One last shot: Final softball bracketology

May, 10, 2009

There are no potential bubble wreckers among the teams in action Sunday, so here's one final crack at projecting the bracket before it is announced Sunday night (ESPNU, 10 p.m. ET). With 34 available at-large spots, 24 seem uncontroversial (and for the Big 12 and ACC, top seeds Oklahoma and Georgia Tech, respectively, are assumed as automatic bids below, with Missouri and Florida State as at-large locks).

Automatic bids: Boston University, Bradley, BYU, Cal Poly, Campbell, Canisius, Chattanooga, Cornell, Florida, Florida A&M, Fresno State, Lehigh, Louisiana-Lafayette, Massachusetts, Miami University, Michigan, Mississippi Valley State, North Dakota State, Notre Dame, Portland State, Radford, Sacred Heart, Tennessee-Martin, Texas State, Tulsa and UCLA (TBD: ACC, Big 12, Horizon).

At-large locks: Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, California, DePaul, Georgia, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, North Carolina, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M and Washington.

That leaves 10 spots.


No. 55 Fullerton (RPI: 38)

A sweep against UCSB in each team's final regular-season series tacked on three more top-100 wins to Fullerton's profile, bumping it to an impressive 17-16 against those teams. The Titans got seven wins against Nos. 1-50, including wins against Washington and Oklahoma, and cleaned up against Nos. 51-100, going 10-2. That's plenty.

No. 56 Nevada (RPI: 51)

It should be a lock, but the RPI leaves at least a small question mark. The Wolf Pack had a 4-10 record against top-50 RPI teams but a 12-5 record against Nos. 51-100. A 16-15 top-100 record, 7-3 finish in the regular season (11-5 including the tournament) and second-place finish in both the conference tournament and regular season should be enough.

No. 57 Purdue (RPI: 52)

Like Nevada, Purdue is on the extended bubble because of its RPI, but it shouldn't be a nervous night Sunday. The Boilermakers are 8-9 against top-50 RPI teams, including wins against UCLA, Ohio State and Northwestern, and 13-9 against top-100 RPI teams. And a 7-3 closing kick in their last 10 nixes any negative momentum argument.

No. 58 San Diego State (RPI: 46)

Perhaps the Mountain West as a whole doesn't seem especially deserving of multiple bids this season, but San Diego State's résumé stands on its own. The Aztecs posted a 9-12 record against top-50 teams, including a win against Missouri. They also beat up on teams ranked between Nos. 51-100 in the RPI, going 5-1 in those games. And to the extent that injuries are weighed, the team is 21-7 since lineup linchpin Erin Floros returned from a 14-game absence due to appendicitis.

No. 59 Arkansas (RPI: 37)

Along with Mississippi State, Arkansas probably will be a flash point in this year's selection process. On one hand, it finished at .500 after a run-rule loss against Alabama in the SEC tournament quarterfinals and was just 2-8 in its last 10 and 6-14 in its last 20. On the other hand, it has a top-40 RPI, 12 wins against top-50 teams and 16 wins against top-100 teams, and it spent the final months of the season playing primarily LSU, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. There's little historical evidence to suggest the committee would bypass the RPI.

No. 60 Long Beach State (RPI: 45)

Strong scheduling and a strong closing kick have Long Beach State in good shape for an at-large bid. With a sweep of Pacific in the final weekend, coach Kim Sowder's team finished with a 14-6 record in its last 20 that pushed it well clear of the middle of the pack in the Big West. The 49ers also finished with a 6-13 record against top-50 RPI teams, including a win against UCLA, and a 12-15 record against top-100 RPI teams.

No. 61 Jacksonville State (RPI: 34)

The Gamecocks entered the weekend with an RPI of 34, and that mark isn't likely to fall off the table after the team played UT-Martin (No. 100), Tennessee Tech (No. 119) and Eastern Illinois (No. 143). Jacksonville State's only two top-50 RPI wins came against Mississippi, which won't make the NCAA tournament with a losing record. But a 12-8 record against top-100 teams and an 18-2 record in the 20 games before the conference tournament may be enough for the Gamecocks to secure an at-large bid.

No. 62 Mississippi State (RPI: 39)

I'm not sure how much the hastily scheduled doubleheader against Mississippi Valley State over the weekend will help, but the resulting sweep did provide the Bulldogs with a winning record at 28-26 (although it feels a little discomforting that the team essentially helped its cause by failing to qualify for the conference tournament). But even before all that, the Bulldogs had the weight of a whopping 34 games against top-50 RPI teams on their side. Winning 11 of those games, including a 3-3 record against Georgia and Tennessee and an out-of-conference win against Florida State, could be enough.

No. 63 Creighton (RPI: 60)

The RPI works against Creighton, which ran into an ace it couldn't reach in Bradley's Ashley Birdsong in the Missouri Valley final, but it has an edge on its closest bubble competition. Creighton has four top-50 RPI wins (including one against Arizona), three more than East Carolina and the same number as UNLV in fewer tries. It also has a 13-7 record against RPI top-100 teams and a 23-10 road/neutral record, and it closed on a 7-3 streak entering the conference tournament.

No. 64 Oklahoma State (RPI: 49)

The Cowgirls weren't able to sprint to the finish line, closing out their season with an 8-12 record in their last 20, but the weight of their entire body of work may carry the day. Oklahoma State won five games against top-50 RPI competition, including conference splits against Texas, Texas A&M and Nebraska and a nonconference split against Arkansas. And although the Cowgirls also lost 12 games against top-50 teams, they went 10-4 against teams ranked between Nos. 51-100 -- i.e., many of their bubble peers.


East Carolina (RPI: 44)

If it were my bracket, the Pirates would be in ahead of Arkansas or Mississippi State. But one top-50 win, albeit against Florida State, and a missed opportunity in the Conference USA tournament may outweigh an 11-9 record against top-100 teams and an 18-5 road record.

UNLV (RPI: 41)

The Rebels stumbled early in conference play in the Mountain West and ended up just losing out as other bubble teams made moves. UNLV had four top-50 wins but was just 10-16 against top-100 teams and finished .500 in its last 20 games.

Long Island (RPI: 63)

A great closing kick that included three wins against Hofstra added on to a résumé that already included early-season wins against Northwestern, UNLV and Fullerton.

South Florida (RPI: 48)

The Bulls finished the season 0-7 against Big East heavyweights DePaul, Louisville and Notre Dame, and there just isn't enough else on a résumé with three top-50 wins and a 3-9 road record (14-13 road-neutral).

Southern Illinois (RPI: 50)

The Salukis have just one top-50 win -- against Long Beach State -- but unlike East Carolina, they couldn't quite do enough against Nos. 51-100 to make up for it.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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