April 13, 2011

Field of Dreamers

Maydness is on deck


By Phil Stanton and Sean Ryan




Maydness is not far away.


May Madness – or what we call Maydness – is near. Teams are jockeying for position in their conference standings as well as trying to improve their RPI.


We take a second look at the potential field. We try to balance teams we believe are in now with teams we project will reach the field. The team records are through games of Sunday, April 10, as are the RPIs (courtesy of Boyd Nation at www.boydsworld.com).


Here’s our look the Field of 64 (happy teams in bold).


America East (1)Stony Brook (3-1, 19-8, RPI 101) took three of four from Maine (1-3, 10-19) in a battle of the preseason favorites. The Seawolves are the lone squad with an overall winning record. Binghamton (3-0, 10-15) and Albany (3-0, 10-15) swept their opening conference series and will meet this weekend in a four-game set. Stony Brook goes to UMBC (0-3, 4-20) and the Black Bears head to Hartford (0-3, 2-23-1). A lot could still happen, but we think Stony Brook is now the Beast of America East.

ACC (7) – Both Virginia (13-2, 31-3, RPI 2) and North Carolina (12-3, 29-5, RPI 3) were impressive this past weekend on the road. The Cavaliers took two of three from Georgia Tech (12-3, 24-9, RPI 5), while the Tar Heels did the same to Florida State (9-6, 23-9, RPI 9). All four remain in the hunt for national seeds. Clemson (6-9, 18-13, RPI 13) won its series with Maryland (3-12, 15-17) and needs to continue to pile up wins if it want to host a regional. Miami (11-3, 21-11, RPI 28) swept three from NC State (5-10, 18-15, RPI 54) this past weekend. We’re keeping the Wolfpack in for now, but they have plenty of work to do. This weekend, Virginia entertains Duke (4-11, 19-16), UNC makes the short trip to NC State, Georgia Tech goes to Wake Forest (5-10, 12-20), FSU heads north to Virginia Tech (3-12, 17-17) , Clemson goes further north to Boston College (6-8, 13-16) and Miami makes its way to Maryland.

Atlantic Sun (2) – The top three in the standings all recorded sweeps over the weekend. First-place Stetson (12-3, 25-7, RPI 21) took three from Kennesaw State (8-6, 19-15, RPI 93) and saw its RPI rise nine spots. Second-place ETSU (11-5, 20-9, RPI 23) got three from Lipscomb, while No. 3 Jacksonville (10-5, 20-12, RPI 48) won three at Mercer (8-9, 22-13, RPI 77). We’re keeping the Hatters and Bucs in the field, and the Dolphins are close. It’s hard to think that the A-Sun could get three teams in, but this trio could make the decision tough for the committee. This is Stetson’s open weekend for conference play, so the Hatters will host independent Savannah State (20-15) for three. ETSU will go to Belmont (6-9, 16-17) and JU will welcome Campbell (2-13, 15-20).


Atlantic 10 (1) Charlotte (8-1, 26-6, RPI 91) was dominating in its sweep of Saint Joseph’s (3-6, 11-20), outscoring the Hawks 31-3 in Philly to extend its win streak to seven. Second-place Richmond (5-1, 17-13-2) battled the elements to take two of three at Xavier (3-6, 18-16). Rhode Island (5-4, 16-13, RPI 50) took two of three from Saint Louis (2-4, 20-12) and saw its RPI climb 12 spots to move into bubble territory. We still think the 49ers will be the A-10 representative, but the Rams could make this very interesting. And the Spiders have rebounded from a slow start to the season. This weekend, Charlotte goes to Saint Louis, Richmond returns to Ohio to face Dayton (4-2, 16-16) and URI entertains Saint Joe’s.


Big East (2) – The cream may be rising to the top as first-place Connecticut (5-1, 17-11, RPI 79) won its series at Notre Dame (4-5, 13-16-1) and Louisville (6-3, 20-11, RPI 51) won two of three at Cincinnati. Pittsburgh (6-3, 19-11) and West Virginia (6-3, 20-14, RPI 70) both had sweeps to move into a second-place tie with the Cardinals. We think UConn and Louisville will get the Big East bids, but there is some depth here – we’ll be watching the Panthers, Mountaineers, and Red Storm of St. John’s (5-4, 16-13, RPI 67). This weekend, the Huskies head to Villanova (2-7, 13-18), Louisville travels to St. John’s, Pittsburgh goes to Georgetown (1-8, 18-16) and WVU visits Notre Dame.

