All roads lead to Omaha as the NCAA baseball tournament gets underway this weekend, starting from the south and east. Thirteen of the 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals taking place from Friday through Monday will be hosted by SEC (seven) and ACC (six) schools, with the other three in Texas and Louisiana.
The distribution of sites this year reflects how the balance of power at the top of the sport has tilted to one specific quadrant of the contiguous 48. The SEC has put a team in the national title game in every year since 2008, and Virginia broke the ACC’s 59-year title drought with an improbable championship run last season.
But although the power conferences’ best teams will spend opening weekend in their home parks, don’t assume the sites of next weekend’s Super Regional series will be just as predictable. The Cavaliers won it all last year after they entered the tournament as the third seed in a regional on the other side of the country, then punched a ticket to Omaha with a Super Regional victory over Maryland, another upstart 3-seed.
The safest bet this weekend, as ever: Expect chalk, brace for chaos. Here’s a look at our picks to advance to the Super Regionals.
2. Georgia Tech
Winner: Florida. The Gators’ lethal rotation of juniors Logan Shore and A.J. Puk and sophomore Alex Faedo spearheads a pitching staff that led the nation with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. A potential Saturday showdown with UConn No. 1 starter Anthony Kay would appear to be the only serious threat to a clean sweep by the top overall seed.
1. Florida State
2. Southern Miss
3. South Alabama
4. Alabama State
Winner: Southern Miss. Sophomore first baseman Dylan Busby went 9 for 17 last week to key Florida State’s ACC tournament runner-up finish, and for their efforts, the Seminoles drew hosting duties for a regional with no easy outs. Three Golden Eagles hit double-digit home runs this season—senior first baseman Tim Lynch, junior outfielder Dylan Burdeaux and sophomore infielder Taylor Braley—and Southern Miss has the firepower to pull off a surprise run as long as it can solve South Alabama, who beat the Golden Eagles twice in March.
1. NC State
2. Coastal Carolina
3. St. Mary’s (Calif.)
Winner: Coastal Carolina. Watch out for Navy: Senior lefthander Luke Gillingham held opponents to a .191 batting average and threw eight complete games this year. The Chanticleers, however, finished with the nation’s No. 14 scoring offense and a stout RPI of 12, and they’ll pose problems for NC State even if the Wolfpack don’t have to dig their way out of the loser’s bracket after a Friday upset.
Baton Rouge Regional
3. Southeastern Louisiana
4. Utah Valley
Winner: LSU. Trust in the #RallyPossum, the totem invoked by the Tigers as they stormed back to an extra-innings win over Arkansas in early May that sparked a torrid 10–1 finish to the regular season. Feel free to trust also in sophomore staff ace Alex Lange, an opportunistic offense that led the SEC in steal attempts and the electric atmosphere at Alex Box Stadium.
1. Texas Tech
2. Dallas Baptist
3. New Mexico
Winner: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have everyone’s attention now after emerging from middle-of-the-pack expectations to cruise to a Big 12 regular-season title. Home-field advantage should make a bigger difference for them than many other hosts over the next two weeks.
3. East Carolina
4. William & Mary
Winner: Bryant. The defending College World Series champs will be hard-pressed to deal with the spunky Northeast Conference champs, who finished top-10 nationally in batting average, on-base percentage and runs per game and won more regular-season games than any other team in the country.
College Station Regional
1. Texas A&M
3. Wake Forest
Winner: Texas A&M. The Aggies put on a show at the SEC tournament last week, drawing on their balance and consistency to beat four top-10 teams in a row. This field shouldn’t put up too much resistance against SEC Player of the Year Boomer White and company.
Fort Worth Regional
2. Arizona State
4. Oral Roberts
Winner: TCU. Coach Jim Schlossnagle knows which buttons to push this time of year, and his Horned Frogs have settled into a rhythm since mid-May that could propel them to their third straight College World Series berth. Gonzaga, which stole the opener of a three-game set in Fort Worth in early March, may not be fazed by the Frogs, but it’s hard to see Arizona State reclaiming its dignity after a 31–9 loss (not a typo) at the hands of USC on Sunday.
2. Ohio State
3. Wright State
4. Western Michigan
Winner: Louisville. The Cardinals have a ridiculously deep pitching staff that they probably won’t need to max out in order to hold serve this weekend at Jim Patterson Stadium, where they have lost just once all season. If dynamic junior outfielder Corey Ray isn’t the best position player in the nation, he’s really close.
2. UC Santa Barbara
Winner: Vanderbilt. The Commodores ran hot and cold on offense all season and will need their precocious freshman class to produce a spark if they want to reach the Super Regionals for a fourth straight year. The hosts have a duo of top-shelf starters in redshirt sophomore Jordan Sheffield (who struck out 12 in a regular-season meeting with Friday opponent Xavier) and sophomore Kyle Wright; those two should give them some margin for error against three light-hitting lower seeds.
1. South Carolina
4. Rhode Island
Winner: Duke. These picks have to go off-book somewhere, so why not with the Blue Devils, who hadn’t made the tournament in 55 years before they squeaked into the field with an at-large bid on Monday? With series wins against regional hosts Clemson and Florida State to their name and a rotation that should keep things within reach, it’s not inconceivable.
2. Oklahoma State
4. Western Carolina
Winner: Clemson. The Tigers led the ACC in homers this season, led by standout freshman outfielder Seth Beer, who went deep 16 times and finished with a 1.218 OPS on his way to becoming the first rookie ever to win the conference's player of the year honors.
1. Mississippi State
2. Cal State Fullerton
3. Louisiana Tech
4. Southeast Missouri State
Winner: Mississippi State. Time to put one of the eight national seeds on upset alert: No one struck out more batters this season than Southeast Missouri State senior ace Joey Lucchesi. But Mississippi State scores in bunches, especially in Starkville, and the Bulldogs have their own trustworthy No. 1 starter in junior Dakota Hudson.
3. Sam Houston State
Winner: UL-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns are tied with Coastal Carolina for the nation’s longest winning streak entering tournament play. Once they get the ball to lights-out sophomore closer Dylan Moore, everything is under control.
1. Ole Miss
3. Boston College
Winner: Ole Miss. Junior outfielder J.B. Woodman’s 14 home runs this season are double the total of the next-closest Rebel. Ole Miss got a tricky draw this weekend, but scoring 25 runs in four SEC tournament games was a promising sign that the offense will help carry the hosts through.
Coral Gables Regional
2. Florida Atlantic
3. Long Beach State
Winner: Miami. The Hurricanes deserve the No. 3 national seed for finishing atop a conference that sent a record-tying 10 teams to the tournament. Anyone with designs on an upset will have to silence junior catcher Zack Collins, a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist who finished with the nation’s second-highest on-base percentage (.540).