Conference Rundown

Analysis

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Saturday marked the end of the regular season for all but a few conferences, so in lieu of our standard Ten Thoughts, let’s take a conference-by-conference look at how Saturday’s action impacted the final regular-season standings and the NCAA tournament picture around the country. We’ll work our way down in order of Conference RPI.

ACC (No. 1 RPI conference)

Miami Florida logoMiami split a doubleheader at Florida State on Saturday to win the road series and clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the ACC tournament. The Hurricanes finished 21-7 in the league to win the Coastal Division by three games over Virginia, while Louisville won the Atlantic with a 22-8 record to finish four games ahead of second-place Florida State, but percentage points behind Miami.

Boston College Eagles logoMost of the drama in the ACC on Saturday centered around the battle for the final spot in the conference tournament. Heading into the day, four teams (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College and North Carolina) were battling for three spots. North Carolina’s loss at NC State meant that Wake Forest snuck into the ACC tournament even though the Deacs were swept by Louisville (because Wake and UNC both finished at 13-17 in the league, and Wake swept the head-to-head series vs. the Tar Heels). UNC’s loss also meant Georgia Tech was safe, regardless of how it fared in its doubleheader against Boston College. But if the Eagles swept both games against the Jackets, BC would make the ACC tourney, and UNC would be the odd team out. The Eagles won the first game handily, 8-3, then jumped out to 7-3 lead through five innings in the finale. Georgia Tech stormed back with three in the seventh to make BC sweat, but the Eagles’ bullpen held on, as Jesse Adams delivered two scoreless innings to secure the 7-6 win.

North Carolina logoWe’ll break down the postseason chances for the ACC’s 11 regional contenders in Stock Report this week, but my quick take is this: the 10 teams that made the conference tournament all have good enough resumes to get in. UNC’s sterling RPI gives it a chance to sneak in too, but I think the Tar Heels are 11th in the ACC’s pecking order, and 11 bids seems like a stretch.

Clemson Tigers logoAs for the hosting race — the ACC has a real shot to get six hosts. Miami, Louisville and Virginia are locks, of course, and all three look like probably national seeds. Clemson completed a sweep at Notre Dame to finish 16-14 in the ACC, and the Tigers should be ahead of NC State (15-13) in the pecking order because they are close in the RPI and Clemson won the head-to-head series. Florida State (16-10) is ahead of both teams in the standings but behind in the RPI. Perhaps the Seminoles get squeezed out (especially after losing their last three ACC series), or perhaps NC State gets squeezed out, but Clemson (which won series against both of the other two) should host for sure. And you can make a strong case that all three should host. The ACC tournament could add some clarity to this picture.

SEC (No. 2 RPI conference)

Miss St Baseball LogoMississippi State won the SEC regular-season championship for the first time since 1989, when current head coach John Cohen was in the starting lineup as a player. The Bulldogs completed a sweep of Arkansas with a 9-4 win to finish 21-9 in the SEC, one game ahead of Texas A&M in the West (after the Aggies dropped their series finale against Ole Miss) and a half-game ahead of East champion South Carolina. The Gamecocks completed a sweep of their own at Alabama with a 9-7 win Saturday, while Florida split a doubleheader at LSU, allowing South Carolina to finish one game ahead of the Gators in the East.

Tennessee logoTwelve of the SEC’s 14 teams make the conference tournament, and only two to miss out are Auburn (8-22) and Arkansas (which not only will miss regionals for the firs time in the Dave Van Horn era, but finished in last place at 7-23). Tennessee (9-21) beat Georgia for the second straight day Saturday to snag the No. 12 seed, while Missouri (9-22) earned the No. 11 seed even after dropping a series to Kentucky.

University of Kentucky logoAlabama90X90Play-in games will be critical for Kentucky and Alabama, which both finished 15-15 in the SEC with RPI rankings of No. 53 and No. 60, respectively. And just winning the play-in game might not be enough for either team — especially Alabama. After the Wildcats finished their regular season with a series win and Alabama got swept by the Gamecocks, I’d put UK back ahead of Bama as the No. 8 team in the SEC’s at-large pecking order.

Four SEC teams look locked in as national seeds now (Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M). LSU (19-11 in the league), Vanderbilt and Ole Miss (both 18-12) both look like very strong hosting candidates, giving the SEC a real shot at an unprecedented seven hosts. One of those three teams could also conceivably make a run at a fifth national seed out of the SEC with a deep run in Hoover.

