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May 9, 2007

SCS.comThis week, Bracketology comes without projections. Several teams played little, or not at all, last week, so for the sake of evaluating evenly, I’ll be resuming them next week.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to cover.

Firstly, I’ll address some issues from last week’s projections.

Some of you may wonder what factors I take into consideration when I project my field. I not only look at what a certain team has done up to this point in the season, but I’m also looking at what they have left to do, and thusly determine where I think they’ll end up.

That leads to #2. Some of the criticism I received came from slighted Mississippi fans who felt three things: 1) UM should not be a #2 in their own regional, 2) Minnesota a #1?! Heck no!, and 3) How on earth could Mississippi State be a #1, when Mississippi took two of three from them.

1) While the Rebels may merit a #1 seed to some, they might be the most uncertain of the #1 seeds. They have an impressive resume, but they also have been only .500 in the last month or so, and have a tough road ahead.

With the final three weeks they have, there’s a good reason I had them as a #2. However, it must be said that they were my top #2. They still are one of my top #2s even after their series loss to Tennessee, and still in good position to be a #1.

The Rebs averted a sweep by getting out of a jam in the ninth on Sunday, and that one win is certainly better than none. But they don’t have much margin for error in the last two weeks vs. Kentucky and Arkansas, and in the SEC tourney. They’re one of those teams that is close to the hunt for a national seed, but just as easily could drop to a #2.

It’s not often that a team gets a #1 with 20+ regular season losses, and the Rebels are currently at 18. If you want to consider the past, they may end up like Arkansas did last season. The Razorbacks finished second in the West at 18-12, a 38-17 regular season record, a winning record against the RPI top 50, and an RPI around the top 10. An 0-2 mark in the SEC tourney knocked them off of the #1 line in favor of a hotter team (Oklahoma State), but didn’t prevent them from hosting.

If anything, if you’re not going to be a national seed, it’s not the end of the world to be a hosting #2. You still get the home support and a pretty favorable matchup. But, sometimes you get someone like Oral Roberts.

I’m not discounting the Rebels' resume or talent. This is a team that has the all-around talent to make a run in the postseason, which they’ve done two years in a row.

But honestly, with so many teams in the running for those last couple of #1s, you can‘t afford to slip. With 12 hosts/#1s all but locked up and three more on their way to being locked up, that leaves the Rebels, Missouri, and potentially Arizona, Clemson, Minnesota/Michigan, or even TCU or College of Charleston to fight it out for one spot, or a couple, if one of the near-locks slips up (Coastal, MSU, Long Beach State, Wichita State).

2) Minnesota took care of that one over the weekend by splitting four with last-place Northwestern at home. The Gophers are still in it, but as I mentioned right above, there are several teams they’re going to have to run over to get a #1.

3) I didn’t ponder any comparisons between the Bulldogs and Rebels. Sure, they’re both in the running to host and be a #1, or even a national seed, but not directly with each other at this point.

Moving Up

Three teams really helped their causes over the last week.

Missouri (33-13, 14-7 Big 12, 21 RPI) hasn’t gotten a lot of press this season, quietly winning their way up the Big 12 standings. But the Tigers made big noise by going to Austin and taking two of three against #4 Texas. There’s still an outside chance at the Big 12 title, with a series in hand on the Longhorns (38-14, 16-8) and the ‘Horns facing a tough trip to Texas A&M in two weeks. The Tigers have tough series against Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State, but if they could at least wrap up second and do well in the Big 12 tourney, a #1 seed could be in the cards.

Coastal Carolina (39-9, 13-2 Big South, 6 RPI) was already in the running for a #1 before facing Nebraska in Lincoln, but needed some national statement wins. CCU clinched the series with an emphatic Friday win and a comeback victory Saturday before a Sunday rainout. Now, despite the two wins against the Huskers, there’s still an average record against RPI top 50 competition. But, it won’t matter if they keep winning. The final two weeks aren’t easy, but if they come out of it relatively unscathed, Gary Gilmore could have his second #1 in three years. This time around, Coastal would likely end up hosting closer to home in Myrtle Beach after having to go to Tempe in 2005.

