This time of year, a hefty majority of all questions submitted in our weekly college chat and podcast, 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 Wednesday, we’ll examine how the postseason picture has shifted over the previous week. 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 how many wins 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 using the NCAA’s Nitty Gritty Report. Those figures were also updated through this past Sunday’s games, and do not include Monday or Tuesday games.
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 10 weeks of the season:
|SECURE TEAMS: Florida, Florida State, Virginia|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Cal Poly, Louisiana-Lafayette, South Carolina, Texas, Oregon State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Houston, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Rice, Louisiana State|
|Changes from our midseason Field of 64 projection two weeks ago: Florida replaces Vanderbilt as a national seed.|
With five weeks of play remaining before selection day, no team is truly “secure” as a national seed--any of the current top contenders could get cold and fall out of the top eight. But Florida has dramatically strengthened its position in the last two weeks by winning a road series at South Carolina, completing a three-game season sweep of Florida State, and sweeping Georgia. The Gators now sit atop the RPI rankings and own a sterling 17-6 record against the top 50 in the RPI (and 12-6 against the top 25), so assuming they win two of their final four series, they should be in great shape to earn a national seed. Virginia (No. 6) and Florida State (No. 2) also have good RPI rankings, gaudy overall records and are tied atop the ACC standings heading into their showdown series in Tallahassee this weekend.
Cal Poly has the best body of work of any team in the West, and the Mustangs have already won series against the two other top RPI teams in the Big West, UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton. Assuming they finish inside the top 20 in the RPI, they should earn a national seed; they currently rank 10th, and only the lack of a top-eight RPI keeps them out of the “secure” category. But we like their chances.
We’ll assume that Louisiana-Lafayette will continue to dominate the Sun Belt, and if it can win about 12 of its final 15 games, it can finish inside the top 16 in the RPI, per the Needs Report. We think the Cajuns are capable of doing that, and a top 20 RPI could be good enough to earn them a national seed given their utter dominance (36-5 overall) and their early series win against SEC West leader Alabama.
We’ll also keep South Carolina in the national seed category based on a robust RPI (No. 5) and our faith in the Gamecocks’ ability to finish strong over the next month. The Crimson Tide (No. 17) has less RPI wiggle room and a more challenging finishing schedule (at South Carolina, vs. Florida, at LSU, vs. Mississippi State), which suggests its current two-game lead over the Gamecocks might not last. Ole Miss, Kentucky and LSU are all very much alive in the national seed hunt, and this picture could change repeatedly as these teams beat each other up over the final month.
We’ll assume the Big 12 and Pac-12 each produce a national seed, though Texas took a hit by getting swept at home by Texas Christian. The Longhorns still own the Big 12’s best RPI (No. 7), but TCU is gaining fast (up from No. 67 two weeks ago to No. 34 last week to No. 18 this week). For now, we’ll stick with the Longhorns, who have the more consistent body of work. Oregon State (No. 23, prior to Monday’s loss to Sacramento State) has a ways to go in the RPI, but the Beavers still have home series remaining against Oregon and Washington, which will help their RPI, and they should be favored to win both series on their home turf. Expect the Beavers to leapfrog the Ducks (No. 22) and Huskies (No. 15) in the RPI by season’s end and finish inside the top 20, which should be good enough for a national seed if coupled with a Pac-12 title.
Houston (No. 3) and Indiana (No. 4) are the highest-rated teams in the current RPI that we do not project as national seeds. The Needs Report suggests Houston needs to win about 15 of its remaining 17 games to finish inside the top eight, and 12 out of 17 to land in the top 16. The Cougars are just 3-6 against the top 50, and considering they are currently in fifth place in the American Athletic Conference at 6-6, they likely won’t have a conference regular-season title to bolster their case, as we expect Cal Poly and Louisiana-Lafayette will. The Hoosiers are in first place in the Big Ten, but the RPI Needs Report says they need to win 12 of their last 15 to finish inside the top eight, because no other team in their conference is inside the top 50, and seven of the 11 teams are outside the top 100. The Big Ten ranks 11th in the conference RPI, so the Hoosiers will drop over the final month. If they can finish very hot, they could still have a shot to snag a national seed, but it won’t be easy.
