Dogpile Saturday is always one of the most exciting days on the college baseball calendar. These eight teams clinched spots in the NCAA tournament by winning their respective conference tournaments Saturday: George Mason, College of Charleston, Youngstown State, Dallas Baptist, Bryant, Southeastern Louisiana, North Dakota State and Pepperdine. In addition, Oregon State clinched the Pac-12 title outright with a 2-0 win at Southern California behind another shutout from Ben Wetzler—this time a three-hitter, a week after his two-hitter against Washington. Wetzler lowered his nation-leading ERA to 0.76 and tied teammate Jace Fry for the conference lead with his 11th win.
There was no bad news for bubble teams in any of those results. Four potential at-large teams (Dallas Baptist, Bryant, Pepperdine and College of Charleston) won automatic bids, keeping the at-large pool stable. But top-seeded Liberty was knocked out of the Big South tournament, making that a two-bid league.
EDIT: Here are the changes from yesterday's update:
IN: Big south automatic qualifier (Winthrop/Campbell winner).
DROPPED OUT: UC Irvine.
Barely Hanging On (weakest first): Clemson, Stanford, Central Florida.
First Teams Out (strongest first): Mercer, Illinois, Western Carolina, UC Santa Barbara.
Here is a conference-by-conference breakdown of our projected field as it stands after Saturday's action (asterisks denote teams that have already secured automatic bids):
One-bid leagues (20): America East, Atlantic 10 (George Mason), Atlantic Sun, Big East, CAA (College of Charleston), Horizon (Youngstown State), Ivy (Columbia), MAC, MAAC, MEAC (Bethune-Cookman), NEC (Bryant), OVC, Patriot (Bucknell), SoCon, Summit (North Dakota State), Sun Belt, SWAC (Jackson State), WAC, WCC (Pepperdine).
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 (3): *Cal Poly, Long Beach State, 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, *Southeastern Louisiana.
Big South (2): Liberty, automatic qualifier.
We'll recap the eight conference tournaments that ended Saturday later on Sunday, but for now let's focus on the bubble.
• Long Beach State completed its sweep of UC Irvine on Saturday, locking in the Dirtbags (up to No. 30 in the RPI) as an ironclad at-large team, and putting the Anteaters (down to No. 43) in jeopardy. Irvine closed the season by losing its final six games and eight of its last 10, dropping it to third place in the Big West, two games behind Long Beach. The Anteaters still finished a game ahead of Cal State Fullerton—which completed its sweep of Cal State Northridge on Saturday—but the Titans are clearly the third Big West team in the pecking order at this stage, since they swept the Anteaters and finished red-hot, while Irvine finished ice-cold. The Titans won their last seven games and finished 10-6 against the top 50, compared with UCI's 5-11. Perhaps Irvine can back its way into the field of 64 anyway—after all, fellow bubble teams like Mercer and Western Carolina also finished with sputters. And having Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell as the committee chairman will surely help the Anteaters. EDIT: But we’re dropping out Irvine and keeping UC Santa Barbara on the wrong side of the bubble as well. The Gauchos swept UC Davis to reach 12-12 in the league, but Irvine swept the head-to-head series against UCSB and finished three games better in the conference standings.
• The second game of Stanford's series at Utah was postponed by rain. So there is no change in the Cardinal's status—in the field, but barely.
• Central Florida went 2-1 in pool play at the AAC tournament but did not reach the conference title game because Temple beat Connecticut on Saturday, giving Houston the tie-breaker over UCF (it's not worth explaining more than that). So UCF's resume is complete: No. 48 in the RPI, just 5-11 against the top 50 (the same as Irvine), second place in the AAC. But at least the Knights had a solid showing in their conference tournament, and a series win against Louisville back in April props up their case. They sneak in over Mercer, which lost its final two series and went 0-2 in the A-Sun tournament. When in doubt, momentum matters.
• Clemson and North Carolina each won two games in the ACC tournament, which might be enough to help both teams sneak into regionals, since they also won 15 ACC games in the regular season. Clemson, at No. 49 in the RPI and 7-12 against the top 50, is right on the edge. But we're betting that wins against Duke and Miami this week help the Tigers get in—but if they wind up getting snubbed in favor of a team like Illinois, we won't be surprised, and we won't object either. UNC likely secured its spot with a win against Maryland on Saturday to go 2-2, even though the Terrapins had nothing to play for, since they already clinched a trip to the conference title game.
