The Road to Omaha is littered with detours, both figuratively and literally.
But the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship will be an exciting road over the next four weeks, with as much drama as its better-known March Madness basketball companion.
If you’re relatively new to college baseball, 64 teams were selected on Monday for postseason play. This coming week the postseason commences at 16 regional sites, where four teams will participate in a double-elimination format. The winners of each regional will take part in one of eight super regionals the following weekend, a best-of-three series. The eight survivors of the second weekend will comprise the College World Series field, which will be split into two four-team, double-elimination brackets.
The two winners of each bracket then advance to a best-of-three final to determine the national champion.
The top eight seeds all get to host regionals, and would host a super regional if applicable. The top-16 schools all get to host a regional on the first weekend.
As is the case in basketball, conference tournament winners have earned automatic bids. Although in recent years many quality baseball programs have emerged in non-traditional colder climates, the meat of the field remains from the south. Over one-quarter of this year’s field comes from the Southeastern Conference (nine bids) and the ACC (eight bids). Like basketball, it helps to be one of the big names.
Campbell University had a 49-10 season and a 42 RPI, but lost its conference tournament and was left out of the field. A weak non-conference strength of schedule doomed the Campbell team in the eyes of the selection committee.
The committee stresses geography much more than what you would see in basketball due to budgetary concerns. Virtually none of the top teams will be playing too far away from home. Omaha is the home of the College World Series which is a nice, central location that continues to work, especially now in a modern new venue.
Despite the top teams having home-field advantage, do not necessarily look for chalk to advance to Omaha. In 2012 upstart Stony Brook shocked perennial power LSU in a super regional and were joined in Omaha by MAC representative Kent State, who upset Oregon to become part of the final eight.
The most notable team left out of the field is 2012 National Champion Arizona, which finished with a RPI of 60. That was not good enough to get the Wildcats into this year’s dance. The Pac-12 has just four representatives this year.
Television coverage throughout the tournament will be provided by ESPN, who for the first time will also add a “Bases Loaded” channel, which will be similar to the “Goal Line” and “Buzzer Beater” features the network already provides, and will cut into various games as events warrant.
Here is my rundown on the 16 baseball regionals and my prediction of the College World Series entrants.
Chapel Hill Regional
1. North Carolina, 2. Florida Atlantic, 3. Towson, 4. Canisius
The Tar Heels are a disputed No. 1 overall seed and the biggest threat in their opening bracket is FAU, which has an RPI of 27. Towson likely will not emerge from this bracket, but the team’s story merits telling. The CAA champions’ season started with news that baseball would be on the chopping block with the university, before Maryland’s governor interceded and $300,000 in state funds was given to keep the program alive.
Predicted winner: North Carolina
1. South Carolina, 2. Clemson, 3. Liberty, 4. Saint Louis
The pairing of in-state rivals South Carolina and Clemson raised eyebrows, but they are in different conferences and my understanding is they don’t meet much in the regular season.
Predicted winner: South Carolina
Super Regional Prediction: South Carolina over North Carolina – UNC may be the top-seed, but can’t go against the 2010-2011 College World Series Champs, who also made it to Omaha last year. Have to take the Gamecocks.
1. North Carolina St., 2. Ole Miss, 3. William & Mary, 4. Binghamton
Ole Miss is considered the Buffalo Bills of the college diamond, Omaha has been said to have become an acronym of Ole Miss At Home Again. I’ll pick them to at least get through the first round.
Predicted winner: Ole Miss
1. Oregon, 2. Rice, 3. San Francisco, 4. South Dakota St.
If it hits like a Duck, pitches like a Duck, fields like a Duck, and has 17,000 different uniform combinations in its budget… The Oregon Ducks are the most controversial of the eight national seeds, they were only 6-10 against top-50 teams. You don’t hear much about the Rice Owls since they beat up on the rest of Conference USA, but they have built a perennially strong program. I’m going to take the Owls out of this region.
Predicted winner: Rice
Super Regional Prediction: Rice over Ole Miss
1. Cal-State Fullerton, 2. Arizona St., 3. New Mexico, 4. Columbia
Most of the West Coast schools are lumped into these next two brackets, so you will see at least one team from out west in Omaha. Fullerton is the best of the mid-majors with a 48-8 record, I’m going to pick the Titans through this region.
Predicted winner: Fullerton
Los Angeles Regional
1. UCLA, 2. Cal Poly, 3. San Diego, 4. San Diego St.
No one has to travel far here. There was a time when USC was college baseball’s gold standard, but the Trojans are not even in this year’s field. UCLA is now considered the top team in the region and is coming off a CWS appearance.
