Image credit: Brooks Wilson (Photo courtesy of Stetson)
This weekend will see most conferences conclude their regular seasons and the first NCAA Tournament bids will be handed out. College baseball has reached crunch time.
With Selection Monday rapidly approaching, Baseball America presents our latest Field of 64 projection, as we will every week for the remainder of the season.
With so few games left, things are starting to settle in the race for top-eight seeds, host sites and at-large bids. This week sees no change to the teams that make up the top-eight seeds and any future change will likely require a team leaping up to claim a spot rather than a team falling back to the pack.
The hosting race is more dynamic, however, and this week Duke and Stetson move onto the host line. The Blue Devils have been among the hosts in earlier projections and their series win against North Carolina pushed their RPI back into the top 15. That RPI and Duke’s 17 Atlantic Coast Conference wins put them back in a position to host. Stetson moves into the hosts for the first time this season. The Hatters are 40-11, have a top 10 RPI and are on their way to an Atlantic Sun Conference title. They will likely have to add an A-Sun Tournament title to their resume to maintain their spot as hosts, if for no other reason than two losses in the A-Sun Tournament will put a dent in their impressive RPI, but their path is clear.
The hosting race is complicated by Oklahoma State’s standing in the Big 12 Conference. The Cowboys lead the Big 12, which ranks second in conference RPI, but are No. 22 in RPI. Oklahoma State hosts Texas Tech this weekend and a series win would help its RPI and give its hosting resume a boost. The Cowboys can win the conference without a series win this weekend, but that would knock them off the host line, short of a strong showing in the Big 12 Tournament.
Also in the hosting race are Auburn, Coastal Carolina, Kentucky and Texas. Auburn and Kentucky have strong RPIs but are just 13-14 in the Southeastern Conference. Both need strong finishes over the next two weekends to host. Texas has similar metrics to Oklahoma State and could still nip the Big 12 title. Coastal has a strong resume and is right on the host bubble but will have scant few opportunities over the next two weeks to improve its No. 19 RPI. It, like Stetson, needs to pair its regular-season conference title with a tournament title to push its resume over the edge.
This week’s projection includes 10 SEC teams, which would match a record for the most bids by one conference. But only about half those teams can feel truly safe going into the final weekend. Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt all appear in the field but have under .500 conference records. Some SEC teams will get in the field with losing conference records but because the selection committee includes conference tournament games in teams’ conference record and because the SEC Tournament starts with a round of what amount to play-in games for the teams seeded 5-12, getting to 15 SEC wins before going to Hoover would be advisable for those teams who wish to have a less stressful Memorial Day Weekend. That makes this weekend’s Kentucky at Vanderbilt showdown more intriguing.
Mississippi State and Texas A&M are both 12-15 and will need strong finishes. The Aggies made the cut while the Bulldogs did not because their RPI is about 20 spots higher than Mississippi State and they host South Carolina, while the Bulldogs host Florida. Neither series is particularly easy, but the Aggies have a bit more of a cushion and don’t have to face a team that has won 19 straight series.
Several series this weekend will have a big affect on teams on the bubble. Two of the most intriguing are Purdue hosting Michigan and South Alabama visiting Troy. All four teams are among the Last Four In/First Four Out and this weekend will help sort out which are bubble-in and which are bubble-out.
The Pac-12 race is also worth watching over the next two weeks. Stanford and Oregon State are solidly top-eight seeds and UCLA is safely in the field, but nothing else is settled out West. Arizona has the next best RPI but is 10-14 in the Pac-12 and has yet to win a road series all year. Washington has an RPI north of 60 and is 25-21 but is tied for third in the standings with UCLA at 15-9. The Huskies get the nod here, in part due to their sweep of the Wildcats, but they need to keep winning down the stretch. Arizona is not out of it yet and a big series this weekend against archrival Arizona State would get them right back on track.
|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64|
|Gainesville, FL||Stillwater, OK|
|1. (1) Florida^*||1. (16) Oklahoma State^*|
|2. Jacksonville||2. Auburn|
|3. Northeastern*||3. Houston*|
|4. Hartford*||4. Sam Houston State*|
|Stanford, CA||Durham, NC|
|1. (2) Stanford^*||1. (15) Duke^|
|2. Indiana||2. Coastal Carolina*|
|3. Baylor||3. St. John’s*|
|4. Grand Canyon*||4. Kent State*|
|Chapel Hill, NC||Greenville, NC|
|1. (3) North Carolina^*||1. (14) East Carolina^|
|2. Connecticut||2. Texas|
|3. Michigan||3. Missouri State|
|4. North Carolina A&T*||4. Wright State*|
|Fayetteville, AR||Raleigh, NC|
|1. (4) Arkansas^||1. (13) North Carolina State^|
|2. Oklahoma||2. Kentucky|
|3. Washington||3. Central Florida|
|4. Oral Roberts*||4. Campbell*|
|Corvallis, OR||Deland, FL|
|1. (5) Oregon State^||1. (12) Stetson^*|
|2. Ohio State||2. South Florida|
|3. Cal State Fullerton*||3. Louisiana State|
|4. Pepperdine*||4. Bryant*|
|Oxford, MS||Lubbock, TX|
|1. (6) Mississippi^||1. (11) Texas Tech^|
|2. Southern Mississippi*||2. Dallas Baptist*|
|3. Illinois||3. Texas A&M|
|4. Alabama State*||4. Nevada*|
|1. (7) Georgia^||1. (10) Minnesota^*|
|2. Louisville||2. UCLA|
|3. Troy||3. Vanderbilt|
|4. Canisius*||4. Saint Louis*|
|Clemson, SC||Tallahassee, FL|
|1. (8) Clemson^||1. (9) Florida State^|
|2. South Carolina||2. Tennessee Tech*|
|3. UNC Greensboro*||3. Florida Atlantic|
|4. Yale*||4. Navy*|
|*-Automatic bid; ^-Regional host|
Last Four In
First Four Out
- Louisiana Tech
- Mississippi State
- South Alabama
Next Four Out
- Georgia Tech