Big 12 (No. 3 RPI conference)

Not much drama here — Texas Tech already had the regular-season title wrapped up heading into the weekend. Kansas State is the No. 8 seed even after getting swept at TCU, as ninth-place Kansas was also swept (at Oklahoma State), making the Jayhawks the lone team out of the eight-team Big 12 tournament field.

Pac 12 (No. 4 RPI conference)

University of Utah logoThe Pac still has another week of regular-season play remaining (and no conference tournament). But for standings watchers — first-place Utah extended its lead to 1.5 games over second-place Washington with an 8-3 win at Cal in the series opener Saturday. Meanwhile, Arizona lost its second straight series, falling 4-2 at Oregon. The Wildcats still have the Pac’s best RPI (No. 25) but are down to fifth place in the standings at 15-14. A home regional was there for the taking, but the Wildcats seem disinclined to take it. And Arizona State, which was starting to gain steam as a darkhorse host candidate, also lost Saturday at UCLA to fall back to No. 42 in the RPI. It is entirely possible the Pac-12 could find itself without a single host, incredible as that seems.

Conference USA (No. 5 RPI conference)

FAU90X90Marshall University logoThis league is crammed with feel-good stories, so no matter how the race wound up, it was going to be a great story. Upstart Marshall entered the final day in first place, but the Thundering Herd dropped a 6-5 decision to Ole Dominion, while Florida Atlantic completed a sweep of Western Kentucky with a 4-1 win. That moved FAU (21-8) a half-game ahead of Marshall (21-9) in the standings, giving the Owls the regular-season conference title. It’s a tale of incredible perseverance for Florida Atlantic, which has stayed focus while its head coach and one of its key players have battled cancer this spring.

Southern Miss logoWe’ve been saying for a while that C-USA’s regular-season champion was likely to host, but that was assuming Rice or Southern Miss won the title. FAU has a hosting resume but did not submit a bid to host, so maybe it can earn a No. 1 seed on the road somewhere (perhaps on the West Coast). Southern Miss entered the weekend as C-USA’s likeliest host, but it suffered a significant setback this weekend, getting swept at FIU, though it remains in solid shape in the RPI (No. 21) and the conference standings (third place, 20-10). Obviously the Eagles need to offset their poor finish with a deep run in the conference tournament that they will host.

Rice, meanwhile, was sept at Louisiana Tech, which has completely shored up its own at-large credentials. The Bulldogs are up to No. 38 in the RPI and 19-11 in C-USA. Rice is still in good shape at No. 33 and 19-10. Marshall is probably on the wrong side of the bubble currently at No. 64 in the RPI and without a regular-season crown to offset the weaker RPI, but it can play its way into at-large position with a nice showing in the conference tournament. Four bids seem like a lock for C-USA, and five is a real possibility.

American (No. 6 RPI conference)

Tulane logoTulane won its rubber game at Houston 4-3 to win the American regular-season title by a half-game over East Carolina. Assuming one of those two teams wins the conference tournament, the AAC will be a two-bid league — the Cougars might have had a shot at an at-large bid had they won Saturday but instead they finished 11-12 in the league and No. 71 in the RPI.

Tulane, meanwhile, climbed inside the top 30 in the RPI (No. 27) and owns a decent 9-6 record against the top 50 and a nice 18-10 mark against the top 100. Throw in the regular-season conference title, and the Green Wave is strongly in the hosting mix.

Big Ten (No. 7 RPI conference)

Minnesota Gophers logoOhioStateLogo90X90Minnesota already clinched the regular-season title on Friday, but the Gophers dropped the rubber game of their final series against Ohio State on Saturday, 6-5. Thanks to the regular-season crown, Minnesota remains in very solid at-large shape despite a borderline No. 48 RPI, and Ohio State is playing its way right into serious at-large consideration. The Buckeyes finished the season with four straight series wins, capped by a sweep of Michigan and a road series win at Minnesota. They’re up to No. 59 in the RPI and 15-9 in the conference, and their 7-4 record against the top 50 is the best in the Big Ten. OSU is likely on the right side of the bubble right now.

Nebraska, meanwhile, just about locked up a regional spot by completing a three-game sweep of Indiana. The Huskers finished second in the Big Ten at 16-8, a half-game behind the Gophers, and their RPI is up to No. 37.

