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May 22, 2007

SCS.comSelection Monday is less than a week away, and that means for 20-plus conferences, itís conference tournament time, and for a few others, automatic bids are going to be decided.

The majority of the spots and seeds are filled, but there are a few spots yet to be determined, and the destinations are far from certain at this point. Some teams may play their way into the field, or to a more favorable seeding, while some may play their way back out of the field.

This is the first of two projections that will be released this week. The second will come this weekend, when things are a lot more solidified. Thereís sure to be at least a few upsets this week, so there's a good chance that this weekendís projection will look a bit different than this one.

Bethune-Cookman and Prairie View secured bids to the NCAA Tournament over the weekend, which means four automatic bids are down, and there are 26 more to be decided.

Moving Up

UC Riverside may have been surprising people up until this point, but now the Highlanders have everyoneís attention. They faced a daunting trip to Long Beach to face the Dirtbags in a top-of-the-league clash, and not only held their own, but they swept LBSU right out of the Big West lead. With one week remaining, UCR has a two-game lead in the standings over the Dirtbags and UC Irvine, who they host this weekend. One win over the Anteaters will clinch the title for the Highlanders, who have won all six of their conference series, including sweeps over Cal State-Fullerton and now LBSU. If they had performed better in non-conference play, you could be talking about them as a #1 seed, but they look like a solid #2, even with an RPI pushing 50. Absolutely steamrolling one of the nationís top conferences will render RPI irrelevant, though it might be hard to see the Highlanders pulling into a #1 seed, even if they sweep Irvine.

Southern Mississippi now looks like a #2 seed as well after they closed out the regular season with a sweep of Houston. The sweep clinched third in C-USA for the Golden Eagles, who have a 10-game win streak coming into the C-USA tourney. A few short weeks ago, USM was on the bubble, but finishing with a flourish has them in a safe position. The RPI was always high, but it was just a matter of the wins coming, and they have.

Alabama moves into the field this week after a series win at Mississippi State that clinched the Tide a .500 record in the SEC. The Crimson Tide won series at South Carolina, against SEC West champion Arkansas, and at Mississippi State in the last four weeks to get themselves on the radar for at-large contention.

Baylor also moves into the field after a sweep of Kansas State. The Bears appear to be a lot like Missouri last year, a team that struggled in conference play most of the way, but made a move at the end to get in.

UNC-Charlotte moves off of the #4 line, and so does Oral Roberts. Itís hard to put a team with a 44-10 record on the #4 line, not only because itíd be unfair to both them and the #1 that theyíd have a good chance to knock off, but theyíve proved themselves all season long, and the RPI is now starting to be a little kind to them.

Oral Roberts is doing the same thing that they did last season, when they advanced to the super regionals. The Golden Eagles stood at 16-14 after dropping two of three against Long Beach State, but have won 21 of 22 since, including going a stellar 19-1 to wrap up yet another Mid-Continent title. Second-place Western Illinois finished eight games behind, and was resoundingly swept by ORU this past weekend. Even if they donít win the Mid-Con tourney, which would be a shocker, they should find a spot in the field as an at-large team.

Moving Down

Oregon Stateís struggles continue. The Beavers were swept at home by Arizona State to drop their third series in a row. They now stand 7th in the conference, and things donít get any rosier for the defending champs, as they finish up their season with a trip to UCLA this weekend. If the Beavers donít somehow win the series against the Bruins, itís going to be hard for the committee to give them a spot when they finish near the cellar in the league. The 23-3 start was impressive, but to say the lusterís worn off now would be an understatement. Forget hosting, and forget thinking Omaha, itís all about just getting into the postseason right now.

Speaking of UCLA, theyíll go into the series with the Beavers on a low note after having dropped their second series in a row. After getting swept in Tempe by the Sun Devils, the Bruins went to Pullman and dropped two of three to Washington State. UCLA had rebounded from a slow start to be at the top of the league standings for a while, and have a shot at hosting as a #2 seed, but it looks like they may end up on the #3 line.

The other national name struggling as much as Oregon State right now is Arkansas. It wasnít that long ago that the Razorbacks were all but a lock for a national seed. Now, theyíre just trying to make sure they donít play themselves out of a #1 seed. Dave Van Hornís club locked up the SEC West title last week, but lost their third series in a row to end the season by dropping two of three to Mississippi in Fayetteville. If they go 0-2 or 1-2 in the SEC tournament, itís possible that they could lose out on a #1 seed at the end for the second straight year.

Mississippi State is off of the #1 line now after their series loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs went into the series with a chance at winning the SEC West, but instead dropped their fourth series in five weeks. Overall, MSU has lost six of eight, and has gone from having an outside shot at being a national seed to having to play well in the SEC tournament and getting a little outside help to host. Thereís a chance they could host as a #2, but that all depends on Missouri and Louisiana-Lafayette, and potentially Wichita State, depending how they fare in the MVC tournament.

Bubble Watch

Troy, Kentucky, Florida, and Memphis are on the wrong side of the bubble this week.

The Trojans dropped two of three at South Alabama to end the regular season. Their RPI has dropped into the 50s now, and by dropping two of their last three Sun Belt series, it knocks them out of the field for now. Itís likely theyíll have to, at the least, make the tournament finals, or better yet, win the whole thing, in order to get in.

Kentucky had a chance to not only qualify for the SEC tournament, but also to move a step closer to the field of 64, with a home series against the SECís bottom team, Auburn. But the Wildcats were soundly beaten in the first two games, and that killed off their SEC tournament hopes, and all but dashed their hopes to get into the NCAA field. For the last four seasons, the SECís ninth-place team has gone to the regionals, but it doesnít look likely this year.

