Baseball America presents our latest Projected Field of 64, as we will every week for the remainder of the season.
There is still a lot of projection required to put the field together, but RPI and conference standings – two important factors for the selection committee – are starting to become clearer.
The hosting race continues to evolve, and this week sees four new hosts. Kentucky, Texas and UCLA have all been projected as hosts at times this season and return to that status here. Texas and UCLA are atop their respective conferences and trending in the right direction. Both still have work to do to improve their RPI but will have plenty of opportunity to do so. Kentucky vaults Georgia in the hosting race after last weekend beating the Bulldogs in Athens. The Wildcats will, however, need to improve on their 7-8 conference mark in the second half of SEC play.
The other new host is Coastal Carolina, which is pushing to host its first regional in Springs Brooks Stadium. The Chanticleers are doing everything they need to as they are in first place in the Sun Belt Conference and have put together a top-20 RPI. Coastal has a tricky, but manageable schedule ahead and if it takes care of business, it should be rewarded with its first chance to host since 2010.
Other hosting contenders include Clemson, Georgia, Louisiana State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. All will have hosting-caliber resumes if they finish strong and push ahead in the conference standings. A second American Athletic Conference team could join East Carolina as hosts, but with the conference so bunched up – 1.5 games separate the top eight teams in the standings – it’s hard to predict whether Connecticut, South Florida or Wichita State can emerge from the pack.
The SEC, No. 1 in conference RPI, has 10 teams in the projected field, which would match the record for one conference. The two previous times it has happened (the 2014 SEC and 2016 ACC), the three worst teams in the league all finished with conference winning percentages under .400, helping to pad the rest of the teams’ record without hurting their RPI. The bottom of the conference is starting to become more apparent, but the SEC is so deep this season – all 14 teams rank in the top 80 of RPI – that any team that wins at least 13-14 SEC games will likely be at least a strong bubble team.
With five weeks to go until the start of conference tournaments, the bubble is starting to truly emerge. Teams still have plenty of time to play themselves in or out, but some of the teams on the edge of the field now feel destined to be there up until Selection Monday.
Northeastern and Creighton represent fascinating cases. Both have top 30 RPIs now, but those are sure to fall over the next month as neither will play many top-100 teams. Both teams lost key conference series on the road last weekend – Northeastern at College of Charleston and Creighton at St. John’s. Both have some strong nonconference wins – Northeastern won a series against Creighton and split against Missouri on neutral sites and Creighton won a series at Minnesota – but both play in conferences ranked outside the top 10 in RPI and are now facing uphill battles to win the regular-season title. With a strong finish, either one or both could get an at-large bid. But both teams’ margin for error is slim, especially considering how much of their respective resumes are based on a gaudy RPI.
The Big Ten is a conference to watch down the stretch. The most bids the Big Ten has gotten in a single year is five and it could at least match that this season as the top six teams in the league all have solid regional cases. Indiana remains the frontrunner and is well positioned to host if it takes care of business. Illinois has also put together an impressive resume and could move into hosting contention with a strong finish. Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State are all fighting for bids, with Minnesota and Ohio State getting the nod this week. But the next three weeks will be pivotal, as those six teams largely play each other, which will help bring some clarity to the tightly packed standings.
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, as is the case in the 5-12 pairing pitting North Carolina State against North Carolina.
|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64|
|Gainesville, FL||Austin, TX|
|1. (1) Florida^*||1. (16) Texas^|
|2. South Florida||2. Texas A&M|
|3. Florida Atlantic||3. Minnesota|
|4. Yale*||4. Sam Houston State*|
|Stanford, CA||Conway, SC|
|1. (2) Stanford^*||1. (15) Coastal Carolina^*|
|2. Wichita State||2. Clemson|
|3. Kent State*||3. Stetson*|
|4. San Francisco*||4. Samford*|
|Fayetteville, AR||Los Angeles|
|1. (3) Arkansas^||1. (14) UCLA^|
|2. Oklahoma State||2. Louisiana State|
|3. Missouri State||3. Nevada*|
|4. Oral Roberts*||4. Cal State Fullerton*|
|Lubbock, TX||Lexington, KY|
|1. (4) Texas Tech^*||1. (13) Kentucky^|
|2. Arizona||2. Illinois|
|3. St. John’s*||3. South Alabama|
|4. Stony Brook*||4. Army*|
|Raleigh, NC||Chapel Hill, NC|
|1. (5) North Carolina State^*||1. (12) North Carolina^|
|2. Connecticut||2. Georgia|
|3. Jacksonville||3. College of Charleston*|
|4. North Carolina Central*||4. Wagner*|
|Corvallis, OR||Durham, NC|
|1. (6) Oregon State^||1. (11) Duke^|
|2. Dallas Baptist*||2. Oklahoma|
|3. Texas Christian||3. Ohio State|
|4. Grand Canyon*||4. High Point*|
|Oxford, MS||Bloomington, IN|
|1. (7) Mississippi^||1. (10) Indiana^*|
|2. Southern Mississippi*||2. Louisville|
|3. Georgia Tech||3. Missouri|
|4. Jackson State*||4. Wright State*|
|1. (8) East Carolina^||1. (9) Vanderbilt^|
|2. Auburn||2. Florida State|
|3. Washington||3. Tennessee Tech*|
|4. Canisius*||4. Saint Louis*|
|*-Automatic bid; ^-Regional host|
Last Four In
- Missouri State
- Florida Atlantic
- Georgia Tech
First Four Out
- Nevada-Las Vegas
Next Four Out
- Central Florida
- Arkansas-Little Rock
- San Diego State