Questions ahead of bracket announcement
All we can do is wait and wonder what the NCAA tournament selection show will bring Monday. But if wait we must, let's at least put the wondering into words with some pre-bracket questions about the women's soccer tourney.
1. How important is it to be one of the top eight seeds?
The prize in past seasons was one of 16 national seeds, a designation that more often than not came with the chance to host first- and second-round games during the tournament's first weekend. But a change in format means eight of those seeds are now hollow rewards. With the first round a stand-alone event the opening weekend, and second- and third-round games paired together on the second weekend, only the top eight seeds are likely to host more than one game.
What does it all mean? Instead of playing a second-round game at home and resting for a week before a Sweet 16 road trip, potential seeded teams like North Carolina and Texas A&M could face neutral-site games in the second round, followed by a third-round game two days later on an opponent's home field. Memphis, Oklahoma State, UCLA and Florida State were Nos. 5-8 in last week's RPI and only Oklahoma State lost over the weekend (on a 90th-minute goal by top-eight contender Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game).
2. What will become of last season's College Cup participants?
Will Stanford, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the major polls for much of the season, earn the No. 1 overall seed? The Cardinal were second behind Duke in last week's RPI, but an ACC tournament semifinal loss by the Blue Devils may remove the lone potential obstacle for the Cardinal to take top honors.
Will Boston College earn a national seed, albeit one of those aforementioned hollow eight? The Eagles were No. 16 in last week's RPI but lost at home to Wake Forest in the ACC quarterfinals.
The bubble risk is minimal for Notre Dame, but will it get to play even one home game? Half the field will host first-round games this year, but Notre Dame was No. 33 in last week's RPI -- and that came out before it lost in the Big East semifinals against Louisville. With Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dayton and Illinois all candidates to host first-round games, the defending champs could hit the road early.
And finally, will Ohio State survive the bubble? The Buckeyes were No. 55 in last week's RPI, typically an at-large bid death sentence, but a 4-7-2 record against RPI top-100 teams, including 2-3-1 against top-50 teams, may be enough to sneak in.
3. How many ACC teams will make it?
It's difficult to imagine a team ranked 25th in the final publicly-released RPI not receiving an NCAA tournament at-large bid. It's also difficult to imagine a team that doesn't qualify for an eight-team conference tournament receiving an at-large bid to the bigger tournament. Welcome to the Miami conundrum. The Hurricanes finished ninth in the ACC during the regular season, missing out on the conference tournament. But with the aforementioned RPI and two wins against RPI top-25 teams in Maryland and Boston College (albeit in eight such games), it's tough to leave them out.
The ACC has received at least seven bids in each of the past eight seasons, but it hasn't seen nine bids since 2004.
4. Which teams hurt themselves last week?
Georgetown: The scope of a 5-1 loss to host West Virginia in the semifinals of the Big East tournament doesn't hurt Georgetown's paper credentials to any greater degree than a more competitive score would have, but it doesn't help from an aesthetic perspective. The Hoyas didn't play a strong nonconference schedule and had a 2-5-0 record against teams in the top 100 of last week's RPI. A win against Notre Dame was their lone top-50 victory, and that may not be enough to earn an at-large bid, even with an RPI at No. 40 last week.
La Salle: Talk about a harsh reality. La Salle put together the greatest regular season in program history, going 15-0-3 and allowing just six goals doing it. But a 1-0 loss against Massachusetts in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament puts the Explorers squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. La Salle was No. 29 in last week's RPI, typically an unassailable position for at-large contenders, but it has just two top-100 wins and one top-50 win. The regular-season success may be enough, but it's going to be a nervous wait.
Stephen F. Austin/Central Michigan: Each team entered its respective conference tournament as the top seed and with a top-50 RPI. But each lost, Stephen F. Austin in the Southland final against Texas State and Central Michigan in the MAC semifinals against Western Michigan, and at-large prospects don't look good.
5. Which teams helped themselves last week?
Florida State: This has nothing to do with the bubble, but it could have something to do with soccer in Tallahassee for weeks to come. The Seminoles struggled to a sixth-place finish in the ACC regular season, but they beat North Carolina and Virginia outright in the conference tournament and claimed the title by eliminating Wake Forest on penalty kicks in the final. Those wins could help an already strong RPI stand up when it comes to landing a top-eight seed.
Alabama: No bubble team made a stronger closing run than Alabama, although it admittedly had a lot of ground to make up. After closing the regular season with wins against Tennessee and Auburn and a tie against Georgia (all RPI top-50 teams), the Crimson Tide upset top seed South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. A win against Florida in the semifinals might have locked up an at-large bid, but a 2-1 loss in that game didn't end their hopes. No bubble team played more than Alabama's 16 games against RPI top 100 teams (6-8-2). The math says they're in.
Portland: This is more functional help than anything else, as a 3-0 win at home against Gonzaga to close the regular season isn't a big boost on its own. But the win lifts Portland to .500 for the season (9-9-1 overall, 4-4-1 WCC) and makes it eligible for at-large consideration. Three top-50 RPI wins, including a top-10 win against Florida State, help the Pilots stand out in a weak bubble crowd.
Graham Hays covers women's college soccer and softball for ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.