|PROJECTED FIELD OF 64|
|Gainesville, FL||Tallahassee, FL|
|1. (1) Florida^*||1. Florida State^|
|2. Minnesota*||2. Florida Atlantic|
|3. South Alabama*||3. Kentucky|
|4. Fairfield*||4. Kent State*|
|Coral Gables, FL||Hattiesburg, MS|
|1. (2) Miami^*||1. Southern Mississippi^*|
|2. Creighton*||2. Vanderbilt|
|3. Alabama||3. Duke|
|4. Florida A&M*||4. Sam Houston State|
|College Station, TX||Fullerton, CA|
|1. (3) Texas A&M^||1. Cal State Fullerton^*|
|2. Oklahoma State||2. Arizona|
|3. Gonzaga||3. Brigham Young*|
|4. Binghamton*||4. Fresno State*|
|1. (4) Texas Tech^*||1. Rice^|
|2. Dallas Baptist*||2. Texas Christian|
|3. Arizona State||3. Bryant*|
|4. Alabama State*||4. Oral Roberts*|
|Louisville, KY||Baton Rouge, LA|
|1. (5) Louisville^||1. Louisiana State^|
|2. UC Santa Barbara||2. Louisiana-Lafayette|
|3. Nebraska||3. North Carolina|
|4. Navy*||4. Southeast Missouri State*|
|Starkville, MS||Raleigh, NC|
|1. (6) Mississippi State^||1. North Carolina State^|
|2. Georgia Tech||2. East Carolina|
|3. Southeastern Louisiana*||3. Washington*|
|4. Princeton*||4. UNC Greensboro*|
|Columbia, SC||Conway, SC|
|1. (7) South Carolina^||1. Coastal Carolina^*|
|2. UNC Wilmington*||2. Clemson|
|3. Wake Forest||3. California|
|4. Kennesaw State*||4. Wright State*|
|Charlottesville, VA||Oxford, MS|
|1. (8) Virginia^||1. Mississippi^|
|2. Michigan||2. Tulane*|
|3. Long Beach State||3. Louisiana Tech|
|4. Virginia Commonwealth*||4. Seattle*|
|*-Automatic bid; ^-Regional host|
Last Four In: California, Nebraska, Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State
First Four Out: Boston College, Oregon State, North Florida, Jacksonville
Next Four Out: Marshall, Michigan State, Northwestern State, Georgia
Bids By Conference
4: C-USA, Pac-12
3: Big 12, Big Ten, Big West
2: American, Southland, Sun Belt, West Coast
1: A-10, A-Sun, America East, Big East, Big South, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, NEC, OVC, Patriot, Southern, Summit, SWAC, WAC
New Hosts: Cal State Fullerton, Louisiana State, Virginia
New Auto Bids: Fairfield (MAAC), Fresno State (Mountain West)
New At-Large Bids: Duke, Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State
Dropped Out: Boston College, Michigan State, Oregon State
• We wrote last week that Virginia was knocking on the door to hosting a regional. A week later, the door is wide open for the Cavaliers to not only host but be a national seed, after they took two of three from Georgia Tech while two of their Atlantic Coast Conference competitors, Florida State and N.C. State, both suffered setbacks. The Cavaliers are up to fourth place in the overall ACC standings at 16-11, and they have an eminently winnable series this weekend at home against cellar dwelling Virginia Tech, giving them a strong chance to finish with 19 wins. The Cavs’ RPI is still a little shaky for a national seed at No. 13 on WarrenNolan.com, and any losses to the Hokies would bring it down, but they’ve climbed ahead of No. 15 FSU in the RPI, and they’re solidly ahead of RPI No. 5 NCSU in the ACC standings after the Wolfpack fell to 13-12 by getting swept at Louisville. The Cavs do still trail 15-8 FSU in the standings, but the slumping Noles have to deal with league leading Miami this weekend, so it’s reasonable to expect Virginia to be able to pass FSU, putting it in the driver’s seat entering the ACC tournament.