Over the last four years, no team lower than 12th in the RPI earned a national seed. But in 2009, teams No. 17 (Oklahoma) and No. 18 (UC Irvine) got national seeds, and in 2007 team No. 15 (Arkansas) did. So there is some precedent for teams with lesser RPIs getting national seeds. This feels like a year that will see multiple national seeds come from outside the top 10.
|SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above--Florida, Florida State, Virginia; Cal Poly, Louisiana-Lafayette, South Carolina, Texas, Oregon State; Houston, Indiana, Washington, Alabama|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kentucky, LSU, Rice, Miami|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Liberty, Oregon, Louisville|
|Changes from the midseason field of 64 projection two weeks ago: Rice and LSU replace UNLV and Vanderbilt as hosts.|
Getting swept at Air Force last week effectively dashed UNLV’s hosting hopes, leaving only three secure hosts in the West (Cal Poly, Oregon State and Washington). Can a fourth team step forward as a Western host? Arizona State took a step back with a series loss to Stanford and is down to No. 36 in the RPI, down from No. 24 two weeks ago. Oregon (No. 22 in the RPI) is in good position, but the Ducks have a tough remaining schedule, highlighted by road series at Oregon State, Arizona State and UCLA. For the second straight year, the Ducks have struggled against the better teams on their schedule, losing series against the top three RPI teams they have placed (Washington, Stanford and Cal State Fullerton). If they can win their series in Corvallis this weekend, they’ll give their hosting prospects a huge boost, but for now we’ll leave them on the outside looking in.
The Big 12 is the No. 2 RPI conference, ahead of the ACC, so it stands to reason that the Big 12 should wind up with more than one host. But geography works against the Big 12, whose three strongest hosting candidates all play in the Lone Star State, where Houston and Rice are also strong potential hosts. Maybe Texas can land four hosts, but it won’t land five, and three seems likeliest. That means Texas Tech and TCU need to beat out Houston and Rice. That could certainly happen, but for now we’ll lean toward the teams that sit inside the top 10 in the RPI.
That means Miami gets our last hosting spot, the third regional site we project in the state of Florida and the third at an ACC school. The Hurricanes remain tied atop the ACC standings (16-5) with Florida State and Virginia, but a road series at Clemson this weekend is key for Miami to maintain its hold on a regional spot.
We’ll project five hosts out of the SEC, because no conference has ever earned more than that--but the SEC is deep enough this year that it has a real shot to produce six hosts. There are seven strong SEC hosting contenders currently, with Mississippi State lurking as a potential eighth thanks to a manageable remaining schedule. Alabama has a very tough road, but we’ll give the Tide the benefit of the doubt thanks to their strong performance thus far in conference play. RPI juggernauts Florida and South Carolina also look like strong bets to host, but Vanderbilt has fallen out of hosting position by losing four of its last five series. We’ll replace Vandy with LSU, which has helped its cause greatly over the last three weeks by winning home series against Mississippi State and Arkansas plus a road set at Ole Miss. If the Rebels take two of three at Kentucky this weekend, they’ll pass the Wildcats in the pecking order, but overall UK has the friendliest remaining schedule of this group (vs. Mississippi, at Tennessee, vs. Auburn, at Georgia), so we’ll stick with Kentucky as a host for now. Ole Miss, Kentucky, LSU, Vandy and Alabama are all bunched together between 9-17 in the RPI, and with the exception of 12-win Alabama they are similarly bunched together in the SEC standings (between 8-10 wins), so this tangled mess is a long way from being sorted out.
There are 31 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 13 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues, regardless of how their conference tournaments shake out:
America East, Big East, CAA, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Summit, SWAC, WAC.
The following conferences should be one-bid leagues unless the top RPI team is knocked off in the conference tournament: Atlantic 10 (Virginia Commonwealth), Atlantic Sun (Mercer), Northeast (Bryant), Southland (Sam Houston State), SoCon (Western Carolina or Samford), WCC (Pepperdine). Out of that group, Mercer (No. 30 in the RPI) looks like the strongest at-large contender. Pepperdine (No. 42) is also in good shape, needing about seven wins in its last 13 games to finish inside the top 45, and the Waves currently lead the WCC by two games. VCU (No. 35) also has a strong RPI but is currently tied for third place in the A-10, and it needs a red-hot finish to keep its RPI in at-large range. For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll assume those all 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: Central Florida, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Wake Forest
OUT: UC Irvine, UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, San Diego
|American Athletic Conference (3 total bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Houston, Louisville|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Central Florida|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None|
|One change from the midseason projection two weeks ago: UCF joins the field of 64.|
The Knights have won each of their five conference series to climb into first place (12-3), and their series win against Louisville this past weekend vaulted them from No. 79 to No. 50 in the RPI. The Knights are still just 3-8 against the top 50, and their RPI puts them squarely on the bubble, but their positive momentum and place in the standings land them in our field.
