The 2015 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament raises the banner on the #RoadToOmaha this weekend. For a season that started with 298 eligible teams, the selection committee has seeded the top 64 teams in the nation. In similar fashion to #MarchMadness, a selection committee invites half the teams into the tournament (33) while the remaining spots are giving to the 31 conference champions.
This tournament format is quite unique though. Teams are seeded 1 to 8 by the selection committee, known as the national seeds. All 64 teams are then placed into 16 regional pods, each regional consisting of 4 teams. These 4 teams play a double knockout format this weekend to determine the regional champion. The 16 regional champions advance to the super regional, where they battle one another in a best of three elimination series. The 8 super regional champions then advance to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. Got all that? I told you the #RoadToOmaha can seem more like a dirt path right?
As tournament play begins, here are a few story lines to keep an eye on:
- #1 National Seed Curse - Usually in any sporting event, being billed as the best team in the tournament/nation would be a blessing. Oddly enough, this is not the case in college baseball. The top seeds in the past have struggled....as in they never win. Ok not never but not recently. The last top seed to win the College World Series was Miami in 1999. For 2015, the UCLA Bruins are tasked with trying to break the curse. Interestingly enough, this is also the first time the Bruins have been the top overall seed heading into the tournament. Can they do what so many top teams before them have failed to do? Step 1 will be surviving their own regional this weekend....something last year's top seeded team failed to do (Oregon State)
- PAC 12 / SEC Domination - Since the start of this tournament (1947), the Pac 12/10 (17) and the SEC (10) have owned the championship, taking 27 total combined titles. In comparison, the next highest conference is the Big 10 with 6. Heck, even independents have won more titles than most conferences (5). But if you are a betting person, hedge your bet on a Pac-12 or SEC school to reign supreme in Omaha. Over the past 10 years, these two power conferences have won 9 of the championships (Fresno State, 2008 being the exception). On the flip side, care to guess which power conference has never won a national championship? The answer below....
- Upsets, Upsets, Upsets - As with any sporting event, people love to see the upsets and the college world series often produces some classic ones. We only have to look back to the 2014 tournament to see some perfect examples. Last year, only 2 of the 8 national seeds even qualified for the world series. 2014 saw three #3 seed teams win their regionals (UC Irvine, Stanford and Kennesaw State). Oh you haven't heard of Kennesaw State before? Well neither had most until last year's run to the Super Regionals. We also saw a #4 seed team (College of Charleston) win a regional. Of these upsets, only UC Irvine was able to capitalize and win a super regional. Credit to the Anteaters though, they knocked off the #1 overall seed (Oregon State) and Oklahoma State to make it. UC Irvine would go 1-2 in Omaha unfortunately. It is worth noting though that an underdog can win this whole tournament....looking at you Fresno State! In 2008, the Bulldogs entered as a #4 seed in their regional and ran the gauntlet to the title. In fact, in the past 11 years only 2 national seeded teams (LSU #3 2009 and South Carolina #4 2011) have won it all.
- ACC Not A-OK - A power conference known for producing numerous NCAA championship in almost every sport possible still has the 0 for in baseball. Hard to believe actually considering the teams that compete in this conference. Now to be fair, there are past champions in the ACC (Miami for instance) but they were not members when they won so they don't count. And who is the leader of the misery pack? Why Florida State of course! The Seminoles have 21 tournament appearances to their credit but have yet to win the lay claim to World Series champion. They may be a dominant ACC team but once they reach this stage of the season, they seem to fall apart. For 2015, the ACC has 7 teams in the bracket, tied for the most with the SEC. Of the 7 teams selected, Florida State, Miami and Louisville have the best shot at a College World Series spot and ending the drought.
- The National Seeds for 2015 are (in order): UCLA, LSU, Louisville, Florida, Miami, Illinois, TCU, Missouri State
- The argument every year is the last teams in from the selection committee and who was snubbed. For this year, the Final 4 teams in were: Oregon, Clemson, South Florida and Maryland. There will be huge debate if all 4 of these teams go 0-2 this weekend. Particular scrutiny will come from last year's upset darling UC Irvine and 10-time tournament regular North Carolina.
