College Stock Report: Week Nine

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 Tuesday here, we’ll 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 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 what kind of win percentage 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—there is some margin for error with those figures, but they are accurate enough to serve our purposes.

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 nine weeks of the season:

National Seeds

SECURE TEAMS: North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Louisiana State, Oregon State

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal State Fullerton, Virginia, Florida State, Oregon

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arizona State, Indiana, Mississippi State

Changes from our midseason Field of 64 projection two weeks ago: none.

The four teams listed in the “Secure” category above also happen to be the top four teams in the RPI (although in a different order). All have gaudy overall records and have dominated all season long, and they are very strong bets for national seeds. Fullerton just misses out on the “Secure” category because its RPI is likely to continue to slide as it continues with the Big West schedule—the RPI Needs Report says the Titans need to win 85 percent of their remaining games to finish inside the top eight. They don’t need a top-eight RPI to earn a national seed, and we think it is very likely they will earn a national seed as long as their RPI winds up in the top 20 or so, because their overall body of work is strong. But Fullerton also has less margin for error than the top four teams, because of the RPI.

The Cavs and Seminoles both have top-eight RPIs and impressive records in the ACC and overall. This weekend’s series between the two could be an important tie-breaker if those two teams wind up fighting for one national seed, but we think both teams stand solid chances to get national seeds, giving the ACC three.

Oregon holds off Arizona State for the eighth national seed even though the Sun Devils won the head-to-head series and have a better record against the Top 50 (7-4, vs. Oregon’s 6-7). Both teams have robust RPI rankings (Oregon is fifth, ASU is ninth), so it comes down to projecting which team will finish better. The Ducks have home series left against UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State—three good challenges, but Oregon is good enough to win at least two of those series, and maybe all three. Oregon should also win road series against Washington State, Ohio State and Utah. The Ducks are already sitting pretty in the conference standings (12-3), while the Sun Devils (8-7) have more work to do to climb the ladder. ASU’s remaining schedule features home series against Stanford and Arizona, and very winnable road series against Utah, California and Washington. Arizona State’s schedule looks more favorable, but we still believe in Oregon’s talent a bit more, and Oregon’s four-game lead over the Devils in the Pac-12 is a big plus.

RPI woes keep Arkansas (No. 45) from national seed contention despite its solid 9-6 record in the SEC, and its series win against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have gotten hot in the last two weeks, jumping six spots to No. 8 in the RPI from last week to this week. They are back above .500 in the SEC (8-7), and if they keep winning, they could push the second Pac-12 team or the third ACC team out of a national seed. Remaining road series at Vanderbilt and Mississippi are challenging, but home sets against Auburn and Alabama are very manageable, and MSU finishes with a home series against suddenly mortal South Carolina. A 10-5 finish against that schedule could be attainable, and that would get the Bulldogs to 18-12 in the SEC. That could be enough for a national seed, especially if UVa. or Florida State struggles down the stretch.

Regional Hosts

SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above; Arizona State, Indiana

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi State, Arkansas, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, South Carolina

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): UCLA, North Carolina State, Mississippi, Kentucky, Clemson.

Changes from the midseason field of 64 projection two weeks ago: Arizona State and Mississippi State replace Kentucky and UCLA.

The hosting picture is still very fluid, and there isn’t much separation between any of the 11 teams listed as “On The Bubble” above—but there is room for just six of them to host. We’re keeping Indiana, with its No. 11 RPI and its 26-7 overall record (which includes a 19-6 mark in road or neutral-site games) in the secure category even though it was swept at Michigan State last week. We expect the Hoosiers to bounce back, and their body of work is still very impressive anyway.

