We'll touch on Friday's action in a bit, but first let's cut right to the chase. Here are the changes to our field of 64 since yesterday's update (Note: we failed to account for the SoCon and A-Sun automatic qualifiers yesterday, so we are making that addition today):
IN: Southland automatic qualifier, SoCon automatic qualifier, A-Sun automatic qualifier
OUT: Western Carolina, Mercer, Illinois.
Last Three Teams In: Central Florida, Stanford, Clemson
Here is a conference-by-conference breakdown of our projected field as it stands after Friday's action:
One-bid leagues (20): America East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big East, Big South, CAA, Horizon, Ivy (Columbia), MAC, MAAC, MEAC (Bethune-Cookman), NEC, OVC, Patriot (Bucknell), SoCon, Summit, Sun Belt, SWAC (Jackson State), WAC, WCC.
SEC (10): Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas A&M.
ACC (7): Virginia, Florida State, Miami, Maryland, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Clemson.
Big 12 (5): Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas.
Pac-12 (5): Oregon State, Washington, Oregon, Arizona State, Stanford.
Big West (4): Cal Poly, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton.
AAC (3): Louisville, Houston, Central Florida.
Big Ten (2): Indiana, Nebraska.
C-USA (2): Rice, Old Dominion.
Missouri Valley (2): Indiana State, Dallas Baptist.
Mountain West (2): UNLV, San Diego State.
Southland (2): Sam Houston State, automatic qualifier.
One at-large spot disappeared Friday when Sam Houston State was bounced out of the Southland Conference tournament with a 4-1 loss to Northwestern State. At No. 38 in the RPI, with a regular-season title under their belts and a 7-5 record against the top 50, the Bearkats should be safe for an at-large spot, making the Southland a two-bid league.
In all of those projected multi-bid leagues except the SEC, Pac-12 and Big West, a chance remains that a team outside our current projected field could win the conference tournament, reducing the number of at-large bids available. The Big South, WCC and Sun Belt could also move from the one-bid category to the two-bid category if Liberty, Pepperdine and Louisiana-Lafayette fail to win their respective conference tournaments. The Cajuns are sitting pretty at 2-0, and the Waves play Loyola Marymount in Saturday's WCC title game. But the Flames, fighting their way through the losers' bracket, need to win three games in two days to capture the Big South title. So the postseason picture remains fluid heading into the final two days before Selection Monday.
Given the current number of at-large bids available, we see seven teams battling for the final three at-large spots. We'll break down their resumes below, listed in order of RPI (per WarrenNolan.com's updated RPI rankings):
Mercer: No. 43 in RPI, 3-0 top 50, 13-5 top 100, second place in A-Sun (No. 16 RPI conference), 0-2 in conference tournament, lost final two series, No. 150 SOS
Stanford: No. 45 in RPI, 9-15 top 50, 12-19 top 100, currently sixth place in Pac-12 (No. 4 RPI conference), one game behind fifth-plate USC with two left to play, No. 19 SOS
Clemson: No. 48 in RPI, 7-12 top 50, 14-17 top 100, fifth place in ACC, 2-1 in conference tournament, No. 41 SOS
UCF: No. 49 in RPI, 5-11 top 50, 10-12 top 100, second place in AAC (No. 7 RPI conference), 2-1 in AAC tournament (can reach championship if UConn beats Temple on Saturday), No. 50 SOS
Western Carolina: No. 51 in RPI, 2-5 top 50, 9-8 top 100, SoCon regular-season champion (No. 12 RPI conference), 0-2 in conference tournament, No. 157 SOS
Cal State Fullerton: No. 52 in RPI, 10-6 top 50, 15-17 top 100, locked into fourth place in Big West with one game left, No. 57 SOS
Illinois: No. 55 in RPI, 5-4 top 50, 9-7 top 100, third place in Big Ten (No. 10 RPI conference), 1-2 in conference tournament, No. 94 SOS
Out of that group, we'll knock out Western Carolina, Illinois and Mercer. But Stanford,UCF, Clemson and Cal State Fullerton should not breathe easily, because as noted above, plenty of at-large bids could still disappear as conference tournament action unfolds. For now, those four teams are in.
BUBBLE TEAMS THAT HELPED THEMSELVES FRIDAY
• Cal State Fullerton's Justin Garza threw the fourth no-hitter in school history Friday, leading the Titans to a series-clinching 4-0 win against Cal State Northridge. Garza struck out 12 and walked three, joining Kirk Saarloos, Ted Silva and Longo Garcia as the only Titans to throw no-hitters in the program's 40-year Division I history. Saarloos did it last, in 2001. Garza did it on a night Fullerton honored members of the 1984 and 2004 national championship teams.
"With all the alumni and all the great players that have come through here and to have my name on that board is just a big honor," Garza said. "I still can't believe it; right now it just feels like I'm floating and everything is not really real."
