April 28, 2009

Field of dreamers

Maydness is upon us


By Phil Stanton and Sean Ryan




Maydness begins this week.


May Madness – or what we call Maydness – is here. The first official bid will be awarded this weekend as Dartmouth hosts the Ivy League Championship Series.


We take our second look at the potential field. There are teams that are locks; others have much work to do. The team records are through games of Sunday, April 26, as are the RPIs (courtesy of Boyd Nation at www.boydsworld.com).


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


America East (1) – Maine (9-3, 26-15) split four games with Vermont (5-7, 12-25) and fell percentage points behind preseason favorite Binghamton (8-2, 20-15), which has an easier remaining league schedule. The Bearcats must go to Orono in May, but are still our pick.

ACC (8) – There are six locks as of now: North Carolina (16-7, 35-11, RPI 1), Georgia Tech (14-7-1, 28-11-1, RPI 2), Miami (Fla.) (13-11, 29-14, RPI 5), Clemson (14-10, 30-15, RPI 7), Virginia (13-8-1, 34-9-1, RPI 14) and Florida State (15-7, 30-12, RPI 20). Boston College (11-11, 26-17, RPI 40) and Virginia Tech (10-13, 25-17, RPI 54) are still in this week. Duke (12-12, 29-17, RPI 72) needs a big finish to make the field.

Atlantic Sun (1)Jacksonville (16-8, 27-13, RPI 60) is in third, but would be the top seed in the tournament as first-place Florida Gulf Coast (16-5, 25-16, RPI 80) and second-place Kennesaw State (15-5, 23-16, RPI 91) are still transitioning to Division I status and are not eligible for the A-Sun tourney. The Dolphins, who play at KSU this weekend, get our nod for now, but we think Belmont (14-10, 25-19, RPI 95) will challenge.

Atlantic 10 (1) Rhode Island (15-2, 29-13-1, RPI 37) swept a three-game set at Saint Joseph’s (7-10, 14-22) to stay on top of the conference standings. With an RPI of 37, the rest of the nation will be watching the Rams, hoping they take the automatic and don’t fall into the at-large pool. Second-place Dayton (14-4, 29-14, RPI 122) won three at Fordham (9-9, 14-27) to extend its win streak to nine and stay within striking distance of the Rams. The Flyers have the advantage of playing the conference tournament in their hometown. Preseason favorite Charlotte (10-8, 23-15, RPI 151) swept three at Saint Louis (6-11, 21-23) to climb to fourth place. The 49ers have won nine of their past 10 league contests and are making a late-season push. URI is the pick.

Big East (2)USF (15-3, 27-15, RPI 67) swept three from West Virginia (11-7, 28-12, RPI 119) to open a three-game lead, but still must travel to Notre Dame (10-8, 25-16, RPI 84) and Louisville (12-6, 29-13, RPI 55). We’re calling for the Bulls to win the tournament in their back yard and for the Cardinals to receive an at-large bid.

Big South (1) – Second-place Coastal Carolina (12-5, 32-12, RPI 28) went 2-3 this past week to damage its chances for a No. 1 seed. First-place Liberty (16-4, 29-13, RPI 89) won two of three at Gardner-Webb (10-8, 21-18) and must head to Conway, S.C., to face the Chanticleers this weekend. Winthrop (13-8, 26-18, RPI 81) could move into the at-large picture with a successful weekend at Arizona State in May. While we think this could switch to two teams, Coastal is the lone representative this week.

Big 10 (2) – First-place Ohio State (11-4, 31-10, RPI 29) and Minnesota (10-4, 27-12, RPI 21) are in great shape for bids. Illinois (11-4, 26-12, RPI 47) won three at Penn State (5-10, 21-19, RPI 100) to move into a tie for first with the Buckeyes and is in the at-large picture – we have them square on the bubble. The Illini hosts OSU next weekend. Indiana (10-4, 20-21, RPI 120) took two of three at Michigan (6-9, 23-19, RPI 184) to pull into a tie for third. It should be a fun conference tourney.

Big 12 (7) – There are five current locks: Texas (12-8-1, 29-11-1, RPI 9), Oklahoma (11-7, 33-11, RPI 15), Baylor (10-10, 25-17, RPI 19), Texas A&M (13-8, 28-15, RPI 22) and Kansas State (10-7-1, 31-11-1, RPI 24). We’ll put Kansas (10-8, 29-15, RPI 61) in for now, primarily based on its sweeps of Texas and Oklahoma State. Missouri (11-10, 24-21, RPI 38) swept Texas Tech (9-12, 20-27) over the weekend and needs conference wins over Nebraska and Kansas to keep its bid. We think the Cowboys (6-11, 28-17, RPI 23) must at least make the Big 12 Tournament to have a shot at an NCAA bid (although that hasn’t ruined SEC teams’ chances in the past). OSU has series remaining with Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, a very tall order, but an opportunity to make a postseason push.

