Bubble Watch: South Florida, Purdue Pick Up Big Wins
As conference tournaments heat up 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 Thursday’s action.
South Florida: Among a cluster of American Athletic Conference teams in the hosting race, the Bulls pushed toward the front of the pack with a two-win day at the AAC Tournament in Clearwater, Fla. The Bulls took down Wichita State, 7-2, and then more importantly defeated fellow hosting-bubble team Connecticut, 13-0. Those wins spurred a five-rung climb up the RPI ladder, slotting USF at No. 17 in the RPI and putting them in more favorable position to host. The Bulls still aren’t a lock, and they’ll rematch with the Huskies today, but they remain strongly in hosting contention.
Purdue: The Boilermakers have made a steady rise over the last few weeks, highlighted by a regular season-ending sweep of Michigan. The Wolverines fell victim to red-hot Purdue yet again on Thursday, as the Boilermakers pulled ahead in a 5-4 game. That win, combined with a win over Ohio State the day before, has Purdue sitting at No. 28 in the RPI, firming up the team’s at-large chances following a 17-6 season in the Big Ten.
Louisiana State: The national title runner-ups a year ago, the Tigers dipped into shockingly dangerous territory a few weeks ago but have since righted the ship. With a 6-4 win over South Carolina on Thursday—LSU’s second win of the SEC Tournament—the Tigers jumped to No. 41 in the RPI, leaving little doubt the Tigers will be playing in a regional next weekend.
Troy: The Trojans reached 40 wins on the season and climbed to No. 34 in the RPI with a 10-1 over Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday. Troy’s at-large prospects looked a little shakier heading into the final week of the season, but the Trojans picked up a midweek victory against Auburn, won a series against South Alabama and have now won twice in the Sun Belt Tournament. Troy will hear its name called on Selection Monday.
East Carolina: Battling for a hosting nod, the Pirates have a number of metrics on their side—the No. 13 RPI, a 19-4 road record and 41 wins. Where ECU has struggled, however, is in taking down its peers in the American Athletic Conference, dropping series to Houston, South Florida and UConn in the regular season. After getting swept by Houston at home during the regular season, the No. 4-seeded Pirates fell to Cougars again, 5-3, on Thursday and will face Houston again today in an elimination game. While ECU’s resume could very well be enough to earn a hosting nod as is, an early exit from the AAC Tournament might give the selection committee pause.
Texas and Oklahoma State: After rallying to wrestle the Big 12 title away from Oklahoma State, the Longhorns conceivably had a path toward a national seed with a loud Big 12 Tournament. That dream is over, however, after Texas lost its second straight tournament game, 3-1 to Oklahoma, to end its tournament run. The Longhorns fell to No. 22 in the RPI, but should still be in line to host. The Cowboys, meanwhile, were eliminated from the Big 12 tournament after yet another loss to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders swept OSU to end the season, and though the Cowboys should still be safe for an at-large bid, they’ve undoubtedly struggled down the stretch, losing 10 of their last 12 games.
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South Alabama: A preseason Top 25 team with one of the best players in the country in Travis Swaggerty, the Jaguars are on the bubble following a series loss at Troy to end the season. They didn’t help their chances with a 16-4 loss to Coastal Carolina on Thursday, and they remain on the bubble with the No. 49 RPI. At 1-1 in the tournament, the Jaguars aren’t finished yet, but they could use another win against Georgia Southern today.
Miami: It’s the end of an era at Miami, as 25-year head coach Jim Morris coached his last game at the helm of the Hurricanes in a 7-1 ACC Tournament loss to Clemson. At 28-26, the Hurricanes will miss their second straight NCAA Tournament after earning a regional bid in 44 consecutive years. Morris ends his Miami coaching career with 1,090 wins, two national championships and 1,594 Division I wins overall. Morris will be remembered as a coaching legend in the college game.