|Atlantic Coast Conference (8 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Virginia, Florida State, Miami, Clemson|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Wake Forest|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Carolina State|
|Changes from the midseason projection: N.C. State falls out, while Georgia Tech, UNC and Wake Forest join our field of 64.|
Stick a fork in the Wolfpack after back-to-back series losses at Duke and home against Boston College. The ‘Pack is now 7-14 in the ACC and in serious danger of missing the 10-team conference tournament. It also has dropped to No. 61 in the RPI, and a non-conference series left against No. 197 Coastal Carolina won’t help. If the Wolfpack wins each of its remaining four series and 14 of its last 16 games overall, it could get to 14 conference wins and boost its RPI back into bubble range. But this team inspires no faith that it has that kind of hot streak in it.
The Tar Heels jumped from No. 84 to No. 47 in the RPI after going to Virginia and taking one out of three. The Needs Report says UNC can finish inside the top 45 by winning nine of its final 15 games, but its final two series against Florida State and at Miami are daunting. A series against Virginia Tech this weekend is must-win for a UNC team that is right on the bubble.
Wake Forest is 12-9 in the ACC, two games ahead of UNC in the standings, with series remaining vs. Duke, at N.C. State and vs. Virginia. The Deacons should be able to win at least three of those final nine conference games to finish .500 in the ACC, but they need to win 10 of their final 14 to finish inside the top 45 of the RPI. Series wins against Maryland and Georgia Tech help Wake’s cause.
The Terrapins are in good shape after winning a huge series against Georgia Tech, snapping a three-series losing streak. Maryland is No. 19 in the RPI, and its final three series are very winnable (at BC, vs. Notre Dame, at Pittsburgh), giving the Terrapins a good chance to finish with a winning record in their final season in the ACC.
Georgia Tech also should be OK thanks to a No. 27 RPI and series wins against Florida State, Miami and at UNC. But the Jackets aren’t safe yet, with two road series left in their final three weekends of conference play at N.C. State and Virginia.
The ACC might wind up being just a six- or seven-bid league, because Wake and UNC are in very tenuous positions, but for now both teams sneak in.
|Big 12 (5 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Texas, TCU, Texas Tech|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Oklahoma State, West Virginia|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Kansas, Oklahoma|
|Changes from the midseason projection: Oklahoma State joins our field of 64; Kansas and Oklahoma fall out.|
The first-place Cowboys aren’t in the “secure” category because of their borderline RPI ranking (No. 53), but that is a huge improvement from their position two weeks ago, when they ranked 118th. OSU has won four straight series, including back-to-back sweeps against Kansas and at West Virginia along with quality series wins against TCU and Texas Tech. Oklahoma State’s last four weekends are challenging: at Texas, vs. Arizona State, at Kansas State, and vs. Oklahoma at neutral sites. The Cowboys need to win 10 of their final 15 to finish inside the top 45, and we think they’ll do it. And finishing at or near the top of the No. 2 RPI conference would provide a boost, even if OSU’s RPI is on the edge.
The Sooners have gone 1-5 over their last two weekends at home against Texas and West Virginia, and they have tumbled to No. 87 in the RPI. They could still climb into at-large range with a strong finish, but right now they appear to be in trouble.