Big South (1) – Someone woke the sleeping giant. After losing two of three at UNC Asheville (5-7, 11-20) two weeks ago, Coastal Carolina (7-2, 21-11, RPI 74) has brought out the brooms the past two weekends, most recently taking three at Presbyterian (4-8, 18-15) to move into first place. Now that the Chanticleers have returned to the big chair, we’re not sure they’re going to relinquish it. Coastal has a date at second-ranked Virginia on Wednesday before entertaining Gardner-Webb (6-6, 19-9-1, RPI 99) this weekend. Second-place Winthrop (8-4, 17-15) will travel to Radford (4-5, 18-13), while Liberty (7-5, 17-16, RPI 85) welcomes Presbyterian and Charleston Southern (7-5, 19-16) hosts VMI (5-7, 15-16, RPI 78).

Big Ten (1) – First-place Michigan State (5-1, 20-7, RPI 60) made a huge statement with its sweep of preseason favorite Minnesota (2-4, 10-12). Indiana (4-2, 20-11, RPI 96) took two of three from Ohio State (3-3, 11-14), as did Penn State (4-2, 19-10) at Northwestern (2-4, 9-19), to put them in a tie for second. The Spartans now assume the mantle of favorite, but we’ll continue to follow the Hoosiers, Nittany Lions and Gophers. On the upcoming slate, MSU heads to OSU, IU travels to Iowa (2-4, 12-17), PSU prepares for Purdue (3-3, 20-11) and Minnesota hosts Northwestern.

Big 12 (6) – The Big 12 has a Big 4 at the top of the standings. Texas A&M (9-3, 24-8, RPI 10) and Texas (9-3, 24-8, RPI 22) share the top spot, with Oklahoma State (8-4, 24-8, RPI 35) and Oklahoma (6-5, 24-8, RPI 25) close behind. Baylor (5-7, 18-15, RPI 33) and Texas Tech (5-7, 20-13, RPI 42) are within striking distance and look good for bids. Kansas State (4-8, 18-12, RPI 55) won its series this past weekend with the Sooners and could fight for a seventh spot for the league. The Aggies battle the Bears this weekend, while the Longhorns host the Red Raiders, the Cowboys tangle with the Sooners and the Wildcats go to Nebraska (3-6, 21-13, RPI 98).

Big West (2)Cal State Fullerton (5-1, 23-9, RPI 11) took early control of the conference race by winning two of three against second-place UC Irvine (4-2, 20-8, RPI 41). These two have separated themselves from the rest of the league so far. Long Beach State (3-3, 16-14, RPI 57) took a huge step backwards by dropping two of three at home to UC Davis (2-4, 7-19). Fullerton hosts UC Santa Barbara (2-1, 14-12) this weekend, while UCI goes to Pacific (2-4, 10-18) and LBSU entertains UC Riverside (3-3, 14-12).


Colonial (1) – If we could figure out the race in the CAA, we might be able to solve the budget crisis in D.C. as well. No team has fewer than five conference losses and seven squads are within two in the loss column. Delaware (10-5, 18-14, RPI 83) won its series at UNC Wilmington (7-5, 16-14) to move into first after former leader James Madison (11-7, 22-11) dropped two of three at home to Georgia State (7-5, 25-9, RPI 71). William and Mary (9-6, 18-16), Old Dominion (9-6, 17-17) and VCU (6-6, 13-17) are each one behind the Blue Hens in the loss column. It’s a shame that only four teams will advance to the conference tourney in Wilmington. A six or eight-team event would be great this year. With their impressive work in Harrisonburg this past weekend, we’re giving the Panthers the nod for now. But this could change like the spring weather. On the upcoming slate, UD goes to Towson (7-8, 13-18), GSU entertains ODU, UNCW hosts W&M and VCU welcomes Northeastern (4-8, 8-20) after the Huskies posted three shutouts against Hofstra (5-10, 6-20) this past weekend. JMU has its open conference weekend and will play at UNC Greensboro (17-13).

