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NCAA Baseball Tournament Projections May 16: Purdue on the Bubble

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It is an exciting time as Purdue is very close to the NCAA Tournament cut line.

Courtesy Purdue Baseball

After last night’s win over Oral Roberts a very, very good thing happened for Purdue in regards to the 2018 NCAA Baseball tournament. Purdue saw its RPI jump from 56 to 47 thanks to results around the country. The win helped a lot, but so did some teams like Cal State Fullerton and Michigan being idle. Southern Miss, South Alabama and UNC-Greensboro also lost midweek games.

Getting into the top 50 is a crucial step towards making the tournament. It is really hard for teams outside the top 50 to make it, but being inside the top 50 helps. Some of the projections before next week’s conference tournaments have Purdue right on the edge. First, here is D1 Baseball:

In terms of at-large bids, only three teams moved out of this week’s field — Iowa, Arizona and Michigan. The Hawkeyes have some marquee series wins against Oklahoma State, Illinois and Ohio State, but the RPI dipped to 65 after a series loss to Northwestern. Arizona’s conference record is an issue after getting swept on the road by California, but it finishes the regular season with winnable series against struggling Arizona State and Oregon, on the road. There’s also Michigan, which lost a series to Illinois over the weekend and dropped to 51 in the RPI. The Wolverines lack front-line wins and must take care of business at Purdue this weekend to have a strong shot at an at-large bid.

The three new teams in this week’s field include Illinois, Washington and Louisiana Tech. The Fighting Illini gained significant ground in the RPI after the series win over Michigan, Washington’s RPI is in the 60s, and that’s an issue. However, the Huskies have a strong conference mark (15-9) are tied with UCLA for third place behind Stanford and Oregon State. There’s also Tech, which did what it needed to do to get on the good side of the bubble — it won a series at Southern Miss last weekend.

The SEC leads the way in overall bids with 11, while the rest of the conferences break down like this: ACC (6), American (5), Big 12 (5), Big Ten (4), Pac 12 (4), Conference USA (3), Atlantic Sun (2) and Missouri Valley (2).

As always, this is a projection: we’re not trying to illustrate what the field would look like if the season ended today. We’re still looking ahead, taking into account remaining schedules and our evaluations of the talent of the contenders, in addition to their bodies of work, of course.

Last Five In: Illinois, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Mississippi State, Washington

First Five Out: Arizona, Purdue, Michigan, TCU, Iowa

It is entirely possible that Purdue’s next four games will be against Michigan and Iowa. We have the three game set against the Wolverines starting tomorrow, and it proves to be a “Loser Leaves Town” match in regards to the Bubble. The series winner will have a huge advantage against nearly identical profiles. Purdue is 47 in the RPI and Michigan is currently 50. Purdue is 3-7 against the top 50 and Michigan is 2-6. Purdue is 6-5 against teams rated 51-100 and Michigan is 5-4.

Then there is Iowa. The Hawkeyes have played a tough schedule with 19 games against top 50 teams and even won 10 of them. They have series wins over Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, and Oklahoma State as well as single wins over Indiana and Minnesota. Their RPI is 64, however, because they played three non-Division I teams and lost a series to lowly Northwestern. Purdue could easily face them in Omaha for the Big Ten Tournament because a series win over Michigan would give us the 2 seed and Iowa is currently the 7 seed. Iowa closes with last place Penn state and could move to the 6 seed, while Purdue could stay as the 3 seed if it loses the series with Michigan.

Big Ten Baseball Standings 5/17

Team Overall Big Ten RPI
Team Overall Big Ten RPI
*Minnesota 35-13 17-4 17
*Michigan 32-17 15-6 54
*Purdue 32-18 15-6 43
*Ohio State 34-18 14-8 31
*Illinois 29-17 13-8 46
Indiana 34-15 11-9 26
Iowa 29-18 9-9 64
Maryland 24-27 9-11 98
Michigan State 18-30 9-12 199
Nebraska 23-26 7-12 107
Rutgers 25-23 7-14 162
Northwestern 15-30 6-18 214
Penn State 15-31 3-18 240
* - denotes team has clinched Big Ten Tournament berth

The Baseball America projections are currently behind a paywall this week, but last week’s projections also had Purdue on the Bubble. Regardless, it is close. Here is what Purdue probably needs to do to get in:

Win the Michigan Series – This goes without saying. I don’t see us getting in without the automatic bid if we lose this series. Sure, we could take one game, lose two close ones, then get some quality wins over Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota on the way to the Big Ten final, but beating the Wolverines at least twice to take the series this weekend is huge. It essentially gives the committee a head-to-head tiebreaker.

