May 1, 2012

Field of dreamers

Maydness is here


By Phil Stanton and Sean Ryan



Maydness has arrived.


May Madness – or what we call Maydness – is near. Conference tournaments begin this weekend, so the NCAA tourney can’t be far behind.


We take a look at the potential field. There don’t seem to be as many strong at-large candidates as in years past, especially outside the power conferences. The team records are through games of Monday, April 30, as are the NCAA RPIs. If there is no RPI value following a team’s record, its RPI is in triple digits.


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


America East (1)Stony Brook (12-2, 34-10) missed its opportunity a year ago to win the conference tournament title on its home field. We don’t think the Seawolves will let that happen again. Maine (8-4, 22-19) and Binghamton (9-3, 18-18) will provide tough competition, but we think Stony Brook rolls to regular-season and tourney titles. The Seawolves meet Binghamton this weekend.

ACC (9) – There are two teams working to be national seeds: Florida State (19-2, 36-7, RPI 1) and North Carolina (13-8, 30-13, RPI 6). NC State (16-8, 30-12, RPI 14), Miami (12-12, 27-17, RPI 17) and Virginia (14-10, 31-14-1, RPI 19) are in the mix to host regionals. Virginia Tech (10-14, 30-16, RPI 32), Clemson (14-10, 26-19, RPI 33) and Georgia Tech (10-14, 26-19, RPI 38) are in for now, but can’t slip up in May. Wake Forest (9-15, 26-19, RPI 37) and Maryland (8-16, 28-19, RPI 39) are both bubble teams and as of now, one gets in. We’ll go with the Demon Deacons for now based on a three-game sweep over the Terps in March. Maryland visits FSU this weekend, while UNC hosts Boston College (9-15, 19-26, RPI 62).


Atlantic Sun (1) – USC Upstate (13-5, 29-12, RPI 73) has risen to the top of the league standings, one game ahead of Belmont (12-6, 28-16, RPI 60) and two ahead of tourney host Stetson (11-7, 29-14, RPI 50). We thought in the preseason that the A-Sun could get multiple bids, but it now looks like the tournament winner will be the lone representative. We’ll go with the Bruins to repeat as conference champs, based on a sweep of the Spartans and a series win over the Hatters. Upstate visits Stetson this weekend, while Belmont entertains UNF (7-11, 25-18).


Atlantic 10 (1) – None of the teams in the Atlantic 10 has a RPI better than 100, so the tourney winner will represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. Rhode Island (11-4, 26-19) has risen to the top of the standings, followed closely by Dayton (10-5, 21-24). Saint Louis (11-7, 29-14) has the best overall record, but has not been as strong in conference weekends. Preseason pick Charlotte (8-9, 20-23) will be dangerous if it makes the six-team tourney field. The Rams of URI are our pick for now. This weekend, URI heads to Fordham (10-8, 19-28) in a Ram-tough series, Dayton travels to Temple (4-11, 16-27) and Saint Louis hosts St. Bonaventure (6-9, 18-18).


Big East (2) – This is a shaky at-large bid. St. John’s (14-4, 29-16, RPI 69) leads the league, with Louisville (12-6, 31-13, RPI 35), USF (12-6, 29-16, RPI 82) and Connecticut (12-6, 24-20, RPI 77) all tied for second. The Red Storm is on a hot streak, winning 11 of 13. We think St. John’s wins the Big East tourney and the Cardinals get the at-large nod. The Red Storm has two huge series coming up, hosting USF this weekend and playing at Louisville next weekend.

Big South (1) – Just when you thought Liberty (10-8, 33-15, RPI 76) might overtake Coastal Carolina (12-3, 30-13, RPI 36) for the league crown, the Chanticleers go into Lynchburg and sweep a three-game set. We think Coastal will win the tourney again, but the Flames, Radford (10-5, 25-18, RPI 93) and surprising Campbell (9-6, 33-12) will make it tougher than in past years on the Chants. The Chanticleers entertain the Camels this weekend, while the Highlanders head to Gardner-Webb (7-8, 25-20).

