Conference tournaments begin today and Baseball America takes a look at the six highest-rated conferences in the RPI that hold tournaments. Capsules were compiled by Teddy Cahill, Michael Lananna and Jim Shonerd.
Where: Bright House Field, Clearwater, Fla.
Participants: Eight teams (listed by seed)—Tulane, East Carolina, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, South Florida, Central Florida
Top Seed: Tulane. The Green Wave surged into a first place in the AAC and could be in line to host depending on its tournament performance. Tulane is led, from a draft prospect standpoint, by shortstop Stephen Alemais (.320/.379/.416) and Jake Rogers, one of the country’s best defensive catchers. But the addition of Jeremy Montalbano, a Texas transfer, has added 11 home runs’ worth of pop to the lineup, one homer behind team leader Hunter Hope. A balanced club, the Green Wave ranks second in the conference with a 3.19 team ERA. Tulane lost just one conference series and is the clear tournament favorite.
Something To Gain: East Carolina, Connecticut. The Pirates should be a lock for an at-large bid at this point, given their No. 24 RPI and second-place finish. UConn has more work to do at No. 51 in the RPI. The American was a four-bid league last year but might only produce two NCAA teams this season, depending on the tournament’s results.
Desperation Time: Houston. The preseason conference favorite, Houston finished fifth in the conference and sits at No. 72 in the RPI. The Cougars have the starting pitching to make a splash and the tournament and will need to have a very strong showing to make it to a regional.
All Or Nothing: Cincinnati, Memphis, Central Florida, South Florida. All with triple-digit RPIs, these teams have no chance at at-large bids. The Bearcats are an interesting case, as they led the standings for a large chunk of the season, but they fell to fourth place with a rough finish.
— Michael Lananna
Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, N.C.
Participants: 10 teams (listed by seed)—Miami, Louisville, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina State, Clemson, Duke, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest.
Format: Two single-elimination play-in games, followed by pool play.
Top Seed: Miami. The Hurricanes lost just two series this season—one to non-conference rival Florida and another against Virginia. Otherwise, Jim Morris’ ball club did little wrong, building a rock-solid national seed resume. The Hurricanes are led by junior catcher Zack Collins, who has hit .381/.552/.645 with 11 home runs this season while also playing improved defense behind the dish. Junior outfielder Willie Abreu also has 11 homers and has been an important veteran presence, while speedy outfielder Carl Chester is a table setter at the top of the order. The Hurricanes have had to piece things together more in the starting rotation, making a late-season switch on Fridays by moving Thomas Woodrey to the bullpen and starting freshman righthander Andrew Cabezas in his place. Steady lefties Michael Mediavilla and Danny Garcia round out the back of the rotation, while righthander Bryan Garcia is as reliable as they come in the back end of the bullpen.
Something To Gain: Louisville, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina State, Clemson, Duke, Boston College. The Cardinals have the least to gain of this group, as a national seed is relatively secure for them. The Cavaliers are in a similar boat, although a win or two in the tournament would provide some national seed security. Atlantic Division mates FSU, Clemson and N.C. State are tightly bunched and are all looking to host; this week is the chance for one or two of them to separate from the pack. Duke and Boston College are somewhat on the bubble and would benefit from solid tournament showings, but both teams seem likely to earn at-large bids regardless.
Desperation Time: Georgia Tech, Wake Forest. Ranked No. 19 and No. 26 in the RPI, respectively, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have NCAA tournament cases, but they are both coming off of losing series and could use a win or two in the tournament. It might not be quite do-or-die, but neither team is a tournament lock at the moment, either.
All Or Nothing: None. The ACC is first in conference RPI for a reason. All 10 teams in the tournament have a conceivable shot at an at-large bid. There’s no team that fits in the championship-or-bust mold.
— Michael Lananna
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha.
Participants: Eight teams (listed by seed)—Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa.