The Titans are 6-0 since Rick Vanderhook returned to the dugout, and their momentum looks like it will carry them right into the postseason. Friday's victory got them to 30 wins on the season, and improved them to 13-10 in the Big West.
• Stanford won its series opener at Utah, 5-0. The Cardinal must win that series to remain in the at-large hunt, and a sweep would be even better, obviously.
• Long Beach State clinched its fifth straight series with a 10-1 win against UC Irvine. The Dirtbags are no longer on the bubble; they're safe. Their RPI has jumped to No. 33. The Anteaters, meanwhile, are down to No. 41 and have lost five straight games. If they close the season with six straight losses, they could very well get squeezed out of the field of 64, especially if it comes down to the 'Eaters and Titans for one spot, since Fullerton swept UCI in Irvine last week. But right now, we think both teams will get in.
• UC Santa Barbara clinched its final series at UC Davis with a 6-5 win, improving the Gauchos to 11-12 in the Big West and No. 51 in the RPI. They remain in sixth place in the conference, a game behind fifth-place Riverside with one to play. Is there room in the field of 64 for five Big West teams? That seems unlikely. Fullerton's surge was bad news for UCSB.
BUBBLE TEAMS THAT LOST FRIDAY
• UCF lost to Houston, 13-8, but the Knights are 2-1 in their pool and still have a good chance to reach the AAC title game, as noted above. They need UConn to beat Temple on Saturday.
• Clemson fell to Georgia Tech, 3-0. The Tigers finished 2-1 in ACC pool play and cannot reach the title game. Maryland awaits either Duke or Georgia Tech in the championship game. If the Blue Devils can beat Miami on Saturday and Maryland on Sunday, they'll snag an automatic bid, likely at Clemson's expense.
• Illinois was knocked out of the Big Ten tournament with an 11-2 loss to Michigan State. The Illini went 1-2 in the conference tournament; they have a nice resume, highlighted by a pair of wins at Florida, but the math is not looking good for them.
• North Carolina fell to 0-2 in pool play with a 3-2 loss to Virginia. The Tar Heels finish with Maryland on Saturday, in a game that means nothing for the Terrapins, who have already clinched a trip to the title game. If UNC can win, it will finish 2-2 in the ACC tournament and should be able to rest easy. The Tar Heels still seem likely to get in even with a loss, but they would certainly be sweating on selection day.
• West Virginia was eliminated from the Big 12 tournament with a 9-4 loss to Baylor. The Mountaineers finish 28-26 overall after going 1-2 in the tournament; their No. 35 RPI and road-heavy schedule likely won't save them, with a 6-19 record against the top 50 and nose dive over the last three weeks. They lost nine of their final 10 games.
• New Mexico's season also appears to be over after a 9-4 loss to Nevada in 11 innings at the MWC tournament. The Lobos went 0-2 in the tournament and tumbled to No. 65 in the RPI.
• San Diego State also lost Friday, 5-4 against top seed UNLV. The Aztecs face Nevada on Saturday for the right to face UNLV in the championship game. SDSU or Nevada would need to beat the Rebels twice, which seems unlikely. But the Aztecs have a solid overall resume and have a decent shot to get in as an at-large, although they aren't a lock. They're in the same category as UNC; on the right side of the bubble for now.
No changes from yesterday.
Ole Miss likely could have locked up a national seed with a win against Arkansas on Friday, but the Rebels coughed up a 6-0 lead and lost 8-7. That dropped them four spots to No. 14 in the RPI, one spot behind South Carolina. We broke down the race between those two teams yesterday, and Mississippi's loss doesn't change anything; the difference between them is razor-thin. So we'll stick with the Rebels, who at least avoided a winless showing in Hoover (while South Carolina did not).
TCU and Miami were both idle Friday. The Horned Frogs are the 10th team in the running for one of those eight national seeds, and as we wrote yesterday, they have a nice, balanced resume. One more win could move TCU into a national seed even if Miami beats Duke on Saturday; if the Hurricanes lose to go 0-3 in Greensboro, move them out of the national seed category for sure. They have already dropped to No. 16 in the RPI (low for a national seed), but for now their ACC regular-season title and hot finish props them up. TCU faces Baylor in the Big 12 tournament semifinal; the Bears need to beat the Horned Frogs twice.
National Seeds: Florida, Oregon State, Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State, Mississippi, Miami.
No changes from yesterday.
Houston preserved its hosting hopes with a win against UCF, while Louisville and Texas were idle. Those are the three main threats to snatch a host spot away from Vanderbilt or Washington. The Huskies dropped their series opener against UCLA, 3-0, dropping them two spots to No. 22 in the RPI, and allowing Oregon State to clinch the Pac-12 championship. We still like the Huskies as a host for the sake of geographic balance, in addition to their second-place status in the Pac-12. But if they lose the UCLA series, they might be sweating when host sites are announced Sunday night.
Hosts: Florida, Oregon State, Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State, Mississippi, Miami, TCU, LSU, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Rice, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Washington.