Big Ten (1)Purdue (14-4, 34-7, RPI 5) is playing to be a national seed, rare air in recent years for the Big Ten. The Boilermakers will use their open conference weekend to visit UCLA (12-9, 28-12, RPI 4) for a three-game set. We expect Purdue to be challenged in the league tourney by Michigan State (8-7, 27-15, RPI 51), Nebraska (8-7, 28-16, RPI 80), Illinois (8-7, 25-18, RPI 57) and Minnesota (9-6, 26-20), but we think Purdue will be the lone representative this year from the Big Ten. The Spartans travel to Illinois this weekend, while the Cornhuskers visit Indiana (9-6, 22-23) and the Gophers entertain Penn State (8-7, 22-22).


Big 12 (4) – We’re used to having seven or eight teams from the Big 12 in the hunt for NCAA at-large spots; that’s not the case this year. Baylor (18-0, 38-8, RPI 3) has already clinched at least a share of the regular season crown and is in position for a national seed. Texas A&M (11-7, 31-13, RPI 16) is fighting to host a regional and needs to finish second to help its chances. Texas (12-6, 25-16, RPI 42) is solid for now and will face Baylor in the final weekend of the regular season. We’re putting Oklahoma (9-8, 29-16, RPI 58) in for now, expecting its RPI to get a boost next weekend at home against Baylor. The Sooners need a series win against Oklahoma State (9-8, 29-16, RPI 100) this weekend to help the resume. The Aggies host Texas Tech (5-13, 25-22, RPI 89) and the Longhorns visit Missouri (7-11, 23-19, RPI 87).

Big West (1)Cal State Fullerton (9-3, 26-14, RPI 13) is working to host a regional and possibly be a national seed. The Titans look to be the lone representative from the Big West this season. Long Beach State (11-4, 21-20, RPI 56) has played well in conference contests and will host the Titans over Memorial Day weekend. UC Irvine (8-7, 23-17, RPI 67) and Cal Poly (9-6, 25-17, RPI 65) are going to have a tough time improving their RPIs. Fullerton plays at Pacific (1-11, 11-31) this weekend.


Colonial (1) UNC Wilmington (17-4, 27-17, RPI 48) has dominated the CAA so far, winning all seven series to date. Hofstra (14-7, 25-17) swept a three-game set at Delaware (11-10, 20-22) this past weekend to move into second ahead of George Mason (15-9, 30-17). James Madison (9-15, 15-29-1) is hosting the CAA Tournament and needs to pile up some wins to reach the six-team field. We expect the Seahawks to roll through May, win the conference tourney and advance to regionals. UNCW hosts Towson (10-11, 20-25) this weekend, while Hofstra entertains Northeastern (7-14, 17-21) and George Mason welcomes Delaware.

Conference USA (3) – There are three solid teams in the field from C-USA: Rice (11-4, 30-12, RPI 11), UCF (13-5, 35-10, RPI 20) and East Carolina (10-7-1, 28-16-1, RPI 23). The Owls could be a national seed, while the Knights have a chance to host a regional. Southern Miss (9-6, 25-18, RPI 98) looks to be too far back to get into the at-large picture. Rice hosts Houston (3-11-1, 14-26-1) this weekend, while the Pirates entertain Marshall (3-12, 15-28).


Great West (1) – The hottest team in the nation is Utah Valley (16-0, 30-11, RPI 78), currently on a 23-game win streak. We think the Wolverines will continue to dominate the league, improve their RPI and earn the Great West its first NCAA bid. UVU heads to Houston Baptist (10-6, 18-24) this weekend.


Horizon (1) Wright State (16-5, 30-14) has had a strong season, but has Valparaiso (15-6, 22-20) breathing down its neck. The teams meet this weekend in Dayton in a battle for first place. We expect these two teams to battle right through the conference tourney – we’ll give the Raiders the nod for now.


Independents (1)Dallas Baptist (29-14, RPI 34) has put together another solid campaign and should return to the NCAA tourney. The Patriots have benefited from playing MVC teams during their open weekends, including a series win over first-place Missouri State (10-4, 31-14, RPI 40). DBU hosts Evansville (7-8, 26-18) this weekend.


Ivy (1) – The first official bid will be awarded this weekend as Red Rolfe Division leader Dartmouth (14-6, 22-16) plays at Lou Gehrig Division winner Cornell (14-6, 29-14-1) in a best-of-three championship series. The games are in Ithaca because the Big Red took two from the Big Green in early April. Cornell has had the league’s best pitching this season and we think those arms at home give the Big Red its second NCAA tourney appearance and first since 1977.


