May 1, 2012
Field of dreamers
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
Last five in: Wake
Forest, Oklahoma, Elon, Indiana State, Southeastern Louisiana
First five out:
Maryland, Stetson, Michigan State, Texas State, USC