Midseason Update: NCAA Field Of 64 Projection

Projected Field Of 64
Chapel Hill, N.C. Columbia, S.C. Baton Rouge, La. Norman, Okla.
1. (1) North Carolina^* 1. South Carolina^ 1. (5) Louisiana State^ 1. Oklahoma^*
2. UNC Wilmington* 2. North Carolina State 2. Florida Atlantic* 2. Houston
3. Florida 3. College of Charleston 3. Sam Houston State* 3. Missouri State*
4. Delaware State* 4. Bryant* 4. Holy Cross* 4. Dallas Baptist*
 Nashville  Bloomington, Ind.  Charlottesville, Va.  Lexington, Ky.
1. (2) Vanderbilt^* 1. Indiana^* 1. (6) Virginia^ 1. Kentucky^
2. Arizona State 2. Notre Dame 2. Stanford 2. Virginia Tech
3. Austin Peay State* 3. Texas A&M 3. Coastal Carolina* 3. Arizona
4. Maine* 4. Wisconsin-Milwaukee* 4. William & Mary 4. Dartmouth*
 Corvallis, Ore.  Atlanta  Eugene, Ore.  Fayetteville, Ark.
1. (3) Oregon State^* 1. Georgia Tech^ 1. (7) Oregon^ 1. Arkansas^
2. Miami 2. Georgia Southern* 2. Mississippi 2. Rice*
3. UC Irvine 3. Mercer 3. Oklahoma State 3. Central Arkansas
4. South Dakota State* 4. New Mexico* 4. Gonzaga 4. Saint Louis*
 Fullerton, Calif.  Los Angeles  Tallahassee, Fla.  Louisville, Ky.
1. (4) Cal State Fullerton^* 1. UCLA^ 1. (8) Florida State^ 1. Louisville^*
2. San Diego* 2. Cal Poly 2. Florida Gulf Coast* 2. Mississippi State
3. Texas 3. Clemson 3. South Alabama 3. Michigan State
4. Canisius* 4. Nevada-Las Vegas 4. Alabama State* 4. Kent State*
^Regional host
*Automatic qualifier
National seeds in parentheses

Field Analysis

• Halfway through the regular season, the postseason picture is murky and ever-shifting. The Ratings Percentage Index is still subject to wild swings and odd quirks (like 12-12 Rutgers ranking No. 19 in the updated RPI rankings at boydsworld.com, which we will refer to instead of the NCAA’s official RPI rankings, which do not reflect Tuesday’s action). So this exercise is a blend of recognizing strong first halves and projecting strong second halves.

Some teams that would not be in regionals if the season ended today still make our Field of 64 projection, because we expect them to perform better in the second half. Stanford is finally getting healthy, so we anticipate the talented Cardinal getting hot in the second half and surging to a No. 2 seed. Florida is still below .500 overall (14-16), but the Gators just won a series against Mississippi, and they played a strong nonconference schedule (which included a series win against Miami). They’ll have the RPI to earn an at-large bid if they can put together a solid second half, and we believe they can do so. We are also giving New Mexico the benefit of the doubt, projecting the Lobos to win the Mountain West Conference’s automatic bid. UNLV gets an at-large spot largely on the strength of its sweep at Stanford, which will be a major RPI boost if the Cardinal makes a run as we anticipate. And defending national champion Arizona lands in our field despite its 3-6 start in Pac-12 play and its ugly RPI ranking (No. 122). The Wildcats clearly have considerable work to do in the second half, but they are talented enough to rebound, and the Pac-12 schedule is loaded with RPI-boosting opportunities.

• Two other preseason Top 25 teams that have struggled in the first half get left out of our field: Texas Christian and Southern Mississippi. Both teams look to be in serious trouble partly because they play in conferences that lack robust RPIs. We project the Big 12 as a three-bid league and Conference USA as a two-bid league, and neither team is off to a great start in conference play. The overall weakness of the Big 12 and C-USA also hurts the teams at the top, preventing Oklahoma from earning a national seed in our projection, and preventing Rice from hosting a regional. The Owls currently rank No. 73 in the RPI, and while that is sure to climb, the weakness of C-USA figures to hurt the Owls when hosts are awarded.

• The state of Texas gets shut out of hosts, in fact, while the Bluegrass State gets two and Indiana gets one. The committee does like geographic diversity and could balk at placing three regionals in the Kentucky/Indiana area and none in Texas, but the committee has also shown that it is willing to reward deserving teams even if it does mean regionals are geographically clustered together. We expect Kentucky, Louisville and Indiana to finish with better resumes than other hosting candidates such as Rice and Mississippi, and we think the committee will award regionals accordingly. Of course, there is a long way to go before the SEC pecking order is solidified, and it is easy to envision Ole Miss or even Mississippi State riding a strong second half to a regional hosting spot, at the expense of Kentucky, South Carolina or Arkansas. We think it is very unlikely that Vanderbilt or LSU will be knocked out of hosting position, however.

• The SEC leads all conferences with nine regional bids, and Alabama was one of the last teams cut from our field of 64. The Crimson Tide would be in if the season ended today, but Alabama’s 7-2 record in the SEC has come against the weakest part of its conference schedule, and we expect the young Tide to struggle against the conference’s heavyweights in the second half. We have a bit more faith in Texas A&M’s ability to handle the rigors of the SEC (its series win at Ole Miss two weeks ago was encouraging). The ACC is next with eight bids, and all eight feel like pretty sound bets. The Pac-12 gets six bids, and Washington State could give the league a seventh regional team, or replace Arizona as the sixth team. The Cougars aren’t far out of the mix.

UC Irvine hit a speed bump last weekend, getting swept by UC Riverside, but we expect the Anteaters to rebound and earn a third regional berth out of the Big West. The Highlanders have put themselves in the discussion as well, but a series loss against Portland two weeks ago gives us pause. Gonzaga will need to boost its No. 82 RPI in the second half, but we expect it to do so, earning one of our final at-large spots. And upstart William & Mary gets the final at-large spot thanks to a solid 20-10 start and a No. 26 RPI. The Colonial Athletic Association currently ranks a solid seventh in the conference RPI rankings, and the Tribe owns a nice RPI-boosting series win against Rutgers, plus single road wins at Clemson and East Carolina, to go along with a quality conference series win at Delaware.

• We’re projecting the Southland Conference as a two-big league, and we think Sam Houston State still has the talent to win the league’s automatic bid. Central Arkansas’ strong nonconference performance earns it an at-large spot, leaving Southeastern Louisiana on the outside looking in, thanks largely to an 0-6 mark against the top 50 in the RPI. But at 21-9 overall, 6-0 in the Southland and No. 53 in the RPI, the Lions are right in the thick of the at-large race.