April 28, 2011

Field of Dreamers

Maydness is nearly here


By Phil Stanton and Sean Ryan




Four weeks and counting until Selection Monday – May Madness (Maydness) is in full swing.


We continue to balance teams we believe are in now with teams we project will reach the field, however, the picture is becoming more clear. Some teams we’ve been projecting to make the field the past few weeks, like UCLA, are shoring up bids. Others, like LSU, haven’t done what we expected.


Here’s our weekly record, with records through Wednesday, April 26. RPI info is courtesy of Boyd Nation at www.boydsworld.com.


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


America East (1) – First place is on the line this weekend as Stony Brook (9-1, 28-9, RPI 104) hosts Binghamton (8-2, 16-18). Both teams are coming off conference sweeps and are beginning to distance themselves from third-place Albany (6-4, 14-20). Binghamton took five of six last year against Stony Brook, but we think the Seawolves turn the tables this year, led by Nick Tropeano and a deep pitching staff with a sub-3.50 ERA.


ACC (7) – Not much has changed, with the ACC boasting four of the nation’s top eight RPIs – Virginia (18-3, 40-4, RPI 1), North Carolina (13-8, 33-10, RPI 6), Georgia Tech (17-4, 30-12, RPI 7) and Florida State (14-7, 31-10, RPI 8). All likely will host and a couple likely will be national seeds. Miami (15-5, 28-13, RPI 15) is charging hard, and Clemson (11-10, 27-14, RPI 16) and NC State (9-12, 24-18, RPI 29) are in good shape. The Yellow Jackets travel to the Tigers, and the Seminoles and Hurricanes renew their rivalry in the weekend’s best series.

Atlantic Sun (2)Stetson (14-4, 31-10,
RPI 23) took two of three against second-place Jacksonville (14-7, 24-15, RPI 46), which is trying to snag an at-large bid. ETSU (12-10, 24-15) saw its RPI fall to 43 after a series loss at home to Kennesaw State (11-9, 24-20, RPI 83) and is need of several big weekends to get back in the at-large picture. The Hatters head to UNF (12-9, 23-15, RPI 80) and the Dolphins swim to FGCU (10-8, 21-20).


Atlantic 10 (1)Charlotte (11-4, 32-9, RPI 106) has an unlikely challenger in La Salle (10-5, 23-15), whose improved pitching staff has led the way. The Explorers travel to Richmond (7-5, 20-18-2), while the 49ers visit Massachusetts (5-7, 13-21). Rhode Island (9-6, 23-17, RPI 50) took two of three from the Spiders and travels to Temple (3-9, 21-17) this weekend. Charlotte gets the nod, but URI is putting it together.


Big East (2) – First-place Connecticut (13-2, 29-12-1, RPI 60) picked up another conference sweep against Georgetown and saw its RPI jump 15 spots as its win streak stretched to 12. The Huskies are playing like the squad that hosted a regional a year ago and will be in the at-large mix. St. John’s (10-4, 23-13, RPI 36) continues to play well, riding a seven-game win streak, and also saw a big jump in RPI. Pittsburgh (11-4, 25-13, RPI 134) doesn’t have the RPI but can keep making noise on the weekends, and West Virginia (10-5, 24-16, RPI 93) is in the same boat.


Big South (1)Coastal Carolina (11-4, 27-15, RPI 58) stumbled and dropped two of three at High Point but is still our pick in a competitive conference. But the Chants have a key series vs. fourth-place VMI (9-9, 21-19-1, RPI 78) this weekend. Radford (10-5, 25-15) swept UNC Asheville (7-11, 15-25) and continues to play well, and Liberty (12-6, 22-19, RPI 76) sits in third and has one of the league’s best RPIs.

Big Ten (1) – Last week, we said the picture was getting less clear. Now, it’s downright murky as eight teams are within one game of first place. Don’t look now, but
Minnesota (6-6, 14-16, RPI 105) is back in the picture after a sweep of Indiana. Michigan State (7-5, 24-13), Purdue (7-5, 27-13) and Penn State (7-5, 25-13, RPI 99) share the top spot, with the Spartans dropping two of three the past two weeks. The Gophers struggled early last year, but won the regular-season and tourney titles. We learn from history, and pick Minnesota for now. This weekend, Purdue hosts Indiana, PSU visits MSU and Minnesota welcomes Iowa (4-8, 15-23).

