With less than a week to go before the NCAA tournament field is announced on Monday, May 26 (noon ET on ESPNU and WatchESPN.com), five teams -- Bethune-Cookman, Bucknell, Cal Poly, Columbia and Jackson State -- have already clinched at-large spots in the field of 64.
Entering conference tournament play this week, bubble teams get one final chance to make an impression on the NCAA selection committee. Stakes are high in the conferences where more than one team could make the regional field.
Regular-season champion Louisville (43-13, 19-5 American) and No. 17 Houston (41-14, 14-9) enter the conference tournament with a chance to be regional hosts, but neither can rest on its laurels. Right now the two are 16th and 18th, respectively, on my board. A trip to the conference championship game should be enough for the Cardinals, while the Cougars probably need to win the title to host.
Second-place UCF (34-22, 17-7) also has work to do in Clearwater, Fla. The Knights are on the right side of the bubble right now, but just ahead of the last five in. Anything less than two wins could leave UCF sweating next Monday.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a conference with a wider range between the haves and have-nots this season.
No. 3 Virginia (41-9, 22-8), No. 5 Florida State (41-14, 21-9) and No. 11 Miami (40-15, 24-6), the regular-season champion, are all safe as hosts and all three are currently projected as national seeds. The Cavaliers are the only team of that group that is entirely secure as a top-8 seed. The Seminoles and Hurricanes both have losing records against the RPI top 50 and could be vulnerable with a poor performance in Greensboro, N.C.
Also safely in the field at this point are Maryland (34-19, 15-14) and Georgia Tech (32-24, 14-16). Both should be OK, even with a winless week, though a good showing could be the difference between earning a No. 2 seed and a No. 3 seed in a regional.
Then there's the bubble. Duke (32-22, 16-13), Clemson (34-22, 15-14), NC State (32-22, 13-17), North Carolina (32-22, 15-15) and Wake Forest (30-25, 15-15) all have some hope of postseason play. North Carolina was the last team in this week, and might even be safe with a loss Tuesday to NC State in the ACC tournament. Clemson is on the wrong side of the bubble, but a winning week might be enough. The other three will likely need to win the tournament and the automatic bid to keep playing next week.
Two Big Ten teams are safely through to the regionals and likely don't even need to worry about seeding implications this week. The regular-season champion, No. 18 Indiana (38-13, 21-3), has a strong case for a national seed, while No. 23 Nebraska (37-18, 18-6) is in line to earn a No. 2 seed.
Illinois' (31-19, 17-7) résumé this year reminds me a lot of Michigan State last year, with one key difference -- the Fighting Illini finished third in the conference while the Spartans were seventh last season. Michigan State was the first team out last year, which suggests Illinois could be on the right side of the bubble this year, and can shore up its case with a couple of wins in the conference tournament.
For a conference with four teams in the top 25 in RPI, not much is set in the Big 12.
Those four teams all have a chance to host a regional, but other than regular-season champion No. 8 Oklahoma State (41-14, 18-6) none are locks to do so. No. 19 TCU (38-15, 17-7) currently looks like a No. 1 regional seed, but it could be jumped with a poor performance in Oklahoma City. No. 21 Texas Tech (40-21, 14-10) has moved into the conversation with a fourth-place finish in the regular season and top-12 RPI, but the Red Raiders need a strong showing this week to earn hosting duties. No. 20 Texas (36-16, 13-11) slumped down the stretch and, despite a strong RPI, likely needs to win the conference tournament to re-enter the hosting discussion.
Only two other teams have a chance for an at-large bid -- Kansas (34-22, 15-9) and West Virginia (27-24, 9-14). The Jayhawks played well down the stretch and are safely in the field. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mountaineers lost their last seven games to fall to sixth in the conference. Their top-30 RPI was built on playing a strong schedule, but they went just 5-18 against RPI top 50 teams. That is very similar to Maryland last season, when the Terrapins were on the wrong side of the bubble on selection day.
This is one of two conferences that doesn't play a tournament, and Cal Poly (45-10, 19-5) has already clinched the regular-season title. The Mustangs will host a regional and have an outside chance of earning a national seed.
Four other conference members have a chance at an at-large bid. UC Irvine (35-19, 15-6) has struggled since its schedule got harder, but the Anteaters are in second place in the Big West and are safely in the field for now. Long Beach State (29-24, 14-7) has gotten hot down the stretch, winning six of its last seven, after playing a difficult nonconference schedule. They are on the right side of the bubble now.
Cal State Fullerton (28-22, 11-10), a team everyone was burying two weeks ago, has turned things around and is back on the bubble as one of the first teams out. UC Santa Barbara (31-17-1, 9-12) is also on the outside looking in and has likely dug too big a hole at this point.
Conference USA has one team firmly in the field, No. 16 Rice (37-17, 23-7), and several teams on or near the bubble. With a regular-season title in their pocket, the Owls are in position to host a regional, though a poor showing in Hattiesburg, Miss., could drop them down to a No. 2 seed.
Two teams enter the conference tournament squarely on the bubble. Old Dominion (33-22, 17-13) has wins against Virginia and Rice, which pushed its RPI into the top 40, landing the Monarchs in the field. UAB (35-19, 20-10) finished second in the conference but doesn't have the marquee wins. It is on the wrong side of the bubble for now.
East Carolina (32-24, 16-14), FIU (34-14,14-11) and tournament host Southern Miss (32-23, 19-11) all have RPIs in the top 75 but will need to win the conference title to make a regional.