Michigan dropped its rubber game against Illinois to fall to 13-10 in the Big Ten, though its RPI is holding steady at No. 39. Will that RPI prop up a team that has lost seven of its last eight games to finish the regular season? The Wolverines probably need to help themselves with a decent showing in the conference tournament.

Speaking of which — there was a three-way tie for eighth place between Illinois, Penn State and Iowa. Tiebreakers gave Iowa the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament, leaving the Illini and Nittany Lions out in the cold. But Iowa earned its way in by winning its last two series vs. Michigan State and at Penn State.

Big West (No. 8 RPI conference)

Cal State Fullerton Titans logoLike the Pac-12, the Big West has another week of regular-season play ahead and no conference tournament. Cal State Fullerton remains in first place by two games over Long Beach State and four over UC Santa Barbara. The Titans climbed back up to No. 36 in the RPI after leveling their series against Hawaii on Saturday. If Long Beach can catch Fullerton in the standings (and the Dirtbags host the Titans next weekend, having already taken two of three at Fullerton in nonconference play), the Beach has a chance to host a regional instead of the Titans. But right now, whichever team wins the Big West does look like a solid bet to host, with the Pac-12 in disarray.

Sun Belt (No. 9 RPI conference)

ULLLogoLouisiana-Lafayette has been chasing South Alabama in the standings all season, but the Cajuns made up a three-game deficit over the last two weeks of the regular season to catch the Jaguars on the final day. ULL followed up its road series win at South Alabama last weekend by sweeping Louisiana-Monroe, while the Jaguars lost their third straight series (at Troy), allowing ULL to share the regular-season title with USA. And the Cajuns earned the top seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their head-to-head series win in Mobile.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s hosting case has really picked up steam down the stretch, as the Cajuns are now 18th in the RPI, 11-9 against the top 50, own a regular-season conference title and finished with serious momentum. With Southern Miss faltering, either ULL or Tulane seems likely to snag a home regional in the Eagles’ place.

South Alabama, by the way, has slipped onto the at-large bubble but should still be OK at No. 44 in the RPI with a share of the regular-season SBC crown.

Missouri Valley (No. 10 RPI conference)

Dallas Baptist took two of three in its final series at Wichita State and won the MVC regular-season crown by 2.5 games over Indiana State. DBU (No. 31 in the RPI) is the lone Valley team with a shot at an at-large bid, but it would be a lock for an at-large if it gets upset in the conference tournament.

WCC (No. 11 RPI conference)

Gonzaga Bulldogs logoBrigham Young Cougars logoGonzaga entered the weekend in first place and won its first two games at San Diego, but the Bulldogs stumbled on the final day, losing 10-4 to fall into a tie with BYU atop the standings. The Cougars swept Santa Clara to improve to 18-9 in the league, matching Gonzaga’s record. But here’s the wrinkle: St. Mary’s won its first two games at Portland to improve to 17-9, with St Marys logoone game remaining on Sunday. Should the Gaels complete the sweep, there will be a three-way tie for first place, and St. Mary’s would earn the top seed because it won head-to-head series against the other two. But out of the three, St. Mary’s has the least chance at an at-large bid because of a No. 72 RPI. Gonzaga is in great shape at No. 30, and BYU is in decent shape at No. 47.

The final team to qualify for the four-team WCC tournament is Pepperdine (16-10), which has won seven consecutive series to end the season. The Waves will go for a sweep of Pacific on Sunday in a nearly meaningless game, because Pepperdine isn’t likely to boost its No. 78 RPI into at-large range. But the Waves sure do look dangerous heading into the conference tournament.

Southland (No. 12 RPI conference)

Sam Houston State University logoWe wrote Friday about Sam Houston State’s late surge to catch and then pass Southeastern Louisiana. On Saturday, the Bearkats clinched the Southland regular-season title outright by completing a sweep of Houston Baptist while the Lions were swept by Central Arkansas, giving SHSU a two-game cushion in the final standings. Both of these teams head into the conference tournament squarely on the bubble, back-to-back in the RPI rankings at No. 45 and No. 46. Sam Houston has the edge in the standings, but Southeastern has the edge in the top 50 record (7-7, compared with SHSU’s 3-9). If one of them wins the conference tournament, the other stands a decent chance to get in as an at-large. But if somebody else wins the conference tournament, don’t expect this to be a three-bid league. Sam Houston would likely get an at-large spot before SLU would. Which is an incredibly unexpected result given how things looked just a week or two ago.

