April 22, 2008

Field of dreamers

Maydness is almost here


By Phil Stanton and Sean Ryan




Maydness is right around the corner.


May Madness - or what we call Maydness - is on the horizon. It’s arrived quicker than before, with the Feb. 22 start date. There are several teams securely in the NCAA Tournament, but lots of bubble teams fighting for those precious at-large bids.


The team records are through games of Monday, April 21, as are the RPIs (courtesy of Boyd Nation at www.boydsworld.com).


Without further ado, here’s our early look at the field of 64 (happy teams in bold).


America East (1) – Hartford (6-2, 14-18) has won six of its first eight conference games, but still has four series remaining. Stony Brook (8-4, 20-15) won three of four this past weekend at Vermont (4-4, 16-14), but dropped three of four to Hartford earlier. The Seawolves have the bottom three teams remaining on their conference slate, so they get our nod. Binghamton (7-5, 14-21) swept Albany (4-8, 9-28-1) to stay in the picture.


ACC (6)Miami (17-2, 33-4), Florida State (18-3, 34-5) and North Carolina (16-4, 34-7) are locks and are in the mix to be national seeds. NC State (12-8, 27-12, RPI 13) is also in, fighting to be a regional host. Georgia Tech (10-11, 28-12, RPI 17) and Virginia (13-8, 31-11, RPI 33) are in good shape for now, but need to have solid finishes. Clemson (7-13-1, 19-20-1, RPI 37) is in the neighborhood, but has to get its overall record above.500 for consideration. The Tigers still have series with Florida State and at Georgia Tech, so much work left to do.


Atlantic Sun (1) – This is a strange situation, as four of the top five team in the standings are not eligible for post-season play during their NCAA reclassifying period. They include Florida Gulf Coast (19-5, 29-12), Kennesaw State (12-9, 21-20), North Florida (13-11, 23-18) and USC Upstate (13-11, 20-21). Lipscomb (15-9, 21-18) sits in second place and right now should be the favorite to win the conference tournament. Mercer (12-12, 18-24) took two of three this past weekend at Kennesaw State and could make a late push. Jacksonville (11-13, 22-18) got swept at home by Florida Gulf Coast and has two of its final three conference series on the road.


Atlantic 10 (1) Charlotte (11-4, 29-9) is tied with surprising Temple (11-4, 20-17) for first, with Duquesne (10-5, 15-20) and Xavier (10-5, 16-21) a game behind. The 49ers have an RPI of 50 and could get an at-large bid, but they should be the heavy favorite to win the conference tournament. Charlotte hosts Duquesne in the marquee matchup of the weekend, and has three of its final four conference series at home.


Big East (1) – Notre Dame (12-3, 25-10-1, RPI 78) didn’t get a lot of love in the preseason, but has played very well in conference play. The Fighting Irish have a critical series this weekend with second-place St. John’s (11-4, 28-9, RPI 63). Cincinnati (11-4, 23-14) is also tied for second and visits Louisville (8-7, 23-15) this weekend. St. John’s could get an at-large if it wins the regular season title and falters in the tournament, but the Big East looks like one bid right now.


Big South (1) Coastal Carolina (10-2, 33-7, RPI 11) is fighting again to be a No. 1 seed. VMI (10-5, 20-19) and Liberty (8-4, 20-19) have been solid in conference play. The Keydets entertain the Chanticleers this weekend in the league’s top series.


Big Ten (1) – After a sluggish start, Michigan (15-1, 28-8, RPI 38) is rolling. After their four-game sweep of Michigan State (4-11, 13-21), the Wolverines have won 11 straight. Purdue (12-4, 20-17) won three of four at Ohio State (8-7, 19-15) to securely sit in second place. The Boilermakers do not face Michigan during the regular season. Illinois (9-7, 21-14) went 3-1 at Minnesota (6-10, 16-21) to take third. The Illini host Penn State (8-8, 15-21) this weekend. The conference gets two bids if someone upsets Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.


Big 12 (6) Oklahoma State (11-7, 27-11, RPI 6) is in the hunt for a national seed, but needs to improve its third-place standing in the league. Second-place Nebraska (13-4-1, 28-7-1, RPI 15) and league-leader Texas A&M (15-3, 33-7, RPI 23) are in the mix for a No. 1 seed. Texas (8-10, 23-16, RPI 35), Missouri (9-6, 28-10, RPI 41) and Baylor (8-10, 23-17, RPI 47) are in for now, but can’t afford to stumble down the stretch. Oklahoma (4-10-1, 25-15-1, RPI 48) must improve its ninth-place standing for consideration for an at-large bid. The Sooners still have series with the two team immediately above them, Kansas (5-10, 25-18) and Kansas State (5-10, 18-20).