• Deciding the final national seed out of the Southeastern Conference came down to Mississippi vs. South Carolina. The two are neck-and-neck in both the RPI, with Ole Miss at No. 6 and South Carolina No. 7, and in the SEC standings, where Ole Miss is 17-10 and South Carolina 17-9. In terms of body of work, the Rebels have the better resume. They’ve got a marquee non-conference series win against Louisville, as well as quality SEC series wins against LSU and Kentucky. The Rebels’ 13-12 mark against the RPI top 50 bests South Carolina’s 10-12. Then there’s the fact the Rebels are finishing stronger, having won four straight series while South Carolina is just 1-3-1 in its last five.
When you really look at South Carolina’s resume, there’s not that much meat on it. The Gamecocks have won only one series all year against an at-large caliber team. The problem? That one series was their sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford back in late March. That’s a very big obstacle for the Rebels to overcome if they want a national seed over South Carolina. The Rebels also have a much taller task in the final regular season weekend with a trip to Texas A&M, whereas South Carolina finishes at Alabama. So the odds are that South Carolina finishes ahead of Ole Miss in the final standings, which combined with the head-to-head edge—and with the RPIs a wash—would keep the Gamecocks on the inside track going to the SEC tournament. But if Ole Miss can pull off a series win in College Station, and especially if South Carolina continues to struggle, that might be enough to tip the scales in their favor. One thing Ole Miss fans should certainly root for is for the Rebels to get another crack at (and then beat) South Carolina in the SEC tournament.
• Several other changes among the hosts, with LSU and Cal State Fullerton—along with Virginia—replacing Arizona, Oklahoma State and Washington. Almost like clockwork, the Titans have put their foot down on the rest of the Big West, opening up a three-game lead at 14-4 in the league after last week’s series win at UC Santa Barbara. The Titans’ RPI (28) isn’t in lock range yet, but if they can finish off a regular-season title—they do have a tough series left at Long Beach State—that should do enough to boost it to where there’s no doubt about their chances. And as we’ve noted often throughout the season, there are very few viable hosting candidates in the West, so the Titans’ candidacy looks that much better if they can finish well.
After settling on the Titans, we were left with four teams for two spots—LSU, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Rice. The Tigers easily have the best RPI of the group at No. 10, but their other separators were their 14-7 record away from home and their 17-10 SEC record. LSU only has one marquee series win—taking two of three at home against Vanderbilt—but it’s got another chance this weekend with Florida coming to Baton Rouge. Even if LSU were to lose two of three, an 18-12 SEC record and possible top-10 RPI would be too much to pass up, no matter how loathe the committee might be to give a host to a fifth- or sixth-place team. Vanderbilt is part of the discussion as well, especially if it can sweep Auburn (very possible) this weekend to finish 18-12 and if LSU were to lose the Florida series. The Commodores are No. 9 in the RPI, but the head-to-head loss to LSU is problematic, unless they can finish ahead in the standings and/or beat LSU in the SEC tournament.
Our other three contenders are all lower in the RPI, with Arizona 23, Oklahoma State 25 and Rice 30. Despite having their RPI, we decided to go with the Owls. Rice is in second place in a strong Conference USA and could yet win the regular-season title, as they’re just a half-game behind Southern Miss. Even if they do wind up in second, their series at Louisiana Tech this weekend would give them a solid RPI boost if they can win it. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, is coming off a series loss to Oklahoma—not an at-large caliber team—and is just 13-17 against the top 100. Plus their series at home against RPI No. 199 Kansas this weekend won’t do anything to help them, and losing even one game would ding their RPI further.
Arizona still has an argument with its 8-8 top 50 record and 21-13 top 100 record, but the Wildcats have lost two of their last three series and sit in third place in the Pac-12 at 15-12 in the league, with a road trip to Oregon coming up this weekend. The real problem is that the Wildcats have lost head-to-head against both of the teams ahead of them, 15-9 Utah and 14-10 Washington—the Huskies wrecked their own hosting chances by losing their series to Washington State last weekend—as well fourth-place Arizona State (13-11). Their best series wins in conference play are Cal and Oregon State, neither of which look as good as they did at the time. The Oregon series will be Arizona’s last in conference play, while the rest of the league has two series left. If they can beat the Ducks to finish at least 17-13 and get enough favorable results elsewhere to land at least a second-place finish, then their hosting chances get a lot better. But if they land in third or worse, especially since they’d be finishing behind teams that aren’t even in the hosting picture, it’s very doubtful they’d be rewarded.