Big West (3)UC Irvine (11-1, 30-11, RPI 6) and Cal State Fullerton (9-6, 29-11, RPI 4) are playing for national seeds, and Cal Poly (10-5, 29-10, RPI 36) has been steady all season is pretty safe. UC Riverside (5-7, 24-13, RPI 58) is in the at-large picture with a RPI of 58, but we think they have some work to do in conference. UC Santa Barbara (6-6, 23-14, RPI 78) plays at Fullerton this weekend and entertains UCI the final series of the regular season, so a strong finish no only could make things interesting in the league, but also for the NCAA committee.

Colonial (1) – First-place George Mason (14-4, 34-8, RPI 64) swept a three-game set from Hofstra (2-16, 6-27) over the weekend to keep the top winning percentage in the country. James Madison (8-7, 24-18, RPI 85) took three from Georgia State (8-4, 26-15, RPI 129) to secure second place. UNC Wilmington (8-7, 22-17, RPI 69) could win the tournament on its home field, but must make the six-team field first. For now, we’ll make the call that the Patriots will be the lone league representative. Should they falter in the league tourney, Mason would be debatable.

Conference USA (2) – First-place Rice (11-4, 28-10, RPI 3) is playing for a national seed, and second-place East Carolina (12-6, 32-13, RPI 26) appears to be just fine. Those are the only two sure bids for C-USA. Southern Miss (10-8, 26-17, RPI 75) and Tulane (7-8, 26-18, RPI 77) need a strong month of May to have a shot at an at-large bid.

Horizon (1) Illinois-Chicago (11-4, 17-19) owns a 1.5-game lead over Milwaukee (8-4, 16-19) and are making a case for its third straight trip and fifth since 2003. The Flames dropped two of three to the Panthers earlier this month, but have a doubleheader in early May. We’ll stick with UIC.


Ivy (1) Dartmouth (16-4, 22-13) won the Red Rolfe Division and will host the best-of-three Championship Series this weekend. Princeton (10-10, 18-18) tied Cornell (10-10, 15-21) for first in the Lou Gehrig Division. The Tigers will play at the Big Red Wednesday with the winner advancing to the title series. The Big Green should prevail on its home field.


Metro Atlantic (1)Manhattan (13-2, 28-11) took two of three from Canisius (8-7, 23-19) over the weekend to maintain its hold on first place. The Jaspers have series with Niagara (10-5, 16-27) and Rider (10-8, 19-17) over the next two weekends. We shift our pick and give Manhattan some much-deserved love.


Mid-American (1)Kent State (13-4, 32-9, RPI 57) took two of three from Ohio (13-5, 20-16) to move into first in the Eastern Division. Miami (Ohio) (11-7, 21-18) sits in third in the East. Toledo (11-7, 18-20) is on top in the Western Division. The Golden Flashes should erase the disappointment of a loss in last year’s MAC title game by winning it this season.

Mid-Eastern (1) – Can it make it 12 trips in 14 years? Bethune-Cookman (14-1, 24-21) swept a three-game set at UMES (9-9, 11-35) by a combined score of 37-5 to open a five-game lead over Delaware State (9-6, 18-17) and should win the MEAC Tournament on its home field.


Missouri Valley (1)Missouri State (11-3, 25-16, RPI 88) won two of three at Evansville (7-11, 20-22) to move into a tie for first with Creighton (11-3, 23-18, RPI 128), which won two against Bradley. The Bears and Bluejays meet next weekend, but neither have the RPI to make a case for an at-large at this point. Indiana State (10-3, 27-13, RPI 82) is just a half-game back. Illinois State (9-7, 19-16, RPI 153) and Wichita State (7-5, 22-20, RPI 107) are in the hunt. Of note, the Shockers will be dangerous on their home field in the MVC Tournament, but we’ll stand by the Bears for another week.


Mountain West (4)TCU (8-4, 27-12, RPI 10) took two of three at San Diego State (10-8, 28-17, RPI 27) to move into first and is followed closely by New Mexico (11-6, 31-12, RPI 51) and BYU (11-6, 24-16, RPI 42). The Cougars have three at TCU this week and two at Kansas State next week with a chance to help its RPI even more. The Horned Frogs are fighting for a top-seed in the NCAA Tournament and are our pick to win the MWC Tournament on their home field.


