NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch (5/12/23)

Image credit: USC freshman Austin Overn (Photo courtesy of USC)

Bubble watch continues as college baseball hits the stretch run. Just a couple weeks remain in the regular season for most conferences, giving a real sense of urgency for teams trying to shore up their NCAA Tournament resumes.

Over the rest of this month, we’ll be tracking the development of the Field of 64 and, most importantly, what every team needs to do to secure an at-large bid.

For these purposes, we’ll sort teams that are in at-large contention into three camps:

1) Locks. Reserved for teams that could lose out and still make the NCAA Tournament. That’s a bit nit-picky, but when we say lock, we mean it.

2) Should be in. Generally, a team that would be solidly in if the field was selected today.

3) Work to do. Nothing is guaranteed for these teams.

At this stage, the difference between “should be in” and “work to do” is somewhat nebulous. By the end of the month, it will matter much more. For now, buckle in and get ready for an exciting month as we push ever closer to the Road to Omaha.


We started this last week with Wake Forest locked up and it still stands as the lone team from the conference to be a lock, in part because so much of the league was playing non-conference games. Teams in the ACC generally must get to 15 conference wins, as no ACC team has gotten an at-large bid without being at least .500 in conference play since 2016.

It’s getting tight among the conference’s bubble teams and this weekend’s rivalry showdown between North Carolina and North Carolina State is a key one to watch.

Lock: Wake Forest
Should be in: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia
Work to do: Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech

Boston College (30-16, 14-13; RPI: 8; SOS: 17): BC last weekend lost its series at Wake but picked up an important road win against the conference leader. The Eagles should be all set as long as they avoid a sweep next weekend at home against Notre Dame—and maybe even if they do get swept. They’re out of conference play this weekend, so they’ll remain in the “should be in” section for another week, however.

Clemson (31-17, 14-10; RPI: 11; SOS: 4): The Tigers have surged over the last five weeks, winning five straight ACC series and pushing themselves into the hosting race. After sweeping Louisville last weekend, Clemson is nearly a lock, but I’ll hold firm to the 15-win mark in the ACC. But the Tigers are thinking bigger than an at-large bid.

Duke (32-14, 14-9; RPI: 9; SOS: 6): Duke is coming off its finals break and will look to keep its momentum rolling as it resumes ACC play this weekend against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils could be reasonably locked up, but I’ll hold firm to the 15-win mark for ACC teams. Regardless, they’re focusing on hosting and top-eight seeds, not the bubble.

Louisville (28-19, 9-15; RPI: 35; SOS: 22): It’s hard to see this ending well for the Cardinals after they were swept at Clemson last weekend, their fourth straight ACC series loss. They’re just 5-12 since sweeping BC in early April and now are out of margin for error. Their RPI slipping past 30 is a further bad sign and removes much of the leeway the committee might show for a subpar conference record. A series win this weekend at Virginia is a must for staying in the hunt.

Miami (31-16, 14-10; RPI: 17; SOS: 27): The Hurricanes swept Presbyterian during their ACC bye weekend and remain in much the same place they were a week ago: just waiting on another opportunity to pick up an ACC win to move into lock territory. Miami will get it this weekend at Pittsburgh, but it’s really eyeing hosting and not worrying about the tournament bubble.

North Carolina (31-17, 12-11; RPI: 32; SOS: 20): The Tar Heels are coming off their finals break in a solid position. They’ve got two ACC series left—home against NC State and at Clemson. Because UNC had two games rained out at Pittsburgh, it will only have 28 conference games. As a result, while the rest of the conference is aiming for 15 ACC wins, UNC can probably make do with 14. The next two weekends aren’t a layup, but securing a split seems manageable.

