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.
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 12 weeks of the season:
|SECURE TEAMS: Virginia, Florida|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida State, Oregon State, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas Christian|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Rice, Miami, Vanderbilt, South Carolina|
|Changes from last week: TCU replaces South Carolina as a national seed.|
The Gamecocks slid five spots to No. 11 in the RPI after dropping a series at Georgia, their third series loss in the last five weeks. At 13-11 in the SEC (five games behind Florida), South Carolina needs a torrid finish to resuscitate its national seed hopes. A sweep of Missouri this weekend would help, but the regular-season finale at Vanderbilt is huge. The Commodores travel to Florida this weekend before hosting South Carolina, and if they win both series, they figure to be a national seed. For now, we'll assume the home team wins both of those series, causing both Vandy and South Carolina to fall outside national seed position.
TCU is one of the hottest teams in college baseball, with 12 straight wins and 19 wins in its last 20 games. The Horned Frogs are tied atop the Big 12 with Oklahoma State, and they're up to No. 10 in the RPI. Even though they lost two meetings against Rice (No. 6), we're giving the Frogs the edge for a Lone Star State national seed based on a better record against the top 25 (9-4 vs. 3-5) and TCU's place in the No. 2 RPI conference. Rice is leading the No. 8 RPI conference, which stands a good chance to send just one team to regionals, so winning the league carries less weight.
Miami remains in sole possession of first place in the ACC heading into the final two weeks, and if the Hurricanes can win the league's regular-season title, they figure to snag a national seed, possibly at Florida State's expense. We're still betting on Virginia to take the conference crown, and FSU to grab the ACC's second national seed based on its RPI advantage (No. 3 vs. No. 18) over Miami and its early head-to-head series win.
|SECURE TEAMS: The eight national seeds listed above (Virginia, Florida, Florida State, Oregon State, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas Christian); Rice|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Miami, Vanderbilt, Washington, Cal Poly, South Carolina, Oklahoma State, Liberty|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Louisiana State, Louisville, Houston, Texas, Mercer, Alabama, Mississippi State|
|Changes from last week: Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State replace Alabama and LSU as hosts.|
The Commodores rebounded from their midseason swoon with back-to-back sweeps of Georgia and Missouri, helping them climb to No. 5 in the RPI heading into the week. As we wrote above, they control their own destiny; with both of their final two series, they could snag a national seed. Win one, they could still host. Lose both, they might find themselves on the road for regionals.
The SEC hosting picture remains extremely murky. LSU hurt its cause with a series loss at Texas A&M last week, but the Tigers had won their previous four series, so they are still right in the thick of the hosting race. Their soft nonconference schedule works against them, depressing their RPI (No. 17). And they must improve their 13-10 conference record. They host Alabama this weekend and finish at Auburn, so it's easy to envision them getting to 17 conference wins and hosting. South Carolina is in slightly better RPI position and has a sweepable series this weekend (Missouri at home), so for now we'll give the Gamecocks a slight edge over the Tigers. But this race remains very fluid.
Washington, Cal Poly and Oklahoma State seem likely to host even if they finish outside the top 16 or even top 20 in the RPI, because all three have performed very well in their conferences--and out of conference, for that matter. Sweeping Arizona State this weekend was a huge boon for the Cowboys, who climbed 13 spots to No. 27 in the RPI and have a manageable finishing stretch ahead. They'll need to stay hot to finish inside the top 25, which would greatly help their cause. The Mustangs hit a speed bump with four straight losses before rebounding to win a road series at UC Riverside. Their series this weekend against first-place UC Irvine is crucial, but Cal Poly is at home. If the Mustangs lose this series, their hosting ambitions will be shot, because they won't have a conference crown to make up for their lack of marquee wins (1-1 vs. the top 50).