[Note: As I’m writing this article, Coastal is making an incredible ninth-inning comeback against Charleston. Down 7-1 going into the ninth, things looked bleak, but the Chants have scored six to tie it, with the winning run on third with one out. And the winning run was just singled in, 8-7 final. Big win for Coastal, big loss for Charleston, whose #1 hopes have taken a hit.]

LSU (28-21-1, 11-12-1 SEC, 35 RPI) dropped onto the bubble with a home series loss to Tennessee, but is back in good graces after winning two of three from SEC West-leading Arkansas in Fayetteville. The Tigers have taken series from each of the West’s top three (Arkansas, MSU, UM). Paul Mainieri’s club finishes up with series at home against Florida and SEC leaders and #1 Vandy, so nothing’s set in stone yet, but they’re close.

Oklahoma State (34-13, 13-8 Big 12, 50 RPI) needed a big weekend in their rivalry series against Oklahoma. Before the weekend, OSU had slugged their way to a lot of wins but had a 60-something RPI, due to having Western Illinois (245 RPI), Hartford (247), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (271), and Nicholls State (260) on their schedule, and a home series loss to Cal State-Northridge (208). After a three-game sweep of the Sooners, second place in the Big 12 is attainable, and so is a #2 seed.

A couple of other teams had big weekends as well. East Carolina (32-15, 10-7 C-USA, 20 RPI) went to Houston and rebounded from a home series loss to Southern Miss with a sweep of the Cougars to move into third in C-USA. With remaining series against UCF and UAB, and Memphis and Houston set to square off this weekend, the Pirates should clinch second. With that finish, a winning record against quality competition, and a top 20 RPI, the Pirates look good as a #2.

Kansas State (31-17, 9-11 Big 12, 33 RPI) took their series at rival Kansas, which is huge, since it‘s their first conference series win since taking two of three against Texas Tech at the end of March. The Wildcats need to win at least one of their remaining series (vs. Texas A&M, at Baylor) and win a game or two in the Big 12 tourney. Last weekend may have been only one series win, but it was vital for their at-large hopes.

Moving Down

Oklahoma (28-20, 8-13 Big 12, 34 RPI) is firmly on the bubble after going 1-5 in their last two weekends. The sweep by the Cowboys in the Bedlam Series dropped the Sooners into a tie for seventh with Baylor. It doesn’t get any easier either with a trip to Missouri this weekend. There’s still a chance they could miss the Big 12 tourney, with Texas Tech (their final opponent) only a half-game out and Kansas a game out of the final spot. Not too long ago, they were in position to be a #2 seed. Now, they’re in a dogfight just to make the conference tourney. A 4-2 finish is required over the next two weekends to give them a little hope for the regionals, provided it’s enough to get them into the conference tourney.

After a slow start, Troy (29-20, 13-11 Sun Belt, 45 RPI) had worked their way into the field in the last few weeks. However, the Trojans’ at-large hopes took a major hit by getting swept on the road by last-place Arkansas-Little Rock. Troy finishes up with a series against second-place New Orleans and at South Alabama. There’s still a chance for the Trojans to get in, but last weekend hurts big time.

Getting swept by East Carolina puts a dent in Houston’s (25-22, 10-8 C-USA, 59 RPI) hopes to make the tournament. The Cougars hurt themselves with a loss at Marshall the previous week, but going down to ECU does even more damage. The Cougars were in second in the league just a few weeks ago, but now have Southern Miss nipping at their heels for fourth. With a trip to Memphis (currently in) and a home series against USM (also currently in) to close out the regular season, Houston‘s got some work to do to have hope.

Defending national champ Oregon State (35-11, 7-8 Pac-10, 39 RPI) dropped two of three at Washington to drop below .500 in the Pac-10. They’re not in any danger of missing the tournament, but their chances to host or be a #1 are severely damaged. After a series against Washington State, the Beavers finish with series against Arizona State and at UCLA, the Pac-10‘s top two. Finish well down the stretch, and they‘re in #1 contention. But, like I said about Mississippi, with so many teams battling for so few spots, there’s little margin for error.