Metro Atlantic (1) – It’s been a tough year so far for the MAAC. No team has an overall winning record. Second-place Canisius (9-6, 23-23) is the only team not below .500. Manhattan (10-5, 20-23) took two of three from the Golden Griffins two weeks ago to take over first place. We think Manhattan represents the league in the NCAA Tournament. The Jaspers play at Fairfield (8-7, 20-22) this weekend, while Canisius hosts Iona (6-9, 16-28).


Mid-American (1)Kent State (15-3, 27-17) holds a three-game lead over Ohio (12-6, 23-20) in the Eastern Division as the teams will battle in Athens this weekend. Toledo (12-6, 23-21) has climbed to the top of the Western Division, two games up on Eastern Michigan (10-8, 19-23). These two will meet in two weeks in Toledo. The Rockets host Buffalo (5-12, 12-27) this weekend, while the Eagles entertain Bowling Green (7-11, 18-25). We think the Golden Flashes have the most talent and will win the MAC Tournament.


Mid-Eastern (1) Bethune-Cookman (16-4, 27-18) has lost in conference play, something it had not done over the past two seasons. The Wildcats have clinched the Southern Division title over Savannah State (9-9, 17-27) and NC Central (10-10, 14-30). Delaware State (17-1, 29-14-1) has dominated in the Northern Division over Norfolk State (10-7, 16-23). B-CU looks to still be the top team in the MEAC.


Missouri Valley (2)Missouri State (10-4, 31-14, RPI 40) has a one-game lead over Indiana State (8-4, 34-11, RPI 61) and 1.5 over Southern Illinois (9-6, 24-20). We think the MVC will get two bids, with the Sycamores taking the tourney title and the Bears using the regular season crown to earn an at-large spot. Missouri State plays at Indiana State on the final weekend of the regular season. This weekend, the Sycamores host Wichita State (6-6, 27-20, RPI 55), which is back in the hunt.


Mountain West (1)TCU (12-3, 26-19, RPI 41) sits a game behind New Mexico (12-3, 26-19, RPI 84). The Horned Frogs host the Lobos this weekend. TCU has not been a national power like many predicted, but should have enough to win the MWC tournament and reach a regional. At at-large bid also is a possibility.


Northeast (1) Monmouth (18-6, 30-17) trails Bryant (19-5, 28-17) by one game in the NEC. These look to be the top two teams, with the Hawks hosting the Bulldogs this weekend. We think Monmouth will prevail and advance to the NCAA tourney.


Ohio Valley (1) Austin Peay (12-5, 26-17) holds a slim half-game lead over Eastern Kentucky (12-6, 22-19) and Jacksonville State (12-6, 18-23) after the Gamecocks handed the Govs their first OVC series loss in two years. Austin Peay plays at SIU Edwardsville (9-9, 22-22) this weekend, while the Colonels head to UT Martin (5-13, 11-32) and JSU hosts Southeast Missouri (7-11, 16-29). The league has not fared well in non-conference games, but the OVC race and league tourney should be competitive. We think the Govs will be the last team standing.


Pac-10 (5)UCLA (12-9, 28-12, RPI 4) and Stanford (10-8, 28-11, RPI 8) have great shots at being national seeds, with Oregon (14-7, 30-13, RPI 15) and Arizona (12-6, 29-13, RPI 18) battling to host regionals. Oregon State (9-9, 28-14, RPI 29) is solidly in the field for now. Washington (8-10, 23-18, RPI 49) and USC (7-10, 22-17, RPI 53) are in the at-large picture. Arizona State (11-10, 26-17, RPI 25) is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year. Oregon plays at Arizona this weekend, along with Stanford at Oregon State and Washington at USC, which could be huge if the teams stay so close in the standings. UCLA hosts Big Ten leader Purdue for a three-game set.


Patriot (1) Army (18-2, 35-12) won the regular-season crown and will be the top seed in the Patriot League tournament. The Black Knights will host No. 4 Lafayette (7-13, 14-32-1) and second-seed Holy Cross (13-7, 29-20) will welcome No. 3 Navy (9-11, 22-26) next weekend in the best-of-three semifinal series. We think Army uses home field advantage to roll through the league tourney and into a regional.

