Field Of 64 Projections: Monday, May 24Projections
With one week to go until Selection Monday, the field of 64 is starting to take shape. Over the weekend, automatic bids were secured in the MEAC (where Norfolk State won the conference tournament) and the SWAC (where Southern upset undefeated Jackson State to win the tourney). In addition, Nebraska and Arizona clinched the automatic bids in the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively, by wrapping up regular-season titles (those two leagues will not have conference tournaments this year).
With conference tournament mania set to begin Tuesday, the postseason picture will shift rapidly over the next week, and we’ll update our field of 64 projection nightly as the week progresses. Below is our first projection of the season’s final week, constructed on Sunday night by Aaron Fitt, Mark Etheridge and Kendall Rogers. You can listen to them deliberate the national seeds, hosts and at-large teams in our latest Nerdcast.
CHANGES FROM LAST WEEK
• TOP-EIGHT NATIONAL SEEDS: Texas Tech replaces TCU as a top-eight national seed. The Frogs have lost three straight series, squandering the advantage they have by finishing three games ahead of Tech in the Big 12 standings.
• REGIONAL HOSTS: Charlotte replaces Louisiana Tech as a host. The Bulldogs dropped two games to Old Dominion over the weekend and slipped to No. 29 in the RPI, while the 49ers finished with C-USA’s best league record (24-8) and the highest RPI ranking (No. 18) of the three host candidates in the conference. But ultimately the C-USA tournament will likely decide which team hosts between Charlotte, La Tech and Southern Miss — there is very little separation between the three of them right now.
• AUTOMATIC BIDS: Central Michigan replaces Ball State as our projected automatic qualifier out of the Mid-American conference. There is no MAC tournament this year, so the regular-season champ will earn the auto bid. Ball State split a four-game set at Ohio to fall two games behind CMU with one weekend remaining, and we don’t like Ball State’s chances to overcome that deficit.
Also, Norfolk State and Southern replace NC Central and Jackson State, the two teams we projected as automatic qualifiers in the MEAC and SWAC last week.
• AT-LARGE BIDS: Duke, UC Santa Barbara and California join our field as at-large teams, while Tulane, Clemson and Louisville fall out.
The Blue Devils and Golden Bears still have work to do to shore up their at-large credentials in the final week, but they both took big steps forward this weekend and passed Tulane and Clemson in the pecking order, along with a bunch of other bubble teams. Duke swept a road series at Clemson, effectively knocking the Tigers (24-26 overall and 16-20 in the ACC) out of the at-large race, a week after the Devils did the same to Virginia Tech (also 16-20 in the ACC) in another sweep. Duke is up to 16-17 in the ACC and No. 27 in the RPI. Heading into the conference tournament, we have Duke higher on the at-large ladder than fellow bubble teams Pittsburgh and Louisville, both of whom are hurt by the “momentum factor”, as Louisville (16-16 ACC, No. 67 RPI) has been swept three times in its last four series and Pitt (16-17 ACC, No. 48 RPI) was swept in its final two series. The Devils are still a tick behind UVa and North Carolina (both of whom are 18-18 in the ACC), as both of those teams played better down the stretch than Pitt and Louisville, and both the Cavs and Tar Heels own series wins against the Blue Devils. The ACC tournament should help sort out this quagmire.
Cal would be the seventh Pac-12 team in the field. A No. 81 RPI still hurts the Golden Bears, but back-to-back series wins against Stanford and UCLA have lifted them to 14-13 in the Pac. A home series win against Oregon this weekend would get Cal into the field, we believe. A series loss in the final weekend likely lands Cal on the wrong side of the bubble. For now, we’re giving the Bears the benefit of the doubt, with a soft bubble.
UC Santa Barbara is another team that climbs in part due to other bubble teams falling on their faces. The Gauchos swept a four-game set from UC Riverside to improve to 25-11 in the Big West and No. 56 in the RPI. A 2-9 record against the top 50 still hurts the Gauchos, but that gaudy Big West record helps offset it, especially with other bubble teams fading.
Tulane was swept in a four-game set at Cincinnati to fall to No. 77 in the RPI. The Green Wave likely needs to win AAC tournament and capture the automatic bid to get in now, because getting swept in a four-game series by a team that had been .500 in the league is a bad look in the final weekend.
Finally, here’s how we size up the at-large candidates heading into conference tourney week, listed from safest to least safe on our ladder:
LAST FIVE IN:
60. Indiana State
FIRST FIVE OUT:
67. Long Beach State
69. San Diego