Regular-season champion Evansville (34-19, 13-6), Indiana State (35-14,14-7) and Dallas Baptist (36-18, 14-7) give the Missouri Valley a shot at three bids -- or more if there's an upset in the conference tournament.
Indiana State has a top-20 RPI and has the safest bid at this point. Dallas Baptist has a strong overall record and RPI, but the Patriots' 2-9 record against top-50 opponents put it closer to the bubble. And despite the regular-season title, Evansville might have the most work to do in Terre Haute, Ind., since its RPI is outside the top 50.
The Mountain West also appears to be a three-bid league entering conference tournaments.
UNLV (33-21, 20-10) and New Mexico (37-18-1, 20-10) tied for the regular-season crown, with UNLV taking the top seed in the tournament by winning the season series. The Rebels, who are hosting the tournament, are safe regardless of what happens.
New Mexico and San Diego State (37-18, 17-13) are on the bubble with RPIs in the 50s. A similar RPI was enough to earn an at-large bid for the Lobos last year, when they ran away with the regular-season title. The Aztecs are also on the right side of the bubble thanks to their 8-5 record against the top 50.
Like the Big West, the Pac-12 doesn't have a conference tournament. And by winning its series last weekend against Washington (38-13-1,20-7), Oregon State (41-9, 22-5) is just one win away from clinching the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Beavers also locked up a national seed with the series win. Despite losing their first series this season, the Huskies are safe as a regional host.
Two other conference members are safely in the field and vying for No. 2 regional seeds -- Arizona State (30-21,17-10) and Oregon (40-16, 17-10).
The lone bubble team in the conference is Stanford (27-23, 13-14). The Cardinal have posted a winning record against one of the toughest schedules in the nation. But they are currently below .500 in league games and likely need to win their final series to get onto the right side of the bubble.
History will likely be made this year, as the SEC should become the first league to earn more than nine regional bids. But how high will that number be?
There are four teams in the conference who could earn national seeds -- Florida (37-19, 21-9), Ole Miss (40-16, 19-11), South Carolina (42-14, 18-12) and Vanderbilt (40-16, 17-13). The Gators are a lock, while the order of the other three will be determined in Hoover, Ala. Right now, the Gamecocks are a step ahead of the Rebels and Commodores with regular-season series wins against both.
Those four are locks to host, and LSU (40-14, 17-11) could earn a fifth No. 1 seed for the conference. The Tigers finished third in the regular season and are currently 17th among host sites on my board. But a trip to the conference tournament semifinals -- and possibly less -- could see postseason baseball in Baton Rouge.
Three other teams finished above .500 in conference play. Alabama (34-21, 15-14), Arkansas (35-21, 16-14) and Mississippi State (35-20, 18-12) are all safely in the regional field regardless of conference tournament performance.
Kentucky (32-22, 14-16) and Texas A&M (33-23, 14-16) both finished with the same record in conference games and have RPIs in the top 35. Both of those marks are usually good enough to land an at-large bid from the SEC, which should guarantee the conference 10 bids.
Tennessee (31-22, 12-18) and Georgia (26-28, 11-18) are on the outside looking in heading into the final week. The Volunteers are one of the first teams out, but their 14-14 record against the RPI top 50 could get the conference an 11th bid. The Bulldogs enter the tournament two games below .500. A winning record is required for an at-large bid, so the only way they get there is by winning the tournament (and thus the automatic bid).
The following conferences will likely be one-bid leagues, unless someone steals a bid from the conference powerhouse:
Mercer (38-15, 18-9) finished second in the conference but has a strong enough résumé to make the field even if it doesn't win the conference tournament. The biggest hurdles for the Bears are regular-season champion Florida Gulf Coast (36-20, 19-8), which is hosting the tournament, and third-place Kennesaw State (33-21, 17-9), which is just outside at-large consideration.
Liberty (39-41, 23-3) won the conference by five games and was in contention to host a regional before dropping two of three games to Radford (32-21, 17-10) to close the regular season. The Flames could be challenged by Campbell (35-18, 18-8) or High Point (31-20, 18-9), which finished second and third, respectively, in the league and are on the fringes of at-large consideration.
Western Carolina (37-16, 20-6) wrapped up the regular-season title with a season-ending sweep of second-place Davidson (28-17, 17-8). That should be enough to get the Catamounts into the field of 64, even if they slip up in the tournament.
A month ago, Sam Houston State (40-15, 22-8) was outside the top 50 in RPI and well down in the conference standings. Twelve straight conference wins since have lifted the Bearkats to the regular-season title and a likely at-large spot if they're upset this week.
This year the Sun Belt has been Louisiana-Lafayette (49-7, 26-4) and everybody else. The Ragin' Cajuns are looking like a national seed with a top-10 RPI, but the lack of depth in the conference could hold them back, especially if they slip up at this week's tournament.
Pepperdine (36-16, 18-9) won the regular-season title and appears to be safely in the field. But the Waves lost road series against both Loyola Marymount (30-22, 17-10) and Gonzaga (25-27, 17-10), which lurk in the conference tournament.
Last five in: Dallas Baptist, Long Beach State, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina
First nine out: Cal State Fullerton, Tennessee, Stanford, West Virginia, Clemson, UAB, San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, NC State
This was published before the NCAA's weekly RPI release. All RPI and SOS numbers mentioned come from WarrenNolan.com.