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April 17, 2007

SCS.comMany conferences are at or getting close to the halfway point of their seasons, and many races are pretty tight entering the second half. Here's a look at how many of the conferences, including the SEC, ACC, Pac-10, and Big XII, around the country are shaping up right now. Also included is a look inside some of the smaller leagues, such as the Sun Belt, Southern, Missouri Valley, and Atlantic Sun, with impressive races that could certainly be fun to watch as we look toward May and the approaching conference tournaments.


The SEC has, as usual, been wild and full of surprises. In the East, preseason favorites Vanderbilt (32-6, 9-6) and South Carolina (28-8, 9-6) are leading the way, but Florida (8-7, 20-19) has slugged their way into contention. Tennessee (6-7, 20-14) and Kentucky (26-9, 6-8-1) arenít out of it, but donít have much margin for error if either wants to see postseason play.

In the West, Arkansas (29-10, 11-4), as expected, is on top, but Mississippi State (23-8, 8-5) is nipping at their heels. The Bulldogs were a preseason cellar pick, but have played nothing like one, including taking a series at Fayetteville. Mississippi (25-13, 8-7) is in a precarious position, at just over .500 with a tough final five weeks. The other three are under .500, including Auburn (25-14, 4-11), who came into conference play at 18-3, but has fallen far off the radar since.


In the ACC, Florida State (35-14, 13-2) has swept three of five series and leads second-placed Clemson (25-10, 10-5) by two games in the standings. North Carolina State is in third (26-11, 11-7). The Seminoles have the conferenceís best record by a game and a half over Coastal-leading North Carolina (30-6, 13-5), who rolls into Tallahassee this weekend for a pivotal series. Virginia (31-8, 11-6) knocked off the Tar Heels two of three, but currently sit a game and a half back in the standings, with Georgia Tech (22-14, 11-7) a further half-game back. Miami (22-16, 8-10), one of the preseason favorites in the conference, is struggling to just reach .500, but has a favorable schedule from here.


In the Pac-10, the two Arizona schools are on top, along with a surging UCLA club. Arizona State (29-10, 10-2) has rolled through their first four conference opponents with relative ease, and is on top by a half-game. Arizona (30-7, 8-1) just had a 15-game win streak broken, a win streak that included a sweep over defending national champ Oregon State. The Beavers (28-8, 4-5) are currently in fifth. UCLA (18-16, 8-1) looked to be dead entering conference play, but have shown their potential in three impressive series wins. USC (19-18, 2-7) and Stanford (15-17, 1-8) were both labeled as contenders entering the season, but have greatly faltered thus far.

Big 12

In the Big 12, Texas (31-10, 12-3) has shown thus far that they are the team to beat, and have a commanding lead at the top of the standings. Oklahoma State (27-9, 8-4), Texas A&M (30-8, 8-6), and Missouri (25-11, 7-5) look like theyíll be fighting it out for second. But watch out for Nebraska (22-14, 7-8), who certainly has the talent to make a late run at a top-three finish. Oklahoma (25-13, 5-7) needs to finish strong to avoid missing the postseason, but fortunately has already faced three of the top five in the league.

Conference USA

Preseason favorite Rice (29-11, 10-2) had its struggles before conference play, but are once again rolling through Conference USA. The Owls are two games up on Tulane (27-11, 8-4) and Memphis (22-14, 8-4), who has been on a roll themselves recently. Houston (19-16, 6-3) isnít out of it, but a series loss against Rice last weekend was a blow to their hopes. East Carolina (24-12, 6-5) is a further game behind the Cougars, but the Pirates are in a much better at-large position.

Sun Belt

In the Sun Belt, Louisiana-Lafayette (28-9, 13-5) leads the way, but three others are hopeful of catching those rolling Raginí Cajuns. In-state foe New Orleans (24-12, 10-5) has slugged its way to second. Louisiana-Monroe (22-15, 11-6) and Middle Tennessee (20-20, 10-6) are both still heavily in contention. Defending champ Troy (20-16, 8-7) is in fifth and has a bit of work to do to if they want to successfully defend their title, but you canít leave the talented Trojans for dead just yet.