• We don’t feel great about dropping Boston College, but Duke’s surprising series win against Florida State last weekend vaulted the Blue Devils—trying to make a regional for the first time since 1961—ahead of BC in the ACC standings and up to No. 27 in the RPI. At 12-15 in the ACC, Duke needs to take care of business this weekend at Pittsburgh, but assuming it’s able to win two of three and get to 14-16, the Devils should be on their way to the NCAAs. BC’s resume obviously hasn’t changed—the Eagles essentially took last week off, only playing a couple games with Niagara—but it now finds itself below the cut line for making the ACC tournament. The Eagles are tied with Notre Dame for 11th place, with the Irish holding the tiebreaker over them, and we remain highly doubtful a team that misses the ACC tournament would get an at-large bid. If BC can beat Georgia Tech this weekend, which won’t be easy, and get enough help to get elsewhere—let’s just say breaking down all the possible permutations of the ACC standings would require a whole separate post—to get back into the top 10, we still like its chances.
• Louisiana Tech lost two of three at C-USA leader Southern Miss last weekend, but that was still enough—along with sweeping two midweek games from Northwestern State—to boost its RPI to No. 46. The Bulldogs don’t have a marquee series win—their best is taking two of three at home against No. 77 Old Dominion—but they do own midweek wins against Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas, and they’re a solid 10-8 against the top 100 and 16-11 in the No. 5 RPI conference. They have perhaps their best chance to get some big wins this weekend with their home series against Rice. Win that series and they should be in good shape heading into the C-USA tournament, but a loss would leave them with their work cut out.
• Inevitably, the bubble will contract as bids get stolen by surprise conference tournament winners. But right now, we’re left with some hard choices to get to 64 teams, and it’s a sign of the quality of the bubble that we’re projecting a rare at-large No. 4 seed with our last team in, Sam Houston State. The Bearkats picked up a critical win on the road at Texas A&M on Tuesday, lifting their RPI from No. 64 to No. 50. This was only their third top 50 win, but they do have some selling points in their 15-13 road record and second-place standing in the Southland Conference, where they’re 21-6 and just a game behind Southeastern Louisiana. A home series against No. 191 Houston Baptist won’t help them this weekend, and they’ll probably need to go fairly deep in the Southland tournament to feel safe, but they do have momentum on their side, having won eight straight weekend series.
A team that doesn’t have momentum? Oregon State. The Beavers’ home series loss to Oregon last weekend has their RPI sagging all the way to No. 58, and they’ve won just three of their last 10 games. They do still have two winnable series left on the road at Southern California and at home against UCLA. Win both of those and the Beavers can get back on the right side of the bubble, but that’s what it’s going to take. A 3-3 finish would still leave them under .500 in the Pac-12—they’re 11-13 right now—and that’s not going to get it done with as down as the Pac is this year. Given that and their recent form, we’ve got the Beavers on the outside looking in. Cal is in the same boat, also at 11-13, but we’ve kept the Bears in for now as they’re in slightly better RPI shape at No. 51 and own a head-to-head sweep of OSU. Cal has a home series against Utah and a road trip to Washington State left, both of which are doable, but the Bears likewise have no more margin for error.
• The tournament’s first bid was officially clinched with Princeton winning the Ivy League championship series last weekend. Three more will be handed out this weekend. The Patriot League championship series opens up on Saturday with Navy facing Holy Cross in a best-of-three. The MEAC and SWAC tournaments are this weekend, with Florida A&M and Alabama State the respective favorites. Fullerton could also clinch the Big West’s auto bid—which goes to the regular-season champ—if it wins one more game against Hawaii than Long Beach State does against UC Davis.