- If history is going to repeat, Vanderbilt will have some work to do. Luckily the defending champions are a top seed for their regional, meaning they also get to play all their games this weekend at home in Nashville. If they survive though, they could find themselves traveling up North to Champagne, Ill. to play the #6 seeded Fightin' Illini.
- Who can wear the glass slipper this year? Will 2015 see a Kennesaw State or Fresno State type of cinderella team to dazzle and wow us all? If it is to happen, the #TwineTime dark horse picks (teams not seeded #1 or #2) would have to be: Virginia, Pepperdine, Oregon and Louisiana-Lafayette.
- Easiest path to Omaha? LSU and TCU seem to have the direct path entry to Omaha and both should be expected to be there. The selection committee really gave LSU the easiest path to the Super Regional. The #2 seed Tigers should find little challenge from UNC-Wilmington, Tulane and Lehigh. Hardly a daunting lineup. The Super Regional may find a rematch with Houston, the team who eliminated the Tigers last season. But that's if the Cougars even survive their own regional, not a for sure thing. The #7 Horned Frogs also should find a quick 3-0 to the weekend with little difficulty from NC State, Stony Brook and Sacred Heart. TCU also received a favorable match up for the Super Regional, opposite of the College Station pod with Texas A&M. The Aggies may not even survive their own regional though, making things possibly easier for the Frogs.
- Looking for the most difficult regional? The #TwineTime vote goes to Fullerton. Cal State Fullerton is the home team and top seed but I almost consider them the underdog. Arizona State has had an outstanding season and Pepperdine is the perfect definition of an underdog #4 seed. Clemson has a low 56 RPI ranking but could prove to also be a dark horse.
Los Angeles Super Regional
Los Angeles Region
Teams: UCLA, Ole Miss, Maryland, Cal State Bakersfield
#TwineTime pick: UCLA over Ole Miss
Lake Elsinore Region
Teams: UC Santa Barbara, USC, Virginia, San Diego State
#TwineTime pick: Virginia over USC
Springfield Super Regional
Teams: Missouri State, Iowa, Oregon, Canisius
#TwineTime pick: Oregon over Iowa
Teams: Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts, St. John's
#TwineTime pick: Arkansas over Oklahoma State
Gainesville Super Regional
Teams: Florida, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, Florida A&M
#TwineTime pick: Florida over South Florida
Teams: Florida State, College of Charleston, Auburn, Mercer
#TwineTime pick: College of Charleston over Florida State
Coral Gables Super Regional
Coral Gables Region
Teams: Miami, East Carolina, Columbia, Florida International
#TwineTime pick: Miami over East Carolina
Teams: Dallas Baptist, Oregon State, Texas, VCU
#TwineTime pick: Oregon State over Dallas Baptist
Baton Rouge Super Regional
Baton Rouge Region
Teams: LSU, UNC Wilmington, Tulane, Lehigh
#TwineTime pick: LSU over UNC Wilmington
Teams: Houston, Rice, Louisiana-Lafayette, Houston Baptist
#TwineTime pick: Louisiana-Lafayette over Houston
Fort Worth Super Regional
Fort Worth Region
Teams: TCU, NC State, Stony Brook, Sacred Heart
#TwineTime pick: TCU over NC State
College Station Region
Teams: Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, California, Texas Southern
#TwineTime pick: California over Texas A&M
Louisville Super Regional
Teams: Louisville, Bradley, Michigan, Morehead State
#TwineTime pick: Louisville over Michigan
Teams: Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State, Clemson, Pepperdine
#TwineTime pick: Arizona State over Pepperdine
Champaign Super Regional
Teams: Illinois, Notre Dame, Wright State, Ohio
#TwineTime pick: Illinois over Notre Dame
Teams: Vanderbilt, Radford, Indiana, Lipscomb
#TwineTime pick: Vanderbilt over Indiana
There you have it bat-heads and knuckleballers....those are my picks for the regional round. #TwineTime will return for the Super Regional predictions and to see how my picks stand up with the actual results this weekend. Follow along on the NCAA website or ESPN for updated scores and bracket watching.