Bubble Watch: Arizona, Southern Miss. Stay Hot
As conference tournaments hit their peak around the country, teams have just a few more chances to improve their standing in the NCAA Tournament race. We look at the winners and losers from Saturday’s action.
Arizona: The Wildcats finished off a sweep of Washington State with a 15-7 win. The respective positives and negatives for Arizona are the same as they’ve been since the week began. The 3-16 record against the RPI top 50 is an eyesore and the RPI just inside the top 50 is borderline. But its 15-14 record in the Pac-12, ranked No. 4 in conference RPI, is a big item in Arizona’s favor that few other bubble teams will be able to match. How the committee values that particular package of items we won’t know until Monday.
Southern Miss: With a 6-0 win against Rice in the Conference USA Tournament that featured a no-hitter for Gabe Shepard and two relievers, the Golden Eagles are one win away from winning the automatic bid and leaving no doubt about their place in the postseason. But even if they don’t beat Florida Atlantic in the championship game, Southern Miss has given itself a fighting chance of getting an at-large bid with its work this week. An RPI nearing 50 isn’t ideal, but with a soft bubble, it’s not unpalatable. The same goes for a 3-5 record against the RPI top 50, which actually compares somewhat favorably with other bubble contenders.
UC Irvine: The Anteaters did all they could to make a statement in their final regular season game, as they beat UC Riverside 22-7, behind six hits from shortstop Christian Koss. The win does little to help UCI’s resume, but losing it very well could have been the final nail in the coffin. As it is, an RPI nearing 55 and an 0-5 record against the top 50 is very, very bubbly.
Central Florida: After a couple of big steps forward this week with its performance in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, UCF took a step back with a 10-6 loss to Cincinnati. Still, the combination of a top-45 RPI, an 8-9 record against the RPI top 50, and a bubble that has still yet to shrink should give the Knights a decent shot at hearing their name called on Monday.
Campbell: The Camels continue to establish themselves as the new class of the Big South. With an 8-6 win against Winthrop, Campbell clinched back-to-back trips to regionals after participating in the Athens Regional a year ago.
Central Michigan: The Chippewas capped off a fantastic first season of the Jordan Bischel era by earning the automatic bid out of the Mid-American Conference with a 6-0 win against Ball State. At 46-12 overall, 22-5 in MAC play, and a 32-11 combined score in a 3-0 performance in the conference tournament, CMU has proven it will be a tough out in a regional.
Creighton: Bubble teams rejoice! Creighton, a team that was going to be in the NCAA Tournament regardless, won the Big East Tournament with a 9-8 win against Xavier. Though the Bluejays have had a number of quality teams in recent years, this is their first regional appearance since they made back-to-back appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Fordham: After finishing fourth in the Atlantic 10 regular season standings at 15-9 and 38-22 overall, the Rams won the league’s tournament with a 4-3 walk-off win against Dayton on a bases-loaded walk. This will be the first regional trip for the program since 1998.
Fresno State: This is another automatic bid that bubble teams should be happy to see handed out. The Bulldogs had worked their way into safe territory as an at-large team, so an upset in the Mountain West Conference Tournament would likely have turned it into a two-bid league. Instead, with a 12-6 win against Nevada-Las Vegas, Fresno State guaranteed its first regional appearance since 2012.
Illinois-Chicago: The Flames helped eliminate Horizon League regular-season champion Wright State by beating the Raiders on Friday, and then on Saturday, they advanced to regionals for the second time in three seasons with a 6-5 win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Indiana State: The Sycamores came back from the loser’s bracket to capture the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title, beating Dallas Baptist twice on Saturday by 9-5 and 16-3 scores. It will be Indiana State’s first trip to the postseason since 2014.
Jacksonville State: The Gamecocks have been at or near the top of the Ohio Valley Conference standings all season long, and they lived up to that regular season success with a 10-3 win against Morehead State to claim the league’s automatic bid. They are headed to regionals for the first time since 2014.
Loyola Marymount: The lowest seed in the four-team West Coast Conference Tournament, Loyola Marymount won the event with a 3-0 showing in Stockton, Calif., capped by a 4-2 victory in 10 innings against Saint Mary’s. This will be the program’s first regional appearance since 2000.
McNeese State: The Cowboys are going to a regional for the first time since 2003 after defeating Central Arkansas, 4-2, in the Southland Conference Tournament championship game. Two years ago, McNeese was on the bubble but got left out. It left no doubt this time around.
Nebraska-Omaha: The Mavericks put an end to Oral Roberts’ run of Summit League Tournament titles by beating the Golden Eagles 4-0 in the second championship game of the day Saturday. That’s more impressive when you consider that Omaha had lost to ORU 6-0 earlier in the day to force the extra game. This will be the program’s first-ever regional appearance.
Stony Brook: The Seawolves, a College World Series team back in 2012, clinched their first regional appearance since 2015 with a 7-5 win against Binghamton. A perfect 3-0 in the America East Tournament, Stony Brook is playing some of its best baseball at exactly the right time.
UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos were a regional lock already, but they made it official by clinching the automatic bid awarded to the Big West regular season champion with a victory against Cal Poly. UCSB won its first Big West crown since 1986 with the victory. But this result was more notable because of what didn’t happen. If Saturday’s result had been flipped, Cal Poly would have won the league and the automatic bid. At 28-28 overall, the Mustangs aren’t getting in as an at-large team, meaning the bubble teams breathed a little easier after the Gauchos victory.