Big West (5) – This strong league continues to get stronger. How do you explain that a team which has been in the Top 10 nationally for most of the year sits in sixth place in the conference standings? That’s where UC Irvine (6-6, 24-9, RPI 18) sits after losing two of three at home to UC Riverside (5-4, 11-23). The Anteaters must climb in the standings to have a shot at a No. 1 seed. Cal State Fullerton (9-3, 23-13, RPI 20) has risen to first place, followed by UC Santa Barbara (6-3, 27-11, RPI 42), UC Davis (6-3, 25-13, RPI 44) and Long Beach State (5-4, 23-14, RPI 27).


CAA (1) – The regular-season title had become a two-horse race between UNC Wilmington (18-2-1, 29-8-1, RPI 25) and James Madison (16-4, 26-10, RPI 60). The teams meet in Wilmington in two weeks. The Seahawks should get an at-large bid if they don’t win the conference tournament on their home field. Keep an eye on the bats of William & Mary (13-7, 29-12).


Conference USA (5)Rice (13-2, 31-10, RPI 7) just swept East Carolina (8-7, 27-13, RPI 12) at home, but both are positioning for No. 1 seeds. Houston (8-4, 25-14, RPI 40) sits in second, but still has road trips to Rice and to Southern Miss (6-6, 26-13, RPI 19). Tulane (6-5, 27-12, RPI 53) needs to stay near the top to secure an at-large bid. The Green Wave finishes the year at East Carolina and at home with Rice.


Horizon (1) – Two familiar teams are battling for the top spot with Illinois-Chicago (11-5, 22-15) and Wright State (9-4, 18-16). The Raiders have won three of five against the Flames, so WSU gets the slight nod.


Ivy (1) Dartmouth (12-4, 20-13) has a comfortable 2 ½-game lead over Yale (9-6-1, 19-20-1) in the Rolfe Division, while Columbia (11-5, 16-22) sits three games ahead of Princeton (8-8, 16-20) in the Gehrig Division with one weekend left in the regular season. Look for the Big Green to prevail over the Lions for the Ivy title.


Metro Atlantic (1)Canisius (9-3, 29-6) has already set a school record for victories, but dropped two of three at home to Siena (7-8, 14-23) to fall into a first-place tie with Manhattan (9-3, 18-15-1). The Golden Griffins and Jaspers meet this weekend in Buffalo. Look for Canisius to win the series and roll through the MAAC Tournament.


Mid-American (1) – Eastern Michigan (10-2, 13-24) has been impressive in rising to the top of the West Division, but has three of its final four conference series away from home. Northern Illinois (9-6, 16-19), Ball State (7-5, 21-14) and Central Michigan (8-6, 19-18) all host the Eagles and will pressure for the West title. Kent State (7-5, 21-15) has a slight lead over Ohio (8-7, 18-19) and Bowling Green (6-6, 17-16) in the East. You could pick a name out of a hat for who will win the MAC Tournament. We’ll give the slight advantage to the Golden Flashes, who host the Bobcats this weekend and have a favorable schedule down the stretch.


MEAC (1) Bethune-Cookman (12-0, 25-15) is again dominating the MEAC and should roll past the competition in the conference tournament. Delaware State (9-2, 14-22) has done well against the bottom of the league, but travels to North Carolina A&T (6-5, 18-22) this weekend and hosts the first-place Wildcats next weekend.


Missouri Valley (1) – There is a surprise at the top of the MVC standings, as Northern Iowa (10-2, 23-11) sits one game ahead of Wichita State (9-3, 30-7, RPI 21). The teams play in Wichita next weekend. The Shockers must continue to pile up wins to stay in consideration for a No. 1 seed. Missouri State (10-5, 25-13) holds down third and plays at UNI the final weekend of the regular season.


Mountain West (2)TCU (11-4, 27-13, RPI 29) is in a tie with New Mexico (11-4, 27-14, RPI 51) for first place, with San Diego State (10-5, 23-17, RPI 56) one game behind. The Horned Frogs are in for now, while the Lobos and the Aztecs will battle for the league’s other spot. Both have chances to improve their RPI, as New Mexico hosts UC Irvine this weekend and plays at TCU the final weekend. SDSU entertains TCU this weekend and plays at Cal State Fullerton the final weekend. We give the slight nod to the Aztecs.


Northeast (1) Monmouth (11-1, 23-9) has had a monster season so far and holds a two-game lead over Central Connecticut State (9-3, 14-15). No reason to think the Hawks will slow down now.