Northeast (1) Central Connecticut State (10-5, 20-12) won four at Long Island this past weekend to climb into first. Mount St. Mary’s (10-6, 18-20) lost three of four at Wagner (9-7, 20-16) to fall to second. With five teams within 1.5 games of first and the top teams meeting over the final three weekends of the regular season, it’s still up in the air. But we think the Blue Devils will prevail in the NEC Tournament.


Ohio Valley (1) Eastern Illinois (10-3, 32-9, RPI 46) has had a super season to date and is making a strong case for an at-large if it doesn’t win the OVC tourney. Southeast Missouri State (11-4, 25-16, RPI 123) and Jacksonville State (9-6, 25-15, RPI 76) are nipping at its heels.

Pac-10 (3)Arizona State (15-3, 31-9, RPI 8) is fighting for a national seed, and upstart Washington State (10-5, 21-18, RPI 43) and Oregon State (9-6, 24-11, RPI 48) are in for now. USC (10-8, 21-19, RPI 63) is playing another game of “stay about .500” and has a colleague in neighbor UCLA (11-7, 19-21, RPI 68).


Patriot (1) Bucknell (13-7, 21-23) is the top seed in the Patriot League Tournament and will host the championship series if it wins in the semis against Lafayette (9-11, 20-23). Army (13-7, 24-17) entertains Holy Cross (11-7, 21-23) in the other semifinal series. We think the Bison will take advantage of home series to win the Patriot League title and reach the NCAA tourney for the second straight year.

Southeastern (9)Arkansas (13-7, 29-12, RPI 11), Georgia (14-7, 33-11, RPI 12) and Florida (13-8, 31-14, RPI 13) have hopes of a national seed. Ole Miss (13-8, 32-12, RPI 16), LSU (14-7, 33-12, RPI 17), Alabama (12-9, 29-15, RPI 32) and South Carolina (9-12, 27-18, RPI 33) are good to go this week, with the Rebels and Tigers pushing to host Regionals and possibly slide into the national seed picture. Auburn (8-13, 25-19, RPI 39) and Vanderbilt (10-10, 27-17, RPI 41) are in for now, but the Tigers need to watch that conference record. Kentucky (7-14, 22-21, RPI 50) falls short by a little.

Southern (2) Elon (17-4, 28-13, RPI 30) and Georgia Southern (13-6, 30-11, RPI 25) appear to be safe with solid RPI. Western Carolina (13-7, 25-17, RPI 45) is a tough call. We have the Catamounts out as of now bases on other predictions around the country but can see switching that pick in the coming weeks based on a strong RPI. The Citadel (12-9, 25-17, RPI 74) and College of Charleston (11-10, 26-16, RPI 56) will make it a great tourney and could get in the at-large picture, particularly the Cougars.


Southland (2) – This has been one of the most competitive leagues this season. Texas State (18-5, 31-10, RPI 34) currently sits on top, with Southeastern Louisiana (12-9, 23-17, RPI 49) in second after its sweep of Sam Houston State (14-10, 28-16, RPI 59).  UTSA (14-10, 25-18, RPI 98), Texas-Arlington (14-10, 23-20, RPI 118) and Lamar (14-10, 28-17, RPI 132) are tied with SHSU for third. We’ll make the call for two bids out of the Southland this season.


Southwestern (1) – Mississippi Valley State (15-4, 20-22) leads Jackson State (14-9, 32-17) in the Eastern Division, while Southern (16-5, 24-13) is ahead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (13-11, 20-22) in the Western Division. The Jaguars should take the tourney title on their home field.


Summit (1)Oral Roberts (12-1, 22-11, RPI 52) dropped its first league game over the weekend but is still in control. It looks like the Golden Eagles should again capture the conference tournament, which feels like the ORU Invitational after 10 straight tourney titles.


Sun Belt (2) Western Kentucky (16-5, 30-12, RPI 35) and Middle Tennessee (18-6, 30-12, RPI 44) get at-large nods for now. Third-place Troy (12-7, 25-16, RPI 70) is lurking and will have a chance for a bid when it hosts the conference tourney.


West Coast (1) San Diego (10-5, 27-17, RPI 31) should win the championship series and probably would be safe even without the title. Gonzaga (10-5, 28-13, RPI 62) and Loyola Marymount (9-6, 25-21, RPI 83) will fight for a spot in the championship series.


Western Athletic (1)Hawaii (9-6, 26-16, RPI 18) should win the WAC tourney on its home field. Nevada (7-4, 21-20, RPI 126), New Mexico State (9-7, 34-10, RPI 124) and San Jose State (7-5, 29-14, RPI 93) will try to give the league two bids.


Last five in: Louisville, Virginia Tech, New Mexico, Southeastern Louisiana, BYU


First five out: Western Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, College of Charleston, UC Riverside