North Carolina State (31-15, 10-14; RPI: 22; SOS: 23): No one in the ACC knows better about how tight the bubble can get than NC State, which last year was snubbed at 14-15 in conference play despite an RPI of 33 and a run to the ACC Tournament championship game. So, the Wolfpack will be aware that anything less than a perfect finish at UNC and home to Pittsburgh will leave its resume vulnerable. NC State’s other metrics are better this year—including its non-conference strength of schedule (121 vs. 184 a year ago), which was noted last year by the selection committee as one of the dings against its resume. A top-30 RPI would probably give it more leeway on its conference record. But even so, the Wolfpack is facing two must-win series to end the season.

Notre Dame (26-19, 14-13; RPI: 42; SOS: 44): The Fighting Irish are probably closer to the bubble than is truly comfortable. They’re out of ACC play this weekend and take on Akron in a series that won’t help its metrics any. Notre Dame finishes with a series at BC and even just winning once would secure a .500 conference record, but it’s got an RPI that looks more like a bubble team and some poor underlying metrics (especially its non-conference strength of schedule mark of 260) to boot. It’s going to need a strong finishing kick.

Virginia (38-11, 13-11; RPI: 13; SOS: 57): The Cavaliers were off last week for finals and will be looking to put a poor April behind them when they resume ACC play this weekend. Virginia’s in fine shape to make the tournament and is still a favorite to host. It faces Louisville and Georgia Tech to close the regular season.

Virginia Tech (28-16, 11-12; RPI: 47; SOS: 56): The Hokies are precariously positioned going into the final two weeks of the regular season. Their RPI is the worst of any of the ACC’s serious tournament hopefuls and they’ll probably need to win their two remaining conference series (home against Clemson and at Wake Forest). That’s a tight spot to be in for the reigning champions.

Big 12

Annually, the Big 12 provides an exciting conference race and this year is no different. It’s been a hard one to get a handle on, as it appears that nearly any team in the conference can win any given series.

We’re this week locking up West Virginia. The Mountaineers are in first place in the standings, have a top-20 RPI and are in the mix to be a top-eight national seed. It’s time to say they’ll be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019.

Lock: West Virginia
Should be in: Oklahoma State, Texas
Work to do: Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech

Kansas State (28-18, 11-7; RPI: 56; SOS: 70): K-State is tied for second place in the Big 12 standings with Oklahoma State and the two teams will face each other this weekend in Stillwater. K-State then finishes the regular season home against TCU. Two series wins would clear up the Wildcats’ bubble case, but what about a split? That would likely keep them in the top half of the Big 12 with an RPI of about 50 and right on the bubble. K-State still looks like one of the toughest bubble cases of the year.

Oklahoma (26-22, 10-11; RPI: 44; SOS: 12): Oklahoma has played itself into the bubble conversation and while it lost a series at West Virginia last weekend, picking off a game in the series gave it a nice metrics boost. The key for the Sooners now will be to win next weekend’s rivalry showdown at home against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma this weekend travels to Gonzaga for a series it needs to win but won’t move the needle on its resume.

Oklahoma State (33-14, 11-7; RPI: 21; SOS: 37): Sticking to a strict definition of lock is all that prevents the Cowboys from moving to that group. If they went 0-6 in their last two Big 12 series (Kansas State and at Oklahoma) they’d be in some trouble going into the Big 12 Tournament. The Cowboys are in fine shape and more concerned with the hosting race than the bubble.

Texas (33-17, 12-9; RPI: 26; SOS: 26): Similar to Oklahoma State, it would probably be fine to lock up the Longhorns. But if they went 0-6 against San Jose State and West Virginia, BoydNation’s RPI Needs Report says they would fall out of the top 45 in RPI. So, we’ll give this another week, but the Longhorns don’t need to be sweating the bubble.

TCU (27-21, 8-10; RPI: 50; SOS: 18): The Horned Frogs look very bubbly. There’s some great—they beat Arkansas and Vanderbilt and won a series against Oklahoma State—and some bad—home series losses to Florida State and UNC Wilmington. Their RPI is right in that bubbly range and the emphasis now is probably on the Big 12 standings. TCU this weekend gets Baylor at home and then travels to Kansas State. The Horned Frogs probably need to at least go 4-2 over the final two weekends.