Conference USA (5) – No one is running away from the field yet in Conference USA. Southern Miss (6-3, 23-8, RPI 8) lost its series at Memphis (3-3, 19-12, RPI 72) to fall into a three-way tie for first. Rice (6-3, 23-13, RPI 19) took two of three at East Carolina (4-5, 22-10, RPI 26) and UAB (6-3, 18-13, RPI 73) won its series at Houston (4-2, 17-17, RPI 45). UCF (3-6, 20-12, RPI 29) lost two of three at home to Tulane (3-6, 20-12, RPI 52) to drop in the standings. We think five are in right now, but this picture will change each weekend. For those teams on the bubble, they will have ample opportunities to help their RPI on conference weekends. This weekend’s schedule has Tulane at Rice, Memphis at UAB, UCF at ECU and Houston at Marshall (1-5, 11-18). Southern Miss will step out of conference to host New Orleans.


Great West (0) – Conference play commenced with three sweeps and one split. Texas-Pan American (4-0, 13-10) remains the lone team over .500. No automatic bid or at-large bid this year.


Horizon (1) Wright State (5-1, 19-9, RPI 133) now shares the penthouse with Milwaukee (5-1, 11-16) after the Panthers won three at UIC (4-5, 13-15). We still think the Raiders are best in the Horizon, but Milwaukee should challenge. Wright State goes to UIC this week, while Milwaukee heads to Cleveland State (0-9, 6-22).


Independents (1)Cal State Bakersfield (22-8, RPI 40) maintained its solid RPI by taking two of three from Cal State Northridge over the weekend. The Roadrunners go to UC Davis this week in their continued pursuit of a regional bid.


Ivy (1) Dartmouth (6-2, 17-6, RPI 130) rebounded from a mediocre opening Ivy weekend to sweep a pair of doubleheaders this past weekend, taking two from both Cornell (2-6, 4-20) and Princeton (6-2, 12-15) to take the top spot in the Red Rolfe Division. Princeton is in a first-place tie with Penn (6-2, 15-12) in the Lou Gehrig Division. League play will now be within the division, as Dartmouth goes to Yale (4-4, 15-12) and Princeton travels to Penn. We think the Big Green will outlast the competition and represent the Ivy in the NCAA tournament.


Metro Atlantic (1)Rider (8-1, 19-10, RPI 90) made a huge statement with its three-game sweep at Marist (4-5, 21-9, RPI 62). The Red Foxes had been playing well and were our pick last week, but were stopped by the Broncs. First-place Manhattan (9-0, 15-11) has yet to lose in league play and will host Marist this weekend, while Rider travels to Siena (1-5, 10-21). We give the nod now to Rider, but look forward to its visit to Manhattan in May.


Mid-American (1)Kent State (8-1, 20-10, RPI 24) continued its dominance of the West Division with its sweep of Eastern Michigan (5-4, 18-13). The Golden Flashes have won nine straight and will face their final West foe this weekend at Central Michigan (5-4, 16-17) before turning their attention to their Eastern brethren. Toledo (7-2, 16-15) swept Buffalo (0-9, 7-21) last weekend to rise to the top of the West in stretching its win streak to nine. The Rockets travel to Bowling Green (5-4, 11-16) this weekend. It still looks like Kent State is the strongest team in the MAC.

Mid-Eastern (1) – No change here as Bethune-Cookman (6-0, 19-15, RPI 129) remains dominant against conference opponents after its sweep at North Carolina A&T (2-6, 8-22). The Wildcats continue their 13-game road swing with a pair of midweek contests at FGCU (15-16) before a league set at third-place Norfolk State (6-2, 13-18).


Missouri Valley (1) – The preseason favorites stumbled out of the gates as league play began this past weekend. Illinois State (1-2, 21-9, RPI 97) dropped two of three at home to Creighton (2-1, 22-7, RPI 53), while Wichita State (1-2, 21-13, RPI 124) lost a pair at Missouri State (2-1, 19-11, RPI 76). Southern Illinois (3-0, 11-19) got the only conference sweep, winning three at Evansville (0-3, 17-12). We’re leaning toward the Bluejays for now, but this should be a competitive race all season. This weekend, Creighton visits Indiana State (2-1, 19-11), SIU hosts Missouri State, Evansville goes to WSU and Illinois State heads to Bradley (1-2, 19-11).