Speaking of head-to-head tiebreakers, Purdue is probably regretting that travel problems changed the season opener back in February. Purdue was originally scheduled to play at Baylor to open the season, but they got stuck in Chicago and could not make it. They made a makeshift series with Western Michigan instead. They were also stuck trying to get to Texas to play Houston Baptist. The teams essentially switched with Houston Baptist going to play Baylor and Purdue and Western Michigan finding a field in Atlanta to play. Purdue swept the series, but with Baylor at 49 in the RPI right now three more road games and a win or two against another top 50 team would look great.

Win At Least One Big Ten Tournament Game – Assuming Purdue does not sweep Michigan, winning a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament would be a great idea. Getting to 34 or 35 wins overall is kind of a magic number for getting in as an at large Big Ten team. We had four rainouts at home this year, and three (Lipscomb and 2x Oakland) were probable wins, while the fourth was another shot at the best rated team in the conference: Minnesota. We could easily be at 33 or 34 wins right now if not for weather.

I say 34 or 35 wins because in two of the last three seasons five Big Ten teams have gotten in and Purdue would likely be the fifth (or even record sixth) team to get in. Last season Nebraska had 35 wins and an RPI of 54 to get and at large bid, but they also won the regular season title. In 2015 Indiana got in with 35 wins and an RPI of 35.

Winning a game in the Big Ten Tournament means another top 100 victory, as right now the lowest rated team in the event is Maryland at 98. Minnesota, Michigan, Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois have all clinched a spot in the eight team field. All are in the top 50 of the RPI. Northwestern and Penn State cannot make it, leaving Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Rutgers fighting over the last spots.

Rutgers is probably out, as they would likely need to sweep league leader Minnesota this weekend. That scenario would help Purdue, however, as it would guarantee at least a share of the Big Ten title for us as long as we won the Michigan series. It is hard to see Indiana, with an RPI of 26, missing the Big Ten Tournament, but if they are swept by Maryland the Terrapins and likely Iowa (playing Penn State) would pass them. A Michigan State sweep of Ohio State would then put the Hoosiers out.

All of this is to say that any Big Ten Tournament game would probably be a good one numbers-wise. If the season ended today Purdue would play Indiana in the first game, and we split four games with the Hoosiers. The second game of the double elimination would then be against Michigan or Iowa.

Scoreboard Watch

We’re in a fight with several teams for these last few spots right now. Louisiana Tech (hosting Old Dominion), LSU (at No. 12 Auburn), Mississippi State (Hosting No. 1 Florida), Washington (at Utah), Arizona (hosting Arizona State), and TCU (at No. 20 Texas) are reportedly the teams on this Bubble with us. Illinois and Iowa are in our own conference with Illinois hosting Nebraska this weekend and Iowa playing last place Penn State. A couple of those teams have a golden opportunity to make a statement because of who they play. They could also get swept right out.

Hope There Aren’t Bid Thieves

Just like in the basketball tournament, teams can steal an automatic bid by winning their conference tournament. Last year was a banner year for it. The Big Ten final was Iowa over Northwestern and neither team had strong at large chances. Xavier was a surprise winner out of the Big East, forcing St. John’s to be an at large team. Even smaller conferences that don’t often get multiple bids in the basketball tournament can be multi-bid leagues quite easily when it comes to baseball.

This year is no different. Beware the following conferences:

Atlantic Sun – Stetson is going to be in and even is expected to host a regional. Jacksonville also has a strong RPI at 21 and is probably in. Look out for a team like Florida Gulf Coast, who could steal the autobid, because the other two are virtual locks.

Missouri Valley – Dallas Baptist, with an RPI of 29, is a strong at large team. No one else is in this league outside of maybe Missouri State. If you’re Purdue you want Indiana State to make a run, as we won in Terre Haute earlier this year.

Big East – Once again, St. John’s is a strong team and no one else is really close to the at large pool. Look out for Creighton and Butler though.

Ohio Valley – Tennessee Tech is an astounding 44-6 overall and No. 24 in the RPI. No one else is even close to them in this league and they are 25-2 against the conference. They are in, but if someone else wins the league tournament the Ohio Valley is getting a surprise second bid.

Colonial Athletic – Northeastern deserves some at large consideration with an RPI of 41, but no other real strong contenders. They are not a lock to win the league, either.

So that is that. It is your deep dive into the college baseball NCAA Tournament bubble. Six years ago when Purdue made it we were a lock long before Selection Monday. Even though we won the Big Ten Tournament and automatic bid we were ranked most of the season and even officially a host for our regional. This year is different though. If Purdue gets in, it is going to be nervous right up to Selection Monday on May 28th.