Liberty hasn't faced a top 25 team and is 5-2 against the top 50, but 14-6 against the top 100. That's as many top 100 wins as LSU or Miami and more than Louisville or Louisiana-Lafayette. And a 19-1 conference record along with a beautiful new stadium help buttress the Flames' case, giving them a chance to host even if their RPI slips and they wind up as a No. 2 seed. The committee likes to reward mid-major programs with that have invested in facilities and produced banner seasons, so we continue to believe Liberty will host. Their primary competition could be Louisville, which surged from No. 23 to No. 14 in the RPI last week and climbed two more spots to No. 12 after beating Vanderbilt yesterday. The Cardinals are in the same geographic footprint as Liberty and have more top 50 wins, and they have overtaken UCF by percentage points in the AAC. If they win the regular-season crown, they'll have a strong case.
There are 31 automatic bids awarded to conference champions, and these 14 are safe bets to be one-bid leagues, regardless of how their conference tournaments shake out:
America East, Atlantic 10, 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 Sun (Mercer), Northeast (Bryant), Southland (Sam Houston State), SoCon (Western Carolina), WCC (Pepperdine).
• Out of that group, Mercer (No. 21 in the RPI) looks like an at-large lock, especially after beating Florida on Tuesday.
• Pepperdine (No. 38) remains in decent shape, though it has lost four of its last five games heading into a WCC showdown series against second-place San Diego. If the Waves win that series, they'll likely shore up their at-large credentials, but if they lose it, they'll be right on the bubble. They need to win four of their last seven to finish inside the top 45, and five or six of their last seven to land inside the top 32, heading into the WCC tournament.
• Bryant (No. 35) slipped five spots in the RPI after splitting four games against Sacred Heart, but the Bulldogs still lead the NEC by four games. A 22-8 road record props up Bryant's RPI despite its ugly 1-5 record against the top 100. The RPI Needs Report says Bryant needs to win its final eight games to finish inside the top 45, and given its lack of wins against quality opponents, it might find itself on the wrong side of the bubble if it fails to win the NEC tournament.
• Sam Houston State (No. 46) has won eight straight games to move into a three-way tie for second place in the Southland, a game behind Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. A regular-season title seems like a prerequisite for the Bearkats to have a shot at an at-large bid, but they should have an opportunity to win one in two weeks, when they finish with a home series against the Islanders.
• Western Carolina (No. 53) has the worst RPI ranking of this group, and a 2-6 mark against the top 50 doesn’t help. But the Catamounts have won six straight games and can finish inside the top 45 with five wins in their last seven games.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll assume those 19 conferences 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 12 weeks. Here are the changes from last week, in a nutshell:
|IN: Kansas, Maryland, Florida International, Long Beach State|
|OUT: Duke, Old Dominion, Southern California, Illinois State|
|BARELY HANGING ON: Arkansas, New Mexico, Evansville, UC Santa Barbara|
|KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Tennessee|
|American Athletic Conference (3 total bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Louisville, Houston|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Central Florida|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None|
|No change from last week.|
UCF could have firmed up its at-large credentials with a series win at Houston, but the Knights dropped two of three, then lost a midweek game to Florida Atlantic yesterday. That midweek loss dropped them from No. 40 to No. 48 in the RPI, keeping them squarely on the bubble. But if they win six of their last eight, they can land inside the top 45, and that should be enough for an at-large bid given their strong conference showing.
|Atlantic Coast Conference (7 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Virginia, Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Clemson, North Carolina, Maryland|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): North Carolina State|
|CHANGES FROM LAST WEEK: Maryland replaces Duke in our field of 64.|
A week after getting swept at Boston College, the Terrapins rebounded by sweeping Notre Dame to climb to 12-14 in the ACC, with a road series at Pittsburgh remaining. If they can sweep it to get to 15-14 in the league, they'll probably get an at-large bid. At 14-16, they'll have a shot, but the BC series is still a large fly in the ointment.
Despite a 15-9 conference record, Duke had little margin for error because of its RPI, and it needed to sweep Longwood this weekend to remain in at-large position. Losing the middle game of that series hurt, and the Blue Devils dropped from No. 61 to No. 74. If they win one of their final two series (vs. Miami and at Florida State), they still have a shot at an at-large spot even with a borderline RPI, but the road ahead is challenging. The Needs report says they need to win six of their final seven; four or five of the last seven might be enough to boost the RPI into acceptable bubble range.