College of Charleston (27-9, 10-2) is on track for their third regular season title in four seasons and a fourth straight 40-plus win season. Defending regular season champ Elon (22-16, 11-4) is only a half-game back but has played one more series than the Cougars. Western Carolina (23-12, 8-4) is in third, but was swept on the first weekend in Charleston. However, the Catamounts are best-placed to take an at-large bid behind the Cougars, with non-conference wins over Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Georgia, and Clemson and a favorable RPI.

Big West

Thanks to uneven scheduling, the standings in the Big West may look a little funny right now. Cal Poly (20-18, 7-2) has shaken off pre-conference struggles and sits on top at 7-2 following a series win over UC-Irvine. Perennial favorites CS-Fullerton (23-12, 4-2) and Long Beach St. (21-12, 4-2) are even with the Mustangs in the loss column, along with UC-Santa Barbara (15-18, 4-2). Irvine (25-10-1, 5-4) drops back after their loss vs. Poly, but already own series wins over Fullerton and LBSU.

West Coast

In the West Coast, itís Pepperdine (28-11, 8-1) and San Diego (29-13, 7-2) leading the way, as expected. But Gonzaga (23-17, 6-3) took two of three against the Toreros and still has the Waves on their schedule, so they remain in serious contention. Santa Clara (18-19, 5-4) and Loyola Marymount (17-22, 5-4) are still in it as well. The top two meet in two weeks in San Diego in a series that could determine whoís assured of a place in the best-of-three conference championship series. Both are rolling towards 40 wins and are solidly in the field of 64 barring a collapse, but if one of them doesnít finish in the top two, it appears the Bulldogs are best-placed to give themselves a shot to get the automatic bid.

Big Ten

Michigan (22-6, 8-0) blasted archrival Ohio State over the weekend in Columbus to take control of the Big Ten. The Wolverines are currently on a 16-game win streak, and made a huge statement with their convincing sweep of the Buckeyes. That sweep, along with their recent form, saw the Wolverines not only just enter the national polls, but get ranked as high as 17th. Minnesota (21-7, 5-2) appears to be Michiganís closest challenger, and best bet for a second bid for the league. Michigan State (15-12, 6-4) and Illinois (14-14, 6-4) are tied for third. The Buckeyes (18-9, 4-6) now face quite an uphill climb, one that is made all the more difficult by the fact that their ace pitcher is out for the season. An important thing to note is that the Wolverines and Golden Gophers lost an entire four-game series to poor weather, and that could very well make a difference when itís all said and done - in how many games Michigan wins their second straight title.

Missouri Valley

Wichita State (30-8, 10-2) was a preseason top-10 team, and has backed that up with their play this season, including a hot start in the Missouri Valley. The Shockers are #10 in two polls, but #1 in the MVC through four weeks. But, Creighton (23-11, 9-3) is right there with them. Evansville (25-13, 7-5), the defending regular season and tournament champion, is in third, but still have to go to Wichita and to Illinois State (16-17, 7-5), who is tied with the Purple Aces. The Redbirds still have yet to play the three big boys, so weíll see soon if they can maintain their position. As it stands, the MVC is in a good position to be a three-bid league.

Atlantic 10

High-flying UNC-Charlotte (29-6, 11-1) is having a stellar season, as highlighted in their feature on last week. The 49ers picked up their third straight conference sweep last weekend at Rhode Island to remain on top of the A-10 standings. But, Richmond (22-14, 10-2) and Xavier (15-20, 10-2) also picked up sweeps to remain right on Charlotteís heels. The 49ers still have to go on the road to face both, so itís far, far from over. But, itíll be tough to displace the leaders, who has allowed only 12 runs in their last nine conference games.


Itís the first year of divisional play in the Southland, and three teams have stood out in the two divisions. Lamar (25-15, 12-3) has a solid lead in the East division, though they had a similar lead in the conference last season before faltering in the last several weeks. McNeese St. capitalized on the Cardinals fall to win the SLC last season, and the once-again surging Cowboys (13-24, 9-5) have won nine of eleven in conference and 10 of 12 overall, after changing coaches right before the start of the season and then starting 3-22. In the West, Texas San-Antonio (13-2, 21-15) and Texas State (27-12, 12-3) are setting the pace. The league could potentially be a two-bid league depending on how things shake out, or if the Cowboys or Sam Houston St. end up taking the honors.

