HOOVER, Ala.–It's been a long, long day in Hoover at the Southeastern Conference tournament, so let's keep this tight. We'll focus only on results that affected the races for at-large bids, national seeds and regional hosts.
Let's begin with a look at the at-large picture. Here are the changes to our most recent 64-team field from Tuesday's Stock Report, in a nutshell:
Barely Hanging On: Mercer, Western Carolina
Just Missed The Cut: West Virginia, New Mexico, UC Santa Barbara
• As we detailed in the Wednesday Roundup, Evansville's 0-2 showing in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament ended its hopes for an at-large bid. Clemson moves into our field after winning its first two games at the ACC tournament against Duke and Miami. Thursday's walk-off, 3-2 win against the Hurricanes ignited a dogpile for the Tigers, who desperately needed the victory to strengthen their at-large hopes. Clemson jumped from No. 50 to No. 44 in the RPI in the up-to-the-minute WarrenNolan.com RPI rankings. With a 15-14 ACC regular-season record, Clemson just needed a few more quality wins and a stronger RPI to put itself back into good position for an at-large spot, and Thursday's win helped in both regards.
• The Mountaineers and Lobos both lost Thursday after winning Wednesday. West Virginia was downed by Texas Christian, 6-2. WVU remains strong in the RPI (No. 31) but is just 6-19 against the top 50, and it needs another couple of wins in the Big 12 tournament to offset its poor finish to the regular season and its ugly top 50 record. Its abundance of road games and good strength of schedule help, but those factors aren't enough yet.
• New Mexico dropped a crucial game against fellow Mountain West bubble team San Diego State, 11-5. The defeat dropped the Lobos out of the top 60 in the RPI (they're down to No. 61). They have enough quality wins to have a shot at an at-large bid if they can get their RPI back into the mid-50s, especially since they shared the MWC regular-season title with UNLV. New Mexico faces the winner of the Fresno State-Nevada elimination game Friday, and that game will be a must-win for the Lobos to keep their hopes alive.
BUBBLE TEAMS THAT HELPED THEMSELVES THURSDAY:
• Cal State Fullerton won its series opener against Cal State Northridge, 4-2, keeping the Titans at No. 52 in the RPI. With one more win to clinch the series, Fullerton should snag an at-large bid.
• Long Beach State won the first game of its critical series against UC Irvine, 3-2, jumping the Dirtbags five spots to No. 39 in the RPI. At this stage, Long Beach can probably afford to lose its final two games and still land in the field of 64. UC Irvine remains in solid shape at No. 38; both teams have 15-7 conference records.
• UC Santa Barbara beat UC Davis 7-1, moving the Gauchos up a spot to No. 54 in the RPI. They remain just 10-12 in the Big West, and a sweep is crucial for them to have a chance.
• San Diego State beat New Mexico 11-5, as Steven Pallares' grand slam highlighted SDSU's eight-run seventh inning. The Aztecs are up to No. 44 in the RPI and have enough quality wins (including an 8-5 record against the top 50) to feel good about themselves at this point.
• Dallas Baptist improved to 2-0 at the MVC tourney with a 6-5 win against Bradley. The Patriots are up to No. 29 in the RPI and are looking like a strong bet to snag an at-large spot, despite a 2-9 record against the top 50.
• Illinois stayed alive in the Big Ten tournament with a 6-5 win against Ohio State. The Illini could sneak into a regional even with a 1-2 showing in the conference tournament, but another win or two would greatly improve their chances. At No. 53 in the RPI and 5-4 against the top 50, their resume compares favorably with other bubble teams, giving them a bit of a cushion to work with.
BAD NEWS FOR BUBBLE TEAMS:
Two at-large locks and one bubble team fell into loser's brackets Thursday in conferences that would be one-bid leagues if the favorites won the conference tournaments:
• Liberty was shut out by High Point, 9-0. The Flames are a slam-dunk at-large team, and if they get knocked out of the Big South tournament, it will become a two-bid league, eating up an at-large bid.
• Sam Houston State was also shut out Thursday, 1-0 against Southeastern Louisiana. If the Bearkats can't come back to win the Southland Conference tournament, they will earn an at-large spot, gobbling up another bid.
