Part 2 of our look at this week’s NCAA regionals
1. Auburn (46-8) (At-Large) (16th in RPI)
2. Clemson (38-21) (At-Large) (19)
3. Southern Mississippi (35-22) (Conference USA) (62)
4. Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley Champion) (86)
Auburn missed out on a national seed, but is still in a reasonably strong situation as its super regional would be in nearby Atlanta. Unfortunately, The Tigers have to get past a very strong Clemson squad, which gave the impression of underperforming despite taking the ACC Atlantic Division regular-season title. The Tigers’ pitching failed to progress throughout the year, resulting in their struggles to find a consistent No. 2 starter behind Casey Harman, with Scott Weismann posting a 5.47 ERA. With six hitters posting OPS over .900-including Kyle Parker who pounded 19 homers, slugged .709, and posted an OBP of .496-the Tigers are dangerous.
1. Georgia Tech (45-13) (At-Large) (11th in RPI)
2. Alabama (37-22) (At-Large) (12)
3. Elon (38-22) (At-Large) (41)
4. Mercer (37-22) (Atlantic Sun Champions) (131)
Although Georgia Tech was fortunate to score the final national seed, it is stuck with the nation’s best No. 2 seed. Alabama ran to the SEC championship game, and was a base hit away from winning the title. The Crimson Tide is a single spot in the RPI behind Georgia Tech, and being swept at Arkansas and LSU looks less horrendous after the fashion in which the Razorbacks and Tigers finished the season. The Tide finished the year 8-1, with wins over Florida and Auburn, and pitcher Adam Morgan’s performance in the SEC tournament demonstrates skills better than his 6.04 ERA indicate.
Georgia Tech, though, still boasts arguably the nation’s most dangerous lineup, anchored by Derek Dietrich and loaded with power rarely found throughout a college squad. With Drew Pomeranz (Mississippi) recently straining his pec, Georgia Tech’s Deck McGuire makes a case for the nation’s top college pitching prospect
Complicating matters for Alabama is a dangerous Elon squad that already took two of three at Clemson and defeated North Carolina and North Carolina State. While Georgia Tech pitchers may be able to save some of their stamina against Mercer, Alabama will have no such luxury.
1. Virginia (47-11) (At-Large) (3rd in RPI)
2. Mississippi (38-22) (At-Large) (27)
3. St. John’s (40-18) (Big East Champion) (58)
4. Virginia Commonwealth (34-24) (Colonial Champions) (150)
Virginia’s fifth seed was lower than expected, yet its bracket is favorable. While Pomeranz needs to prove his arm is back to 100 percent prior to the draft, Mississippi’s lineup can’t compete with the depth of Virginia’s staff, which was incredibly consistent throughout a brutal ACC schedule. St. John’s ran the table in the Big East tournament, to the disappointment of every team whose bubble burst on Monday, and took the hard road to do it by beating both Louisville and Connecticut.
This is UVA’s bracket to lose, as the Cavaliers have been the most impressive team in the nation’s deepest division, dropping only one series (two of three at North Carolina State). Look for Danny Hultzen (with an absurd K:BB ratio of 111:22) and Robert Morey (who, despite being knocked out of the game against Florida State during UVA’s only ACC tournament loss, has been consistent throughout the year) to lead the Cavaliers to Omaha.
1. Oklahoma (Big 12 Championship) (44-15) (17thin RPI)
2. California (At-Large) (29-23) (37)
3. North Carolina (At-Large) (36-20) (22)
4. Oral Roberts (Summit League Champion) (35-25) (123)
North Carolina’s RPI of 22 apparently made up for finishing ninth in the ACC and failing to make the conference tournament. Tar Heels starter Matt Harvey is certainly no reward for California, a team that either boomed (with sweeps of USC, Arizona, and, Oregon State,) or busted (swept by Arizona State, Stanford, Washington State, and UCLA,) throughout the year. The Bears concluded the year by taking two of three at Oregon to finish tied for fifth in the Pac-10.
UNC coach Mike Fox hasn’t hesitated to use Harvey’s arm heavily throughout the year, breaking 120 pitches seven times, most recently throwing 124 against Virginia Tech, five days after throwing 130 against Virginia. Two appearances from Harvey make the Norman regional a three-team race.
Oklahoma finished the season incredibly strong on a 17-3 streak, winning the Big-12 championship, defeating TCU 8-3 in April, and taking three of four from Kansas State, including the final of the conference tournament. Seven Sooners slugged over .600, with four starters posting an OPS over 1.000. If Zach Neal and Bobby Shore can keep the Sooners in the game-which should be a reasonable task given their regional opponents-their lineup should be able to post enough runs to move on to Charlottesville.
