids)
SAFELY IN: College of Charleston
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): The Citadel, Elon
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia Southern, Samford
No change from last week. Elon (17-10) is two games behind Georgia Southern (19-8) in the SoCon, and three spots back in the RPI (52 to 55), but the Phoenix has two factors in its favor: a 6-7 record against the top 50, compared to GSU's 0-9 mark; and a more favorable remaining schedule. Elon hosts Samford, and if it sweeps that series, it will finish inside the top 45 of the RPI. Georgia Southern hosts a suddenly rejuvenated Citadel team. The Eagles do largely control their own destiny, and if they win that series this weekend, they stand a pretty good chance to snag an at-large bid. The committee likes teams that finish strong, and Georgia Southern has won 11 straight, albeit against the soft part of its schedule. But Elon's path is slightly easier, so for now it gets the nod. The race for a third at-large spot out of the SoCon figures to come down to the conference tournament.
The Citadel, meanwhile, is just 1-8 against the top 50, but it remains in first place in the SoCon at 21-6, and it has a solid RPI (No. 37). The Citadel is not a lock, but it's in the field, for now.
Southland (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: None
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Southeastern Louisiana, Texas State
Texas State falls from the "safely in" category to the bubble after dropping a series at Nicholls State. The Bobcats are just 4-12 in the RPI and have an extremely tenuous hold on an at-large spot, but we're leaving them in the field because they remain tied with Southeastern Louisiana atop the Southland (21-9). Neither team is safe, but there is a lack of more deserving candidates out there, so both get in for now.
Sun Belt (2 bids)
SAFELY IN: Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette
ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None
ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Middle Tennessee State, Florida International, South Alabama, Western Kentucky
No change from last week, other than Louisiana-Lafayette moving from the bubble to the "safely in" category after a huge series win against Western Kentucky. The Sun Belt is the fifth-ranked conference in the RPI, and it seems like it should send three teams to regionals, but no clear third team has emerged. Middle Tennessee State and Florida International seem to be coming on, but both still have work to do, so both remain on the outside looking in this week.