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A First Look

Publication Date: April 10, 2001

A Peek Ahead

OK, most of the conferences are about halfway through with conference play now, so I think it's reasonable to take this week and start taking a look at possible fields for the NCAA tournament for this year. Take all of this with a large grain of salt -- there's a lot of baseball to play yet, so someone who's off the radar could still play themselves in, or any of my locks could fall apart and end up on the outside. Committee-watching is about as much fun as Kremlin-watching used to be, and frequently as accurate. The RPI's still stink (*).

Still and all, we're far enough along, and non-conference play is close enough to being over, that we can get a pretty good feel for how many teams each conference can get, so I want to run through what I think the field will be. This is mostly based on what's happened to this point, but I do try to predict what will happen the rest of the way out in a few cases. Along those lines, some of the conferences have a column included in their summary labelled "Rem". That's the combined current conference record for the remaining teams on each team's schedule; the lower the better for the team's prospects.

A quick note about the aesthetics of this process. Don't let this distract you from the beauty of a single game, and don't mistake this for my thinking that there's greater value to the postseason than there is. Use this to supplement your appreciation of the game, not distract from it.

(*) When I reference the RPI's anywhere in this article other than in that first statement, I'm actually referring to the pseudo-RPI's, since the NCAA won't release the real ones. They still stink.

Winners Only

First off, there are ten conferences where only the conference tournament winner will advance. Here they are, with my best wild guess at who will win:

There are two more conferences where I think it's likely that no one will get an at-large bid:

In both of these cases, the best team in the conference is either good enough or almost good enough to qualify for an at-large bid, but their RPI is coming in too low at this point. Obviously, this could take care of itself if they play well enough to move up on the RPI list the rest of the way, which is possible in-conference, but I hate to see the potential there for injustice. The Mountain West case is especially tough, as both BYU and SDSU have been good enough, currently sitting with essentially identical records at #40 and #41 in the ISR's, but are down at #69 and #75 in the RPI's.

One Possible At-Large Bid

There are three conferences with teams that will qualify for at-large bids if they need to, so bubble teams should hope for them to win their conference tournament:

I'm going to guess that between these three conferences and the other conferences where there's the potential for an outsider to win the conference tournament and use up a bid, two spots will end up being used. That seems a reasonable estimate based on past history. Add in the twelve one-bid conferences above, the three in this section, and Miami's sole independent bid, and that takes care of eighteen bids, with forty-six left to spread through the other conferences.

America East

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Delaware           6-2  18-8    73   42
Towson             5-3  17-8    93   45

The America East Conference has just started conference play, with only eight of twenty-eight games played to date, so I'm not going to bother with remaining schedules yet. Delaware is presumably in even if they don't win the conference tournament. Towson is the reason that this league is here and not in the summary listing below; they haven't deserved it, but they've been good enough out of conference that their RPI is high enough to get an at large bid, and they're from a place where it snows during baseball season.

Assuming that they climb up from their current spot of third (a likely occurence; two of the three losses were against Delaware), I think they get an at-large bid. On the other hand, I don't think the conference gets three bids under any circumstances, so Towson needs for Delaware to win the tournament if they don't.

Atlantic Coast

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI  Rem

Florida State     14-1  31-7    7    9  15-19
Georgia Tech       8-4  26-8   30   32  31-20
Wake Forest        9-6  23-10  21   13  15-20
Clemson            5-4  21-12  54   29  21-26

Most of the contenders have already played each other; I think the ACC gets four teams unless one of these falls apart; and there's nobody else any where close, so I think it's these four and they're just playing for seeds here. You can debate whether Clemson deserves a bid at this point, but both the RPI's and the polls are leaning in their favor.

Big East

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI  Rem

Notre Dame         8-2  24-5   15   12  32-40
Rutgers            8-5  24-10  55   19  26-36

The Big East is mildly problematic for the committee this year, because no one else besides these two is anywhere close to qualifying. The next highest RPI is Virginia Tech at #90, and that's overranking them a bit. The committee ideal would probably be for someone else to win the Big East tournament; if that doesn't happen, they'll just have to make up the Northeastern bids from other places like Towson or the Big 10.

Notre Dame is showing signs of not only getting a #1 seed, but of probably actually deserving one. Rutgers has fallen from a great start to be roughly the same team as last year -- not quite deserving a bid, but not bad enough that you'd object to them as a #3 seed -- and will presumably rise from their current third place tie in the conference, since they've already played Notre Dame.