1. South Carolina (43-15) (At-Large) (18th in RPI)
2. Virginia Tech (38-20) (At-Large) (34)
3. Citadel (42-20) (Southern Conference Championship) (32)
4. Bucknell (25-33) (Patriot League Championship) (211)
South Carolina had an outside shot at a national seed heading into the SEC tournament, but was cooled by Florida to end the season and instead host a regional with the prospect of heading to Coastal Carolina for its super regional. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, was streaky throughout the year, including being swept by North Carolina to end the regular season. Yet the Hokies have the two best weapons in the regional, in outfielder Austin Wates and starting pitcher Jesse Hahn. Hahn lost his last two starts after missing a month with an injured forearm, giving up 9 runs in 8 1/3 innings to Duke and North Carolina, and will need to regain his form from earlier in the season when he projected as a first-round draft pick.
The Citadel won both the regular-season and tournament titles in the Southern Conference, and could give Virginia Tech fits with a deep lineup that displays a decent deal of power. The Bulldogs also have a pro pitching prospect in Asher Wojciechowski, whose fastball tops out at 94 mph. He also has a nasty slider.
Myrtle Beach Regional
1. Coastal Carolina (51-7) (Big South Championship) (2nd in RPI)
2. College of Charleston (42-17) (At-Large) (26)
3. North Carolina State (38-22) (At-Large) (48)
4. Stony Brook (29-25) (America East Championship) (218)
Coastal Carolina feasted on a relatively weak conference schedule, and finally won’t have to travel to Chapel Hill for a super regional as the Chanticleers are the class of the Carolinas. North Carolina State made a convincing case to the NCAA tournament committee in the final week of the season, defeating Virginia Tech and Clemson to reach the ACC tournament final, sweeping Duke, and taking two of three from Georgia Tech. Without its appearance in the conference tournament final the Wolfpack probably wouldn’t have made the tournament.
The College of Charleston took three of four against The Citadel and two of three against Elon during the regular season, but Coastal Carolina’s efficiency should trump the relative success of its opponents in a very winnable regional.
1. Texas (46-11) (At-Large) (5th in RPI)
2. Rice (38-21) (At-Large) (30)
3. Louisiana-Lafayette (37-20) (At-Large) (44)
4. Rider (36-21) (Metro Atlantic Championship) (139)
Rice extended its streak of consecutive conference titles to 12, never losing a Conference USA regular-season crown, as well as reaching its 16thconsecutive NCAA regional. The Owls don’t have the firepower or depth of their 2006 and 2007 College World Series squads, though Anthony Rendon performed as well as any slugger in the nation (23 homers and an insane OPS of 1.319 while walking nearly three times as often as he struck out.) Rick Hague, Diego Seastrunk, and Michael Ratterree protect Rendon, in lineup and with Austin only a 2 ½-hour trip, Rice could prove a more formidable foe than the Longhorns expected to face in the tournament’s first round-particularly if Brandon Workman can’t keep his pitch count in check.
Fort Worth Regional
1. TCU (46-11) (Mountain West Championship) (15thin RPI)
2. Baylor (34-22) (At-Large) (35)
3. Arizona (33-22) (At-Large) (24)
4. Lamar (35-24) Southland Tournament Championship) (117)
More evidence of issues plaguing the selection process, Arizona is seeded third and has to travel across two states despite finishing 11 spots higher in the RPI than Baylor. Moreover, despite a legitimate shot at a national seed, TCU is paired with Texas in potentially the most brutal super regional.
Arizona finished the season with a whimper, going 6-13 against Oregon State, Cal State Bakersfield, Stanford, and Oregon State. While they do have depth in the bullpen, the Wildcats will need to find a way to score runs as they combined for only 13 in six of their final seven games.
Baylor, on the other hand, had no trouble scoring during the season’s final month, sweeping Oklahoma State and besting Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Kansas before falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship. The Bears blasted the Horned Frogs in the second game of their home-and-away series, 14-4, after losing the first game 5-4 in 10 innings. Even if the Bears can’t get out of Fort Worth, Baylor is loaded for next season if Tyrell Jenkins opts to attend college instead of jumping to the majors.
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The only two top seeds I'd be truly shocked to see fall would be Arizona State and Florida, with the most competitive regions being Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Norwich, and Norman.