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AN EARLY LOOK AT BASEBALL'S FIELD OF 64
April 16, 2008

SCS.comWith a little over a month remaining in the regular season, it's certainly not too early to start taking a look at who'll be celebrating on Memorial Day, when the field of 64 for the NCAA regionals is announced.

There are a few surprising names among the field thus far, and there are also some surprising omissions as well.

We'll start with the power conferences and work our way down.

ACC

Right now, six ACC teams look good for the postseason. Division leaders Florida St. and Miami are in a terrific position to not only host regionals, but be national seeds, and one of them could be the #1 overall seed. North Carolina, second in the Coastal behind Miami, is also vying for a national seed.

The other three that look good so far are Virginia (29-9, 11-7), who's on the way towards another 40-win seasons, North Carolina St. (23-11, 10-7), who's a distant second to FSU in the Atlantic, and Georgia Tech (26-10, 9-9), who suffered a tragedy last week when relief pitcher Michael Hutts passed away before their series with Miami.

The only other ACC rep who could make their way into the fray appears to be Clemson, who's currently lost nine games in a row and sits at only 18-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC. The next two weeks are must-wins, as they go to Duke, which won't be a cakewalk (the Blue Devils took two from Virginia), and host Virginia Tech. Anything less than 5-1 will give them even more of an uphill climb heading into the home stretch, where they host FSU, go to Georgia Tech, and finish up with a series at Central Florida.

SEC

Like the ACC, the SEC has one division that's doing pretty well, and one that isn't. From the East, all six teams could very well make it into the field of 64, as all but Kentucky are over .500 in conference play, and all have unofficial RPIs inside 50, according to Boyd's World.

From the West, the only 'lock' at this point is division leader Ole Miss, who's putting themselves in position to host yet another regional. Outside of that, well, there's Auburn, who's 22-15 overall and 6-9 in conference play, and has an RPI of 41. Series wins over Kentucky and Tennessee are good, but whether or not Tom Slater's team will return to the postseason or miss out again depends on a strong finish, nailing down second in the West, and not exiting the SEC tourney early.

Big 12

The Big 12 has a half-dozen regional-worthy teams at this point, with Texas A&M and Nebraska, the top two in the league, in the running for national seeds, Missouri and Texas in the mix for a #1 seed, and Oklahoma State and Baylor looking good in the #2 range.

Oklahoma (22-13, 3-8, 50 RPI) is on the wrong side of the bubble, and look to be putting themselves in much the same position they were in last year, when they had a solid non-conference resume and a decent RPI, but a poor conference record.

Pac-10

What to make of the Pac-10? Arizona St. is likely a regional host and national seed, and co-leader Stanford, along with Cal, look solidly in the field at this point.

Washington St. (19-15, 3-6, RPI 20) and Arizona (20-11, 3-6, RPI 21) are actually in a better position at this point than USC (18-16, 6-6, RPI 43), UCLA (17-13, 3-3, RPI 55), and Washington (23-11, 3-3, RPI 106). But, the final several weeks of conference play should separate some of the contenders from the pretenders, and while I can't make any bets on who'll be standing at the end, one of the L.A. schools could end up disappointed, and so could Arizona. Washington St. is a team to watch out for - they took two of three from Creighton, three of four at Oklahoma, and despite not having a pretty record in conference play, have been competitive in all three, and had Arizona St. on the ropes before letting them off the hook on Sunday.

What about the defending national champions? Oregon St. (16-12, 4-5, RPI 23) needs wins, but they snuck in at the end last season and wound up winning their second straight title, so you can't count them out unless you don't hear their name is announced.

Big West

It's still early, but there's a good chance that five Big West teams could make the regionals.

The obvious choices are UC Irvine, who's a good bet to nab a #1 seed this year after their CWS run, and Cal State Fullerton. Long Beach State (19-14, 2-4 Big West, 34 RPI) has fallen off big-time after a great start, but the next few weeks of the conference schedule should give them a chance to get back on track and solidify their place among the field.

As for four and five? Two of the teams currently on top of the conference, in leader UC Davis (23-11, 5-1, 31 RPI), and UC Santa Barbara (23-11, 6-3, 48 RPI). UCD won at Stanford last week and also took two of four at Washington St., and the schedule sets up nicely for them, as they host both UC Irvine and Long Beach State, which gives them opportunities to show that they're regional material. As for UCSB, they've got a big series coming up this weekend, as they take on Southern Cal, which will help both teams' case for an at-large bid.