Texas Tech (34-16, 9-9; RPI: 51; SOS: 67): There’s no more challenging team to deal with than Texas Tech. The eye test suggests that the Red Raiders should firmly be in the field. They have series wins against Iowa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU (all of which are at least in the mix for the NCAA Tournament), in addition to a midweek split at Stanford. Their metrics, however, are being weighed down by some bad RPI losses (they have three losses against teams with an RPI above 150). A series this weekend at West Virginia gives Tech a chance to boost its metrics before finishing at home with a must-win series against Kansas.

Big Ten

The last couple weeks have narrowed the list of Big Ten contenders. We’re not quite ready to lock up first-place Maryland, but the Terrapins are in a good spot.

Elsewhere, Michigan State’s sweep last week at the hands of Illinois has knocked them out of this week’s bubble watch. Win this weekend’s series at Iowa and the Spartans will be back next week, but for now the focus is on just four teams.

Should be in: Indiana, Maryland
Work to do: Iowa, Rutgers

Indiana (35-14, 12-6; RPI: 31; SOS: 81): The Hoosiers last weekend got a needed sweep of Northwestern and then picked up a solid midweek win against Xavier. IU is rolling toward regionals but has a couple tricky weekends left: a rivalry series at home against Purdue and then a trip to Michigan State.

Iowa (30-12, 10-7; RPI: 39; SOS: 102): Annually, the Hawkeyes seem to find themselves in the bubble conversation. That traditionally hasn’t ended well for Iowa, which hasn’t earned an at-large bid since 2015. This year feels different, however. The Hawkeyes have a solid RPI and a reasonable finishing stretch (Michigan State, at Northwestern), which should help push them up near the top of the conference standings by the end of the regular season. One potential wrench is the investigation into 26 athletes, including some baseball players, at the university who are suspected of gambling on sports in violation of NCAA rules. Iowa won last weekend’s series against Ohio State despite a few players being held out of competition, but it’ll be without them for the foreseeable future.

Maryland (31-15, 11-4; RPI: 40; SOS: 52): The Terrapins are in first place in the Big Ten and while their RPI isn’t robust, they’re in fine shape. Maryland is in the driver’s seat for a second straight conference title and fully on track for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Rutgers (30-18, 11-7; RPI: 49; SOS: 63): The Scarlet Knights were one of the first teams left out of the field last year and they’re likely again headed for bubble territory this season. Rutgers last weekend got an important sweep of Penn State and climbed to third in the Big Ten standings. It’ll look to continue that momentum this weekend against Illinois, which is coming off a big sweep of Michigan State.


Stanford’s sweep last week at Arizona State has given it a clear lead in the Pac-12 standings and moved it to the lock category. The Cardinal are now looking to clinch their second straight conference title.

Bubble watchers should this weekend focus on the Los Angeles schools, especially Southern California, which has a big opportunity with Arizona State coming to Dedeaux Field.

Lock: Stanford
Should be in: Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State
Work to do: Southern California, UCLA, Washington

Arizona State (29-18, 14-9; RPI: 38; SOS: 34): The Sun Devils were swept last weekend at home by Stanford and have now lost six of their last seven games. The finishing stretch remains tricky (at USC, home against UCLA) and ASU needs to break out of its funk. But it’s not sweating the bubble yet.

Oregon (31-16, 14-10; RPI: 27; SOS: 19): A week ago, the Ducks were projected as hosts and looked like dark horses in the Pac-12 title race. Then they lost a series at USC and saw their RPI fall out of the top 25. Oregon’s probably not out of the hosting race with a strong finish (Washington, at Utah) and its focus remains on that end of things, not the bubble.