Just as in our midseason projection two weeks ago, we have five SEC teams slated to host, and only the top two (LSU and Vandy) are truly safe. Two weeks ago, Mississippi State had lost four straight series and was outside of hosting position. Now the Bulldogs have won two straight series and climbed into the top 10 in the RPI, and their remaining schedule is manageable, as detailed above. Kentucky, meanwhile, had been cruising along two weeks ago, but since then it has lost five of its six conference games (at LSU and home against Tennessee). The next four weeks are daunting: at South Carolina, at Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas, vs. Vanderbilt. The Wildcats control their own destiny—if they perform well against that slate, they will host. But losing that Tennessee series was an unexpected setback that knocks UK out of hosting position for now.

South Carolina’s grip on a hosting spot is tenuous after it was swept for the second time this year this past weekend at Florida. But the Gamecocks maintain a solid RPI (No. 21) and remain above .500 in the SEC (8-7), and they have earned the benefit of the doubt. Their remaining schedule features three home series (Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia) and two difficult road sets (at LSU and at Mississippi State). The Gamecocks probably need to get to 16 or 17 wins in conference to host, which means an 8-7 or 9-6 finish in SEC play. That is doable, but far from easy.

Oklahoma (No. 22) and Louisville (No. 24) are the lowest-ranked teams in the RPI to earn hosting slots in our projection. We think both teams are talented enough to  dominate against their remaining schedules, and they will need to do so in order to host, because the RPI is working against both. Still, as the favorites in their respective conferences, those teams get the nod over a fourth host in five- or six-bid Pac-12 (UCLA), or a sixth host in the SEC (Kentucky or Mississippi) or a fifth host in the ACC (N.C. State or Clemson).

This weekend’s series between the Wolfpack and Yellow Jackets will go a long way toward determining which of those two teams is the front-runner for the ACC’s fourth hosting slot. Both teams are 11-7 in the ACC, and they are separated by just two spots in the RPI (Tech is No. 17, N.C. State is No. 19, and Clemson is wedged between them at No. 18). Clemson has gotten hot, but it has done so against the lesser lights of the ACC (Boston College and Wake Forest), and we’re not convinced the Tigers are good enough to maintain this level of play against a remaining schedule that includes road series at Miami and Florida State, plus a home set against Georgia Tech. The Jackets are fortunate to get the Wolfpack and Tar Heels at home, but they also must travel to Clemson and Miami—not an easy remaining schedule, but we have more faith in Georgia Tech’s talent and experience. The Wolfpack, like the Tigers, has gotten hot in the last two weeks, but its remaining ACC schedule is challenging (at Georgia Tech, vs. UNC, vs. FSU, then at Duke). For now, we’ll lean toward the Jackets because they get the benefit of facing N.C. State at home.

At-large Bids

There are 30 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 15 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues:

America East, Atlantic 10, Horizon, Ivy, Metro-Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, Southwestern, Western Athletic.

Out of all those conferences, Austin Peay State (No. 30 in the RPI) looks like the strongest contender to earn an at-large spot if it fails to win its conference tournament, though Indiana State (No. 53) and San Diego State (No. 57) are also in striking distance of at-large range in the RPI currently. But for the purpose of this exercise, we will assume that all 15 of those conferences 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 nine weeks. With five weeks left to play before Selection Monday, the at-large picture is still very fluid, so we have quite a few changes from our field two weeks ago. Here are the changes from the midseason field of 64 projection, in a nutshell:

IN: Baylor, Kansas, Seton Hall, Loyola Marymount, Southern Mississippi

OUT: Oklahoma State, Texas, Houston, Nevada-Las Vegas, Georgia Southern

Atlantic Coast Conference (8 total bids)

SAFELY IN: North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Clemson

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Miami, Virginia Tech

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Duke, Maryland

No changes from our midseason projection.

The Hokies have been swept in back-to-back series by N.C. State and UNC, dropping them to last place in the Coastal Division (7-11) and sinking them toward the bubble despite their robust RPI (No. 13). But the remaining schedule is much friendlier, with series remaining against Maryland, Boston College and Wake Forest, plus a home set against Virginia. The Hokies should win at least three of those series, and that will get them into regionals.