Big East

The Big East race is one of the most wide open around the country. Perennial powerhouse Notre Dame is struggling near the bottom of the standings, but several teams have stepped up to put themselves ahead of the pack at this point. Rutgers (20-14, 9-3) currently is on top, but Louisville (24-11, 8-4) and preseason favorite St. Johnís (20-12, 8-4) are right behind. South Florida (26-12, 9-6) dropped back with a series loss at Villanova, but is only a game and a half back and in favorable position for an at-large bid. Pittsburgh (15-16, 8-6) is just behind USF, and West Virginia (21-11, 5-6) and Cincinnati (19-15, 5-6) arenít out of it either. Villanova (16-15, 5-7), Seton Hall (16-16, 5-7), and the Irish (17-17, 4-7) are all within four and a half games of the lead. Only four teams get invited to the conference tournament, and with the evenness of the league, there will be little separation between who gets in and who stays home.

Big South

In the Big South, Coastal Carolina (30-7, 8-1) and Winthrop (22-18, 8-1) are tied atop the standings. The Chanticleers have already equaled last yearís win total, and are on track to reclaim their status as the best in the Big South. Defending tourney champ UNC-Asheville (16-23, 7-5) is two and a half games back. VMI (27-10, 5-4) is three back, but the Keydets have the chance for an at-large bid with a good finish, and Liberty (23-15, 5-4) is still in the hunt as well. Joe Hudakís Eagles have put themselves outside of the bubble with subpar non-conference results, but definitely still has plenty to play for.


Louisiana Tech (29-14, 9-3) is on top in the WAC, with defending champ Fresno St. (23-19, 8-4) only a game behind and with a favorable schedule remaining. Nevada (23-18, 7-5) is in the hunt as well. Hawaii (25-15, 6-3) is three back, but has a great opportunity to get back in the thick of the race as they host the league leaders this weekend. The conference was a two-bid league last season, but that looks unlikely this season, as no one looks to be in good position for an at-large bid, including Louisiana Tech.

Atlantic Sun

In the A-Sun, Stetson has won all five of their series thus far, including sweeping the last three, to take control of the league. The Hatters look to be in control, but East Tennessee State is there in case Stetson slips up, and the two face off at Stetson in three weeks. After those two, Belmont (20-15, 9-6), Lipscomb (22-16, 7-5), Mercer (22-18, 8-7), and defending regular season champ Jacksonville (23-19, 8-7) occupy the final four conference tournament spots. The Hatters have an RPI in the top 30 and would make the A-Sun a two-bid league (and burst a few bubbles) if they fail to secure the automatic bid.

The Rest of the Races

America East: Binghamton & Stony Brook (6-1)
Colonial: Old Dominion (25-15, 12-5), William & Mary (23-16, 10-7), Northeastern (16-9, 8-6)
Horizon: Illinois-Chicago (16-13, 8-3), Wright St. (17-13, 10-6)
Ivy: Harvard & Brown (7-3 in Lou Gehrig Div.), Penn (9-5 in Red Rolfe Div.)
Metro-Atlantic: Manhattan (18-11, 11-0)
Mid-American: Miami-Ohio (18-12, 7-3 in East), Central Michigan (21-13, 10-2 in West)
MEAC: Bethune-Cookman (17-22, 7-1)
Mountain West: TCU (27-9, 10-1)
Northeast: Mount St. Maryís (16-15, 6-2)
Ohio Valley: Southeast Missouri St. (23-13, 9-3) & Jacksonville St. (20-16, 9-3)
Patriot: Lafayette (19-12, 9-1), Navy (28-12, 9-3)
SWAC: Jackson St. (26-15, 13-5 in East), Prairie View (25-13, 12-3 in West)

Note: Play in the Mid-Continent doesnít get fully underway until this weekend, as the only two teams to play already are Western Illinois and Southern Utah.

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