Oregon State (34-14, 16-11; RPI: 30; SOS: 72): Since starting Pac-12 play 1-5, the Beavers have turned things around. They’ve won six of their last seven series and have the conference’s third-best RPI. They’re arguably a lock but were things to really go sideways at UCLA this weekend, their secondary metrics might not fare well on the bubble. Winning just once against the reeling Bruins should be enough, however.

Southern California (28-20-1, 13-11; RPI: 65; SOS: 59): The Trojans got a key series win last week when they took down Oregon. Their RPI remains too high, and the road ahead isn’t easy (ASU, at Arizona). This weekend is a big one for USC, as it’s 23-6 at home and has series wins against Oregon and Stanford. Add a series win against ASU to that list this weekend and USC will have built an intriguing case. There are some real flaws on its resume, but before we can dive into the nuances of USC’s case, it’s got to win this weekend.

UCLA (25-19-1, 10-12-1; RPI: 59; SOS: 35): UCLA has been bit hard by the injury bug and it’s now sitting on the wrong side of the bubble staring at a very challenging finish (Oregon State, at ASU). The Bruins have lost three straight series and were just swept at home by California, which came into the weekend in last place. Their momentum is obviously going in the wrong direction, but if they’re able to reverse that and win their last two series, they can still get back into it. That’s a big ask, however.

Washington (29-14, 13-10; RPI: 46; SOS: 83): The Huskies last weekend got a key road win against rival Washington State and have built some strong momentum, winning eight of their last 10 games. The Huskies still aren’t out of the woods yet, however. Their poor non-conference strength of schedule (262) is a bit worrying for a bubbly team. If they can clearly establish themselves as a top-five team in the conference standings, it would be a big plus.


College baseball’s premier conference is given more leeway on Selection Monday and is the only league that routinely gets at-large bids for teams with losing conference records. In fact, 14 SEC wins is usually plenty and 13 gives teams a fighting chance. Because of that leeway and the strong RPI numbers for the SEC’s top teams, the conference already has six teams locked into the field.

Kentucky is the latest to join the club following its sweep of South Carolina. The Wildcats rank No. 1 in RPI and are up to a 14-10 SEC record. They look to be on their way to hosting a regional for just the second time in program history.

Last weekend saw the SEC’s bubbly teams all pick up key series wins. They’ll look to keep that momentum going this weekend. While Alabama visits Texas A&M for a matchup of two teams that still have work to do, the key series might be Georgia at Missouri. The Bulldogs are 9-10 away from Athens and now are looking for a road series win in Columbia, where the Tigers this season have been tough to beat.

Locks: Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Should be in: Tennessee
Work to do: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Texas A&M

Alabama (33-16, 11-13; RPI: 14; SOS: 14): The Crimson Tide last weekend got a crucial series win against Vanderbilt, showing impressive resolve after Brad Bohannon was fired less than 12 hours before the series opened. With its high-level metrics, Alabama probably needs just two more SEC wins and series at Texas A&M and home against Mississippi to get them. Splitting those series would seal the deal.

Auburn (27-19-1, 11-13; RPI: 29; SOS: 7): The Tigers’ back-to-back series wins at South Carolina and against LSU have them in a much better position on the bubble. With series at Mississippi and against Missouri left on the slate, Auburn is in a strong spot. Split those weekends, which is plenty reasonable for a team that just took down South Carolina and LSU, and Auburn is in.

Georgia (28-21, 10-14; RPI: 28; SOS: 5): The Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament hopes continue to yo-yo, as they’ve alternated series wins and losses for the last month. Last weekend, they snagged another key series win, beating Tennessee at home. Splitting their final two series (at Missouri, home against LSU) might be enough. But unless Georgia wins those two series, it’s more likely headed toward a bubbly finish.

Tennessee (33-16, 12-12; RPI: 23; SOS: 30): The Volunteers’ series loss at Georgia last weekend put a dent in their hosting hopes, but they’re not in bubble danger. The final two weekends are challenging (Kentucky, at South Carolina), especially considering Tennessee is just 3-12 away from Knoxville. But as long as Tennessee doesn’t get swept twice, it’s got nothing to worry about.  

