Here's a quick look at how Thursday's action impacted the postseason picture. We'll reference WarrenNolan.com RPI figures rather than the more accurate Boyd's World rankings because the Warren Nolan figures have been updated to reflect Thursday's action, while the Boyd's figures won't be updated until Friday morning. The Warren Nolan rankings are close enough to suit our purposes here.
NATIONAL SEED RACE
South Carolina avoided an 0-2 showing in the SEC tournament with a 5-3 win against Auburn, which was probably necessary to keep its national seed hopes afloat. As we wrote yesterday, the Gamecocks are likely competing for the last national seed with Rice and Stanford, with Texas A&M in the discussion. The Owls and Aggies were also in action Thursday and both lost, as Rice was knocked off by red-hot Memphis, 3-2, while A&M fell to Missouri, 5-3.
Memphis, which has won 14 of its last 17 games (including three road series wins, one of them at UCF), improved to 2-0 in pool play at the C-USA tournament. The Tigers clinched a berth in Sunday's C-USA championship game; even if they lose to Houston on Friday and Rice beats Southern Miss, the Owls and Tigers would finish 2-1 in pool play and Memphis would have the head-to-head tie-breaker. So Rice cannot couple its regular-season title with a C-USA tournament championship, which deals a significant blow to its national seed hopes. Rice still has at least a chance if South Carolina loses Friday and Stanford loses its series against Cal, but more realistically this is probably now a two-team race between the Gamecocks and Cardinal, who each have 11 wins against the top 25 in the RPI, compared with Rice's five.
REGIONAL HOST RACE
Yesterday in this space, we budged just a little bit, acknowledging that Mississippi State might have a chance to displace Kentucky as a host with a win against the Wildcats on Thursday followed by a run to the SEC tournament championship. Kentucky's 5-1 win should put an end to that talk; the Wildcats have a stronger overall body of work than the Bulldogs, even though MSU was stronger down the stretch and did sweep the season-ending series between the two teams. Kentucky finished two games ahead in the conference standings and has now gotten off to a 2-0 start in Hoover, which was all it needed to do to secure its hosting position, the way we see it.
Virginia also firmed up its hosting position with its win against Clemson on Thursday. With an updated WarrenNolan.com pRPI of No. 10, a 17-11 mark against the top 50 and an 18-12 record in the top RPI conference, Virginia looks quite safe as a host.
So that leaves Arizona and Cal State Fullerton battling for the last spot, just as we laid it out Tuesday, with Arizona entering this weekend as the slight favorite. Stay tuned.
• As we wrote in Thursday's ACC tournament notebook, Wake Forest can breathe easy after its 7-3 win against N.C. State. The Demon Deacons salvaged their at-large chances with a sweep of Clemson last weekend, but they needed to avoid an 0-3 showing in the conference tournament. Beating a top-10 RPI team was just what the doctor ordered—they're in.
• Texas could be in real trouble. The Longhorns capped a disastrous finishing stretch with an 0-2 performance in the Big 12 tournament, getting bounced by Kansas 4-2 on Thursday. Texas lost its final three weekend series, has just a 3-8 record against the top 25 and a Warren Nolan RPI of No. 49. That borderline RPI, coupled with a solid 14-10 record in the Big 12, might still be enough to get the 'Horns into the tournament, because Texas isn't the only bubble team that fell on its face in its conference tournament (see also: Indiana State, Wichita State, Georgia and College of Charleston, all of whom were in our latest field of 64 on Tuesday but went 2-and-'cue in conference tournies). But if mid-major favorites start falling, the Longhorns could be on the chopping block, because the committee places plenty of value in how a team finishes the season.
• As alluded to above, College of Charleston was knocked out of the Southern Conference tournament by Elon, 14-12, in a game that featured a SoCon tournament-record 39 hits and 26 runs. The Phoenix carried a 14-9 lead into the ninth, but CofC rallied for three runs before stranding the bases loaded to end it. Charleston, like Indiana State, can cling to its regular-season title (which it shared with top-seeded Appalachian State) for hope. The Cougars (40-17) also have 10 more wins than the Longhorns (30-21), just one fewer win against the top 25 (2-3) and just two fewer against the top 50 (5-10), despite playing in a mid-major conference rather than the Big 12. For those reasons, Charleston (No. 46 in the RPI) is probably in better shape than Texas.
• Back to the Big 12 for a moment: surging Oklahoma knocked off top-seeded Baylor 3-2, improving to 4-0 this season against the Bears. We already proclaimed OU as a safe at-large team yesterday, but if Oklahoma can go on to win the Big 12 tourney title, it could play its way all the way up to a No. 2 seed. The Sooners jumped to No. 37 in the Warren Nolan RPI.
• St. John's improved to 2-0 in the Big East tourney with a 6-3 win against Seton Hall. Like CofC, the Johnnies shared the regular-season crown but earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tourney. Their RPI has rebounded a bit from last weekend's series loss to the Pirates, checking in at No. 53 on Warren Nolan. They still have work to do, but an at-large bid is looking like at least a possibility again if they can't win the automatic bid.
