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NCAA postseason action begins this weekend, and as part of our coverage, we take an inside look at some things to watch from each of the 16 NCAA Regionals.
1. COLUMBIA -- South Carolina certainly is the clear-cut favorite to win this NCAA Regional, but don’t be surprised if it gets pushed to the limit. The Gamecocks have a tough chore in getting through heated baseball rivals such as Clemson and Coastal Carolina. Those two teams will give the Gamecocks all they can handle, and perhaps a little more.
2. CORAL GABLES -- In one of the more puzzling decisions in a couple of years, the NCAA committee granted the Miami Hurricanes a No. 1 seed. However, they didn’t give them such an easy field of teams to get through. Stony Brook, though from the America East Conference, has some big-time talent from an offensive standpoint and poses a threat, while UCF and Missouri State are teams with some legitimate talent, especially the Bears, who possess an outstanding one-two punch in Nick Petree and Pierce Johnson.
3. TUCSON -- The Wildcats were one of the final teams to earn an NCAA Regional host, and as expected, they received a legitimately tough field of teams. The Wildcats will have to get through red-hot Missouri in the first game, while New Mexico State, which is very good offensively and Louisville, which is very balanced, will be waiting in the wings. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Wildcats get tripped up this weekend.
4. PALO ALTO -- At first glance, it might seem like Stanford got an easy draw, but think again. Fresno State has already beaten the Cardinal this season, roughing up ace right-handed pitcher Mark Appel in the process. Meanwhile, Pepperdine is a very good team with consistent pitching, while Michigan State has a couple of good arms and a pair of outstanding position players in Torsten Boss and Ryan Jones, among others.
1. WACO -- Baylor coaches would tell you they don’t have an easy NCAA Regional, and that could be the case. However, on paper, the Bears should put their caravan on cruise control this weekend. Dallas Baptist, as usual, has an excellent crop of position players, but we’ll see what type of depth it brings to the table. Meanwhile, Texas-Arlington is a good club with an outstanding position player in Preston Beck. However, it probably doesn’t have the horses to hang. Then there’s Oral Roberts, which needed to double dip North Dakota State to reach the field.
2. CHAPEL HILL -- The Tar Heels should send the NCAA Selection Committee a thank you card after this weekend. The Tar Heels will win their NCAA Regional barring some huge surprise. East Carolina barely should’ve made the postseason, much less entering the weekend as a No. 2 seed. Meanwhile, St. John’s has a solid pitching staff, but it’ll need to step up from an offensive standpoint to make a splash this weekend.
3. GAINESVILLE -- The Gators put together an outstanding resume and earned the top national seed for a good reason. Now, they enter NCAA Regional play with a very favorable field. Georgia Tech is sizzling hot after a big-time run at the ACC tournament, but is still a couple of pitchers down and doesn’t have near the depth the Gators possess. Meanwhile, College of Charleston is a good club, but has lacked consistency at times this season, especially against elite opponents.
4. BATON ROUGE -- The Tigers have a potentially tough opening-round matchup against Louisiana-Monroe, which would love to knock the kings of the bayou off their collective perch. The NCAA Regional also includes a good Oregon State club. However, Belmont doesn’t possess a huge risk and the Beavers have shown signs of being inconsistent at times this season. LSU should cruise if it plays its brand of baseball.
FOUR SEEDS TO WATCH
1. MISSOURI -- There’s no doubt the Tigers were inconsistent during the regular season, but they played well in the Big 12 tournament. Missouri has been challenged offensively at times, but starting pitchers Rob Zastryzny and Blake Holovach have the ability to be dominant. If that happens, watch out Tucson Regional.
2. FRESNO STATE -- Here they come once again, those pesky Bulldogs. They had a poor regular season campaign, but as usual, performed at a very high level in the WAC tournament. Thomas Harlan and Tyler Linehan are solid starting pitchers, and the Bulldogs won’t be intimidated by the Cardinal.
3. STONY BROOK -- Some would scoff at the idea of thinking the Seawolves could upset Miami in the Coral Gables Regional, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. The Seawolves had a stud pitcher in Nick Tropeano last season. This season, they have a fantastic set of offensive cogs in Travis Jankowski, Maxx Tissenbaum and William Carmona. Keep an eye on these guys.