Miami also has a very strong RPI (No. 15) and earned a crucial road series win at Maryland this weekend, boosting the ‘Canes to a more respectable 8-10 in the ACC. Miami’s resume is lackluster, but it has avoided getting swept by powerhouses UNC, Virginia and Florida State, which helps its cause. Remaining road series against BC and Wake are very manageable, and the Hurricanes get Clemson and Georgia Tech at home. They should be fine.

Keep an eye on Duke, which saw its RPI vault from No. 83 to No. 58 after it was swept at Florida State. The Blue Devils do have quality series wins against Georgia Tech and Miami, but their remaining schedule is challenging: at UNC, vs. Maryland, at Virginia, vs. N.C. State. We don’t foresee the Devils handling that slate well enough to land an at-large spot.

Atlantic Sun (2 bids)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Florida

No change from the midseason projection. Mercer moves close to the “Safely In” category after sweeping FGCU, helping the Bears climb to No. 20 in the RPI. But 11 games remaining against teams outside the top 100 means Mercer will have to dominate its remaining schedule to keep itself in at-large range. We expect it to do so.

The Eagles are suddenly much more precarious ground, and their early-season sweep of Florida in Gainesville is essentially propping up an otherwise flimsy resume. FGCU still ranks 33rd in the RPI, and the Needs Report says it can finish inside the top 45 (an at-large target benchmark) by playing .725 ball against a soft remaining schedule (.410 opponents’ winning percentage, weighted by games remaining against each team).

North Florida actually leads the conference (9-3) and won the head-to-head series against Mercer. But the Ospreys are stuck at No. 75 in the RPI, and they’ll need a very strong finish to boost that figure into at-large range. For now, they remain on the outside looking in.

Big 12 (3 bids)

SAFELY IN: Oklahoma

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Baylor, Kansas

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State

Two changes from the midseason projection: Baylor and Kansas replace Oklahoma State and Texas in our field.

Oklahoma remains the only certainty in the wild Big 12. Baylor has recovered from its poor nonconference performance to win its last three Big 12 series, capped by a series win against OU this weekend. The Bears (7-4) are now just a half-game behind the Sooners (8-4) in the Big 12, and their RPI ranking jumped 22 spots to No. 64 in the last week. Their remaining schedule is somewhat challenging, with three road series (at TCU, at Kansas, at Texas Tech) and a home set against Texas, but the Bears are playing better than any other team in the league at the moment, so we’re going to ride their momentum and put them in our field.

Kansas is also trending in the right direction after winning back-to-back series against Oklahoma State and Texas. The Jayhawks also own a series win at TCU, and they avoided a sweep at Oklahoma. They have climbed to No. 50 in the RPI, and the remaining schedule is manageable.

Kansas State, on the other hand, has the meat of the conference schedule still in front of it (at Oklahoma State, vs. TCU, at Texas, at Kansas, vs. Oklahoma). Though the Wildcats are in good shape currently at 26-11 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12, their resume features just one win against a top 50 team (vs. Kentucky in February), and we expect them to have a tougher go of it down the stretch against better competition.

The Longhorns have a better RPI (No. 46) than any of these other Big 12 bubble teams, but Texas has lost its first four conference series. At 4-8 in the mediocre Big 12, the ‘Horns need a strong finish to salvage their at-large hopes, and the final three weeks aren’t a cakewalk (at Baylor, vs. Kansas State, at TCU). Texas has not demonstrated any ability to sustain hot streaks this season, and we’re betting against a Texas run in the final month.

Big East (3 bids)

SAFELY IN: Louisville

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Notre Dame, Seton Hall

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Pittsburgh, Rutgers

One change from the midseason Field of 64 projection: Seton Hall joins our field after winning back-to-back road series against Rutgers and Houston. The Pirates jumped 33 spots to No. 36 in the RPI this week, and they have recovered from their 0-9 start (against a strong schedule) by going 18-6 since. And SHU’s remaining schedule is quite friendly. If they win about two-thirds of their remaining games, they should find themselves in at-large position at the end of the year.