The Jayhawks are also trending in the wrong direction, with three home series losses in the last four weeks, dropping them to No. 58 in the RPI. West Virginia reversed its own negative momentum with a road series win at Oklahoma this weekend, capping a 3-1 week that snapped a seven-game losing streak. The Mountaineers are in good RPI shape (No. 33), and the Needs Report says they can stay in the top 45 with six wins in their final 16 games. A win Tuesday against Maryland helped, and home series against Kansas State and Texas over the next two weeks are big. For now, WVU hangs on to one of the last spots in our field.
|Big South (1 bid)|
|SAFELY IN: Liberty|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): High Point|
At No. 41 in the RPI, High Point is in the at-large discussion, but the Panthers are just 1-7 against the top 50, and their 11-7 conference record is uninspiring. HPU needs to win 10 of its last 12 to finish inside the top 45, but even if it does, its resume lacks substance.
|Big Ten (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Indiana|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Nebraska|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None|
|No change from the midseason projection.|
A home series loss to Northwestern was a big blow for the Huskers, sinking them from No. 36 to No. 54 in the RPI, and dropping them to third place in the Big Ten (8-4). They’re certainly still alive, but they need to win 10 of their final 14 to finish inside the top 45; previous series sweeps against Ohio State and at Minnesota were encouraging. A series win against fellow bubble team UC Irvine is a nice feather in Nebraska’s cap, and early victories against the Pac-12’s top two teams (Oregon State and Washington) were huge.
|Big West (3 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Cal Poly|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): UC Irvine|
|One change from the midseason projection: UC Irvine falls out of our field of 64.|
The Anteaters went 1-3 last week, losing a midweek game at Loyola Marymount and a home series against San Diego State. They are still 8-1 in the Big West, but the meat of their conference schedule is still ahead, as their final four series are against UCSB, Cal Poly, Fullerton and Long Beach State. The Anteaters are No. 65 in the RPI and just 2-4 against the top 50, so they need some quality series wins.
The Titans are in serious danger of missing regionals after going 1-5 in back-to-back road series against UCSB and Poly, dropping them to 18-16 overall, 3-6 in the Big West and No. 48 in the RPI. The Needs Report says they need to win 16 of their last 20 to finish inside the top 45; they usually make a run like that in conference play every year, but this year’s Titans are in turmoil, and their ability to turn it around is a major question. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for a little longer.
|Conference USA (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Rice|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Old Dominion|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southern Mississippi, Florida International, East Carolina|
|One change from the midseason projection: Old Dominion joins our field of 64.|
The Monarchs have won five straight conference series, including a road set at FIU and a home series against East Carolina in the last three weeks. Thanks in large part to a 16-13 mark against the top 100, Old Dominion ranks No. 29 in the RPI and can finish inside the top 32 with about nine wins in its last 14 games. Just six more wins should ensure it a top 45 finish. The RPI is less of a concern than the standings; ODU is currently in fifth place at 12-9, with three C-USA series remaining against teams outside the top 100.
Southern Miss sits in second place at 13-5 heading into a big home series against Rice. If the Golden Eagles win that series, their chances will get a major boost. But there is little margin for error; the Needs Report says they must win 11 of their final 13 games to finish inside the top 45. Likewise, East Carolina needs to win 10 or 11 of its last 14 to land in the top 45. Right now, a 3-9 record against the top 50 hurts ECU, and it lacks a conference record (11-7) good enough to offset its RPI deficiency.
|Missouri Valley (3 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Indiana State, Dallas Baptist, Illinois State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Wichita State, Evansville|
|No change from our midseason projection.|
The top four teams are bunched together in the MVC standings, as DBU and Evansville are 6-3 while Indiana State and Illinois State are 7-5. The Patriots (No. 38), Sycamores (21) and Redbirds (32) are in very good shape in the RPI, and the Needs Report suggests all of them are likely to remain in at-large range barring meltdowns. The biggest holes in their cases are a lack of marquee wins; Indiana State is 2-4 against the top 50, Dallas Baptist is 2-5, and Illinois State is a little better at 6-5. The only games remaining against top 50 opponents for both the Sycamores and Patriots come this weekend, when they face each other in Terre Haute. The team that wins that series should solidify its standing as an at-large team.
|Mountain West (3 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: UNLV|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): New Mexico, San Diego State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None|
|No change from the midseason projection.|
The Rebels took a hit by getting swept at Air Force this weekend, but they remain the MWC’s strongest RPI team (No. 38) and have a solid top 100 record (12-11). They played a good nonconference schedule and should be rewarded for it.
The Lobos sit comfortably atop the standings at 14-4, heading into a huge series against UNLV. The Lobos ranked 52nd in the RPI through the weekend, but they snagged an at-large bid last year with an RPI ranking outside the top 50 thanks to their domination of their league. They also jumped 10 spots to No. 42 in the very accurate Boyd’s World pseudo RPI rankings following Tuesday’s win against Texas Tech.
