Projecting The Field

Our late-April projection for the NCAA tournament

Chapel Hill, N.C. Columbus, Ohio Tempe, Ariz. Fullerton, Calif.
1. (1) North Carolina^* 1. Texas A&M 1. (5) Arizona State^* 1. Cal State Fullerton^
2. Elon* 2. Ohio State^ 2. Cal Poly 2. Hawaii*
3. South Carolina 3. Kent State* 3. New Mexico 3. San Diego State
4. Maine* 4. Wright State* 4. Dartmouth* 4. Army*

Baton Rouge, La. Charlottesville, Va. Norman, Okla. Fort Worth, Texas
1. (2) Louisiana State^* 1. Virginia^ 1. (6) Oklahoma^* 1. Texas Christian^*
2. Florida State 2. East Carolina 2. Minnesota 2. Baylor
3. Middle Tennessee State 3. Louisville* 3. Washington State 3. Oregon State
4. Southern* 4. George Mason* 4. Oral Roberts* 4. Indiana*

Houston Austin Athens, Ga. Coral Gables, Fla.
1. (3) Rice^* 1. Texas^ 1. (7) Georgia^ 1. Miami^
2. Texas State* 2. Alabama 2. Clemson 2. Florida
3. Gonzaga* 3. Boston College 3. Georgia Southern 3. Rhode Island*
4. Kansas 4. Manhattan* 4. Bethune-Cookman* 4. South Florida

Irvine, Calif. Fayetteville, Ark. Atlanta Oxford, Miss.
1. (4) UC Irvine^* 1. Arkansas^ 1. (8) Georgia Tech^ 1. Mississippi^
2. San Diego 2. Kansas State 2. Coastal Carolina* 2. Western Kentucky*
3. Southern California 3. Eastern Illinois* 3. Vanderbilt 3. Missouri
4. Central Conn. State* 4. Missouri State* 4. Jacksonville* 4. Tulane
^ Regional host
* Automatic qualifier

Regional Field Analysis:

• RPIs used refer to Boyd's Nation "pseudo-RPI" ratings as of the morning of April 28.

• Finding 64 teams with solid regional resumes is very challenging at this point in the season, which is how Tulane, Southern California and San Diego State all make our field. The Green Wave does not have a Ratings Percentage Index worthy of an at-large bid at 77, but we're betting Tulane wins a series at Southern Mississippi (which has struggled since losing shortstop Brian Dozier for the season) and finishes third in Conference USA. That's not such a huge accomplishment given the state of CUSA—in fact, CUSA probably doesn't have three tournament-worthy teams this year—but it will be enough to earn an at-large bid this year.

• The Aztecs have a much stronger RPI (27) but have struggled against the three other Mountain West Conference contenders, going just 1-3 in series against Texas Christian, New Mexico and Brigham Young. But SDSU's remaining schedule is soft, which will allow it to finish strong even though its RPI will take a hit. And it's easy to imagine the committee rationalizing the Aztecs into a regional so the sport's biggest star (Stephen Strasburg) can have the chance to perform on a national stage. BYU gets snubbed despite a similar resume and a series win at Tony Gwynn Stadium. Of course, the Cougars can elbow their way into a regional bid with a series win at TCU this weekend, or a strong run in the MWC tournament. All four MWC contenders look like regional-caliber teams, but only three are likely to get in.

• USC is the fourth and final Pac-10 team in the field, assuming the Trojans finish strong in their final three series against Washington, Stanford and California. Washington State is a safer bet thanks to a more generous finishing stretch, which includes three home series. The Cougars get shipped to Oklahoma, against whom they split a season-opening four-game series in Pullman.

• The Big Ten is tough to figure out. We'll continue to bank on Indiana's talent carrying it through the conference tournament, particularly now that its weekend rotation is starting to come on strong. Minnesota has a strong at-large resume and should finish as a No. 2 seed. Illinois has better wins right now than Ohio State and gets to host the Buckeyes for a huge three-game series in two weeks. If the Illini win that series, they're likely to earn a bid over the Buckeyes, who will see their impressive RPI (29) drop over the final three weeks thanks to series against Northwestern and Purdue. But if Ohio State gets in, it seems like a strong bet to host, thanks to geographic variety and good facilities. Texas A&M earns the third No. 1 seed out of the loaded Big 12 conference and gets shipped to Columbus, as TCU beats out the Aggies for the third host site in the Lone Star State. But that's only if the Horned Frogs can finish strong and win the MWC regular-season and conference titles. Otherwise, their poor record against Big 12 teams will be their undoing when host sites are awarded.

• North Carolina leapfrogs Rice in the RPI and also takes over the No. 1 overall seed. The Tar Heels are sitting pretty atop the nation's best RPI league, and Rice is likely to take an RPI hit in its final two series against Central Florida and Alabama-Birmingham, though it won't be too bad of a hit if the Owls can sweep those series. We also project LSU to win the SEC and thus earn the No. 2 national seed; the Tigers figure to climb in the RPI down the stretch.

• Mississippi has plenty of momentum heading into the stretch run after winning a big home series against Georgia. We still think Georgia will host if it wins the SEC East (and it will), but the Rebels have moved into position to earn the SEC's fourth host site. With a strong finish, they could also earn a national seed.

• The final two national seeds, in particular, are up for grabs. As good as Cal State Fullerton is, it might wind up being a victim of geography and of the Big West, which looks like a three-bid league. Can a three-bid league have two top-eight national seeds? And in a bad economy, the committee may be reluctant to award three national seeds to Western teams when there are no other Western hosts to pair them with. Demoting the Titans from a national seed allows the Fullerton and Tempe regionals to be paired, potentially cutting down on long-distance super regional travel. It also would set up a potentially murderous and frankly unfair super regional.

• Six ACC teams are competing for a maximum of four host sites, and while the Atlantic Division champion would seem a solid bet to host, we are awarding all four host sites to Coastal Division teams. UNC and Georgia Tech are locks; Virginia has a solid resume and brings some geographic variety as the closest thing to a Northeast host; and Miami has a stronger resume at present than either Clemson or Florida State. All of these contenders have manageable finishing stretches, as all have already played each other. When neither Clemson, Florida State nor Miami has an appreciable schedule advantage over the others, we'll go with the team that has the most quality wins and strongest RPI: the Hurricanes.

• The Big 12 looks likely to get at least six bids, and Missouri is in good position to earn the sixth, thanks to the most favorable closing schedule of any Big 12 team. The Tigers are already 11-10 in conference and seem likely to finish with 15 or 16 conference wins, which should be enough to get a bid despite an unimpressive overall record. Oklahoma State and Kansas, then, are competing for a seventh bid from the Big 12. The Cowboys are stronger in the RPI, but Kansas has a 3 1/2-game cushion over OSU in the conference standings, and that will be hard to make up considering both teams have challenging schedules over the final three weeks. OSU is more talented and is certainly capable of making a run, but the Cowboys have won only one of their first six conference series. It's tough to dig out of that kind of hole.

• The SEC earns the most bids (eight), followed by the ACC and Big 12 (seven apiece), and the Pac-10 (four). Three-bid leagues are the Big West, Mountain West, Big Ten and Conference USA.

• Along with Illinois, BYU and Oklahoma State, other teams on the wrong side of the bubble include Duke and Virginia Tech, who both control their own destinies thanks to a pair of tough finishing series. Both teams could play their way in by winning one or both series, but we're not betting on it. Western Carolina, College of Charleston, Florida International, Troy, Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State are mid-major teams whose resumes are currently a bit short, but all could still play their way in.