Bubble/Multiple Bid Watch

Wake Forest (28-22, 11-13 ACC, 23 RPI) has a big home series against Miami this weekend. Win it, and the Demon Deacons take a huge step towards returning the regionals for the first time since 2002.

Tennessee (27-20, 10-12, 65 RPI) got a huge series win over Mississippi to move near the bubble. The Vols host South Carolina this weekend, and a series win could put them even closer. Right now, they’re just out of the eighth and final spot in the SEC tournament, and within reach of fifth. Still, it’s an uphill climb for Tennessee, whose slow start and weak non-conference schedule could be their downfall.

Kentucky (31-15-1, 10-13-1 SEC, 49 RPI) is rightfully on the bubble due to their current 10th-place standing in the SEC. But, like the Vols, the Wildcats are within reach of a top-six finish (only 2.5 games behind fifth-place UM). UK goes to Oxford this weekend and hosts Auburn to finish up, so they’ve got the time to make themselves look good for the committee.

The Big Ten’s potential to get three bids took a hit with Ohio State (28-15, 12-10, 95 RPI) losing three of four at home to Michigan State. Going 1-7 at home against the Michigan schools all but kills the Buckeyes‘ title and at-large hopes. Iowa (27-15, 14-8, 76 RPI) took their place as the Big Ten’s next best hope by winning their third straight conference series. The Hawkeyes have won 11 conference games in a row and 12 games overall. If they win on the road at Purdue and take their final series against Michigan, they might have a sliver of hope. As it stands, Ohio State and Iowa look to be the best bets to take the conference tournament and a third bid, if Michigan or Minnesota don’t take the automatic.

The Missouri Valley is starting to look more like a two-bid league, but there’s still hope for a third. Evansville (31-19, 12-9, 58 RPI) won two of three against Missouri State to remain in third in the MVC, and pick up their fifth conference series win in seven weekends. The one thing the Purple Aces lack is a sweep, which they’ve failed to close on four Sundays. They finish with midweek games against Kentucky and Louisville, with their final conference series at hard-charging Bradley in between.

The Big East is looking like a three-bid league. St. John’s (32-13, 16-5, 52 RPI) took two of three from Louisville to remain in first. The Red Storm are tied with Rutgers (30-16, 16-5, 54 RPI), who rebounded from a home loss to Notre Dame with a sweep of Cincinnati. Louisville (32-15, 14-7, 42 RPI), despite the series loss, is still in a good position. St. John’s also looks good, carrying their hot streak to 25-3 in the last 28 games. Rutgers is in for now, but goes on the road for their final two conference series at fourth-place Pittsburgh and Villanova. The Scarlet Knights have a winning record on the road, however, so that bodes well for their fortunes.

Central Michigan (30-15, 17-4 MAC, 62 RPI) dropped two of three at Eastern Michigan to fall percentage points behind the Eagles into second in the MAC’s overall standings. That could leave the Chippewas needing to win the MAC tournament to get a regional invite. However, it’s still possible that CMU could get an at-large bid if they take the regular season title and play well in the MAC tourney.

Texas-San Antonio (30-18, 20-4 SLC, 57 RPI) is moving into position for an at-large bid in case they fail to win the Southland’s automatic bid. They scored 51 runs in a three-game sweep of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi over the weekend to move three games ahead of Texas State in the West and in the overall standings over Lamar. The Roadrunners finish up at Nicholls State and at/vs West Division rival Texas State (32-17, 17-7).

The Big South could well be a two-bid league. Coastal Carolina is a lock, but they’re in a fight with Winthrop (30-19, 14-1 BSC, 72 RPI) to win the regular season title. The Eagles have a poor non-conference record hanging over their heads, but they’ve excelled in conference play and have won eight games in a row. The Eagles finish up at Liberty and at home against Coastal. If they do win the regular season title, they may be in line for a regional berth. After getting swept at home by Northeastern, that didn’t look like a possibility, but that might have been the wakeup call Joe Hudak’s club needed.

With a number of mid-majors in line for stellar finishes, it fuels the debate as to whether or not a great conference finish should merit an at-large bid over a major conference team with a mediocre record. No matter what though, there are going to be some teams who do really well in their respective leagues that get left out in favor of another team who might not appear to be as deserving.

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