With one day of games remaining before Selection Monday, the field is still not set. Two at-large locks (Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette) will play for automatic bids Sunday against teams that do not have at-large chances (UTSA and UT Arlington), which means the pool of available at-large bids could shrink by two, or it could remain constant. Here's a look ahead to Sunday's action; the key games to watch are in Conference USA and the Sun Belt.
Maryland will take on Georgia Tech in the title game. Miami's victory against Duke on Saturday was good news for bubble teams, because a Duke victory would have sent the Blue Devils to the title game, where they could have played for an automatic bid. Maryland and Georgia Tech are both at-large teams, so Sunday's game will have no bearing on the at-large pool.
Binghamton beat Stony Brook 4-3 on Saturday to force a decisive rematch between the two teams Sunday at noon for the AEC title. Binghamton was our preseason favorite, but Stony Brook is the top seed.
American Athletic Conference
Houston and Louisville won their respective pools to set up a meeting between the two in Sunday's title game. That is the best possible outcome for bubble teams, as the Cougars and Cardinals are both at-large locks. Louisville and Houston are both right in the thick of the hosting race, but right now we have both teams just outside our 16 hosts.
Kennesaw State will face Lipscomb in Sunday's final. The Bison need to win twice, while the Owls need just one victory. Kennesaw State (No. 59) has an outside shot at an at-large bid if it loses, but it's a real long shot.
The top two seeds will face off for the title Sunday, as No. 1 Indiana beat Michigan State on Saturday, and No. 2 Nebraska knocked out Michigan. The Hoosiers are locked in as a national seed, and the Huskers look locked in as a No. 2 seed, so Sunday's game will have no postseason ramifications.
The top two seeds will face off in Oklahoma City as well. Second-seeded TCU won its bracket by going 3-0, capped by a second win of the weekend against Baylor in Saturday's semifinal. Top-seeded Oklahoma State needed to beat Texas twice to win its bracket, and it did so, taking the opener 3-1 and the late game 6-4. More on TCU and Oklahoma State below in the national seeds discussion.
Creighton and Xavier each beat Seton Hall on Saturday, setting up a matchup between the Bluejays and Musketeers in Sunday's title game. Neither is an at-large candidate.
Top-seeded Liberty was eliminated by Winthrop 6-5 on Saturday, making the Big South a two-bid league, as the Flames are a lock for an at-large bid with a No. 29 RPI and a 23-3 regular-season conference record. Winthrop, the South Division champion, will face Campbell, the North Division runner-up, in Sunday's title game. Neither team is an at-large contender.
Rice will face Texas-San Antonio in Sunday's title game, and it is an important one for at-large teams, as a UTSA victory would likely turn C-USA from a two-bid league to a three-bid league. There were four games in this tournament Saturday, with Old Dominion beating Rice in the morning game to force a rematch, which the Owls won 7-5. The win was another nice boost for ODU's resume; at No. 34 in the RPI and 22-19 against the top 100, the Monarchs should be a safe at-large team. On the other side of the bracket, Southern Miss beat UTSA 8-7 to force a rematch, but the Roadrunners took the second game 7-0.
Top-seeded Canisius faces second-seeded Siena in Sunday's championship round, and the Saints need to win twice. Siena reached the title game by knocking out Monmouth and Fairfield on Saturday.
Perennial power Kent State, just the fourth seed in the tournament this year, returned to the championship game with a 12-2 win against Western Michigan. The Golden Flashes will face Akron, which knocked out Buffalo 5-4. This will be a one-bid league either way.
San Diego State won two games Saturday, beating Nevada 3-2 and UNLV 9-1 to force a decisive rematch against the rebels on Sunday. Both teams should get at-large spots, so San Diego State's win against Nevada was good news for bubble teams. UNLV is an at-large lock, while the Aztecs do remain on the right side of the bubble, so landing the automatic bid would be nice.
Jacksonville State ousted top seed Southeast Missouri State 6-2 on Saturday, then beat second-seeded Tennessee Tech 10-7 to force a decisive rematch Sunday. This is a one-bid league.
LSU run-ruled an opponent for the second time this week, bludgeoning depleted Arkansas 11-1 to reach Sunday’s title game against Florida. The Gators beat Kentucky 6-5.