Top Seed: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers won their first Big Ten regular season championship since 2010, clinching it with a win Saturday against Ohio State. That victory capped an emotional week for Minnesota, which found out Tuesday that longtime pitching coach Todd Oakes, who has been battling cancer, had been moved to hospice care. Two-way star Matt Fielder is Minnesota’s leading hitter at .383/.424/.542 with seven home runs and 13 stolen bases. He also serves as the Gophers ace, and is 7-2, 3.67 on the mound. Catcher Austin Athmann (.376/.446/.642, 11 HR) gives Minnesota another powerful bat in the middle of the order. The regular season championship should afford the Gophers an at-large bid, but they’ve lost two of their past three series and have an RPI of 47, so winning at least once in Omaha would be heartening.
Something To Gain: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are probably the Big Ten’s best hope for hosting a regional. Nebraska finished just a half-game behind Minnesota in the regular season and has an RPI of 36. If the Cornhuskers dogpile Sunday, they could be rewarded by the selection committee.
Desperation Time: Ohio State, Maryland. Ohio State has finished the season strong, sweeping Michigan and then winning a series at Minnesota. That has brought the Buckeyes’ RPI into bubble range (57), but they’ll likely need to pick up another win or two in Omaha to secure a bid. Maryland has been around the NCAA Tournament bubble much of the season and continues to hang out there with an RPI of 58. But the Terrapins could use a couple wins to push their overall total to 30 on the season.
All Or Nothing: Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa. The Hoosiers have played like one of the 64 best teams in the country of late, but early-season stumbles have left them with an RPI of 91. Michigan State has at times looked like a regionals team, but has lost three straight series since its big series win against Michigan. That leaves them, along with Iowa, needing to win on Sunday to extend their season.
— Teddy Cahill
Where: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City
Participants: Eight teams (listed by seed)—Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State.
Top Seed: Texas Tech. One of the year’s pleasant surprises, Texas Tech—picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 coaches’ preseason poll—rose up to claim its first regular-season title since 1997. The Red Raiders were the Big 12’s highest scoring offense (7.2 runs/game), with a balanced attack led by Omaha veterans like Eric Gutierrez (.347, 12 HR) and Tyler Neslony (.317, 9 HR) and breakout performers like sophomore Tanner Gardner (.373, 3 HR). Barring disaster, Tech should be a national seed in the NCAA tournament, and the only question at this point will be how much the freshman arms its leaned on have left in the tank, namely Davis Martin (8-0, 2.19) and Steven Gingery (4-1, 2.72).
Something To Gain: Oklahoma State, Texas Christian. The Cowboys and Horned Frogs could play themselves back into the regional hosting conversation with a deep run in OKC—since they’re on the same side of the bracket, each will have a chance to get a leg up on the other. OSU won the teams’ regular-season series, but TCU is positioned better in the RPI at No. 17, with OSU at 28. TCU’s continuing to build up ace Mitchell Traver after he missed most of the season will be another storyline as the Frogs look ahead to next week.
Desperation Time: None. West Virginia looked like an NCAA team at one point, but a midseason slump killed its RPI, which sits at 75. Realistically, the only way the Big 12 gets a fourth NCAA bid is if one of the other five teams wins the whole thing, just as Texas came out of nowhere to do it as the No. 5 seed last year.
All Or Nothing: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia. Oklahoma underachieved after being a preseason Top 25 team but does come into the tournament with some momentum, having won four of its last five series. Baylor has also been pesky under first-year coach Steve Rodriguez. The Bears two of three against TCU two weeks ago and finished the season winning a series at Texas.
— Jim Shonerd
Where: Pete Taylor Park, Hattiesburg, Miss. (Hosted by Southern Mississippi)
Participants: Eight teams (listed by seed)—Florida Atlantic, Marshall, Southern Mississippi, Rice, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, Florida International, Charlotte.
