May 13, 2011

Field of Dreamers

Maydness continues to approach


By Phil Stanton and Sean Ryan



Only a couple weeks left to go, and another Maydness (May Madness) will be in the books.


Princeton is in. Who else is going to join the Ivy League champs? The field now is shaky at the bottom, with several teams slipping in with lower RPIs than in the past.


Here’s our weekly look at the potential field. RPI info is courtesy of Boyd Nation at Happy teams in bold.


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


America East (1)Stony Brook (15-2, 34-10, RPI 96) is beginning to pull away, although Binghamton (12-4, 20-20) and Maine (12-5, 23-21) are hanging around. We continue to like the Seawolves to take home the title.


ACC (7) – The big news here this week was NC State (11-13, 28-21, RPI 33) dropping two of three to ETSU out of the A-Sun, but the Wolfpack didn’t drop too much in RPI. But this weekend’s series with FSU now is even bigger than it was. Virginia (20-4, 43-5, RPI 1), Georgia Tech (18-6, 35-14, RPI 9), Florida State (16-8, 37-12, RPI 4), Miami (16-7, 31-16, RPI 22), North Carolina (16-8, 39-10, RPI 3) and Clemson (13-11, 34-15, RPI 8) are good to go, some of whom will be national seeds.

Atlantic Sun (3)ETSU (12-10, 31-17,
RPI 34) may have put itself on the right side of the bubble by taking two of three last weekend at NC State, but it won’t matter much if the Bucs don’t take care of business in conference, starting this weekend with Campbell. Stetson (20-4, 37-12, RPI 17) is in solid shape, and Jacksonville (18-9, 30-18, RPI 45) moved up five spots in RPI this week. The big question will be if the field is big enough for three from the A-Sun – this week it is. Mercer (12-10, 30-17, RPI 70), the preseason favorite, isn’t completely out of the picture but will need a huge finish against USC Upstate this weekend and ETSU next weekend.


Atlantic 10 (1) – We have a tie atop the standings, with Rhode Island (15-6, 29-17, RPI 58) catching Charlotte (15-6, 36-11, RPI 99). We’ll stick with the 49ers this week by virtue of their home series win over the Rams, but Rhode Island is playing some great baseball. A six-pack of teams are fighting for the right to challenge URI and Charlotte.


Big East (1) – First-place Connecticut (18-3, 34-13-1, RPI 48) moved up nine spots in the RPI and is running away after a tough sweep of USF. St. John’s (13-7, 27-17, RPI 63) can play its way back into the at-large picture after sweeping Pittsburgh last weekend. The conference tourney, though, should be a lot of fun.


Big South (1)Coastal Carolina (17-4, 33-15, RPI 40) picked up another sweep (8-game winning streak), this time of Radford, and has played its way back into the clear favorite after a bit of a slow league start. Liberty (15-6, 29-19, RPI 85) is putting together yet another solid year and is in second. After barely missing the NCAA tourney last year, the Flames again need a strong finish – they lost two one-run games at Coastal earlier in the year.

Big Ten (1)
Minnesota (11-7, 19-18) is still our pick, but this is like picking teams from a hat. Michigan State (13-5, 31-15, RPI 67) has a home sweep of the Golden Gophers but hasn’t played as well on the road – the Spartans are at Indiana this weekend. Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois are tied for third in the standings with 10-8 league records.


Big 12 (7) – We’ll stick with seven for now, but Baylor (9-12, 24-22, RPI 41) needs to watch the .500 barrier and has a tough series at Oklahoma State (12-8, 32-16, RPI 29) this weekend. Texas Tech (9-12, 30-20, RPI 42) also is in for now but doesn’t have much margin for error and travels to Missouri (8-12, 21-27) for a tough road series this weekend. And Kansas State (9-14, 28-20, RPI 39) is on the bubble after dropping two of three to Missouri – the Wildcats host New Orleans this weekend before closing with Kansas. Texas A&M (15-6, 33-16, RPI 14), Texas (17-7, 36-12, RPI 13) and Oklahoma (13-9, 35-13, RPI 15) are still battling to host a Regional.  

Big West (2)
Cal State Fullerton (14-4, 33-14, RPI 21) continues to play well in the league and is the team to beat. UC Irvine (10-5, 31-13, RPI 59) saw its RPI fall five spots after winning two of three from Cal Poly. The Anteaters need to keep winning in the league and hope the RPI improves, but we’ll keep them in for another week.