Texas A&M (29-20, 11-13; RPI: 34; SOS: 10): The Aggies last weekend picked up a crucial series win against Florida. It was especially important given how the rest of the SEC’s bubble teams did on the weekend, as it kept them on pace with the group. With a manageable remaining schedule (Alabama, at Mississippi State) and an RPI that’s moved into the top 35, A&M can feel good about its position.

Sun Belt

The Sun Belt this year has emerged as a high-level baseball conference, as was expected when it added James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss. It ranks fifth in conference RPI and is positioned to be rewarded on Selection Monday with multiple at-large opportunities.

Lock: Coastal Carolina
Should be in: Southern Miss
Work to do: Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, Texas State, Troy

Georgia Southern (24-24, 14-10; RPI: 76; SOS: 39): Am I being kind to continue to include the Eagles here following a series loss at Troy and a midweek loss at Charleston? Maybe. Their RPI has slipped to a bad place, and they basically need to win out at Georgia State and against James Madison. That’s probably just a bridge too far. On the other hand, Georgia Southern is fourth in the Sun Belt, has a series win against West Virginia and ranks No. 17 in non-conference strength of schedule. A big finish would have it right back in the mix.

Old Dominion (30-18, 13-11; RPI: 71; SOS: 116): The Monarchs last weekend snapped their four-series losing streak with a series win against Arkansas State. That didn’t provide any RPI help (which it could use) but building some momentum for a solid finish is also important. With series left against James Madison and Georgia State, ODU just needs to keep winning.

Southern Miss (32-15, 17-7; RPI: 24; SOS: 49): Southern Miss is in solid shape, even if it’s not yet a lock. It does need to be a bit careful as its final series (at Louisiana-Monroe, home against Louisiana-Lafayette) aren’t going to help its RPI. But the Golden Eagles don’t need to stress.

Texas State (33-16, 15-9; RPI: 37; SOS: 61): The Bobcats have won back-to-back series, which has pushed them into third in the conference standings. They’ve got a reasonable closing slate (at Louisiana-Lafayette, home against Louisiana-Monroe), and are positioning themselves for back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1999-2000.

Troy (33-17, 13-11; RPI: 36; SOS: 45): The Trojans last weekend won a pivotal series against Georgia Southern, and their postseason hopes remain strong. Troy can’t afford to falter down the stretch at Marshall and against Appalachian State, but those series also provide an opportunity to move up the conference standings. Troy is on track for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018.


There are several impressive teams outside college baseball’s biggest leagues and at least one or two of these teams is likely to host a regional.

This week we’re locking up Campbell, Connecticut, Dallas Baptist, East Carolina and Indiana State. At least a couple of those probably could have been locked up last week, but the RPI situations for these teams and conferences made me hesitate. Now, BoydNation’s RPI Needs Report says they all are either already set for a top-45 RPI or only need one more win. Considering their current RPI standing and places atop their conferences, I’m ready to put them all in the field.

Locks: Campbell, Connecticut, Dallas Baptist, East Carolina, Indiana State
Should be in: Cal State Fullerton, Northeastern
Work to do: Elon, Florida Gulf Coast, Texas-San Antonio, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UNC Wilmington, Wofford, Xavier

Cal State Fullerton (27-13, 17-4; RPI: 41; SOS: 55): The Titans are back. They’re in first place in the Big West, holding a two-game lead over UCSB. A series loss last weekend at TCU was a bit of a missed opportunity to boost Fullerton’s RPI, but it’s nothing to stress about. Fullerton just needs to keep winning Big West games, facing a finishing stretch of UC San Diego, Long Beach State and at Cal Poly.