The Needs Report says N.C. State needs to win out to land in the top 45, and sweeping its last two conference series (vs. Wake Forest, at Virginia Tech) is also necessary to get the Wolfpack to .500 in the ACC. If the 'Pack can do that, we think it will get in, but even then it would be a close call, because an 0-6 record against the top 25, a 4-11 mark against the top 50 and an 11-16 mark against the top 100 are killers.
UNC finishes with Florida State and at Miami, and two wins in those last six conference games would get the Tar Heels to 15-15 in the ACC. Throw in a couple winnable midweek games, and UNC should be able to finish inside the top 45 of the RPI too. It's definitely a bubble resume, but for now we expect UNC to squeak in.
|Big 12 (6 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Kansas|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): None|
|CHANGE FROM LAST WEEK: Kansas joins our field of 64 after sweeping Texas Tech.|
The Jayhawks vaulted 21 spots to No. 36 in the RPI and climbed to third place in the Big 12. They are in great shape, with only one series left--at home against West Virginia. The Mountaineers solidified their credentials with a series win against Texas this weekend. This conference looks fairly locked in to six bids.
|Big South (1 bid)|
|SAFELY IN: Liberty|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): High Point|
|No change from last week.|
High point fell from No. 36 to No. 49 in the RPI after dropping a home series to Radford. The Panthers need to win out to finish inside the top 45, and even that likely wouldn't offset their 0-6 mark against the top 50 and 7-14 record against the top 100.
|Big Ten (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Indiana|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Nebraska|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Illinois|
|No change from last week.|
Nebraska did what it needed to last week, sweeping Penn State. The second-place Huskers remain No. 44 in the RPI and just need to win four of their final seven to land inside the top 45.
Keep an eye on Illinois (No. 66 in the RPI), which swept Michigan State this weekend and can climb inside the top 45 if it wins five of its final six--all on the road at Iowa and Nebraska. The Illini are 4-2 against the top 25, but just 7-6 against the top 100.
|Big West (4 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Cal Poly|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): UC Irvine, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Cal State Fullerton|
|CHANGE FROM LAST WEEK: Long Beach State joins our field of 64.|
The Dirtbags have won three straight series--against UCSB, Cal Poly and Fullerton, all at home. They're up to 23-23 overall, and we continue to believe they'll get a bid if they can reach 30 wins. That means they must fare well on the road at Hawaii and UC Riverside in the next two weeks; they finish by hosting UC Irvine.
The Gauchos are in jeopardy after getting swept by UC Irvine, which vaulted from No. 54 to No. 33 in the RPI and improved to 14-1 in the Big West. The only thing keeping the Anteaters out of the "safely in" category is the difficulty of the remaining schedule (at Cal Poly, vs. Fullerton, at Long Beach), but if the tournament started today they'd be a lock. Santa Barbara, meanwhile, fell to 7-11 in the league, though its last three series are more favorable (vs. Cal State Northridge, at San Francisco out of conference, at UC Davis). UCSB needs a red-hot finish to boost its conference record and prop up its RPI (No. 52), but the friendly closing stretch preserves hope.
The Titans (24-20, No. 69 in the RPI after Tuesday's win against UCLA) are in deep trouble; the Needs Report says they need to win out to land in the top 45. Losing the Long Beach series this past weekend was a crippling blow.
|Conference USA (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Rice|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Florida International|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Old Dominion, Southern Mississippi|
|CHANGE FROM LAST WEEK: FIU replaces Old Dominion in our field of 64.|
The Panthers leapt from No. 66 to No. 41 in the RPI after sweeping a road series at East Carolina, effectively popping ECU's bubble. The remaining schedule is navigable (vs. Middle Tennessee, at Tulane), and FIU can finish in the top 45 by winning six of its last eight. At 14-10, the Panthers are in better shape in the standings than ODU, which finds itself in seventh place at 14-13 after losing a vital home series to Florida Atlantic. Despite a robust RPI (No. 29), the Monarchs won't get in as a middle-of-the-pack C-USA team, just as Notre Dame was left out last year with a No. 33 RPI and a poor showing in the Big East.
|Missouri Valley (3 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Indiana State, Dallas Baptist, Evansville|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Illinois State|
One change from last week: Illinois State falls out of our field of 64 following a disastrous week that contained a midweek loss to 12-32 Purdue and a series loss at Western Illinois (No. 201 in the RPI).