Colonial (1) – It’s still tight at the top, with Old Dominion (16-8, 24-21) in the catbird’s seat after a sweep of Delaware. Six other squads are fighting to make the conference tourney. James Madison (15-9, 31-17) is in second and we’re going to stick with the hard-hitting Dukes. UNC Wilmington (15-9, 27-22) sits in third, and Towson (14-10, 25-23-1) had a nice week to move into fourth. Georgia State, Delaware and William & Mary are hanging around. Expect more chaos, with UNCW traveling to ODU in the marquee series, and Towson visiting JMU this weekend.


Conference USA (4)Southern Miss (14-6, 36-11, RPI 10) is working on hosting a Regional and is two games up on Rice (12-6, 33-16, RPI 12), also challenging to host. UCF (7-11, 30-19, RPI 26) has the RPI, but needs to improve in the league, where it is eighth. We keep it in for another week. The Knights are at UAB this weekend. East Carolina (11-10, 31-17, RPI 30) is in pretty good shape for now.


Great West (0) – Utah Valley (16-1, 24-20) continues to roll in-league, leading Northern Colorado (16-4, 20-27) by three in the loss column. No automatic bid or at-large this year.


Horizon (1)Wright State (13-5, 30-15) took two of three from Valparaiso (13-6, 21-26) to inch ahead into first. And UIC (13-7, 24-23) is hanging around and will be in the mix till the end. We’ll stick with the Raiders, but it won’t be easy.


Independents (0) – Cal State Bakersfield (26-19, RPI 83) has fallen out of contention after losing 11 of 13. Meanwhile, Dallas Baptist (34-15, RPI 57) is moving up – the Patriots played Texas A&M tight in the first game, won the second and got routed in the third. But DBU likely will see its RPI fall a bit with four games against Alcorn State.


Ivy (1)Princeton (23-22) became the first team to qualify for the NCAA field by beating Dartmouth in the Ivy tourney, despite out pick of Dartmouth.


Metro Atlantic (1) – Go figure, Manhattan (14-1, 27-16) lost its first league game of the year to last-place Niagara, but is still our choice to represent the MAAC. Second-place Rider (15-6, 29-15) is having another steady season. The leaders meet this weekend at Manhattan. Siena and Marist will challenge both for the bid.


Mid-American (1)Kent State (18-4, 35-13, RPI 38) took two of three from Miami (Ohio) to take control of the East. The West is more crowded as Central Michigan (14-8, 26-23) and Eastern Michigan (14-8, 31-17) are at the top, and Toledo (13-9, 24-24) and Northern Illinois (12-9, 23-22) are close behind. We like Kent State to earn the bid – the rest of the country hopes so, because the Flashes could steal an at-large if it falters.


Mid-Eastern (1)Bethune-Cookman (18-0, 32-20) capped a second straight unbeaten regular season in the conference. The Wildcats are the heavy favorite to return to the NCAA tourney yet again.


Missouri Valley (1) – First-place Creighton (10-5, 33-12, RPI 47) dropped two of three at Wichita State (9-6, 30-23, RPI 93) but still holds a one-game lead at the top of the standings. The Bluejays face Evansville this weekend and remain our choice. Like in the Mid-American, the rest of the country should be watching this tourney, because Creighton is moving into at-large territory if it doesn’t win the league.


Mountain West (1)TCU (15-2, 34-13, RPI 18) picked up three huge wins at Oklahoma State, and just like that, the Horned Frogs are in the mix to host a regional. TCU hosts second-place Utah (15-5, 25-16, RPI 103) this weekend to determine the regular-season champ.


Northeast (1) – We have been high on Monmouth (24-7, 33-17) the past few weeks, and the Hawks backed up our beliefs by sweeping first-place Long Island (19-9, 28-19). Sacred Heart (22-9, 30-21) now sits in second and will continue to challenge, but we’re sticking with the Hawks.


Ohio Valley (1) – First-place Austin Peay (13-4, 25-20) picked up another sweep, this time of Tennessee Tech. We’ve been picking Southeast Missouri State (10-6, 28-17), which had the week off for exams. The Governors host SEMO this weekend with a chance to put a stranglehold on first place.