Ohio Valley (1) – It’s tight at the top, as Jacksonville State (11-4, 20-17) has a half-game lead over Samford (10-4, 23-14). The Gamecocks have a slight edge in the remaining schedule, so they’re our pick for now.


Pac-10 (5) The Pac-10 has five teams in the Top 16 in RPI: Arizona State (7-5, 31-6, RPI 4), Arizona (6-6, 25-11, RPI 8), first-place Stanford (8-4, 22-12-2, RPI 10), California (7-5, 26-10-2, RPI 14) and Oregon State (5-6, 18-13, RPI 16). Washington State (3-9, 19-18, RPI 26) has a chance at an at-large bid, but must get out of the basement to get on the board. USC (6-6, 20-18, RPI 43) and UCLA (4-5, 18-16, RPI 52) could get in as well with a strong finish.


Patriot League (1) – The top five teams are separated by three games with just one series remaining for each squad. Army (10-6, 18-20) hosts Lafayette (7-9, 19-17) this weekend. Holy Cross (10-6, 18-21) is tied for first and heads to Navy (8-8, 23-20). Third-place Bucknell (9-7, 20-18-2) entertains Lehigh (4-12, 19-25) to end the season. The top four teams make the Patriot League tournament, with best-of-three semifinals before a best-of-three championship series.


SEC (8) – It could be that the field for the SEC Tournament will all advance to the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina (11-7, 29-11) and Georgia (14-3-1, 27-12-1) are working toward national seeds. Florida (10-8, 25-15, RPI 22), Vanderbilt (10-7, 28-11, RPI 30), Arkansas (7-10, 22-17, RPI 31), Kentucky (9-9, 30-9, RPI 34) and Ole Miss (10-8, 25-15, RPI 46) are solid for now, although the Razorbacks need more wins to secure an SEC Tournament spot. Tennessee (10-8, 23-16, RPI 59) gets the final spot for now, but has tough series remaining with Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina. Auburn (7-11, 23-18, RPI 45) could replace Tennessee, but must get more conference wins. If the Tigers miss the SEC Tournament, they’re likely to miss the NCAA Tournament as well.


Southern (2) Elon (13-5, 29-13, RPI 39) has worked its way to the top of the standings, with College of Charleston (10-5, 27-13, RPI 54) and UNC Greensboro (10-5, 24-14, RPI 70) right behind. The Cougars should get an at-large bid, as long as one of the lower seeds doesn’t win the conference tournament, like ninth-seed Wofford did a year ago.


Southland (1) Texas-San Antonio (14-4, 28-12) has been impressive in claiming the top spot in the West Division, but Texas State (13-5, 23-14) and Sam Houston State (12-6, 25-14) are right behind. Northwestern State (12-5, 21-17) is a whisker in front of Lamar (12-6, 23-16) in the East.


SWAC (1) Jackson State (15-3, 31-14) has dominated the Eastern Division to this point. Alcorn State (10-6, 21-8) still hosts the division leader next weekend. Southern (11-4, 19-11) sits atop the Western Division, followed by Grambling State (14-7, 17-17) and Prairie View A&M (11-7, 17-19).


Summit (1) – The league has a new name, but should have the same NCAA representative in Oral Roberts (11-1, 29-8, RPI 24). Southern Utah (8-3, 21-15) sits in second.


Sun Belt (2) – It’s been another strong season for the Sun Belt, as eight of the 11 teams have already reached 20 victories. First-place ULM (17-4, 27-12, RPI 62) has two of its final three conference series on the road, including at second-place Troy (12-6, 24-17, RPI 75). Florida Atlantic (10-6, 23-15, RPI 58) should be in position for an at-large bid as long as its stays near the top of the league standings. If New Orleans (9-8, 25-13, RPI 61) gets hot, it could get in the bid picture as well.


West Coast (2) – First-place San Diego (10-2, 31-11, RPI 36) and second-place Pepperdine (8-3, 25-13, RPI 32) should meet in the league’s best-of-three championship series. Santa Clara (7-5, 21-16, RPI 55) could work its way into the at-large picture with a strong finish.


WAC (1)Fresno State (13-3, 24-16) sets the pace again in the WAC, followed by Sacramento State (10-5, 19-18) and Nevada (9-7, 22-17).


Independent (1) – This spot was reserved for Miami before it joined the ACC. Now, Dallas Baptist (26-11, RPI 28) should earn an at-large bid. The Patriots have two wins over Rice and a pair over ULM, the first-place team in the Sun Belt. They still have a series with Texas A&M which will help their RPI.


Last five in: Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, College of Charleston, Tulane.


Last five out: USC, Washington State, Auburn, Oklahoma, New Mexico.