A name to remember is USD third baseman Kris Bryant, who goes 6’5″ and 215 lbs, has enormous power, and who will go second or third in the MLB draft.
Predicted winner: UCLA
Super Regional Prediction: UCLA over Fullerton
1. Virginia Tech, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Coastal Carolina, 4. Connecticut
OU pitcher Jonathan Gray is expected to be the top selection in the MLB draft by the Houston Astros next week. Pitchers going high in the draft become a dilemma on the college side, If Gray runs up a high pitch-count in a game over the next few weeks, it will draw criticism from MLB personnel people.
The Sooners No. 2 pitcher is not bad neither, Dillon Overton has a 9-2 record himself on the season.
Predicted winner: Oklahoma
Baton Rouge Regional
1. LSU, 2. Louisiana-Lafayette, 3. Sam Houston St., 4. Jackson St.
One of the routes to Omaha goes straight through Alex Box Stadium on LSU’s campus. LSU’s fans always have the middle of June marked off on their calendar for their pilgrimage to Omaha, but the Bayou Bengals have fallen short of the CWS in each of the last three years.
In those parts that is considered too long of a drought.
Predicted winner: LSU
Super Regional Prediction: LSU over Oklahoma
1. Vanderbilt, 2. Georgia Tech, 3. Illinois, 4. East Tennessee St.
Many college baseball experts feel that Vanderbilt is the best team in college ball this year, and I would not expect much trouble getting through the first weekend.
Predicted winner: Vanderbilt
1. Louisville, 2. Miami (FL), 3. Oklahoma St., 4. Bowling Green
To borrow a soccer phrase, the Louisville Region seems like the “group of death” with historical powers Miami and OSU in the mix. Miami has not made a lot of noise on a national scale in recent years, but would be shooting for their 24th CWS appearance if they can get there.
Super Regional Prediction: Louisville over Vanderbilt – Yes, I’m predicting the top two national seeds to go down, as Louisville’s dream athletic season continues.
1. Indiana, 2. Austin Peay, 3. Florida, 4. Valparaiso
This was a historic year for Indiana baseball, winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament crowns, in the program’s best season since 1949. The Big Ten tourney concluded at Target Field with two epic, hard-fought games between IU and Nebraska. Had the Huskers won they would had been the seventh different team in as many years to win the B1G Tournament, speaking to the parity of that conference. The last Big Ten team to make it to Omaha was Michigan (with Barry Larkin) in 1984.
Florida’s inclusion in the field has been hotly debated due to a final 29-28 record, but the Gators had one of the toughest schedules in the country, they and South Carolina are the only teams to appear in the 2010, 2011, and 2012 CWS’s.
Predicted winner: Florida
1. Florida St., 2. Alabama, 3. Troy, 4. Savannah St.
FSU remains one of college baseball’s brand names, and will advance here.
Predicted winner: Florida St.
Super Regional Prediction: Florida St. over Florida
1. Virginia, 2. UNC-Wilmington, 3. Elon, 4. Army
I will not pretend to be an expert on the Wilmington Seahawks’ baseball program. But there is one small-school surprise team that goes deep into the tourney each year. It may be UNCW, or it may be elsewhere, but the double-elimination and best-of-three formats prove volatile with the right pitching matchups.
Predicted winner: UNC-Wilmington
1. Mississippi St., 2. South Alabama, 3. Mercer, 4. Central Arkansas
Mercer was a team in need of an at-large bid, and a final RPI of 28 proved good enough to get the Bears in. They could be dangerous obstacle for Mississippi St.
Predicted winner:Mississippi St.
Super Regional Prediction: UNC-Wilmington over Mississippi St.
1. Kansas St., 2. Arkansas, 3. Bryant, 4. Wichita St.
This might be my favorite regional to watch with perennial power Arkansas along with heavy-hitting Kansas State and Wichita State, who has been an outstanding baseball program through the years. The Razorbacks took their lumps in the regular season, but have arguably the SEC’s best pitcher in righty Ryan Stanek (9-2, 1.40 ERA).
Predicted winner: Arkansas
1. Oregon St., 2. Texas A&M, 3. UC-Santa Barbara, 4. Texas-San Antonio
Fresh off not having a single team make the men’s basketball field, the state of Texas also failed in having a top-16 seed in baseball. Anyone remember back in the day of the souped up aluminum bats when Texas was the dominant team in the land? Meanwhile Oregon St. will be bidding to return to Omaha for the first time since winning consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007. And don’t forget about UCSB, which is a great party school!
Predicted winner: Oregon St.
Super Regional Prediction: Arkansas over Oregon St.
College World Series predicted field:
1. South Carolina
6. Florida St.
Championship Prediction: LSU