Notre Dame could be in trouble after getting swept at Pittsburgh. The Irish were also swept at Louisville two weeks earlier, and now they find themselves in ninth place in the Big East at 4-8. But they remain strong in the RPI (No. 27), and the remaining schedule is very manageable without being an RPI-killer. The Irish need to play better than they have lately, but if they do, they should be OK.

Pitt rocketed from No. 94 to No. 58 in the RPI after sweeping the Irish, putting the Panthers in the thick of the at-large race. But the RPI works against the Panthers; the Needs Report says they must play .789 ball the rest of the way to finish in the top 45, because they have 12 games left against teams outside the top 200. There’s little margin for error, and getting swept by South Florida two weeks ago was a blow.

Big South (1 bid)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina


No change from the midseason projection. Coastal is making its annual run in Big South play, reeling off nine straight wins and climbing to No. 38 in the RPI. The Chanticleers are on track to earn an at-large spot if they fail to capture the automatic bid.

Campbell has put itself in contention by going 31-7, ranking No. 53 in the RPI. The Needs Report says the Camels need to win about 80 percent of their remaining games to finish inside the top 45—a tall order. Campbell does not play Coastal in the regular season, which helps its chances to win its division but hurts its RPI. And finishing the season with three games against New Orleans (No. 264 in the RPI) also hurts. For now, we project the Camels winding up on the outside looking in.

Big Ten (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: Indiana

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Michigan State

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota

No change from the midseason projection. The Spartans looked like they were in trouble after getting swept by Michigan, but they bounced back with a sweep of Indiana that vaulted them 21 spots to No. 26 in the RPI, and helped them climb above .500 in the conference (5-4). They need to continue to climb the conference standings, but they’re in good shape.

Big Ten co-leaders Minnesota and Michigan have played well of late, but RPI woes keep both teams out of our field for now. Minnesota is No. 85, while Michigan is 136th—the Wolverines need to win about three-quarters of their remaining games to put themselves in at-large range.

Ohio State (No. 40) and Illinois (No. 67) are in better RPI shape, but the Buckeyes have a very difficult schedule remaining (with home series against Illinois, Oregon and Indiana, plus two midweek home games against Georgia Tech and another against Louisville). If the Buckeyes can handle that schedule, they’ll be an easy at-large team, but we’re betting against that happening. And the Illini have three tough road series ahead against Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota. They also remain outside our field for now.

Big West (3 bids)

SAFELY IN: Cal State Fullerton

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal Poly, UC Irvine


No change from the midseason projection. The Mustangs fell 13 places to No. 63 in the RPI after taking two of three against Hawaii (No. 171), and the next four weekends will make or break Poly’s season: vs. Fullerton, at Long Beach State, vs. UC Riverside, at UC Irvine.

The Anteaters, meanwhile, climbed 13 spots to No. 41 in the last week. Their key stretch comes in the final three weeks, when they host Poly and visit Cal State Fullerton.

Colonial Athletic Association (2 bids)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UNC Wilmington, William & Mary


No change from our midseason projection. The Seahawks reaffirmed their status as the CAA favorite by taking two of three against Delaware this weekend, helping them climb to No. 32 in the RPI, and 9-2 in the conference standings. They’re in good shape.

The Tribe and the Blue Hens are back-to-back in the RPI (No. 28 and No. 29, respectively), and William & Mary gets the CAA’s second bid over the Blue Hens because it won the head-to-head series at Delaware. A series win against Rutgers and an early road series at Clemson (during which it won one out of three) also bolster William & Mary’s resume.

Conference USA (2 bids)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Rice, Southern Mississippi


One change from the midseason projection: Southern Miss replaces Houston in the field of 64. Southern Miss has surged into first place (8-4) by reeling off seven straight wins, helping the Golden Eagles climb above .500 overall (18-17). They are still well outside of at-large range in the RPI (No. 108), but if they play .636 ball against a friendly remaining schedule (.489 winning percentage), they can climb into the top 45, according to the Needs Report’s current forecast. Now that the Golden Eagles are finally playing like the preseason Top 25 we thought they were, we think they can do it.

