With the final series of SEC baseball looming this season -- and the SEC baseball tournament coming up after that -- we're starting to get a pretty clear view of who is in, who is out and who's on the bubble when it comes to the NCAA baseball tournament. The two intervening weeks are probably not going to make more than a marginal difference, though it could get a few teams in or out.
Technically, there are 31 conferences with automatic bids to the 64-team field, which leaves room for 33 at-large teams. As a practical matter, that's not really the best way of looking at things. A lot of the conference champs would get into the tournament even if they were at-large teams. They're not "taking" anyone's spot. But every team outside the Top 64 that makes it into the field through the conference championship is taking a spot away from an at-large team.
So far, so good. One team has already clinched its conference's spot in the tournament: Columbia out of the Ivy, and they're 43rd in RPI. There's no guarantee that being ranked better than 64th in the RPI would get you into the field if there were no automatic bids, but the baseball selection committee pays very close attention to the RPI. Only two other conferences don't determine their automatic bid through a league tournament -- the Big West and the Pac-12 -- and both seem to be on track to have teams ranked well above 64th as their champs.
On the other hand, there are currently 13 conferences where the leader of the conference or the highest-ranked division leader is below 64th, often by a hefty margin. And St. Joseph's out of the Atlantic 10 is ranked 64th exactly. Only two of those conferences have teams that aren't leading things ranked higher than 64th: the Atlantic Sun (Mercer, 27) and the Southern Conference (Western Carolina, 57). A win by those teams in the conference tournament could open up spots for bubble teams.
But the safest bet is that the top 50-52 teams in the RPI are going to make the field. It might be a bit smaller than that, when you account for tournament surprises and the like, but somewhere in that neighborhood. With that in mind, where do all the SEC teams stand right now? (Note: I consulted with several national seed / regional projections when building this list -- including Perfect Game, Baseball America, Chasing Omaha and College Baseball Daily -- but I made the ultimate call.) Teams are presented in the order of their RPI.
Hosting a regional, hoping for more
Florida (RPI: 3): At this point, Florida isn't even hoping for more. As long as they avoid disaster against Tennessee this weekend and do well enough in the tournament, the Gators are going to be a national seed. (The eight national seeds are guaranteed to host a super-regional if they advance beyond the first round.)
Vanderbilt (7) and South Carolina (12): Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is probably playing South Carolina for the right to be the second national seed out of the SEC. The winner of this weekend's series will claim the inside track for that position, though a weak showing in the conference tournament could still hurt -- and the Gamecocks are known for weak showings in the SEC tournament.
Ole Miss (15): The Rebels are not in great shape for a national seed right now. Teams with an RPI below 12 don't usually get national seeds, and Ole Miss would probably need to move past both Vanderbilt and South Carolina. (The chances of the SEC getting three national seeds this year are essentially nil.) However, if the Rebels make a deep run in the SEC tournament while both Vanderbilt and South Carolina flame out, they might suddenly become front-runners for that second spot. At the same time, the Rebels are probably safe to host a regional if they take care of business against Texas A&M this weekend.
In, maybe with a shot at a regional
Kentucky (19): The Wildcats don't have a great case to host based on how they've played lately, and things like losing to Murray State (236) don't help. They can help their case a bit this weekend -- but not much -- by beating Georgia. They probably need a decent run into the SEC tournament to pull it off.
LSU (20): When fighting for a regional, the Tigers always have an advantage that has very little to do with how they play: Alex Box Stadium. Its reputation as a venue gives LSU a decent chance when they're even close, as they are this year. If they do well against Auburn this weekend and don't bomb out of the SEC tournament, a regional is definitely within reach.
Alabama (21): Technically, I guess Alabama still has a shot -- but their slump down the stretch is going to make it harder for the Tide to be anything higher than a two seed. If they sweep Mississippi State and do well in the SEC tournament, there might be the slightest of chances, but it's an uphill climb.
In, and that's about it
Texas A&M (35): Barring disaster, the Aggies are going to the NCAAs. Their RPI and resume are strong enough to justify it, and they've flirted with the Top 25 on a couple of occasions this year. A decent showing against
Mississippi State Ole Miss would solidify things, but even getting swept there and a short trip to Hoover probably wouldn't be enough to knock them out.
Mississippi State (42): The RPI says borderline, but everything else says the Bulldogs are going to make it. They're ranked in the Top 25 in basically every reputable poll that's out there, and they've been playing well of late. The RPI is dragged down by early-season struggles (see: splitting a four-game series against Holy Cross), and I suppose getting swept by
Texas A&M Alabama and then getting clubbed at Hoover could change things, but it would be stunning if Mississippi State misses the cut.
Tennessee (44): The Vols -- and all the teams below them on this list -- have the same problem: If I'm right up until this point, there would be nine SEC teams in the tournament. Ten bids, even for a league that's as historically good as the SEC, is asking a lot. Especially for a team like Tennessee, which got off to a great start only to fade down the stretch.
Georgia (45): The Bulldogs have another problem layered on top of that -- a record of 25-25. At-large teams have to have a winning record, and Georgia has to go through Kentucky and at least one game in the SEC tournament to get there. They've won some nice series -- like the one against South Carolina -- but it's hard to see them getting in.
Arkansas (50): This is a curious case to me. Some pundits -- like Baseball America -- see the Razorbacks as close to clinching a spot despite the mediocre RPI. Others aren't so sure. If I were Arkansas, I would do all the winning I can and root for Mercer and the favorites in the postseason tournaments, just to be sure. Sweeps by Kentucky and Florida against the other two SEC bubble teams also wouldn't hurt.
Not this year
Auburn (68): Bad RPI, bad conference record and one SEC series win since late March. It might take winning the SEC tournament just to get them in position for an at-large bid -- so winning the tournament is about the only way they're going to play after Hoover, and Auburn might not even get there to begin with.
Missouri (119): I don't have to explain this one, right?