Mountain West (1)TCU (7-2, 22-10, RPI 34) won another conference series, taking two of three at home from New Mexico (5-4, 10-22). The Horned Frogs are the class of the Mountain West and should continue to pile up league wins. TCU travels to San Diego State (5-4, 11-21) this weekend, while second-place BYU (5-3, 17-12) heads to UNLV (2-6, 22-12, RPI 92) and Utah (6-4, 13-12) goes to New Mexico.


Northeast (1) Monmouth (11-5, 16-13, RPI 143) took three of four at Quinnipiac (9-7, 13-14) to break their first-place tie, even though the Hawks were no-hit in that one loss. Monmouth will now look for even more separation from the rest of the league. This weekend, the Hawks host Wagner (8-8, 10-19) and second-place Long Island (8-4, 16-12) entertains Quinnipiac.


Ohio Valley (1) Jacksonville State (6-3, 22-10, RPI 131) won its series at Murray State (4-4, 13-17) to remain atop the OVC standings. The Gamecocks entertain second-place Austin Peay (5-3, 15-15) this weekend. Eastern Illinois (5-3, 9-19), also tied for second, hosts Tennessee Tech (3-3, 13-17). We think JSU is the strongest team in the OVC and should earn the league’s automatic bid.

Pac-10 (6) – We said last week that the Pac-10 had slipped this year, but in looking at the latest CBI Composite Poll, the Pac-10 had six teams in the Top 20. The conference isn’t as deep as last year, but it’s still as strong in the upper half. Arizona State (5-4, 22-9, RPI 6) got swept at Oregon State (5-1, 24-7, RPI 18) and its RPI remained unchanged, so the Sun Devils are still in the hunt for a national seed. Stanford (3-3, 15-9, RPI 15) and the Beavers could host regionals. California (6-3, 20-9, RPI 37) got the great news that the program will continue, but lost two of three at Arizona (4-5, 22-11, RPI 46). UCLA (7-2, 16-11, RPI 86) moved up slightly in RPI with its series win at Washington State (2-7, 13-14, RPI 43). We think the league gets six in, but if the Cougars get hot, it could be seven. This week’s slate has WSU at ASU, OSU at Stanford, Arizona at UCLA and Cal at Washington (2-4, 9-20).


Patriot (1) – Preseason favorite Army (6-2, 13-16) split with Navy (5-3, 20-13-1) to keep its hold on first place. Lafayette (5-3, 11-17) split with Lehigh (3-5, 19-14) to stay tied for second with the Midshipmen. We still think the Black Knights will prove to be the best in league play, although their remaining three series are all on the road. This weekend, Army goes to Lehigh, Navy hosts Bucknell (2-6, 13-20) and Lafayette entertains Holy Cross (3-5, 15-16).

Southeastern (10) – It’s hard to imagine that 10 bids will come from the SEC, but the numbers support it for now. Florida (9-3, 26-7, RPI 1), South Carolina (10-2, 26-5, RPI 4) and Vanderbilt (10-2, 30-3, RPI 7) remain strong candidates to be national seeds. After its sweep of LSU (3-9, 21-11, RPI 20), Arkansas (6-6, 23-8, RPI 12) enters the discussion as a regional host. Ole Miss (5-7, 20-13, RPI 30), Mississippi State (5-7, 21-11, RPI 31) and Alabama (7-5, 21-13, RPI 38) are solid for now. Auburn (5-7, 18-14, RPI 16) and Georgia (8-4, 18-15, RPI 17) both need to keep their overall record above .500 to get in the field. LSU, however, needs to start winning series. This week, Vanderbilt heads to South Carolina, Florida goes to Georgia, Arkansas hosts MSU, Ole Miss welcomes Kentucky (2-10, 16-17), Alabama brings in Tennessee (2-10, 19-13, RPI 68) and Auburn travels to LSU.


