With one more day of games before the field of 64 is unveiled, the postseason picture is starting to crystallize.
Saturday’s action had several notable impacts on our field of 64 projection. Our top eight national seeds remain the same, with Virginia clinging to the eighth spot by a hair over surging Miami, which beat top-seeded Wake Forest to reach the ACC title game. If the Hurricanes can take down Clemson to win the ACC tournament, they have at least a shot to edge Virginia for that eighth spot, but we still lean toward the Cavaliers based on their head-to-head series sweep over the Canes and the fact that they won the division by a game over Miami in the regular season. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that both teams could land in the top eight at Stanford’s expense, as the Cardinal has dropped to No. 17 in the RPI, but we maintain our conviction that a team that won the Pac-12 by a whopping five games deserves a top-eight seed, and we suspect the committee would balk at giving the SEC and ACC all of the top-eight seeds. So Miami moves up a spot to No. 9, but doesn’t quite break into our top eight.
Oklahoma State solidified its hosting position with a pair of wins against Texas Tech to reach the Big 12 title game. As a result, OSU moves up two spots from yesterday to our No. 12 national seed.
But the big change in the hosting picture comes at No. 15, where we now project Campbell to replace Boston College. The Camels went out and took a host spot by pairing their regular-season Big South title with a conference tournament crown on Saturday, moving up to No. 15 in the RPI in the process. The Camels also have a strong 9-5 record against the top 50 that puts them above RPI No. 13 Dallas Baptist (2-7) in our pecking order. And Campbell is now ahead of BC (No. 18) in the RPI. But Campbell’s biggest edge over the Eagles is nonconference strength of schedule: Campbell is No. 13, BC is No. 203. Ultimately, we now believe all of those factors combined give Campbell the inside track.
Indiana State holds on to our 16th hosting spot after adding a Missouri Valley Conference tournament title to its regular-season crown. Those two accomplishments along with a No. 9 RPI and a No. 4 nonconference strength of schedule should be enough to offset Indiana State’s 2-9 record against the top 50 and make the Sycamores the 16th host.
One conference that we projected as a one-bid league became a two-bid league Saturday when Xavier (one of our first four out on Friday) knocked off Connecticut to claim the Big East crown. UConn still gets into our field as an at-large team. Louisiana also enters our field after beating Coastal Carolina twice to reach Sunday’s Sun Belt title game against Southern Miss. With a 22-13 aggregate record in the No. 5 RPI conference and an RPI that has jumped into the mid-40s, we now have Louisiana projected as one of our last four teams in the field, even if they lose Sunday. Of course, if they win Sunday, the Cajuns will get the auto bid, and we would still project the league to get four bids, with Troy snagging an at-large along with Coastal and Southern Miss.
Those two additions to our field mean two teams have to drop out. UC Santa Barbara falls out after losing a road series at Hawaii and falling outside the top 50 in the RPI. And Kansas State falls out after losing to TCU and slipping to No. 55 in the RPI. The debate between K-State and Oklahoma is difficult; the Wildcats own the head-to-head advantage and have a better aggregate conference record (15-13 compared with OU’s 12-15). But Oklahoma is 16 spots ahead in the RPI (No. 39), and we have a feeling the committee will value OU’s No. 20 nonconference strength of schedule, while KSU’s is No. 149. That one feels like a coin toss, but history suggests Big 12 teams in the mid-50s stand less of a chance of getting a bid than Big 12 teams inside the top 40 with a losing conference record. Of course, if more bubble spots disappear Sunday, both teams could get left out.
A couple more bubble spots could be snatched up by surprise automatic qualifiers Sunday if Tulane beats East Carolina (making the American a two-bid league) or Charlotte beats Dallas Baptist (making C-USA a two-bid league). We already have the Sun Belt projected for four bids, so a Louisiana victory over Southern Miss would not “steal” a bid; it would simply convert the Cajuns from a projected at-large team to an automatic qualifier. And in the CAA, Elon and Northeastern will battle for the right to face UNCW in the title game. We currently have UNCW as the projected automatic qualifier and Northeastern as an at-large team, but if the Seahawks lose to the Huskies they will have a strong at-large case, likely slotting in ahead of Oklahoma or Arizona State on our at-large ladder. If the Seahawks lose to Elon, we suspect the UNCW would get squeezed out, with the Phoenix and Huskies getting bids and keeping the CAA a three-bid league.
The SEC has the most projected bids with 10. The ACC is next with 8, followed by the Big 12 and Pac-12 with six of nine teams making the field. The Sun Belt is next with four bids, and the Big Ten is projected for three bids. The Colonial and Big West are the only other conferences with multiple bids in the projections, at two apiece.
Mark Etheridge, Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt assembled the postseason projections.
Last four in, first four out, from strongest to weakest:
61. NC State
62. Arizona State
65. Kansas State
67. Notre Dame
68. UC Santa Barbara