This column spends a lot of time talking about the top teams from a few conferences, so there's going to be a different angle this week. There are 19 conferences projected to get only one bid to the NCAA tournament, and only three of those leagues have a team that's likely to earn an at-large bid if it falls short during the conference tournament. With two weekends left before most leagues hold their conference tournaments, here's a list of the top contenders for those 19 leagues likely to get only one bid to the NCAA tournament.
Kate Lombard Dartmouth became the first team to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament after beating Columbia over the weekend to clinch the Ivy League title.
America East: The regular-season champion gets to host the conference tournament, and things are looking pretty good for Binghamton. The Bearcats hold a 3½-game lead over second-place teams Maine and Stony Brook and haven't lost a conference series this season.
Atlantic 10: The top six teams advance to the tournament, and with two weeks to play there are nine teams within two games of the sixth spot (and only one game separates second place from sixth place). Charlotte is two games clear of the scrum and is still the top contender for the title. The tournament is at the park where Saint Joseph's plays its home games, and the Hawks are tied for second in the league.
Atlantic Sun: After dominating the conference the last two years after moving up to Division I, Florida Gulf Coast is finally eligible for the NCAA tournament. The Eagles have won every conference series this year and are six games ahead of the next closest teams (East Tennessee State and North Florida). FGCU could burst someone's bubble if it loses in the A-Sun tournament in Nashville, as the Eagles have an NCAA tournament-caliber résumé.
Big Ten: The most competitive conference in Division I, with just a three-game margin between first and last. Ohio State has the most talent, especially if ace Alex Wimmers returns to health, but is one loss from missing the conference tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Michigan is one of three teams sitting a half-game back from Purdue, and a league-leading RPI gives the Wolverines the nod for now.
Colonial: The CAA changed its tournament structure this season, with just the top four teams advancing to Wilmington, N.C., instead of the top six. James Madison tops the league and remains perfect in conference series, but doesn't have the total package to get a bid without capturing the tournament title. Georgia State can rake with any team in the country and is the Dukes' main challenger.
Horizon: Wright State leads Milwaukee by 1½ games with two weeks to play as the Raiders look to advance to their second straight NCAA tournament. Milwaukee just took a weekend series against Wright State, and Illinois-Chicago is always a threat.
Ivy: The first team to earn a bid to the 2010 NCAA tournament was Dartmouth. The Big Green traveled to Columbia for the Ivy League championship series, and after dropping the opener won the final two games to advance to their second straight regional.
MAAC: Canisius took control of the regular-season conference race with a weekend sweep of Manhattan; the Griffs lead second-place (and tournament host) Marist by five games. That's not necessarily a good thing, as the regular-season MAAC champ has won the tournament only once since 2005.
MAC: The top six teams in the conference are separated by just two games, with Bowling Green (14-7) leading the East and Ball State (15-6) leading the West. Kent State is also getting hot at the right time, so expect the league's regional representative to come from those three schools.
MEAC: This is Bethune-Cookman's conference, and the Wildcats finished the regular season with a perfect 18-0 mark. North Carolina A&T is the only real contender -- the Aggies didn't lose to any MEAC team other than Bethune and took the conference crown in 2005 -- the only time this decade a team other than B-CU advanced to the regionals.
Missouri Valley: A tight race at the top, with Illinois State leading Wichita State by half a game with two weeks to play. The Shockers host the conference tournament and took the regular-season series from the Redbirds, so they have the inside track for a regional bid.
Northeast: This year's Northeast Conference looks like the Atlantic Sun over the past couple of years; the first-place team is ineligible for the NCAA tournament. Bryant has the best record in the league by three games, but is in the process of moving up from a lower division. The Connecticut contingent currently holds three of the four tournament spots (with Sacred Heart leading the way), but Monmouth has "home-field advantage" with the tournament in New Jersey.
Ohio Valley: Another tight race, with four teams within 1½ games of first-place with six games to play. Southeast Missouri State has led the conference for most of the season, but Murray State's perfect weekend moved the Thoroughbreds into first. Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech should also contend for the crown.