• Ball State was knocked off by Kent State, 4-3, in the Mid-American Conference tournament. The Cardinals would be on the bubble if they fail to win the automatic bid, with a No. 55 RPI and just a 2-7 record against the top 100. Compare that with Western Carolina (No. 51 in the RPI, 9-8 vs. the top 100), and it's clear that Ball State is behind the Catamounts in the pecking order.
For now, we'll continue to assume all three of leagues send one team to regionals, but if any of them are eliminated in the next day or two, we'll update our projections accordingly.
GOOD NEWS FOR BUBBLE TEAMS:
Teams that remained unbeaten in conference tournaments Thursday: Louisiana-Lafayette, Rice, Indiana, Nebraska and Pepperdine. The first four are all locks for regionals, and Pepperdine is a solid bet as well, so bubble teams need to root for them to win their conference tournaments to keep more at-large spots available. Either Indiana or Nebraska winning the Big Ten would be good news for bubble teams, although if a team other than the Hoosiers, Cornhuskers or Illini wins the tournament, Illinois is the team that would likely suffer.
One change from Tuesday's Stock Report: Mississippi replaces South Carolina as a national seed.
The Gamecocks played poorly in a 0-2 showing in Hoover, dropping them to No. 13 in the RPI. Ole Miss jumped five spots to No. 10 in the RPI after beating Vanderbilt on Thursday, and the Rebels still have Sam Smith and potentially Christian Trent available, giving them a chance to win another game or two in Hoover to solidify their national seed. Even if they lose Friday, they performed better in Hoover than South Carolina, finished a game ahead of the Gamecocks in the SEC standings, have a stronger RPI (at least for now) and the same number of top 50 wins (15).
Miami is down to No. 15 in the RPI after losing its first two games in the ACC tournament, putting the Hurricanes on thin ice for a national seed, even after winning the ACC regular-season title. The primary threat to supplant them is Texas Christian, which improved to 2-0 in the Big 12 tournament with a 6-2 win against West Virginia. The Frogs have a balanced resume, with a strong showing in the No. 2 RPI conference (17-7, a game out of first place), a 15-8 record against the top 50, a good RPI (No. 11) and seven straight weekend series wins to close the season. But we know the committee values regular-season championships in power conferences, so we'll stick with Miami by a hair for now. If Miami loses Saturday against Duke to go 0-3 in Greensboro, it will lose its national seed. It could get beat out for a national seed even with a win Saturday if TCU stays unbeaten in the Big 12 tournament and simply snatches it away.
LSU is emerging as a darkhorse contender for a national seed. The Tigers likely need to win the SEC tournament to make up for their weak nonconference strength of schedule, but as hot as they are, they look very capable of doing just that.
National Seeds: Florida, Oregon State, Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State, Mississippi, Miami
No change from Tuesday's Stock Report.
LSU and Rice have likely solidified their hosting spot by winning their first two conference tournament games, while Houston's hopes took a big blow with a loss Thursday against Connecticut. AAC regular-season champion Louisville won its conference tournament opener Thursday, 13-3 against Memphis, and the Cardinals look like they are first in line to move into a host spot should any other team falter. Their best hope might be for Washington to stumble in its final series this weekend against UCLA. The Cardinals (No. 18) are three spots higher in the RPI than UW (No. 21), and their top 50 records are similar (6-7 for Louisville, 7-8 for Washington). As the third host in the West, the Huskies offer more geographic diversity and provide the added bonus of giving the NCAA a new location--and a sparkling new ballpark to showcase--for a regional. We'll stay with the Huskies for now.
We are sticking with five SEC hosts, because Vanderbilt remains in strong position to host despite its 1-2 showing in Hoover. Vandy's No. 8 RPI ranking and 19-16 record against the top 50 make up for its sixth-place finish in the SEC, especially since teams 3-6 in the league were separated by one win. Only Florida has more top 50 wins than the Commodores.
Finally, keep an eye on Texas as another outside contender to host. The Longhorns improved to 2-0 in the Big 12 tournament with a 3-0 win against top-seeded Oklahoma State, jumping them three spots to No. 7 in the RPI, and making them 17-12 against the top 50. A fifth-place finish in the regular-season--five games out of first place--is still likely to torpedo their hosting ambitions, but if they keep winning this weekend, there is a possibility the committee could be swayed.
Hosts: Florida, Oregon State, Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida State, Mississippi, Miami, TCU, LSU, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Rice, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Washington