- Jeremy Mills
- 0 Shares
The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament went a long way toward proving two main hypotheses from the regular season.
1. The top teams are clearly the cream of the crop. Seven of the eight national seeds won their regional, and only No. 7 Texas was even forced to a seventh game.
2. After the top tier, any team can win on a given weekend. Four teams that were No. 3 seeds in their regionals have advanced to supers, the most since the tournament format was changed in 1999 (the previous high was three).
Will the top seven continue to flex their muscles, or will the Cinderellas continue their run to Omaha?
UC Irvine at No. 1 Virginia: The Anteaters spoiled a meeting of the top three picks in the MLB draft by storming through the Los Angeles Regional. This is a rematch (and role reversal) of the 2009 Irvine Regional. Two years ago, Virginia went west to upset the national-seed Anteaters on the way to its first CWS berth. The Cavaliers have lost just one weekend series in the last two years (to North Carolina three weeks ago). Irvine ace Matt Summers threw a no-hitter against Long Beach State two weeks ago, but it's hard to see the Eaters matching up with the weekend trio of Danny Hultzen, Will Roberts and Tyler Wilson.
Mississippi State at No. 2 Florida: On paper, this is the most lopsided super regional matchup. The Gators took two of three games in Starkville in April, and also beat the Bulldogs in the first game of the SEC tournament. Mississippi State did get to Florida ace Hudson Randall in the regular-season matchup, saddling him with six runs in 2.1 innings. Last year's Florida ace, Alex Panteliodis, has stepped up since Brian Johnson was injured during the SEC tournament; he won the championship game in the SEC tournament and the Gainesville Regional.
Stanford at No. 3 North Carolina: No team challenged itself more early in the season than Stanford, which traveled to No. 8 Rice, No. 6 Vanderbilt and No. 7 Texas during the first three weeks of the season (going 4-5 in those games). North Carolina secured a national seed with a sweep of Virginia during the final week of the regular season and allowed just three runs during the regional. The Tar Heels' starting pitching should be enough to win the series, but the Cardinal won't be intimidated by the road crowd.
Connecticut at No. 4 South Carolina: Connecticut roared back through the Clemson Regional after dropping the opener, depriving Palmetto State fans of an in-state super regional throwdown. The Huskies are looking to be the first team from New England to reach the CWS since 1986 (Maine), and are led by first-round picks CF George Springer (11th, Astros) and RHP Matt Barnes (19th, Red Sox). The defending national champs will be hard to beat at home, especially with CWS veterans Michael Roth and Matt Price leading the staff. Even though UConn was a No. 2 seed, this could be the most evenly matched super pairing.
Texas A&M at No. 5 Florida State: Florida State is the first team to appear in 11 Super Regionals, as the Seminoles have missed out on the final 16 only twice since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999. Their history hasn't been great in supers, though, as they've advanced to Omaha just four out of 10 times. Texas A&M is without ace John Stilson, and has also struggled historically to reach Omaha (one CWS berth in four super regional appearances). A deeper lineup and playing at home should be enough to get the Seminoles to Omaha for the 21st time.
Oregon State at No. 6 Vanderbilt: The Commodores are one of just two SEC teams to never reach the CWS (Kentucky is the other). That includes the 2007 team, featuring Pedro Alvarez and David Price, which was the top seed nationally but lost to Michigan in the regional. Oregon State has made it to Omaha all three times that it made the final 16 (2005-2007), including back-to-back national titles. Vanderbilt pulled the rare feat of leading the SEC in both ERA and batting average during the regular season; with Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin on the hill, the Commodores should end their Omaha drought.
Arizona State at No. 7 Texas: College baseball royalty is on parade in Austin, as the two schools have combined for 55 trips to the College World Series. The Longhorns have advanced 33 times, while the Sun Devils have advanced 22 times (2007 was vacated), and the two teams have 11 titles (Texas six, Arizona State five) between them. At the beginning of the season it didn't seem like the Sun Devils would be eligible to make a run at their third straight trip to Omaha; however, their postseason ban was stayed while the school appealed its probation and the Sun Devils are back in a super regional. Augie Garrido is looking to win a title in a fifth decade, and this Longhorns team has the look of past Austin title contenders (top three in ERA and fielding percentage).
Dallas Baptist at California: This is the third super regional meeting between No. 3 regional seeds (Southwest Missouri State versus Ohio State in 2003, Oklahoma State versus Louisville in 2007). It's also the first super regional to be played at a true neutral site -- neither team had adequate facilities to host, so these games will be played an hour from Cal's campus at Santa Clara University. California had a roller-coaster season on and off the field. Last fall, the university administration announced that baseball (and four other sports) would be dropped after this school year; the decision was reversed in April after the program raised $9 million. For Dallas Baptist, it's been a quick rise to the top; the Patriots are in just their sixth year in Division I after previously playing in the NAIA and NCCAA (where they were national champs in 2003 and 2004). Cal is the favorite, but Dallas Baptist is riding high and has the pitching to challenge the Golden Bears.
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
With the NCAA baseball super regionals set to begin the field features some of the season's elite teams and a few Cinderellas.