Bubble Watch: Southern Miss, UCF Score Needed 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 Wednesday’s action.
Central Florida: With the Knights’ 5-2 loss to Tulane on Tuesday night at the American Athletic Conference Tournament, the team faced a true must-win Wednesday against Memphis. When it was all said and done, they rescued their postseason hopes from the jaws of defeat with an 8-7 victory in 10 innings. Heading into its off day Thursday, UCF’s back is still very much against the wall. If it is eliminated on Friday, a 12-15 record against league competition with an RPI somewhere in the 45-50 range just simply might not be enough.
Southern Mississippi: With an RPI nearing 60 entering the week, Southern Miss had a lot of work to do down in Biloxi, Miss., at the Conference USA Tournament. It’s no guarantee that the Golden Eagles will be able to do enough to get back into at-large position, but with a soft bubble, they’ve got a shot, and a 4-3 victory in 10 innings against Rice is a good start. USM trailed 4-1 with two outs in the ninth before tying the game to send it into extras. In the 10th, Matt Wallner connected for a walk-off home run.
Mid-Major League Champs: As you will see with the sheer volume of bubble teams listed in the “Losers” section, the bubble is pillow soft right now. That creates an opportunity for mid-major league champs that don’t win their conference tournaments. Often times, this subset of teams gets squeezed as the bubble shrinks, but perhaps that won’t be the case this time around. That would be good news for teams like Brigham Young and Fresno State that might normally get pushed out should they not win the automatic bid.
Houston: With a solid resume and a soft bubble, the Cougars came into the week in pretty good position. The only way it felt like they could get into real trouble is if they went 0-2 in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. With a 4-3, walk-off loss to Connecticut on Tuesday and a 13-2 loss to East Carolina on Wednesday, that’s where Houston is. The good news is that both of those teams are good RPI teams, so the RPI hasn’t really moved, and the overall resume is still probably good enough to keep the Cougars in the field. The bad news is that it is going to be a long week of rooting for as few stolen bids as possible.
Kansas: By winning eight of their last ten Big 12 regular season games, which pushed them to 12-12 in the league and inside the top 60 in RPI, the Jayhawks quietly opened up a path to get into the at-large discussion. A game against West Virginia and its top-20 RPI on Wednesday at the Big 12 Tournament provided a golden opportunity for KU to really make it interesting, but it came up short in a 12-8 loss. Adding insult to injury, a win would have set the Jayhawks up to take on Texas Tech on Thursday with ace Ryan Zeferjahn on the mound. That’s no easy task, of course, but it would have represented the best possible shot for Kansas to do the necessary work to get into a regional. Now, it’s likely just playing for the automatic bid.
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs came into the week needing to do some work in a couple of different areas. They need to lower an RPI outside the top 50, but at the same time, they could really use conference wins after going 17-13 in Conference USA in the regular season and finishing five games out of first place. With a 6-4, 12-inning loss to Marshall at the Conference USA Tournament, La Tech did neither. At this point, it probably needs to come back to win the whole thing to end up playing baseball in June.
Michigan: Once the Wolverines fell out of first place in the Big Ten, their resume suddenly looked a little thin. Specifically, an RPI around 50 is a little higher than is comfortable, and a 4-9 record against the RPI top 50 leaves something to be desired. With a 2-1 loss to rival Ohio State on Wednesday at the Big Ten Tournament, the path to the postseason got even narrower, but there is good news. Illinois dropped its opening game to Maryland, meaning Michigan will get its shot at the Illini, a high-RPI opponent. A win in that game and the Wolverines are right back in business, with another win against a top-50 opponent in their pocket and the RPI bump that would come with it. But an 0-2 stay in Omaha with a loss to Illinois would be ill-advised.
Oklahoma: After finishing 11-13 in Big 12 play during the regular season, the Sooners came to Oklahoma City and the Big 12 Tournament badly in need of wins against conference competition. They didn’t get that Wednesday with an 8-2 loss to Baylor, knocking them to an elimination game Thursday against Texas Christian. Suffice it to say OU is now completely out of margin for error at 11-14 against the league. There still might be time for a run, even if they don’t win it all, but a loss Thursday against the Horned Frogs would almost certainly be the final nail in the coffin.
Texas State: Even with a Sun Belt regular season title under their belt, the Bobcats are fading a bit from the at-large picture. An 8-0 loss to Louisiana-Monroe in the Sun Belt Tournament was a painful one, as it dropped them out of the top 50 in RPI. With the league providing precious few chances to really improve a team’s RPI, Texas State might now be in position to have to win it all.
Virginia: With a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to North Carolina at the ACC Tournament, the Cavaliers lost a game they really could have used. The defeat puts them at 14-17 against ACC competition, with another loss this week likely pushing their backs to the wall. Unfortunately for Virginia, its next game is Thursday against a rested Miami team that hasn’t played a game yet this week.