The Aztecs helped their cause with a series win on the road at fellow at-large hopeful UC Irvine this past weekend. An early series win against West Virginia is another nice feather in their cap, and they’re in decent RPI shape (No. 43). But SDSU’s remaining schedule is challenging, with road trips to New Mexico and Fresno State along with a home set against UNLV. The Aztecs are playing without head coach Tony Gwynn, who has taken a leave of absence.
|Pacific-12 (4 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Washington, Oregon|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arizona State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Stanford, UCLA|
|One change from midseason projection: UCLA falls out of our field of 64.|
The Bruins have tumbled from No. 60 to No. 91 in the RPI over the last two weeks. They snapped a three-series losing streak by taking two of three at Utah this weekend, but their last three weeks are daunting: at Oregon State, vs. Oregon, at Washington.
Before that, UCLA has home series against USC and Stanford, and those are critical. Because of the strong finishing schedule, the Bruins can still climb back inside the top 45 by winning 11 of their final 19 games. They might be able to do it, but it won’t be easy; for now, we’ll leave them on the outside looking in.
Stanford (No. 28) is in much better RPI shape, but the Cardinal remains below .500 overall at 16-17, and mired in eighth place in the Pac-12 at 6-9. Thanks to the nation’s No. 2 strength of schedule, Stanford really just needs to finish with a winning record to have a good chance to make a regional; the committee showed last year (with Florida) that it will take a team just over .500 with a robust SOS. Of course, Stanford doesn’t have any series left against the four top 50 RPI teams in the Pac, so its RPI figures to drop some down the stretch. The Cardinal needs 13 or 14 wins in its last 20 games to land inside the top 45 at season’s end. It could happen, but we remain a bit skeptical, and we’ll keep the Cardinal on the outside looking in for now.
|Southeastern Conference (10 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arkansas, Tennessee|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Georgia, Texas A&M, Auburn|
|No change from our midseason projection.|
It’s pretty loud that 13 of the SEC’s 14 teams are legitimate at-large contenders this deep in the season. This league could conceivably send 11 teams to regionals, but we’ll stick with a record 10 bids for the SEC, giving the final two to Arkansas and Tennessee.
The Hogs have shot up from No. 85 to No. 51 in the RPI over the last two weeks, and few teams can match their 8-7 record against the top 25 or 10-10 mark against the top 50. Series wins against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Alabama looks great on the Hogs’ resume, and they did not get swept in road series at Florida, LSU and Mississippi State.
Tennessee has lost four of its last five series, and its remaining schedule is challenging: at LSU, vs. Kentucky, at Mississippi State, vs. Florida. The Vols do own three quality series wins (vs. Vanderbilt, at Arizona State, and a sweep vs. UNLV), and they entered this week ranked No. 26 in the RPI. We like their talent and their resume, but it’s easy to envision them falling back down the stretch against that schedule. For now, we’ll stand by them.
The Aggies own two quality series wins (at Vandy, vs. Florida), but they are farther back in the RPI (No. 64), and their remaining schedule is just as daunting as UT’s: at Mississippi State, vs. LSU, at Arkansas, vs. Ole Miss. Texas A&M controls its own destiny; if it holds its own against that schedule, it will be in. For now, it remains outside our field of 64, but a series win in Starkville this weekend would likely cause us to change that projection next week.
Auburn, like Tennessee, is 7-11 in the SEC, and the Tigers won a road series at Tennessee. But since then, the Tigers have lost four straight series, including a crippling home series against last-place Missouri. The remaining schedule is hard, and Auburn has negative momentum.
|Sun Belt (1 bid)|
|SAFELY IN: Louisiana-Lafayette|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN):None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arkansas State|
|No change from the midseason projection.|
Arkansas State is in the at-large hunt thanks to a No. 45 RPI and its position in second place in the conference (13-5), three games behind Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Red Wolves are just 1-4 against the top 50, and they need to win 10 of their last 14 to remain in the top 45. If they can win a home series against the Cajuns in two weeks, their at-large case will get a major boost. Otherwise, their resume lacks quality wins. And we’re not betting on the Cajuns to lose any Sun Belt series this spring.