Big 12 (7) – We have added one to the mix from the Big 12, putting in Kansas State (8-10, 26-15,
RPI 31) after its sweep of Texas Tech (6-12, 25-19, RPI 41). Texas A&M (14-4, 29-12, RPI 9) took sole possession of first with its three wins over Oklahoma State (10-8, 28-13, RPI 21). Texas (13-5, 31-10, RPI 28) and Oklahoma (9-7, 30-11, RPI 22) are solid. Baylor (7-11, 22-20, RPI 44) is in for now, but needs wins down the stretch to keep its spot. The Longhorns and Sooners tangle in this week’s top series.

Big West (1) – Things got tighter as Cal Poly (8-4, 18-17, RPI 66) pulled to within a game of first with a series win over
Cal State Fullerton (9-3, 28-12, RPI 11). UC Irvine (8-4, 26-11, RPI 61) won its series with UC Davis (3-6, 9-25) to stay tied for second. The Anteaters need to improve their RPI to get back into the at-large picture. The Titans host Pacific (5-7, 13-23) and the Mustangs visit Long Beach State (6-6, 20-18, RPI 74).


Colonial (1) – The CAA stayed tight as first-place UNC Wilmington (12-6, 23-18, RPI 101) won its set at Hofstra (9-12, 11-23), Old Dominion (13-8, 21-20) won its set against George Mason (4-17, 17-26) and Delaware (13-8, 23-18, RPI 77) took two of three from James Madison (12-9, 27-15, RPI 82). We still think the Seahawks will prevail, but it will continue to be tough sledding. UNCW goes to JMU this weekend, while the Blue Hens visit VCU (8-10, 16-22).

USA (4)Southern Miss (9-3, 30-10, RPI 13) vaulted into first as it swept a set from Marshall (2-10, 15-23), while Rice (9-6, 28-16, RPI 24) dropped two of three at UAB (8-7, 24-17, RPI 55). East Carolina (8-7, 27-14, RPI 20) won its series at Houston (7-5, 20-22, RPI 48) as did UCF (6-9, 26-15, RPI 27) at Memphis (7-5, 24-17, RPI 53). The Pirates host the Golden Eagles this weekend, while the Knights entertain the Cougars.


Great West (0) – Utah Valley (7-1, 15-19) won its series with Chicago State (1-8, 5-28) to stay in first ahead of Northern Colorado (8-4, 12-27), Houston Baptist (8-4, 10-29) and NYIT (6-3, 10-20). No automatic bid or at-large bid this season.


Horizon (1)Wright State (8-3, 24-12, RPI 138) swept three at Milwaukee (7-5, 16-20) to move within a game of first-place Valparaiso (9-3, 17-22). We think the Raiders will eventually rise to the top and win the Horizon tourney. WSU entertains UIC (9-5, 20-16) this weekend, while the Crusaders host Butler (4-8, 15-19).


Independents (0) – Cal State Bakersfield (24-13, RPI 63) has lost five straight at home (three to UC Riverside, two to Kansas State) to fall out of the at-large picture for now. The Roadrunners still have games remaining that could help their RPI, but they’ll need lots of wins.


Ivy (1) – Yale (10-6, 22-16) fell into a tie for first in the Red Rolfe Division by splitting four at Harvard (5-11, 9-32). Dartmouth (10-6, 24-10) took advantage by sweeping its four-game set with Brown (6-10, 9-27). The Bulldogs hold the tie-breaker over the Big Green as they head into the final weekend of league play, with Yale vs. Brown and Dartmouth vs. Harvard. Princeton (12-4, 18-19) needs one win this weekend against Cornell (6-10, 9-27) to clinch the top spot in the Lou Gehrig Division. The Tigers have the inside track to host the Ivy League Championship Series next weekend and we think that home-field advantage will give them the first automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA tourney.


Metro Atlantic (1)Manhattan (14-0, 23-12) continues to manhandle the MAAC after going 2-0 against Canisius (6-4, 18-21). The Jaspers now own a four-and-a-half-game lead over second-place Rider (10-5, 23-14). We believe Manhattan will continue to roll straight to the NCAA tournament. Canisius goes to Rider this weekend to highlight the MAAC slate.


