The halfway mark of the regular season is fast approaching, and Selection Monday is about two months away. There is still a lot of baseball left to be played, but it is time to start breaking down the postseason picture.
This is Baseball America’s first in-season Projected Field of 64 of the year. The field is still taking shape, but already trends are emerging that will affect the selection committee’s decisions at the end of May. The Southeastern Conference looks as strong as it was expected to be. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 Conference look to be paragons of parity, while the Pac-12 Conference is setting up for a heavyweight title fight.
Examining the field at this stage still requires a lot of projection. RPI is beginning to be instructive, but it is still normalizing, and wild swings remain common as team’s get into conference play. It is that projection that allows for Maryland and Wake Forest, which are both under .500 overall, to appear in the field as at-large teams. Wake is also one of a few teams projected for at-large bids that has work to do to improve its RPI.
At this stage, the hosting race and bubble are still very much developing. Indiana and Southern Mississippi are both projected as hosts, but neither has a large margin for error. Conference USA ranks 11th in Conference RPI according to WarrenNolan.com, which could hurt Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have already played Florida Atlantic, the conference’s other projected regional team, and may have just one more series against a top-100 opponent (Louisiana Tech). The Big Ten Conference will be more helpful to Indiana, but its conference schedule is backloaded, so it may be some time before the Hoosiers’ RPI reaches a level it will need to host, and they will have to finish strong.
On the bubble, Maryland and Wake both have solid series wins already – Wake especially after beating Florida State and Louisville – but need to get back above .500. Miami again this year finds itself on the bubble but will have the opportunity in the next few weeks to play its way into the field.
The SEC 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. Its not clear that this year’s SEC has that kind of chaff, but Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina are all off to 1-5 starts in conference play.
While the SEC may be setting itself up for a banner year, the Big West Conference, which has sent a team to the College World Series for four straight years, is having an abysmal start to the season. The conference struggled last season and got two bids, but Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State were both Omaha-caliber teams. This year, the Big West ranks 12th in Conference RPI and is looking like a one-bid league. The Dirtbags are the pick to repeat as conference champions after last weekend winning a nonconference series at Fullerton, but the conference race looks to be much more wide open than it was last season.
The American Athletic Conference race will also be fascinating and have a big impact on the Field of 64. It somewhat surprisingly ranks fifth in Conference RPI, but at least six of its nine teams are regional-caliber this season. How many bids a league like that can obtain remains an open question, particularly once they start beating up on each other in conference play.
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 occurs in this projection in the 7-10 matchup between Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64|
|Corvallis, OR||Hattiesburg, MS|
|1. (1) Oregon State^*||1. (16) Southern Miss^*|
|2. Nevada-Las Vegas||2. Texas A&M|
|3. Wake Forest||3. Washington|
|4. Grand Canyon*||4. Long Beach State*|
|Gainesville, FL||Bloomington, IN|
|1. (2) Florida^*||1. (15) Indiana^*|
|2. Florida Atlantic||2. Louisville|
|3. St. John’s*||3. Missouri|
|4. Columbia*||4. Wright State*|
|Stanford, CA||Greenville, NC|
|1. (3) Stanford^||1. East Carolina^*|
|2. San Diego State*||2. UCLA|
|3. Kansas||3. Dallas Baptist|
|4. St. Mary’s*||4. Virginia Commonwealth*|
|Oxford, MS||Durham, NC|
|1. (4) Mississippi^||1. (13) Duke^|
|2. Oklahoma||2. Texas Christian|
|3. California||3. Minnesota|
|4. Alabama State*||4. Kent State*|
|Tallahassee, FL||Auburn, AL|
|1. (5) Florida State^*||1. (12) Auburn^|
|2. Central Florida||2. Texas|
|3. Stetson*||3. South Alabama|
|4. Wagner*||4. Mercer*|
|Fayetteville, AR||Clemson, SC|
|1. (6) Arkansas^||1. (11) Clemson^|
|2. Sam Houston State*||2. Louisiana State|
|3. Baylor||3. College of Charleston*|
|4. Oral Roberts*||4. Winthrop*|
|Lexington, KY||Nashville, TN|
|1. (7) Kentucky^||1. (10) Vanderbilt^|
|2. North Carolina||2. Illinois|
|3. Maryland||3. Tennessee Tech*|
|4. Canisius*||4. Stony Brook*|
|Lubbock, Texas||Raleigh, NC|
|1. (8) Texas Tech^*||1. North Carolina State^|
|2. Wichita State||2. Coastal Carolina*|
|3. Georgia||3. Houston|
|4. Army*||4. North Carolina Central*|
|*-Automatic bid; ^-Regional host|
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