Top Seed: Florida Atlantic. The Owls emerged from a crowded field at the top of Conference USA to win their first regular-season title in just their third year competing in the league. That they’ve done it while head coach John McCormack and catcher Kevin Abraham have both been fighting cancer makes for even more of a storybook season. Star shortstop C.J. Chatham (.373, 7 HR) is the ringleader of CUSA’s second highest scoring offense (6.4 runs/game), and the Owls lead the conference in ERA (3.08). Although FAU opted not to put in a bid to host an NCAA regional, it could conceivably still land itself a No. 1 regional seed if it makes a solid run in the CUSA tournament.
Something To Gain: Louisiana Tech, Rice, Southern Miss. Rice and Southern Miss entered the final weekend of the regular season in prime position to host regionals, but getting swept by Louisiana Tech and FIU, respectively, cost them dearly. Both of them have their work cut out if they’re going to get back in that discussion. On the flip side, Louisiana Tech earned its way off the bubble and into solid at-large territory at No. 38 in the RPI with that sweep of Rice, and another win or two in Hattiesburg would solidify its first NCAA bid since 1987 even more.
Desperation Time: Marshall. It’s already a banner year for Marshall, which has set program records for wins both in conference play (21) and overall (32). The Thundering Herd hadn’t even qualified for the C-USA tournament since 2010, and now it’ll go off as the No. 2 seed this week, having won five straight series to end the regular season. However, the Herd’s going to have to keep that pace up, because with an RPI of 65, it’ll need a deep run to keep playing beyond Sunday.
All Or Nothing: Charlotte, Florida International, Old Dominion. FIU made a Cinderella run in this tournament last year, winning it all as the No. 8 seed, and it does come in hot after that sweep of Southern Miss. Old Dominion has looked like a regional-caliber team at its best, but a No. 76 RPI dooms it to having to win the whole thing this week.
— Jim Shonerd
Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Ala.
Participants: 12 teams (listed by seed)—Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida, Louisiana State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee.
Format: Single-elimination play-in games followed by double-elimination bracket play.
Top Seed: Mississippi State. The Bulldogs enter the tournament on an 11-game winning streak that included three straight conference series sweeps to complete a worst-to-first turnaround. Mississippi State ranks second in the SEC in hitting (.313), led by newly minted freshman of the year Jake Mangum (.427/.479/.532). Righthander Dakota Hudson (9-3, 2.29) is poised to be a first-round pick next month, and leads a deep pitching staff. Despite a relatively low RPI of 11, Mississippi State should already be locked in as a national seed.
Something To Gain: Louisiana State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi. The SEC has turned out to be top heavy this year, with seven teams that have good enough resumes to minimally be in the discussion to host a regional, if not be a national seed. The conference already looks well set for an unprecedented four national seeds, with the top four seeds in the SEC Tournament in the driver’s seat for those. But with a tournament championship, LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi could snatch a national seed. In the event the SEC doesn’t also get seven hosts to go with its four national seeds, those three teams will be fighting to make sure they aren’t one that gets sent on the road for regionals.
Desperation Time: Kentucky, Alabama. Teams from the SEC generally don’t get at-large bids with RPIs north of 40, so both the Wildcats (55) and the Crimson Tide (62) have work to do this week. Both won 15 conference games, typically good enough for a regionals berth, and have marquee series wins (Florida and South Carolina for Kentucky; LSU and Mississippi for Alabama). But both will need some more wins to further boost its RPI. They won’t both be able to get those wins, however, as they face off in a play-in game Tuesday. The tournament will afford the winner that opportunity —Mississippi State awaits whoever comes out of the play-in game—but it will have its work cut out for it against the conference’s elite.
All Or Nothing: Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee. With a lofty RPI but an overall record that has hovered around .500 much of the year, Georgia had the opportunity to play its way into the field last weekend. But it lost a series to Tennessee, leaving it with an RPI of 34, but a 27-29 overall record and an 11-19 conference mark. That leaves it with Missouri and Tennessee, chasing the conference’s automatic bid.
— Teddy Cahill