Elon (28-19, 15-8; RPI: 60; SOS: 46): The Phoenix took a pair of losses over the last week that its RPI really couldn’t afford, falling to Navy and High Point, both of which have RPIs over 200. As a result, the Phoenix slipped in RPI and probably used up their margin for error. Their last two series (North Carolina A&T, at Hofstra) are against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings, so a strong finish is possible, but now it’s a necessity to stay on the bubble.

Florida Gulf Coast (36-12, 18-6; RPI: 58; SOS: 198): The Eagles have pushed their RPI into the top 60, giving them an opening if they don’t win the ASUN’s automatic bid. They aren’t going to get much RPI help the rest of the way, so a near perfect finish will be needed to stay in that position, especially given their strength of schedule mark. But this is the kind of team that might grade out well with the regional advisory committee, given its 7-5 record against top-100 competition and 18-6 record on the road.

Northeastern (37-9, 17-7; RPI: 33; SOS: 192): The Huskies have quite the interesting resume. They rank fourth in the country in wins trailing only Wake Forest, LSU and Virginia, have a top-35 RPI and are in second place in a solid Colonial Athletic Association. All of that points toward an NCAA Tournament bid. But Northeastern lost its series last weekend at UNC Wilmington, slipping behind the Seahawks in the standings, and still face difficult series at William & Mary and home against Charleston. They also have the worst strength of schedule of any team in the at-large discussion and their non-conference mark (203) isn’t any better. That’s not a primary factor and being 7-0 against BC, UConn, Duke, Indiana State and Maryland helps cancel that out, but it’s part of what the Huskies are dealing with. Split the final two CAA series and Northeastern should be just fine.

Texas-San Antonio (33-12, 19-4; RPI: 54; SOS: 178): The Roadrunners were a bubble team a year ago and they’re back in that territory this season. UTSA is a half-game behind DBU in the Conference USA standings going into this week’s first-place showdown in San Antonio. It needs a strong finish if it’s going to get its RPI into the top 50 and that might be a requirement for the Roadrunners, given their strength of schedule and dearth of premium wins. A sweep against Rice last week was a good start.

UC Irvine (31-14, 12-9; RPI: 43; SOS: 80): The Anteaters have won nine of their last 10 games to push their RPI into the top 50. Keeping it there won’t be easy (half their remaining games are against teams that have an RPI above 200), but UCI has put itself on the bubble. This weekend’s series at Cal State Northridge is important for UCI as CSUN is a game ahead in the standings. The Anteaters are fifth in the Big West and improving that position over the final three weeks would be a boost.

UC Santa Barbara (31-14, 15-6; RPI: 45; SOS: 86): An extra-innings loss last Friday at UC Riverside (RPI 257) was an RPI ding for the Gauchos and a reminder for all the Big West contenders of the dangers of the final month. Still, UCSB has a clear path to a solid RPI and a place near the top of the conference standings. Two of its series are on the road (Long Beach State and Hawaii), but UCSB is still in fine shape for a fourth straight trip to regionals.

UNC Wilmington (27-18, 16-6; RPI: 62; SOS: 60): The Seahawks got a big series win against Northeastern last weekend and are in first place in the CAA. Their RPI remains lower than they’d want, but with a closing slate of at Charleston, a midweek against Wake Forest and a series at home against William & Mary, there’s an opportunity for improvement. UNCW needs to keep winning and if it does, it could still push into an at-large position.

Wofford (34-14, 9-6; RPI: 53; SOS: 104): The Terriers last weekend took a tough series loss at UNC Greensboro, dropping them to third place in the Southern Conference. They’re not so far back that it can’t be resolved, but there is no more margin for error. Wofford this weekend takes on Mercer.

Xavier (30-19, 11-4; RPI: 52; SOS: 77): The Musketeers last weekend went on the road and swept Creighton, a big boost for Xavier. It then lost two close midweek games against Cincinnati and Indiana, losses that dinged its RPI. The Musketeers are still very much in this and they’re just a half-game behind UConn in the Big East standings. They’ll need to bounce back from their midweek disappointments this weekend at St. John’s.

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