Florida has been an enigma all season. One week, theyíre losing to VMI, and the next week theyíre beating Miami. Only once this season, the Gators were able to win back-to-back series, so itís only fitting that they end up at .500 in both conference play and overall. Theyíre completely done if they canít win at least two games in Hoover, and even if they do, theyíre going to be scrapping it out for one of the last couple of spots in the field with a whole host of teams with similar resumes.

For Memphis, itís a matter of what couldíve been. The Tigers were 8-4 in the C-USA at the halfway point in conference play, but flipped that record in the last four series to hurt their chances of getting into the tournament.

With those teams, along with Oregon State, dropping out of the projections, that opened the way for Baylor, Alabama, and three others to get in, and all three of those teams are from out West.

California swept Southern Cal to all but knock the Trojans off of the bubble, and put themselves into the field for now. The Golden Bears are two games ahead of Washington for fourth place in the standings. The two teams square off this weekend in Washington, and if the Bears take the series, they might get rewarded for a top-half finish in the Pac-10 with a berth to the regionals for the first time since 2001.

Washington State has flown onto the at-large radar in the past few weeks with series wins over Oregon State and UCLA. The Cougars started Pac-10 play by going 1-8 in the first three series, but won four of their last five series and went 9-6 in that span. They also picked up a series win against Arizona and won three of four against in-state rival and regional hopeful Gonzaga, while also playing well in a series loss at Texas. Losses to NAIA member Lewis & Clark State and WCC bottom feeder Portland hurt though, and an overall weak non-conference schedule has the Cougarsí RPI in the 60s. But theyíve got a good chance to get into the field if they take care of business at UC Davis this weekend.

Cal Polyís inclusion gives the Big West a record five bids. The Mustangs took two of three from Cal State-Fullerton to move into fourth in the standings with a week to go. Theyíre another one of those teams in the low 50s to 60s range thatís fighting to get in the tournament. Twelve of their 24 losses have come against Rice, San Diego, Long Beach State, and Oregon State. The Mustangs face a tough series at UC Santa Barbara to end the season, and if theyíre able to win it, the Big Westís strength, and their high finish, could be enough to get them in.

Whether or not a couple of those teams get in depends on how Oklahoma and Tennessee do in their respective conference tournaments. The Sooners stopped a recent slide by taking two of three at home against Texas Tech in their final conference series. Theyíre going to need to play well in the Big 12 tournament, though, which might be easier said than done as they go up against Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, each of whom they lost series to this season. Their RPI is still above 30, but it might be hard to overlook their late-season form, and their 7th-place finish in the league.

Tennessee went to Gainesville and took two of three from Florida to sneak into the SEC tournamentís eighth and final slot, and theyíre another one of those teams in the running for one of the last few spots. The Volunteers moved into contention with series wins over LSU, Mississippi, and then Florida in the last few weeks of the season. However, they still have a little work to do to get in. Itís difficult to see them getting past the first couple of days in the SEC tournament, with Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and UM in their bracket, which is why I have them out right now. However, if they can make it to Saturday, then that might be good enough to get them into the field.

One thing is for sure... A lot is going to happen between now and Sunday, when the last automatic bids are wrapped up. Arenít you excited? If not, youíre missing out.

And now, for the projections!

Houston Regional

1. Rice (1) (C-USA auto)

4. Prairie View (SWAC auto)

2. Pepperdine

3. Baylor

Lafayette Regional

1. Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt auto)

4. Texas San-Antonio (Southland auto)

2. Mississippi

3. Wake Forest

Myrtle Beach, SC Regional

1. Coastal Carolina (8) (Big South auto)

4. Lafayette (Patriot auto)

2. North Carolina State

3. Rutgers

Charlottesville Regional

1. Virginia

4. Delaware (CAA auto)

2. College of Charleston (SoCon auto)

3. Michigan

Tallahassee Regional

1. Florida State (4) (ACC auto)

4. Bethune-Cookman (MEAC auto)

2. Stetson (Atlantic Sun auto)

3. Western Carolina

College Station Regional

1. Texas A&M

4. Cal Poly

2. TCU (Mountain West auto)

3. Alabama

Chapel Hill Regional

1. North Carolina (5)

4. Binghamton (America East auto)

2. East Carolina

3. St. Johnís (Big East auto)

Columbia, SC Regional

1. South Carolina

4. Lemoyne (MAAC auto)

2. Miami

3. UNC-Charlotte (Atlantic 10 auto)

Nashville Regional

1. Vanderbilt (2) (SEC auto)

4. Austin Peay (Ohio Valley auto)

2. Southern Mississippi

3. Louisville

Wichita Regional

1. Wichita State (Missouri Valley auto)

4. Washington State

2. Mississippi State

3. Nebraska

Tempe Regional

1. Arizona State (7) (Pac-10 auto)

4. Quinnipiac (Northeast auto)

2. UC Riverside (Big West auto)

3. Creighton

Columbia, MO Regional

1. Missouri

4. Illinois-Chicago (Horizon auto)

2. UC Irvine

3. Minnesota

Austin Regional

1. Texas (3) (Big 12 auto)

4. Brown (Ivy auto)

2. Cal State Fullerton

3. Georgia Tech

Fayetteville Regional

1. Arkansas

4. Central Michigan (MAC auto)

2. Clemson

3. California

San Diego Regional

1. San Diego (6) (West Coast auto)

4. Fresno State (WAC auto)

2. Oklahoma State


Long Beach Regional

1. Long Beach State

4. Gonzaga

2. Arizona

3. Oral Roberts (Mid-Continent auto)

Next, and final, projections coming this weekend!

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