• The Big Ten's lone bubble team, Michigan State, lost to surging Indiana, 6-4. The Spartans remain in the at-large discussion because of their No. 44 RPI, but their fifth-place regular-season finish is a fly in the ointment. They need to make a deep run through the loser's bracket to have a chance.
• Top-seeded UNC Wilmington won its CAA tournament opener against Virginia Commonwealth, 8-5. Avoiding an 0-2 showing should be enough to get the Seahawks (No. 42) into the field as an at-large, if necessary. They're safe—but teams like Texas, CofC and the other teams that struggled this week need to root hard for them to win the CAA automatic bid.
• Speaking of mid-major favorites, Texas Christian somehow won despite an epic ninth-inning meltdown against San Diego State. TCU carried a 14-4 lead into the final frame, but the Aztecs rallied for 11 runs in the inning to take a 15-14 lead, with most of the damage coming against Trey Teakell (5.1 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER). But the Horned Frogs bounced back with two in the bottom of the inning to win 16-15. TCU is another team that will be assured of an at-large spot if it doesn't win the automatic bid; it is off to a 1-0 start.
• New Mexico is actually the top seed in the MWC, and the Lobos remained hot with a 13-0 drubbing of UNLV. We included the Lobos in our field Tuesday despite an RPI outside the top 60, but New Mexico does need to boost its RPI this week. Warren Nolan has UNM at No. 60 now. For the sake of comparison, New Mexico has more wins against the top 50 (8-10) than Texas, Charleston, Indiana State, Wichita State, Coastal Carolina, UNCW, Missouri State, Louisville, Tulane, St. John's, even Oregon State (7-9). And they won their regular-season title; this should be one of those cases where New Mexico can get an at-large spot even with an RPI outside the top 50, like St. John's did a year ago (it was No. 54). New Mexico has many more quality RPI wins than the Red Storm did in 2011 (1-6 against the top 50).
• Missouri State staved off elimination briefly in the Missouri Valley tournament with an 11-8 win against Bradley, but the Bears were bounced later in the day by Southern Illinois, 3-2. Still, after finishing just a half-game out of first in the regular-season and going 2-2 in the conference tourney, the Bears (No. 40 in the RPI) are in good shape—better shape even than regular-season champ Indiana State, which went 0-2 in the tourney. Given the poor tournament showings of power-conference bubble teams Auburn, Georgia and Texas—all of whom are behind the two MVC teams in the RPI—we'll keep both the Bears and Sycamores in our field of 64, making the Valley a three-bid league. Missouri State should feel fairly comfortable, if not quite "secure." Indiana State remains on the bubble, but on the right side of it.
• In the Southland, Southeastern Louisiana won a big winner's bracket game against Texas State, 7-1. The Lions improved to 2-0 in the tourney; at No. 51 in the RPI and 6-3 against the top 50, they might already have a better shot at an at-large bid than Texas, and they're still playing, with further opportunities to pad their resume. Sam Houston State also won in an elimination game, 7-1 against McNeese State; we'll say the regular-season champion Bearkats can put themselves into the field with one more win, but they stand a solid chance to get in even if they get eliminated by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi tomorrow. Texas State's at-large chances are probably shot; the Bobcats are No. 61 in the RPI.
• Bad news for bubble teams: New Mexico State lost its WAC tournament opener, 15-8 against Fresno State. The Aggies (No. 33 in the RPI) are the lone team in the WAC with a realistic at-large shot, and they will probably get in even with an 0-2 showing this week. So bubble teams better hope they make a run through the loser's bracket to keep the WAC from becoming a two-bid league.
• Gonzaga lost the opener of its final series at BYU, 6-4, following a Tuesday loss at Washington State. The Zags were one of the least secure teams in our field of 64 Tuesday, and they were in tentatively with the caveat that they needed to finish strong. Back-to-back losses to start the final week is a crippling blow; the Zags are probably out even if they win their final two games at BYU, but their RPI (No. 50) keeps them in the discussion.
• Auburn was bounced from the SEC tournament by South Carolina, 5-3. The Tigers finished 1-2 in Hoover, with the victory coming Wednesday in an elimination game against Georgia (which we dismissed from at-large consideration yesterday). Auburn went 13-17 in the SEC, which can be enough to get an at-large spot with a strong RPI. Auburn's is not strong (No. 59). Despite the four marquee series wins that have propped up its case (LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss), Auburn is almost certainly out of at-large contention. The SEC looks just about locked in as an eight-bid league.
• Sticking in the SEC, Vanderbilt has rocketed from at-large long shot to likely No. 2 seed in a few short weeks. The Commodores improved to 3-0 in Hoover with a 2-1 win against Florida behind six innings of two-hit, shutout ball from Sam Selman. Eight straight wins, capped by back-to-back victories against the Gamecocks and Gators, have helped Vandy surge to No. 20 in the Warren Nolan RPI. Remember when we all thought Vandy had little chance even to finish above .500 overall and gain at-large eligibility? The Commodores are now seven games over .500 (32-25). Simply amazing.