Southern (1) – The Southern Conference could still be a multiple-bid league, but we’re giving them one spot for now. Elon (12-3, 22-12, RPI 39) swept Wofford (2-10, 14-19) to keep its grip on first. Second-place Georgia Southern (9-3, 19-13, RPI 80) lost two of three nonconference contests and watched its RPI plummet. Samford (9-6, 21-13, RPI 63), UNC Greensboro (9-6, 17-13) and College of Charleston (7-5, 21-11, RPI 58) all lost SoCon series to fall further behind the Phoenix. The Cougars could help themselves immensely this weekend with a series at Elon. Also this week, Georgia Southern goes to Western Carolina (4-12, 13-16-1) and Samford heads to Appalachian State (6-9, 18-15).


Southland (2) Texas State (11-4, 20-11, RPI 32) lost its series at Central Arkansas (6-9, 16-17), but was able to hang onto first as second-place Stephen F. Austin (10-5, 22-11) lost two of three at home to UTSA (6-9, 13-21). Southeastern Louisiana (9-6, 22-11, RPI 49) won its series at UT Arlington (8-7, 17-15, RPI 81) to creep closer to first. We now think the Lions will join the Bobcats in the NCAA tournament. On this week’s menu, SLU visits TSU in the marquee matchup, SFA goes to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (7-8, 22-14, RPI 65) and Lamar (9-6, 22-13, RPI 64) travels to Sam Houston State (8-7, 22-12, RPI 89).


Southwestern (1)Southern (11-4, 19-11) lost two of three to second-place Grambling State (10-5, 15-15) as its lead slipped to one game in the Western Division. Alcorn State (10-4, 12-19) moved past Mississippi Valley State (9-5, 13-19) and Jackson State (10-5, 18-13) to take the top spot in the Eastern Division. We still think the Jaguars are the best and will survive the SWAC tourney. This weekend, Southern hosts Prairie View A&M (8-7, 13-13), Grambling State heads to Alabama State (4-11, 11-16), Alcorn State plays at JSU and MVSU goes to Alabama A&M (2-10, 6-25).


Summit (1)Oral Roberts (4-0, 15-11, RPI 132) started the conference season like it has so many times before with a sweep, this time at home to Centenary (0-4, 3-17). South Dakota State won three of four at Western Illinois (1-3, 8-22) to sit in second with IPFW (3-1, 8-17), which won its series at Oakland (1-3, 6-15). We think the Eagles are still the best team, but will be challenged during the season. This weekend, ORU goes to WIU, SDSU goes to Centenary and IPFW entertains Southern Utah (2-2, 13-16).


Sun Belt (1) – This is another conference that could get multiple bids. Troy (10-2, 25-7, RPI 27) won two of three at home against FIU (5-7, 20-15, RPI 36) to remain in first. The Trojans are solid now for a bid, while the Golden Panthers need to move up in the league standings to be in the at-large picture. Western Kentucky (8-4, 20-12, RPI 66) sits in second, followed by Florida Atlantic (7-5, 19-13, RPI 87) and Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5, 18-13, RPI 59). This week, Troy goes to Middle Tennessee (3-9, 9-22), WKU hosts Arkansas State (4-8, 14-20), ULL visits FIU and FAU entertains ULM (5-7, 17-13).


West Coast (1) Gonzaga (3-0, 19-9-1, RPI 44) started conference play with a three-game sweep of San Diego (0-3, 7-22), as did Loyola Marymount (3-0, 19-11, RPI 56) at Santa Clara (0-3, 12-16). We think the Bulldogs are the top team and will secure the league’s bid. Gonzaga travels to LMU this weekend in a key early-season series. Pepperdine (1-2, 15-16, RPI 84) will not be eligible for a spot in the NCAA Tournament due to self-imposed sanctions.


Western Athletic (1)Fresno State (2-2, 22-5, RPI 14) stumbled to a split at San Jose State (2-2, 21-11, RPI 69) to start conference play. Hawaii (4-0, 18-14, RPI 100) swept its series at home with Sacramento State (0-4, 9-24). New Mexico State (2-2, 24-8, RPI 153) also split four games at Louisiana Tech (2-2, 17-15). We think the Bulldogs will outlast the competition and snag the WAC’s bid. This weekend, FSU hosts Nevada (0-0, 10-17), Hawaii entertains Louisiana Tech and San Jose State travels to New Mexico State.


Last five in: Southeastern Louisiana, Connecticut, Houston, Cal State Bakersfield, NC State


First five out: FIU, Kansas State, Tulane, College of Charleston, Jacksonville


(photo by Jimmy Jones)