Conference USA is a mess; even Rice has a lot of work to do to secure its at-large position if it fails to win the conference tournament. The Owls are mired at No. 72 in the RPI, and the Needs Report says they need to play .691 ball the rest of the way just to finish in the top 45. They are capable of doing that, but next weekend’s road series at Houston is critical.

It is just as critical for the Cougars, who tumbled 16 spots to No. 60 in the RPI after losing a home series to Seton Hall. Houston has now lost consecutive series to Marshall and Seton Hall, and the Cougars suddenly look very vulnerable. After the Rice series, they must travel to UCF and Tulane (neither of which is in at-large contention, but neither of which is a slouch, either).

Pacific-12 (6 bids)

SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arizona, Stanford


No change from the midseason projection. Arizona and Stanford are interesting cases; both struggled early in conference play but have gotten on track against the softer part of the league schedule. Since losing six straight against Oregon State and Oregon, the Wildcats have won three straight series against Utah, California and Washington State. We’re projecting them to go 9-6 in their remaining conference games, which would get them to 17-13 in the league. If they play .624 ball the rest of the way—and we believe they will—then they can boost their RPI from No. 73 into the top 45, according to the Needs Report.

Stanford has a lot more work to do rescue its RPI, which sunk from No. 81 to No. 119 after it went 3-1 against San Jose State and Washington last week. The remaining schedule presents plenty of RPI-boosting opportunity, with home series against Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA plus road sets at Oregon, Arizona State and Cal. That’s a tough slate, but if the Cardinal can play .652 ball the rest of the way, it can actually boost its RPI into the top 45, according to the Needs Report. So Stanford must go at least 15-9 down the stretch, which means winning those three home series plus the road set at Cal. Then it would have at least a chance at an at-large even if it lost the road sets against Oregon and ASU, provided it did not get swept. Again, it won’t be easy, but now that stars Austin Wilson and A.J. Vanegas are healthy, we think Stanford’s best baseball is ahead of it.

Southeastern Conference (9 bids)

SAFELY IN: Vanderbilt, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida, Texas A&M


No change from our midseason projection.

We put Florida in the field two weeks ago because we anticipated the Gators would surge in the second half. They have won five straight games against ranked opponents (at Mississippi State, at Florida State, then a home sweep of South Carolina) to climb above .500 overall, and their RPI is robust (No. 12). If Florida can finish the season with a winning record, it should be in good shape for an at-large spot.

Texas A&M and Alabama are going in the opposite direction. The Aggies have lost three straight series (at South Carolina, home against Auburn and Mississippi State), dropping them to 6-9 in the SEC. They still have a solid RPI (No. 34), and the remaining schedule includes three winnable series (at Alabama, vs. Missouri, at Tennessee), plus two very challenging series (at Arkansas, vs. LSU). If they can go 8-7 in those games to finish 14-16 in the SEC, we like their chances for an at-large spot.

Alabama is still in better shape currently at 8-7 in the league, but the Crimson Tide has started to fade against the meat of its schedule, as we anticipated. ‘Bama has lost consecutive series against Arkansas and Ole Miss, and the Tide still must play LSU, A&M and Missouri at home, and travel to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. We’re projecting a 4-11 finish against that slate, which would put Alabama 12-18 in the league and outside of at-large position.

Southern Conference (1 bid)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): College of Charleston

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Elon, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Western Carolina

One change from our midseason projection: Georgia Southern falls out of our field of 64, making the SoCon a one-bid league—unless a team other than CofC wins the automatic bid, in which case we’d project the Cougars as an at-large team. Charleston needs to play .600 ball the rest of the way to finish inside the top 45, but we like its chances.