Mid-American (1)Kent State (12-3, 27-12, RPI 47) bounced back to sweep Buffalo (0-14, 7-28) and keep the top record in the East and in the MAC. The Golden Flashes head to Ohio (5-10, 19-21) this week, while Miami (Ohio) (10-5, 23-18) entertains Bowling Green (8-7, 15-22). In the West, Northern Illinois (10-5, 20-18) won its series with Toledo (9-6, 20-20) to take sole possession of the top spot. The Huskies head to Central Michigan (9-6, 21-20), while the Rockets entertain Western Michigan (7-8, 18-21) and Eastern Michigan (9-6, 25-15) host Ball State (8-6, 12-25).

Mid-Eastern (1)Bethune-Cookman (12-0, 26-19,
RPI 146) has not lost a conference game over the past two seasons after its sweep of Coppin State (1-11, 4-33). The Wildcats travel to Maryland-Eastern Shore (7-8, 8-32), while second-place Delaware State (9-3, 21-20) hosts North Carolina A&T (5-6, 14-27).


Missouri Valley (1) – This is another tight conference race, as five teams are within one game of first. Southern Illinois (6-3, 15-25) surprised former leader Creighton (6-3, 28-10, RPI 49) by winning their series in Omaha, while Missouri State (6-3, 24-15, RPI 92) took two of three at Evansville (3-6, 22-15) to make it a three-way deadlock for first. Wichita State (5-4, 26-18) won its series with Illinois State (5-4, 25-12) as both squads are one game back. We think the Bluejays will prevail, but it’s going to be a tough fight. The Shockers visit the Salukis in the top weekend matchup.


Mountain West (1)TCU (13-2, 29-13, RPI 25) took three from UNLV (4-10, 25-18, RPI 69) to open a three-game lead over second-place Utah (9-4, 19-15). The Horned Frogs are the top team in the MWC and should continue to plow through the league. TCU heads to BYU (7-7, 20-18) this week, while the Utes visit Air Force (4-10, 25-18).


Northeast (1)Monmouth (15-5, 24-15, RPI 112) watched Long Island (14-5, 22-15) pull within a half-game of first place. The Hawks go to Fairleigh Dickinson (5-15, 8-29) and the Blackbirds entertain Mount St. Mary’s (6-18, 12-26) prior to their matchup next week. Sacred Heart (13-7, 21-18) hosts Bryant (10-9, 21-19) with a NEC tourney spot on the line.


Ohio Valley (1) – This is another tight battle for first, as six teams are within a game-and-a-half of the top spot. Austin Peay (7-4, 19-19) is percentage points ahead of Southeast Missouri State (8-5, 25-15) after the Redhawks split two with Jacksonville State (8-6, 25-14). We think Southeast Missouri will outlast the competition in the end. This week, the Redhawks go to Murray State (5-5, 14-23) and Austin Peay visits Morehead State (3-7, 7-30).

Pac-10 (6)
Oregon State (10-2, 30-8, RPI 10) kept is hold on first by winning its series with Arizona (6-9, 24-16, RPI 37). Arizona State (11-4, 29-9, RPI 3) swept its set at California (9-6, 24-13, RPI 39) to inch closer to the Beavers. UCLA (10-5, 22-14, RPI 54) lost its series at Stanford (5-7, 20-14, RPI 14), but continued to improve its RPI. Washington State (3-12, 17-19, RPI 35) still has a chance to make it seven from the Pac-10 if can put a win streak together. This week’s menu includes OSU at UCLA, Stanford at ASU and Oregon (4-8, 21-18) at Cal.


Patriot (1)Navy (10-6, 26-18-1) and Army (10-6, 18-21) both won three of four this past weekend to head into the final weekend of conference play in a tie for first. The Midshipmen entertain Lafayette (8-8, 15-23), while the Black Knights play at Bucknell (7-9, 21-25). We think Navy remains afloat and takes the conference title.