Patriot: The conference's postseason begins this weekend, with regular-season champ Army hosting Bucknell and Lehigh hosting Holy Cross in best-of-three semifinal series. The winners advance to the championship series on May 22. With home-field advantage and regular-season series wins against the other three teams Army has the inside track.
Southland: Here's another conference that the bubble teams need to watch closely. Texas State should make the NCAA tournament even without a title in the conference tourney, but no other team is currently in the field. Southeastern Louisiana started strong, but has fallen to third. Sam Houston State has won the tournament from a low seed the last three years, but the Bearkats need to make up two games to make the field this year. Stephen F. Austin sits second in the league with just one conference series loss (Texas State).
Summit: Could this be the year that Oral Roberts' run ends? The Golden Eagles are first in the conference and host the conference tournament, but Centenary and South Dakota State are within one game of the leaders. The Jackrabbits just took a series from Oral Roberts, while Centenary gets its shot next week and hopes to make the NCAA tournament before moving down to Division III.
SWAC: Another tight race for conference tournament seeding. Jackson State has won its last 11 games and leads the Eastern Division by a half-game over Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State. In the West, Texas Southern leads Southern, also by a half-game, after taking the season series 4-2. Any of those five teams has the talent to win the normally wild SWAC tournament.
Western Athletic: New Mexico State is still in first place, but here comes Fresno State (again). The Bulldogs swept a weekend series in Las Cruces, N.M., to move into second and look to be getting hot at the right time for the third straight year.
West Coast: San Diego all but wrapped up the conference crown with a sweep of Portland this weekend. The regular-season champion gets the conference's automatic bid, much to the relief of bubble teams everywhere. Portland is 31-12 on the season, but a weak nonconference schedule will likely keep the Pilots out of regional contention.
That does it for the leagues that will likely receive only one bid. Now, on to the brackets -- national-seed regionals are paired side by side with the regional they will face once we advance to the super regionals.
No. 1 Texas
|Fort Worth Regional
No. 8 Arkansas
No. 5 Coastal Carolina
College of Charleston
No. 4 Florida
Florida Gulf Coast
|Coral Gables Regional
No. 2 Arizona State
South Dakota State
|Los Angeles Regional
No. 7 UCLA
Cal State Fullerton
No. 6 Louisville
No. 3 Virginia
Last five in: Kentucky, Boston College, Tennessee, Washington State, Southern Miss
First nine out: Elon, Western Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Washington, Kansas, Oregon State, Portland, South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana
The national seed race got a lot more interesting with South Carolina losing its series at Kentucky last weekend. The Gamecocks still have Florida and Arkansas left on their schedule, so they control their own destiny as far as a national seed is concerned.
With several teams off for finals or playing nonconference series, nobody in the ACC stepped up this week to grab the final national seed. Florida State is the closest after taking two of three at regional contender Boston College (to go along with earlier season-series wins against both main in-state rivals). Georgia Tech and Miami each swept weekend series against less-than-stellar (and in the Hurricanes' case, non-Division I) competition.
Out west, UCLA finally righted the ship after a rough patch that covered most of April. With a weekend sweep at Washington, the Bruins moved into a second-place tie in the Pac-10 and have three winnable series remaining. That was enough to get a second national seed for the Pac-10 and a super regional matchup against a Cal State Fullerton team that has put itself into contention for a national seed as well.
The big four conferences picked up a 30th invitation to the tournament this week with Kentucky taking two of three from SEC leader South Carolina and Tennessee moving into eighth in the conference. With the current conference standings, it's hard to exclude any of the 10 contenders. The ACC (8), Big 12 (5) and Pac-10 (7) retain the same number of bids as last week, with some movement among teams at the bottom of the list. At this rate, it will be hard for teams from the smaller conferences to pick up bids unless they finish in the top two in the regular-season standings or win the conference tournament.
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.