Southeastern (9) – The SEC will be well-represented again in this year’s NCAA tourney. Florida (12-9, 33-12, RPI 2), LSU (14-7, 35-10, RPI 7), South Carolina (14-7, 33-11, RPI 9), Kentucky (14-7, 36-9, RPI 10) and Arkansas (11-10, 31-13, RPI 12) are trying for national seeds and, at the least, to host regionals. Ole Miss (10-11, 28-16, RPI 22) and Mississippi State (10-11, 27-17, RPI 31) are solidly in. We’re putting Auburn (10-11, 25-19, RPI 46) and Georgia (9-12, 25-20, RPI 46) in for now, but they must keep winning to remain in the field. If Vanderbilt (6-9, 17-20, RPI 44) gets hot, it still has a chance to crash the dance. This weekend, Florida visits Kentucky, LSU goes to Ole Miss, South Carolina plays at Arkansas, Mississippi State travels to Alabama (6-15, 17-28), Auburn heads to Georgia and Vanderbilt plays at Tennessee (7-14, 22-22, RPI 96).


Southern (3) – The Southern Conference should again have a great race for the regular-season title and should have an extremely competitive conference tourney. Four teams are within two games of each other at the top: Appalachian State (16-5, 32-9, RPI 24), College of Charleston (19-8, 31-13, RPI 28), Elon (16-8, 26-20, RPI 43) and Samford (16-8, 29-16, RPI 70). Right now, we think three of the four will reach the NCAAs. This weekend, ASU hosts UNC Greensboro, Elon welcomes Western Carolina (11-10, 27-17, RPI 83) and Samford goes to Georgia Southern (11-10, 24-21, RPI 90).


Southland (2) Sam Houston State (19-5, 31-12, RPI 37) was picked to finish fifth, but has a four-game lead over Southeastern Louisiana (15-9, 30-15, RPI 54) in the Southland standings. The Bearkats and Lions will meet next weekend in Huntsville. Preseason favorite Texas State (13-11, 25-17, RPI 52) has struggled for consistency but will be dangerous in the conference tourney and is still in the at-large picture. We think SHSU and SLU advance to the NCAAs. The Bearkats visit UT Arlington (14-10, 27-17, RPI 64) this weekend, while the Lions host Stephen F. Austin (11-13, 18-26).


Southwestern (1) – Jackson State (18-3, 28-14) has clinched the Eastern Division, holding a five-game lead over Alabama State (13-8, 19-28). Southern (14-7, 28-14) holds a half-game lead over Prairie View A&M (13-7, 22-20) in the Western Division. The Jaguars host Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-15, 8-34-1) this weekend, while the Panthers entertain Grambling State (12-9, 20-21). Southen beat Jackson State twice this past weekend and is our pick to capture the SWAC tourney title.


Summit (1)Oral Roberts (11-4, 24-20) does not have as dominating a team as in years past, but looks to be the best in the Summit. ORU will host second-place North Dakota State (9-3, 32-11) in two weeks. We think the Golden Eagles will find a way to win another conference title.


Sun Belt (1) – This is another league that is used to getting multiple bids, but will get only one this year. Florida Atlantic (14-5, 26-17, RPI 72) holds a two-game lead over Arkansas State (12-7, 23-19) and three over South Alabama (12-9, 18-26). FAU hosts Western Kentucky (9-12, 18-26) this weekend, while ASU welcomes USA. We think the Owls will survive and take the Sun Belt bid.


West Coast (3) – The WCC is having a strong year. First-place San Diego (10-5, 33-11, RPI 26) leads six teams within three games in the standings, including Pepperdine (7-5, 24-16, RPI 27) in third and Gonzaga (7-8, 27-14, RPI 30) in seventh. The Bulldogs have lost five of their past six conference games and must move up the standings to help their at-large resume. We think three teams will come out of the WCC. This week, USD plays at BYU (7-5, 18-17), Pepperdine hosts San Francisco (8-7, 21-26) and Gonzaga goes to Saint Mary’s (5-10, 21-20, RPI 88).


Western Athletic (1)New Mexico State (7-2, 30-13, RPI 21) has risen to the top spot midway through its conference slate. The Aggies play at Hawaii (5-4, 25-18, RPI 91) this weekend and will host preseason favorite Fresno State (2-7, 18-22) next weekend. We think NMSU has the best chance to win the WAC tourney and advance to a regional.


Last five in: Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Elon, Indiana State, Southeastern Louisiana


First five out: Maryland, Stetson, Michigan State, Texas State, USC


(photo by Jimmy Jones)