Image credit: N.C. State SS Will Wilson
Conference tournaments begin in earnest around the country this week, with a few conferences, including the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference, starting the fun today. There is less than a week until Selection Monday, adding urgency to this week’s games as teams fight for spots in the NCAA Tournament.
The race for top-eight seeds and hosting sites has become clearer. The top eight seeds did not change from last week’s projection, though they are reordered. Arkansas and Clemson are the two most vulnerable of the top-eight seeds—Arkansas due to its road record (6-13) and fourth-place finish in the SEC and Clemson for its RPI (11). Fighting for the last couple spots are Florida State, Texas and Texas Tech. Any of the trio could crash the party with a strong week.
The hosting race is still a bit more open. In addition to the teams in the national seed race, Minnesota and North Carolina State are safely on the hosting line. Stetson figures to be there as well if it can avoid bad RPI losses in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
The final two spots remain up for grabs. Coastal Carolina should snag one if it can pair its Sun Belt Conference regular season title with a tournament crown. Auburn, Connecticut, Duke, East Carolina and South Florida are all still in the mix. Auburn is well-positioned with a top-15 RPI, but it needs a couple wins in the SEC Tournament and faces a must-win game today against Kentucky, which is fighting for its postseason life. In this scenario, we project the Wildcats to win that game. In that case, Duke has the easiest path to hosting, needing a win or two in ACC pool play against Louisville and Wake Forest.
Connecticut, East Carolina and South Florida can all play their way into hosting position if they win the American Athletic Conference Tournament. A few other teams, including Indiana, Louisville and Vanderbilt could all get to the hosting line if they win their conference tournament.
On the bubble, Kentucky and Texas A&M represent two of the most difficult cases. Both rank in the top 25 of RPI, but both went just 13-17 in the SEC. They face must-win games today in the play-in round of the SEC Tournament and then probably need another win during the double-elimination portion of the tournament. That would give them 15 SEC wins and strong RPIs, which should push them over the edge.
Georgia Tech is also facing a must-win game Tuesday in the ACC Tournament. The Yellow Jackets face Pittsburgh in the tournament’s opening game before taking on North Carolina later in pool play. Two wins should see Georgia Tech into the tournament, while a 1-1 week will make for an anxious weekend.
The Sun Belt Tournament will also be one to watch. In addition to Coastal seeking to shore up its hosting bid, Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama and Troy are all on the bubble. Troy is bubble-in after posting the second-best record in the league at 19-10. Louisiana, the tournament’s host, and South Alabama will need to make a statement this week, while Troy largely just needs to avoid a quick exit.
The Pac-12 Conference doesn’t have a tournament, but it will this weekend still be in the spotlight. Washington hosts Stanford and, despite its poor RPI, is tied for third place in the conference at 18-9. Its RPI figures to improve this weekend and a win against the Cardinal will likely see the Huskies through. Arizona also remains on the bubble, but it needs a sweep at Oregon to get its Pac-12 record back to .500. A sweep probably puts the Wildcats in, while a series win will at least keep them on the bubble.
It is also important to remember that this season the way the Field of 64 is constructed has changed. No longer does the selection committee choose eight national seeds and then pair them with another host side based primarily on geography. Instead, they will seed all 16 host sites and pair the regionals accordingly. That means No. 1 seeds from the same conference can be paired together for super regionals, though that is not the case in this projection.
|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64|
|Gainesville, FL||Durham, NC|
|1. (1) Florida^*||1. (16) Duke^|
|2. Missouri State*||2. Auburn|
|3. Troy||3. Purdue|
|4. Hartford*||4. UNC Greensboro*|
|Stanford, CA||Conway, SC|
|1. (2) Stanford^*||1. (15) Coastal Carolina^*|
|2. Vanderbilt||2. Connecticut|
|3. Northeastern*||3. Oklahoma|
|4. Grand Canyon*||4. Kent State|
|Athens, GA||Raleigh, NC|
|1. (3) Georgia^||1. (14) North Carolina State^|
|2. Ohio State||2. East Carolina|
|3. Washington||3. St. John’s|
|4. Yale*||4. Wagner*|
|Chapel Hill, NC||Deland, FL|
|1. (4) North Carolina^*||1. (13) Stetson^*|
|2. South Carolina||2. South Florida|
|3. Illinois||3. Florida Atlantic|
|4. North Carolina A&T*||4. Wright State*|
|Corvallis, OR||Minneapolis, MN|
|1. (5) Oregon State^||1. (12) Minnesota^*|
|2. Mississippi State||2. Louisville|
|3. Cal State Fullerton*||3. Louisiana State|
|4. Pepperdine*||4. Nevada*|
|Oxford, MS||Austin, TX|
|1. (6) Mississippi^||1. (11) Texas ^*|
|2. Southern Mississippi*||2. Indiana|
|3. Baylor||3. Houston*|
|4. Canisius*||4. Texas Southern*|
|Fayetteville, Ark.||Tallahassee, FL|
|1. (7) Arkansas^||1. (10) Florida State^|
|2. Oklahoma State||2. Jacksonville|
|3. Sam Houston State*||3. Central Florida|
|4. Oral Roberts*||4. Army*|
|Clemson, SC||Lubbock, TX|
|1. (8) Clemson^||1. (9) Texas Tech^|
|2. Tennessee Tech*||2. UCLA|
|3. Kentucky||3. Dallas Baptist|
|4. Campbell*||4. Saint Louis*|
|*-Automatic bid; ^-Regional host|
Last Four In
First Four Out
- Texas A&M
- Georgia Tech
Next Four Out
- South Alabama
- Louisiana Tech