Big 10

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Purdue             8-2  15-12  78   57
Minnesota          7-2  18-12  62   43
Ohio State         6-2  22-6   66   54

Of these, only Minnesota arguably belongs in at this point, but the NCAA is going to want three Big 10 teams, and these are the three most presentable. No one else in the league is in the top 100 in the RPI, so all these three have to do is finish in the top three for the regular season and have one of the three win the conference tournament.

Big 12

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI  Rem

Baylor            12-3  24-9    6   18  42-24
Nebraska           9-3  25-8   13   34  38-39
Texas             13-5  26-14  25   37  32-27
Texas A&M          9-6  24-13  52   94  49-35
Texas Tech        10-8  20-14  46   55  32-34
Oklahoma State    10-8  25-11  45   59  38-24

Based on their conference rankings both in the RPI's and the ISR's, and on what little I've read of the general press perception, I don't see the Big 12 getting more than four teams in at the moment. This is my closest call, I think, so I wouldn't be shocked at all to see five, especially if someone other than the top three wins the conference tournament. The RPI's just aren't going in their favor at this point -- especially unfairly so in A&M's case -- and I don't think they'll manage a fifth team.

Baylor, Nebraska, and Texas are in. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State are playing for that last spot, with Tech having a slight edge because of the remaining schedule.

The remaining schedule makes me think that that snowed-out weekend against Iowa State may end up costing Baylor the regular season title.

Big West

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

CSU Fullerton      3-0  22-10   2    1
Long Beach State   2-1  21-11   4    8
Cal Poly           2-1  20-12  32   47
CSU Northridge     1-2  19-10  22   48
Cal-Santa Barbara  0-0  18-8   23   49

Here we see why it matters that the Big 10 gets those extra spots. It's tempting to think of it as a nice bonus to a league that's trying to develop, but this is a zero-sum game. The Big West should be looking at an amazing five of seven teams easily in the tournament, but instead it's most likely that CSUF and LBSU are in and the other three listed here are playing for one spot, with Cal Poly having a trivial edge. One unusual piece of good news is that the conference is actually all the way up in second at the moment in the conference RPI's, so I think there might be hope for a fourth team through that avenue, but it's still disappointing.

Colonial Athletic

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

East Carolina      8-1  29-8   17    7
UNC-Wilmington     7-4  25-13  79   60
VCU                5-3  26-8   44   30

East Carolina is in. The other two listed here are playing for an at-large bid; I think one of them gets one, with VCU obviously having the current edge.

Conference USA

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Houston           11-1  19-18  29   22
South Florida      8-4  19-17  65   20
Tulane             8-4  28-7   18   33

I think all three of these get in, although South Florida is debatable on the actual merits. However, those borderline overall winning percentages, although fairly meaningless as an actual metric, may hurt Houston or South Florida if they stay close to .500, so this may be where the other Big West or Big 12 spot comes from.

Missouri Valley

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Wichita State     11-1  23-10  28   38
SW Missouri State  8-4  18-12  69   58

The league actually only deserves one bid, but I think the conference's reputation and the snow factor gets Southwest Missouri State in if they can hold it at their current level or improve and Wichita wins the tournament.

Pac 10

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI  Rem

Stanford           7-2  27-7    1    2  27-25
Southern Cal       6-3  23-11   3    4  26-22
Oregon State       5-4  20-13  24   50  23-22
Arizona            6-6  23-17  49   88  20-22
California         6-6  20-16  31   61  23-16
UCLA               4-5  20-10   8   21  24-27
Arizona State      5-7  22-11  14   28  16-23

Here's one league where I think the toughness of the remaining schedule will make a difference; I fully expect to see UCLA and ASU finish in the top five. Unfortunately, I only expect four teams to get in. This will be a tragedy but not a surprise. Since I have to pick, I'll take Stanford, USC, UCLA, and Arizona State, with a good deal of regret over Oregon State.