Mountain West (No. 13 RPI conference)

fresno90x90Fresno State wrapped up its MWC slate last week, finishing 21-9. New Mexico and Nevada both won two of three in their series this weekend to finish at 20-10, a game behind the Bulldogs. But Fresno stepped out of conference and had a bad weekend, losing two of three at home against 22-34 San Francisco, dropping the Bulldogs to No. 83 in the RPI and essentially crushing their at-large hopes. New Mexico (No. 62) has an outside shot at an at-large, but most likely this will be a one-bid league.

CAA (No. 14 RPI conference)

UNCWLogoUNC Wilmington cruised to the CAA regular-season title by 2.5 games over William & Mary. The Seahawks took two of three from Delaware in their final series this weekend to finish at 16-6 in the conference and No. 29 in the RPI. They’re an at-large lock if they fail to win the conference tournament; otherwise, this will be a one-bid league.

Atlantic Sun (No. 15 RPI conference)

Kennesaw State logoKennesaw State finished the season on a tear to win the A-Sun regular-season title by two games over North Florida and three over Jacksonville. The Owls won each of their last seven weekend series and eight of their last nine games overall to surge to 17-4 in the A-Sun and 29-25 overall. At No. 153 in the RPI, they have no shot at an at-large spot, but recall that KSU rode a wave of incredible second-half momentum through the conference tournament two years ago, and then won the Tallahassee Regional. This program has learned how to win, and this team looks formidable right now.

North Florida (No. 52) has at least a shot to land an at-large spot with that RPI, but finishing two games out of first in the No. 15 RPI conference will probably hold the Ospreys back. They’re also just 6-8 against the top 100 — just not enough quality wins on the resume.

Big East (No. 16 RPI conference)

Xavier logoCreighton BlueJays logoLike the Southland and the Sun Belt, the Big East race was flipped on its nose over the final two weeks of the regular season. All season long it looked like Creighton was the team to beat, and then Xavier took two of three from the Bluejays last weekend to move into a tie for first. This weekend, the Musketeers swept Villanova to finish 14-4 in the conference — one game ahead of Creighton, which dropped Sunday’s series finale at St. John’s. Creighton’s RPI remains stable at No. 41, but not winning the regular-season title in the No. 16 RPI conference is a significant black mark on its resume, putting the Bluejays on the bubble (but probably on the right side of it). Xavier is 27-28 overall and No. 95 in the RPI, so it has no shot at an at-large bid.

Seton Hall and St. John’s round out the four-team Big East tournament field.

Big South (No. 17 RPI conference)

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers logoCoastal Carolina swept its final regular-season series against Campbell to finish 21-3 in conference and win the regular-season title by a whopping seven games over Gardner-Webb, High Point and Longwood (which all went 14-10). Obviously this is a one-bid league unless Coastal gets knocked off in the conference tournament, in which case it is an at-large lock. At No. 14 in the RPI, the Chanticleers are also in the thick of the hosting race, although getting swept at middling ACC team Georgia Tech a few weeks ago will still probably keep them from hosting.

SoCon (No. 18 RPI conference)

This one wrapped up Friday, when Mercer beat UNC Greensboro to win the regular-season crown by one game over the Spartans and Western Carolina. The loss torpedoed UNCG’s at-large hopes, while Mercer is still too far back in the RPI (No. 89) to land an at-large bid. This will be a one-bid league regardless of how the conference tournament plays out.

Horizon (No. 19 RPI conference)

Wright State logoWright State has had this one in the bag for a while. The Raiders finished 23-6 to win the regular-season crown by 5.5 games over Milwaukee (17-11). At No. 49 in the RPI, Wright State does have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid if it gets upset in the conference tournament, but a 4-7 record against the top 100 won’t do it any favors. Still, Northern teams with top-50 RPIs can get the benefit of the doubt, because it is very difficult to build an RPI that strong in a Northern mid-major conference.

America East (No. 20 RPI conference)

Binghamton Bearcats logoBinghamton won its sixth straight weekend series, taking two of three from Maine to finish 19-5 in the America East and win the regular-season title by 4.5 games over Hartford (14-9). The Hawks (36-16 overall and No. 56 in the RPI) are the only team with an RPI inside the top 130, but finishing that far out of first place in the No. 20 RPI conference will keep them out of at-large position. This will be a one-bid league.

