Feel free to read on if you’re not a College Baseball guy, since I know some of my readers have questioned why I follow the college game.
The Field of 64 was announced today with all of the conference tournaments ending, and there were a few surprises in the seeds and field.
A quick guide to how the College World Series (CWS) field works: teams play in 16 “Regional tournaments” kicking off this coming weekend. These are 4-team double elimination tournaments to determine a regional winner. Then, the winners of each regional square off in a best-of-3 “Super Regional” the weekend of June 7-8-9 to determine the Eight (8) College World Series entrants. Those 8 teams then are divided into two pots of four, play one additional 4-team double elimination tournament to arrive at a winner-take-all CWS championship. The regions are hosted by schools; the CWS is hosted in Omaha, Nebraska. When talking below about the “seeds” of the regional tournaments, the teams are seeded 1 through 4 within the regional tournament. The regional host is the #1 seed, and the weakest entrant is the #4 seed. This is not the same thing as talking about the “overall” seed; to make that distinction i’ll always say “tournament seeds” when talking about the overall tournament seeds.
Quick reference to current polls:
Biggest snubs: Probably Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, and perhaps Auburn. Notre Dame had a beef to, with a decent RPI, but were only the #7 seed in the Big East and lost the title game to the #8 seeded UConn and that was that. Possibly Stanford, who were 5th in a 4-bid conference. Campbell has a big beef; they were the #1 seed in the Big South, lose the title game 2-1 and miss out while the #2 seed (Coastal Carolina) in the conference makes it as an at-large. Gonzaga was the #1 seed in the WCC but lost their last 7 games to take them from 32-14 to 32-21 and a missed tournament. Nebraska isn’t technically a sub (they finished a game under .500) but had they won one more game they’d be in for sure. Apparently Mercer was last in and Michigan State was last out, so we’ll say that Michigan State is a snub too.
Conference Distribution: As expected the tournament is dominated by the SEC (9 teams) and ACC (8 teams). Surprisingly this year the mid-major Sun Belt conference has as many teams (4) as the Pac-10 (also 4). Traditional Pac-10 powerhouses Cal, Stanford and Arizona all had down years. The CAA surprisingly got 3 bids when upstart Towson won the tournament; i’m sure there are grumblings from the snubs above over the at-large bids given to William & Mary.
If the top 16 tournament seeds (aka, the regional hosts) hold serve, your super regional field would look like this (note the teams 9-16 are not “officially” seeded but to be honest they basically make sense and are ranked appropriately. Its not as if the committee just pulls these names out of a hat).
- #1 UNC v #16 South Carolina
- #8 Oregon v #9 NC State
- #5 Cal State Fullerton v #12 UCLA
- #4 LSU v #13 Virginia Tech
- #6 UVA v #11 Mississippi State
- #3 Oregon State v #14 Kansas State
- #7 Florida State v #10 Indiana
- #2 Vanderbilt v #15 Louisville
Thoughts on the 1-8 tournament seeding: I would have had both Vanderbilt and LSU above UNC, but not by much and it may not really matter frankly. I think BA’s rankings are wrong to have Vanderbilt above LSU the day after LSU beats them on a neutral field for the SEC championship. Oregon State may be seeded slightly high, but as some have pointed out they may have slightly tweaked the seeds so that the two big guns from the ACC and SEC were balanced in the top 8 seeds. Fair enough for me. Cal State Fullerton is ALWAYS ranked too highly and always seems to fail to live up to their seeding; they face a tough regional with Arizona and New Mexico.
Biggest over-seed amongst the 16 hosts: none really; they’re by and large the 16 best teams this year. Perhaps Va Tech or Kansas State. Indiana is highly ranked but was from a one-bid conference whose #3 seed had a losing record on the season. Louisville may struggle to win its own regional with Miami and Oklahoma state to contend with.
Most aggrieved #2 Regional seed: Probably Clemson, who is mostly identically ranked as South Carolina, its arch rival, and now it has to go there to advance. Also perhaps grumbling about their lot in this tournament are Oklahoma and Arkansas, both of whom are higher ranked in the coaches poll than their regional hosts (Virginia Tech and Kansas State respectively).
Easiest Regions for the Hosts: UNC gets three mid-major teams, none of which seem that challenging. UVA’s region looks even easier; their hardest test is UNC-Wilmington. LSU has in-state rival Louisiana-Lafayette to contend with but little else.
Toughest #3 Regional Seeds: Probably New Mexico; who blew away their conference and are ranked #17 in the coaches poll. Oklahoma State is #19 in the coaches poll and is regionally seeded behind Miami. Mercer (RPI #29), Troy, San Diego and Florida (who barely earned their way in by achieving a .500 record with the Nations 2nd hardest schedule) are also going to be tough #3 seeds to contend with.
Who is the next Fresno State (aka, the next #4 regional seed to come out of nowhere to win): Tough one in this tournament; most of the #4 seeds are automatic bid teams with RPIs in the 180-200 range. Wichita State has a rich college baseball history and is a #4 regional seed despite winning the WAC. San Diego State could surprise, as well as St. Louis. But most of the #4 seeds are early tournament fodder.
Big-time Draft Prospects to keep an eye on, by team: Likely #1 overall pick Mark Appel‘s season is over as Stanford failed to qualify for the tournament (drafting teams can now rest; Stanford has no more chances to abuse Appel on pitch-counts for the rest of his college career). The rest of the names here are all considered 1st or 2nd round prospects by Keith Law or Baseball America and they’re listed in rough order of where they’re likely to be drafted in the 1st and 2nd rounds. The Nats don’t pick until the end of the 2nd round, but should have a shot at some of the names at the bottom of this list:
- Jonathan Grey, Oklahoma’s #1 starter and 1-1 candidate.
- Kris Bryant, San Diego’s record-breaking slugger and likely top-3 pick.
- Colin Moran, UNC 3B
- Ryne Stanek, Arkansas’ #1 starter who’s stock has slightly fallen this year.
- D.J. Peterson, New Mexico 3B/1B
- Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State OF
- Jonathan Crawford, Florida RHP
- Trey Ball, Indiana LHP
- Bobby Wahl, Mississippi RHP (and Springfield VA native as discussed in my local draft prospects post last week).
- Ryan Eades, LSU RHP
- Trevor Williams, Arizona State RHP
- Jason Hursch, Oklahoma State RHP
- Michael Lorenzen, Cal State Fullerton OF/RHP
- Alex Balog, San Francisco RHP
Let the games begin!