                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI  Rem

Louisiana State   10-5  24-9   12    6  34-36
Mississippi       10-5  25-10  16   14  42-28
Alabama            9-6  22-12  26   23  38-32
Florida            9-6  24-13  33   16  40-35
Mississippi State  9-6  18-12  48   27  39-31
Tennessee          9-6  28-8    9    5  37-33
Georgia            8-7  21-10  27   15  34-36
South Carolina     8-7  26-9   20   11  34-36
Auburn             5-10 22-11  19   10  41-29

Every year, some really good teams get left out from the SEC. Last year, by a strict standard, there should probably have been nine SEC teams in instead of the six that made it. There's every sign that the committee has decided that they will not take more than six again ever unless there are some mitigating standings factors like a high-ranked team that falls to seventh. The last (and only) time they took seven, the seventh SEC team in went to Omaha, so you can make a good case for it, but that decision seems to have been made. The potential for the standings factors to kick in is there this year, as Auburn could conceivably pull it together and be a top 10 RPI team in seventh in the conference at 16-14 or so, which is why they're on this list.

Presumably, though, they'll take six. Given the remaining schedules, I'll predict LSU, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Mississippi in no particular order, but the toughness of the remaining schedule may doom Ole Miss; we'll know more about that after this weekend.


                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Texas-Arlington   11-6  21-10  36   39
Louisiana-Monroe  11-7  20-12  60   53
Nicholls State     9-6  19-15  75   64
Northwestern St.   9-6  22-11  61   70

Texas-Arlington has cooled off a bit in recent weeks, but they're still in great shape for a bid. This is highly suppositional, but I think that that knot of three teams behind them is likely to come apart as things progress and one of them will move up to qualify for a second bid; I'll take Louisiana-Monroe since they've been marginally better outside the conference so far, but it's a tossup at this point.

Sun Belt

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Fl. International  8-4  32-9   47   24
South Alabama      8-4  28-7   34   26
New Orleans        7-5  16-16  87   51
Middle Tenn. St.   6-6  20-8   57   73
La.-Lafayette      6-6  18-16  89   78

Looking at the Sun Belt's conference rankings, you'd expect them to get three teams in, but there really isn't a third team here to take at this point. I'll jump in and take Middle Tennessee State based on the publicity value of having Brazelton in the tournament, but there may be a bid available here for one of the trouble spots we've talked about before or for one of the unexpected tournament winners.

Trans America Athletic

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI  Rem

Stetson           11-1  28-5   56   72  38-25
Central Florida    9-3  30-8   43   40  32-28
Campbell           9-3  22-11  85   95  34-29
Jacksonville      10-5  21-12  76   44  21-27
Florida Atlantic   6-6  26-15  82   41  27-36

So far, there's really only one team here that deserves a bid. Unfortunately, the RPI's and history would indicate that they could get four. I'll compromise and predict three; with the badness of their schedule so far, I'll pick a Stetson collapse and predict that UCF, Jacksonville, and FAU make it in, but that may give the committee too much credit for being able to ignore bright shiny things like having had a 28-5 record at one point.

Western Athletic

                  Conf   All   ISR  RPI

Rice              18-3  30-9    5    17
Texas Christian   13-7  22-14  53   104
Nevada            11-10 20-16  58   132
Fresno State       8-9  24-16  35    67
San Jose State     8-10 16-14  38    68

Here we see the problems with trying to translate general conference performance down to specific, discrete team bids. On its face, you'd expect the WAC to get two spots, but nobody's really making a great bid at that second spot. Fresno and San Jose have been better out of conference, but have struggled in conference; they're all hurting on an RPI basis. I'll take TCU as a second team, but there's a very real chance they'll end up with only one bid.


Here's all sixty-four in one convenient spot:

Alabama             George Washington    Pepperdine           Texas
Arizona State       Georgia Tech         Princeton            Texas Christian
Ball State          Houston              Purdue               Texas Tech
Baylor              Jacksonville         Rice                 Texas-Arlington
Bethune-Cookman     LSU                  Rutgers              The Citadel
Bucknell            Long Beach State     SW Missouri State    Tournament 1
CSU Fullerton       Louisiana-Monroe     San Diego State      Tournament 2
Cal Poly            Marist               South Alabama        Tournament 3
Central Florida     Miami, Florida       South Carolina       Towson
Clemson             Middle Tenn. St.     South Florida        Tulane
Delaware            Minnesota            SE Missouri State    UCLA
East Carolina       Mississippi          Southern             VCU
Fl. International   Nebraska             Southern Cal         Wake Forest
Florida             Notre Dame           St. Francis          Wichita State
Florida Atlantic    Ohio State           Stanford             Winthrop
Florida State       Oral Roberts         Tennessee            WI-Milwaukee

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