That week caused the Red Birds to tumble from No. 32 to No. 57 in the RPI. If they can reverse course with a series win at Evansville this weekend, they'll still be alive, but they're trending in the wrong direction.
Evansville remains in first place (11-4) in the No. 6 RPI conference after taking two of three at last-place Southern Illinois, but failing to sweep that series cost the Aces in the RPI, as they slid 10 spots to No. 61. Their at-large hopes hinge on a home series against second-place Illinois State this weekend. We expect Evansville to take care of business at home, propelling them to an MVC regular-season title that will give their resume a huge boost.
|Mountain West (2 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: UNLV|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): New Mexico|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): San Diego State|
|No change from last week.|
New Mexico continues to hang on by a thread after taking two of three from San Diego State. The Lobos remain tied with UNLV atop the MWC standings at 16-8, helping them remain at No. 50 in the RPI heading into this week. Then they lost a midweek game to Utah Valley yesterday, dropping them to No. 58. With series left at Nevada (No. 132) and vs. Air Force (No. 222), New Mexico's RPI is not going to shoot up into the 40s, but an MWC regular-season title would help its cause--and UNLV has a harder road (at San Diego State, vs. Nevada).
|Pacific-12 (4 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Oregon State, Washington, Oregon|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Arizona State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Southern California, Stanford|
|CHANGE FROM LAST WEEK: USC falls back out of our field of 64.|
The Trojans joined the field last week after sweeping a road series at UCLA, but they gave back their momentum by losing three straight against UC irvine and at Washington State, before salvaging the finale in Pullman. At No. 65 in the RPI, USC needs to win seven of its last eight to climb inside the top 45, but at least its last two series are at home (vs. Cal and Oregon State). The OSU series is huge, and challenging.
|Southeastern Conference (10 bids)|
|SAFELY IN: Florida, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Texas A&M, Kentucky, Arkansas|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn|
|No change from last week|
Arkansas performed as expected last week, going to Ole Miss and taking one out of three. That leaves the Hogs on the bubble at 11-13 in the league and No. 54 in the RPI, but we're leaving them in our field just barely for the same reason we did last week: we expect a 4-2 showing over the final two weeks (vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri), and 15-15 in the SEC should be good enough for an at-large bid, especially since Arkansas owns series wins against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Alabama.
Tennessee improved its position with a series win against Kentucky, but the Vols are still just 10-14 in the league with a tougher road remaining (at Mississippi State, vs. Florida). If the Vols can get to 13 SEC wins, they'll have at least a chance at an at-large, but they need to reach 14 to feel better about their prospects. And it won't be easy agains that schedule; for now, the Vols remain outside looking in.
Georgia put itself back in the at-large conversation after taking two of three from South Carolina, improving the Bulldogs to 9-14-1 in the league and vaulting them 17 spots to No. 45 in the RPI. But improving that conference record won't be easy with series remaining at Ole Miss and vs. Kentucky. The Wildcats (10-14) have lost two straight series but finish with a more manageable closing stretch (vs. Auburn, at Georgia), and their 9-10 record against the top 25 and sterling RPI (No. 15) keep them on the right side of the bubble.
Auburn looks like a long shot after getting swept at home by Mississippi State. And Auburn's finishing stretch is tough (at Kentucky, vs. LSU). Win those series, and Auburn is right back in the thick of it--but we're betting against that.
|Sun Belt (1 bid)|
|SAFELY IN: Louisiana-Lafayette|
|ON THE BUBBLE (IN): None|
|ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Arkansas State|
|No change from last week|
Arkansas State had its chance, hosting the Ragin' Cajuns this past weekend, but ULL took two of three to tighten its stranglehold on the Sun Belt race and deal ASU's at-large hopes a crippling blow. This looks like a one-bid league unless the Cajuns falter in the conference tournament, but it's worth noting that Arkansas State is still No. 55 in the RPI and can finish in the top 45 if it wins six of its last seven. But given ASU's 1-3 mark against the top 50 and 7-12 record against the top 100, just finishing inside the top 45 might not be enough anyway.