Committee flips script on selection
Just when you thought you had it figured out, the NCAA threw a curveball this year when announcing the tournament's field of 64. Out was a near maniacal obsession with using RPI as the driving factor in deciding between teams. In was using a wider collection of tools, with conference standing over the full season and nonconference scheduling taking center stage.
Teams with shiny RPIs but low conference standing were excluded from the field. LSU (RPI 26, tied for ninth in SEC) and East Tennessee State (RPI 33, fifth in Atlantic Sun) would have been near slam dunks in past years. This year, they were passed by Troy (RPI 50, regular-season Sun Belt champ) and St. John's (RPI 54, second in Big East).
UCLA was one spot behind excluded ETSU, but the Bruins are a host and a regional No. 1 seed after winning the Pac-10 crown. Oregon State (tied for second in Pac-10) and TCU (regular-season MWC champ) get similar bumps over their RPI at the expense of three teams that finished in the middle of their conferences -- Arkansas, Miami and Stanford.
In a word, the selection committee was consistent. You might argue with the weighting of certain factors when selecting and seeding the field, but the principles were uniformly applied throughout the process. For the second straight year, there hasn't been a lot of head-scratching and second-guessing in response to the field's announcement. That might not be perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.
Biggest gripe: Cal State Bakersfield
Honorable mention: LSU. The Tigers blew a 5-0 lead against Mississippi State in the second to last game of the season that would have flipped the table on the Bulldogs.
Toughest regional: CorvallisWith three teams in the RPI top 30, this regional should be wide open. Georgia isn't afraid of anyone after playing 27 games against RPI top-25 teams during the season. Creighton plays some of the best defense in the country and is led by slugger Trever Adams. To advance they'll need to get past host Oregon State, which went 20-7 at home during the regular season.
Honorable mention: Tallahassee. The Seminoles' biggest challenge is a UCF team that already has five wins against national seeds (one against FSU, two each against Florida and Rice), but Alabama can pose some matchup problems with Nathan Kilcrease and Jonathan Smart on the mound.
Easiest regional: Austin
Honorable mention: Houston. The names in this regional look better than the résumés. Both Baylor and California struggled down the stretch, and Rice traditionally has great success at Reckling Park during the postseason. No. 4 seed Alcorn State is the wild card -- Owl squads have struggled against speedy teams in the past, and the Braves have 133 stolen bases.
Best possible super regional matchup: No. 1 Virginia vs. UCLA
Gerrit Cole against Danny Hultzen in Game 1. Trevor Bauer against Tyler Wilson in Game 2. This should be a CWS final matchup, and not the super regional for the top overall seed in the tournament.
Honorable mention: No. 4 South Carolina vs. Clemson. To call this Palmetto State rivalry intense would be an understatement.
Teams that should make reservations in Omaha:UCLA
No. 5 Florida State
No. 4 South Carolina
No. 2 Florida
No. 6 Vanderbilt
Cal State Fullerton
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.