Pac-10 (6) – We’ll still take a six-pack – of Pac-10 teams, that is. Worth watching, however, is UCLA (14-7, 27-18, RPI 51). We’ve had the Bruins in our field from the beginning, but with the RPI in bubble territory, it could be interesting to see where UCLA is seeded. Oregon State (14-4, 35-11, RPI 11) is trying to push for a national seed, along with Arizona State (12-5, 35-11, RPI 4). Stanford (9-9, 27-16, RPI 19) picked up three conference wins last week, and California (12-9, 28-16, RPI 35) and Arizona (9-9, 30-16, RPI 25) are in good shape.


Patriot (1)Navy (12-8, 29-20-1) and Bucknell (10-10, 18-28) will square off in one semifinal this weekend, and Army (11-9, 19-24) will meet Lafayette (10-10, 18-28) in another. We think it comes down to Army and Navy, and we’ll give a slight edge to Navy – the teams split their four-game series in West Point, with four tight games.

Southeastern (9) – It’s easier at this point in the year to just list the SEC, which will get eight bids for certain, probably nine, and who knows, maybe 10. Good to go this week are:

Florida (18-6, 36-12, RPI 2), Vanderbilt (19-5, 41-6, RPI 6),  South Carolina (18-6, 39-10, RPI 7), Georgia (14-11, 25-25, RPI 20), Auburn (11-13, 26-23, RPI 29), Arkansas (12-12, 32-15, RPI 14), Mississippi State (12-13, 31-18, RPI 23), Alabama (12-12, 30-20, RPI 32) and Ole Miss (11-14, 27-22, RPI 37). Georgia, though, needs to watch falling below .500, as does Auburn. LSU (8-16, 30-19, RPI 27) is out again this week, still needing to make some waves in the league standings as the RPI is plenty good enough.


Southern (2)Elon (21-6, 34-18, RPI 36) picked up another conference sweep and is hanging on in first. But College of Charleston (15-9, 32-17, RPI 64) dropped two of three to second-place UNC Greensboro (16-8, 28-18, RPI 88) and barely stays in our field for this week. The Cougars need to rebound against Appalachian State this weekend. The Phoenix appears safe for now for an at-large bid if it doesn’t take the automatic bid.


Southland (2)Texas State (20-7, 31-17, RPI 43) continues to build its resume and is nearing at-large safety. Southeastern Louisiana (15-12, 32-18, RPI 52) stumbled by losing two of three vs. Nicholls State. Sam Houston State (16-12, 32-18, RPI 50) moved ahead of SELA (which won its series against SHSU) in the standings, and Stephen F. Austin (17-10, 30-18, RPI 110) is in second. Should be a good tourney!


Southwestern (1)Southern (16-8, 26-20) is still our pick, although Alcorn State (19-4, 22-24) continues to roll in the Eastern Division. ASU picked up some experience going to Arizona and will face Dallas Baptist this weekend.


Summit (1)South Dakota State (16-4, 31-13) is still playing well and looks to halt Oral Roberts (14-6, 26-18) in the Summit. We’ll find out if the Jackrabbits are up for the challenge as they travel to ORU this weekend, where the Golden Eagles don’t expect to hand over the crown just yet.


Sun Belt (3) – It’s still a bit of a mess as the Sun Belt features a bevy of bubble teams. Troy (17-7, 35-14, RPI 44) is in first, and FIU (16-8, 33-16, RPI 31) is now in second after a sweep of Middle Tennessee. Florida Atlantic (14-10, 28-19, RPI 49), Louisiana-Lafayette (14-10, 27-22, RPI 56) and Western Kentucky (14-10, 29-19, RPI 73) are nipping at their heels. We’ll stick with three, but this is shaky at best. And Louisiana-Lafayette is getting closer.


West Coast (1)Gonzaga (10-3, 27-14-1, RPI 58) keeps playing well and remains our pick out of the West Coast Conference. San Francisco (12-4, 26-22, RPI 118), though, is going to make things tough, and at this point, it’s a one-bid league.


Western Athletic (1) – Hawaii (13-4, 28-20, RPI 86) is in first place but will need to win the league tourney. Fresno State (13-7, 33-11, RPI 24) has stumbled a bit but is still in good shape with a strong RPI. The Bulldogs are good to go this week.


Last five in: College of Charleston, UC Irvine, Southeastern Louisiana, ETSU, UCF


First five out: Sam Houston State, LSU, Rhode Island, Louisiana-Lafayette, St. John’s


(photo by Jimmy Jones)