Georgia Southern has lost three straight series against UNC Greensboro, Appalachian State and The Citadel, dropping the Eagles to 10-8 in the league and No. 81 in the RPI. A 6-4 record against the top 50 in the RPI is no longer enough to prop up GSU’s case, and its remaining schedule is rugged, with series remaining against the three teams tied atop the standings (WCU, CofC and Elon), plus a three-game set at Clemson.

Elon has played a good schedule but is just 3-8 against the top 50, and the Phoenix is No. 65 in the RPI. The Phoenix isn’t too far from bubble range, and it has a chance to play itself into at-large territory down the stretch. But for now it remains on the outside looking in, especially since it has lost five straight games (all against teams that are now ranked—Louisville, UNC and UNCW).

Southland Conference (2 bids)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southeastern Louisiana

No change from the midseason projection. Sam Houston State didn’t help its cause by dropping a road series at Lamar this weekend, but the Bearkats actually climbed five spots to No. 47 in the RPI in the last week. Central Arkansas also climbed five spots to No. 44 in the RPI, and its series wins at Mississippi State and Southern Miss are looking better and better now that those teams are getting hot. Both of these teams need strong finishes to keep their RPIs in good shape, but for now they remain in the field. Southeastern Louisiana, which is 0-7 against the top 50 and has fallen to No. 70 in the RPI, remains outside our field.

Sun Belt (2 bids)

SAFELY IN: South Alabama

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida Atlantic

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy

No change from midseason. The Sun Belt ranks fifth in conference RPI, ahead of the Big Ten, Big West, CAA, Big East and Conference USA, and the SBC has a legitimate chance to send three or even four teams to regionals. At No. 16 in the RPI and tied for first (10-5) in the Sun Belt, South Alabama is in great shape.

FAU and Western Kentucky are part of that three-way tie for first place, and the Owls have  the significant RPI advantage (No. 48 vs. No. 77). Both teams have nine wins against the top 50, a favorable mark compared with many other bubble teams. The Hilltoppers have big series remaining at South Alabama next week, and home against FAU in May, and they finish with three road series in their last five weekends. If they can win about 60 percent of their remaining games, they can climb into the top 45 in the RPI. But for now, we’re leaving them on the outside looking in, along with Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy. The Ragin’ Cajuns are strong in the RPI (No. 35), and remaining home series against FAU and South Alabama will likely determine whether or not they wind up in at-large position. A 1-5 record in back-to-back weekends at Middle Tennessee and WKU stands as the flaw in Louisiana-Lafayette’s resume right now.

West Coast Conference (3 bids)


ON THE BUBBLE (IN): San Diego, Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Pepperdine, San Francisco

One change from midseason: LMU joins the field of 64. The Lions have recorded some big wins in the past month, including a midweek road win at Cal State Fullerton, series wins against Gonzaga and USD, and one win in a three-game series at UCLA. The Lions are finally above .500 overall and up to No. 42 in the RPI, and the hardest part of their schedule is behind them. Playing .622 ball against a soft remaining schedule would land LMU inside the top 45 at season’s end.

The Toreros are in a funk, losing series to LMU and Pepperdine in the last two weeks. But a series win against the top team in the RPI (Oregon State) still looms large, helping USD remain at No. 31 in the RPI. The remaining schedule is favorable, and we expect USD to right the ship.

Gonzaga sits atop the conference standings (11-4) and owns good series wins against USD and USF, plus a win against Arkansas and a tie against Arizona State. Still, the Zags fell nine spots to No. 71 in the RPI after sweeping lowly St. Mary’s (No. 266) last weekend, and they need a torrid finish (.731 ball) to land inside the top 45 at season’s end. That won’t be easy, but it is doable against Gonzaga’s remaining schedule. We expect the first-place Bulldogs to win the conference tournament and earn the automatic bid anyway.

Pepperdine also has RPI woes (No. 79) and also needs a strong finish to climb into at-large range. The next two weeks—at home against Gonzaga, at San Francisco—are critical for the Waves. For now, we are leaving Pepperdine on the outside looking in.