Ohio Valley (No. 21 RPI conference)

southeastmissouristate logoSoutheast Missouri State has been the team to beat in the OVC all year long, and the Redhawks held on to win the regular-season crown by a game over Austin Peay. SEMO dropped two of three in its final series at Belmont to finish 22-8 in the conference and No. 73 in the RPI. For a while, SEMO flirted with at-large contention, but its RPI has tumbled recently, and the OVC now looks like a one-bid league regardless of how the conference tournament plays out.

Summit League (No. 22 RPI conference)

Oral Roberts logoOral Roberts cruised to the Summit regular-season crown by four games — what else is new? The Golden Eagles dropped their final series at second-place Nebraska-Omaha but still finished 22-8, while the Mavericks wound up at 18-12. But that final series loss could hurt ORU’s at-large chances, because at No. 58 in the RPI, there is not a lot of room for error. ORU does have a nice 5-1 mark against the top 50 but is just 6-6 against the top 100. Its nonconference strength of schedule ranks 22nd, which is a nice feather in its cap. And its domination of the Summit is another. Should ORU get knocked off in the conference tournament, Oral Roberts will be a very interesting bubble case that could go either way.

Mid-American (No. 23 RPI conference)

Kent State logoKent State cruised to the MAC East title by six games over Miami (Ohio). At 20-4 in the conference, the Golden Flashes also blew away West co-champions Ball State and Northern Illinois (16-11). Kent State’s No. 66 RPI and 1-5 record against the top 100 would place it on the wrong side of the bubble right now, so should the Flashes get upset in the conference tournament, the MAC would likely be a one-bid league. But if KSU gets into a regional, it will be a team nobody wants to face.

Atlantic 10 (No. 24 RPI conference)

URILogo90X90VCU has looked like the team to beat form most of the year, but Rhode Island surged down the stretch and wound up finishing 18-6 in A-10 play to win the regular-season crown. The Rams swept last-place La Salle this weekend, while VCU dropped one game to Davidson and saw the other two games of the series rained out. Failing to win the regular-season title effectively dashes VCU’s at-large hopes; its No. 68 RPI is on the wrong side of the bubble anyway. This will be a one-bid league regardless of the conference tournament.

Ivy League (No. 25 RPI conference)

Princeton already won the Ivy tournament last week to punch its ticket to regionals.

Northeast (No. 26 RPI conference)

Bryant Bulldogs logoBryant won the Bryant Athletic Conference (formerly known as the NEC) by nine games over Sacred Heart. The Bulldogs finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak and went 26-4 in conference play. At No. 32 in the RPI, Bryant is a slam dunk at-large team if it fails to win the automatic bid, and it might even be a deep sleeper to host a regional at an off-campus site.

Patriot League (No. 27 RPI conference)

Top-seeded Navy and second-seeded Holy Cross are facing off in the best-of-three Patriot League championship series this weekend. Game one of the series in Annapolis was slated for Saturday but was postponed by soggy weather.

WAC (No. 28 RPI conference)

Seattle University logoSeattle took two of three from Sacramento State to finish 21-6 in WAC play and win the regular-season crown by one game over New Mexico State. No team in this league has an RPI inside the top 100, so this is a surefire one-bid league, but Seattle could be a dangerous No. 4 seed with its quality pitching and balanced roster.

MAAC (No. 29 RPI conference)

Fairfield Stags logoThis race came down to the wire, with four teams finishing within a game of first place. Fairfield took two of three from Quinnipiac in the final weekend to finish 17-7 and win the regular-season title by one game over Canisius, Monmouth and Siena. The conference tournament should be a free-for-all, and the team that emerges from that melee will be the MAAC’s lone regional representative, of course.

MEAC (No. 30 RPI conference)

The conference tournament is taking place this weekend in Maryland, where Saturday’s action was washed out. Top-seeded Florida A&M will face third-seeded Bethune-Cookman in the winners’ bracket game Sunday, while Norfolk State plays Coppin State in an elimination game.

SWAC (No. 31 RPI conference)

Alabama State Hornets logoAfter running roughshod over the SWAC during a 24-0 regular-season, Alabama State is putting up football scores in this weekend’s conference tournament. The Hornets advanced to Sunday’s championship game against Texas Southern by winning three games by scores of 9-7, 16-3 and 27-9. The Hornets look like a team that will not be denied this time around.

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