Conference USA

Rice is on the way towards another Conference USA title and national seed, and they lead a quartet of teams whose outlook is rosy. Houston (22-12, 7-2, 25 RPI) looks like Rice's best challenger for the C-USA title and could make a run at a #1, along with East Carolina (26-9, 8-4, 6 RPI). Southern Miss (23-11, 5-4, 15 RPI) took a series at Rice and is sitting pretty.

Tulane (24-11, 4-4, 67 RPI) has series left against USM, ECU, and Rice, and needs to win two of those to avoid needing to win the automatic bid, and UCF (26-12, 4-8, 57 RPI) needs to make the most of their remaining schedule to get over .500 in conference play and beef up their RPI and at-large chances, which could come down to a season-ending series against Clemson.

Other Multiple-Bid Leagues

San Diego (27-11, 7-2 West Coast) has an unsightly RPI of 56, but should be in the running for a #1 in the end, and they'll be joined in the postseason by Pepperdine (23-11, 6-2 WCC, 33 RPI), and San Francisco (21-14, 5-4, 62 RPI), Santa Clara (19-14, 5-4, 65 RPI), or Loyola Marymount (18-17, 4-4, 51 RPI) could join them.

The Mountain West could be be a two or three-bid league, as San Diego St. (21-15, 9-3, 53 RPI)), TCU (24-12, 8-4, 37 RPI), and New Mexico (23-12, 8-4, 52 RPI) have postseason potential. The Missouri Valley has only one sure-fire bid right now, with Wichita St., but could also get one or two more, if Missouri St. (22-11, 8-4, 73 RPI) and Creighton (23-10, 7-5, 92 RPI) can finish strong.

The Southern Conference has been a multiple-bid league each of the last four seasons. Elon (28-9, 12-3, 32 RPI) looks great, but who'll get in behind them? The Citadel, College of Charleston, and UNC-Greensboro all have RPIs 69 or worse, but I expect one of them, likely CofC, to nab an at-large bid. There's also the conference tournament, which tends to produce a surprise winner, like Wofford last year.

The Big East got three bids last season, with Louisville advancing all the way to Omaha, but can they do it again? St. John's (25-8, 9-3) has the highest RPI at 60, so they might be the best bet at this point, while conference leader Notre Dame (21-9, 10-2) and West Virginia (26-9, 7-5) have to keep winning and get those RPIs up, as they're currently both below 100.

The CAA, with UNC-Wilmington (26-7, 16-1, 19 RPI) and James Madison (25-8, 15-3, 59 RPI) should be at least a two-bidder, and watch out for William and Mary (25-10, 10-7, 70 RPI).

The Sun Belt got three bids last year, and could do so again. Current leader Louisana-Monroe (22-12, 14-4, 74 RPI) has the worst RPI among the contenders, as Florida Atlantic (21-12, 10-6, 54 RPI) and Troy (21-15, 10-5, 64 RPI) are in position to get in, while New Orleans (22-11, 7-7, 58 RPI) has a decent RPI and some good non-conference wins (LSU, Tulane, two over Alabama), but must finish strong and get into the top three or four in the SBC to have a chance. Fortunately, four of their last five series are against the bottom four against the league.

One-Bidders That Could Get Two

There are a few leagues that could be multiple-bid leagues if their top at-large candidate/current leader doesn't secure the automatic bid, which is bad news for bubble teams.

Oral Roberts (24-8, 7-1 Summit, 22 RPI) is well on their way to another conference title, but can someone finally stop them in the conference tourney? It's doubtful, but if it happens, some power conference bubble team will be left fuming. ORU, Michigan (22-8, 11-1 Big Ten, 45 RPI), and Coastal Carolina (28-7, 7-2 Big South, 18 RPI) are all favorites to take the lone bids from their leagues, and should be in regardless of what happens in the conference tourney.

The Southland could only get two if Texas-San Antonio (24-11, 11-4, 81 RPI) pushes the 40-win mark.

Patriots On Track for At-Large Bid

Dallas Baptist doesn't have a conference to call home, but the Patriots are looking at a first-ever berth in the regionals with a 22-9 record and 29 RPI. They've beaten Rice and Oral Roberts twice, and have played Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and TCU. Finish well, and they could be as high as a #2 seed.


Read more from Eddie throughout the week at
www.NCAABaseballReport.com

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