Southeastern (9) – We have dropped the SEC from 10 to nine bids, taking out LSU (4-14, 25-17, RPI 30) after it fell 10 games below .500 in league play. The Big Three are in the top five in RPI:
Florida (14-4, 31-10, RPI 2), Vanderbilt (14-4, 35-5, RPI 4) and South Carolina (14-4, 32-8, RPI 5). Other solid teams include Auburn (9-9, 23-18, RPI 12), Arkansas (9-9, 28-11, RPI 17), Georgia (11-7, 22-20, RPI 18), Mississippi State (7-11, 24-16, RPI 26), Alabama (8-10, 26-18, RPI 38) and Ole Miss (9-9, 24-17, RPI 40). This week’s schedule finds Auburn at South Carolina, Ole Miss at Florida, Tennessee (5-13, 22-17, RPI 89) at Vanderbilt, Alabama at MSU, Arkansas at Georgia and Kentucky (4-14, 20-22) at LSU.


Southern (2)Elon (15-6, 27-17, RPI 32) lost two of three at second-place Georgia Southern (13-5, 25-16, RPI 71) to make things closer at the top. College of Charleston (11-7, 27-15, RPI 57) swept three from Furman (9-11, 19-25) to stay within striking distance of the top. We think two teams will come out of the SoCon, with the Phoenix and Cougars getting the nod for now. This week, Elon hosts Davidson (8-15, 18-22), Georgia Southern visits UNC Greensboro (11-7, 22-17) and College of Charleston goes to Wofford (6-12, 19-22).


Southland (2)Texas State (15-6, 26-15, RPI 42) and Stephen F. Austin (15-6, 28-12) both won their series to stay in a tie for first. Southeastern Louisiana (12-9, 28-15, RPI 45) won its set to sit in a three-way tie for third. We still like the Lions to join the Bobcats in the postseason. Texas State hosts McNeese State (9-12, 20-23) this week, while SFA welcomes UT Arlington (12-9, 24-18) and SLU visits Sam Houston State (12-9, 28-15).


Southwestern (1)Southern (13-5, 23-15) continues to lead the Western Division and remains our pick to win the SWAC. Alcorn State (16-4, 19-20) used a sweep to stay on top in the Eastern Division. On this week’s docket, Southern goes to Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-12, 10-29), while Alcorn State hosts Alabama State 94-14, 12-22).


Summit (1)South Dakota State (10-2, 24-11) pushed its lead to two games by taking three of four from Southern Utah (5-7, 17-21). Oral Roberts (8-4, 19-16) split with North Dakota State (8-4, 12-20) to keep them in a tie for second. We think this is the year that the Eagles are dethroned and replaced by the Jackrabbits. SDSU hosts Oakland (4-8, 10-21) this week, while ORU entertains IPFW (6-6, 11-23).


Sun Belt (3) – The SEC’s loss is the Sun Belt’s gain as we added a bid here. First-place Troy (14-4, 30-11, RPI 33) swept Western Kentucky (10-8, 25-16, RPI 65) to keep a solid hold on the top spot. Florida Atlantic (11-7, 24-16, RPI 51) dropped two of three at Arkansas State (7-11, 19-24) to fall three games back of the Trojans. FIU (10-8, 25-16, RPI 34) took three at UALR (6-12, 16-23) to move into a tie for third with WKU and Louisiana-Lafayette (10-8, 23-19, RPI 56). The last four weeks of the regular season should be great, as should the conference tournament. This week’s slate has Troy at FAU, South Alabama (9-9, 22-18, RPI 87) at FIU, WKU at ULM (6-12, 21-19) and UALR at ULL.


West Coast (1)Gonzaga (6-3, 22-13-1, RPI 52) fell to second by losing its series with Saint Mary’s (5-4, 18-18). San Francisco (7-2, 21-20) jumped into first with its sweep of Santa Clara (2-7, 15-22). We think the Bulldogs will eventually take the crown, but it could come down to the final weekend when the Dons travel to Gonzaga. This weekend, Gonzaga visits Santa Clara and USF hosts Loyola Marymount (5-4, 21-17, RPI 73).


Western Athletic (1)Fresno State (8-3, 28-7, RPI 19) took three of four at Sacramento State (1-7, 14-28) to close the gap behind first-place Hawaii (7-1, 22-17). The Bulldogs host the Islanders this weekend with the top spot on the line. We think FSU regains the throne this weekend and represents the WAC in the NCAA tournament.


Last five in: College of Charleston, Baylor, Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville, Southeastern Louisiana


First five out: UC Irvine, Louisiana-Lafayette, Cal Poly, ETSU, Georgia Southern


(photo by Jimmy Jones)