Third-seeded Samford will face fourth-seeded Georgia Southern in Sunday's title game. Neither is an at-large candidate, so this matchup has no at-large ramifications. Regular-season champion Western Carolina, which went 0-2 in the conference tournament, is probably on the wrong side of the bubble, making this a likely one-bid league.
Louisiana-Lafayette stayed unbeaten in the Sun Belt tournament with a 4-3 win against Texas State, while second-seeded Texas-Arlington knocked out Arkansas State 8-7. If the Mavericks win, the Sun Belt becomes a two-bid league. If the Cajuns win, it will be a one-bid league.
Top-seeded Sacramento State won twice Saturday, beating Cal State Bakersfield and Utah Valley to force a decisive rematch against the Wolverines on Sunday. This is a one-bid league.
Changes from yesterday: TCU and LSU replace Miami and Mississippi as national seeds.
The national seed race is getting really interesting. One team from the Big 12 deserves a national seed—it is the No. 2 RPI conference, and TCU and Oklahoma State have been two of the nation's best teams in the second half of the season (neither has had a losing weekend in April or May). With the Cowboys and Frogs finishing 1-2 in the regular-season standings and then both reaching the conference tournament championship game, one of them must be a national seed.
Could Oklahoma State sneak into a national seed despite an RPI that currently sits at No. 18? The Cowboys are a sparkling 17-5 against the top 50, won the Big 12 regular-season title, won the head-to-head series against TCU and finished the season with eight straight series wins. If Oklahoma State wins Sunday to buttress its regular-season title with a Big 12 tournament title, it deserves a national seed, regardless of its RPI. If TCU wins, it will improve to 2-2 against the Cowboys, and the Horned Frogs do have an RPI advantage (they are 12th). Considering TCU's pitching is in better shape, we're betting on the Frogs to win Sunday, and the tournament title would offset OSU's one-game edge in the conference standings, so we'll give the nod to the Frogs.
If you assume the Big 12 gets one national seed, that leaves four teams competing for one spot: Mississippi, South Carolina, LSU and Miami. We're crossing off the Hurricanes despite their ACC regular-season championship, as they are the lowest RPI team in this group, they have the fewest top 50 wins (11-11), and they went 1-2 in their conference tournament. Also, the SEC deserves a second national seed more than the ACC merits a third.
As we wrote yesterday, there is very little difference between Ole Miss and South Carolina. But we now believe LSU has leapfrogged over both of them. The Tigers are up to No. 10 in the RPI (ahead of No. 13 South Carolina and No. 14 Ole Miss), and all three now have 15 top 50 wins. Sure, LSU played a weak nonconference schedule, with an 11-1 record against teams outside the top 200 (compared with Mississippi's 3-0 and South Carolina's 8-1). But the Tigers have overcome that deficiency in their resume by finishing third in the SEC during the regular season and steamrolling opponents in their last seven games, including a run to the SEC tournament championship game Sunday. They also took two of three against Ole Miss in Oxford, which helps. Momentum does matter, and LSU has a ton of it—this team is playing its best at the right time, and that is the separator.
National Seeds: Florida, Oregon State, Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State, TCU, LSU.
No change from yesterday.
Washington lost its fourth straight game Saturday, ensuring it will finish the season with back-to-back series losses at Oregon State and home against UCLA. But those are the only two series the Huskies have lost all season, and finishing second in the Pac-12 still matters. Saturday's loss dropped UW from No. 21 to No. 27 in the RPI, opening up the possibility the Huskies could host as a No. 2 seed—because we still expect them to host, to give the West a third site and to showcase brand-new Husky Ballpark, in addition to rewarding the second-place team in a power conference.
Louisville and Houston helped themselves by reaching the AAC title game, and the winner of that game might supplant Vanderbilt or Washington as a host. All of these teams have flaws in their resumes, but Vanderbilt still has the best overall body of work in this group, and is located in the same geographic footprint as Louisville. And Houston's geographic region is well represented with likely sites (Rice, TCU, Oklahoma State, LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette will all host in that part of the country). So we'll stick with the Commodores and Huskies for our final two hosting spots. Every other host looks locked in.
Hosts: Florida, Oregon State, Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State, Mississippi, Miami, TCU, LSU, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Rice, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Washington.