4. CREIGHTON -- The Bluejays put together a lackluster regular season campaign, but when it comes to upsetting someone, they have a legitimate chance to do in their opening game against UCLA. CU will send talented left-handed pitcher Ty Blach to the mound. Blach has a 2.64 ERA in 112 1/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 77 and walked 28, while teams are hitting him at a .218 clip.
ONE SEEDS IN GREAT SHAPE
1. FLORIDA -- This is the time of year the Gators have been waiting for since February. After dropping the national title series to South Carolina last June, the Gators have been relishing the moment they get a chance to redeem themselves. Look for a very focused UF club this weekend in the Gainesville Regional.
2. BAYLOR -- The Bears put together a great regular season campaign, but at least caused a little concern when they didn’t play well the last two weekends of the season. Well, BU will return to normalcy this weekend, and should have its way with the rest of the Waco Regional field.
3. NORTH CAROLINA -- Who will contend for the Chapel Hill Regional with UNC this weekend? Chances are good the answer will be no one. St. John’s has the greatest potential to challenge the Tar Heels with a very talented group of pitchers. Meanwhile, East Carolina will have a lot to prove after even reaching the NCAA postseason.
4. LSU -- The Tigers have a tough first matchup this weekend against in-state foe Louisiana-Monroe, and Oregon State is a threat. But in reality, it seems highly unlikely the Tigers won’t advance to an NCAA Super Regional round. After getting bounced early in Hoover, Ala., last week, look for the Tigers to be ready to roll.
ONE SEEDS ON WATCH
1. FLORIDA STATE -- The Seminoles actually have a difficult opening-round matchup against UAB, but their biggest competition in the Tallahassee Regional remains Mississippi State. The Bulldogs played terrific baseball in the SEC tournament, particularly defensively and on the mound. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bulldogs -- not the Seminoles -- come out of this Regional.
2. MIAMI -- The Hurricanes as a host and No. 1 seed was one of the hottest topics on Selection Monday. Now, the ‘Canes are on the clock entering the Coral Gables Regional. They start the tournament against a tough Stony Brook club, while they also must get through UCF and Missouri State to advance. That won’t be easy.
3. RICE -- The Owls certainly have a lot of potential, and they possess an excellent pitching staff. However, right-handed pitcher Matthew Reckling has had some woes down the stretch, and the Owls have had issues establishing consistency from an offensive standpoint. Arkansas can win the Houston Regional if it hits.
4. OREGON -- The Ducks are making their second NCAA appearance and hosting their first NCAA Regional since restarting the program with coach George Horton in charge. Now, the Ducks host Horton’s old team -- Cal State Fullerton -- and a very solid Indiana State club. UO is a very good team, but so are the Titans and Sycamores.
BEST POTENTIAL SUPER REGIONALS
1. FLORIDA STATE VS. STANFORD -- It doesn’t get much more intriguing than the mere thought of Stanford pitchers Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham toeing the rubber against Florida State sluggers James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd, among others. This would be a fantastic NCAA Super Regional. But will it happen?
2. LSU VS. MIAMI -- Though the Tigers would be heavy favorites in this series, that doesn’t make it any less intriguing. This series would feature two of the most stories programs in college baseball history. In other words, it’s made for television.
3. OREGON VS. PURDUE -- Some will disagree with me here, but this series would feature two outstanding storylines. First, you have the Ducks, who would be vying for their first College World series under the direction of coach George Horton. Second, you have the Boilermakers, who would be trying to make the Big Ten’s first appearance in the College World Series since Michigan in the 1980s.
4. UCLA VS. TEXAS A&M -- Who doesn’t like a classic case of California vs. Texas? The Bruins have put together an impressive campaign and are a very balanced club, while the Aggies possess an excellent starting rotation with right-handed pitcher Michael Wacha, a projected top-10 pick in the upcoming draft, leading the way.
1. MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The Bulldogs played a terrific brand of baseball in the SEC tournament and hope to continue their ways in the Tallahassee Regional. Shortstop Adam Frazier was fantastic defensively, while State churned out premier arm after premier arm. This should be a fun team to follow this weekend.
2. VANDERBILT -- The Commodores finished the regular season on an extremely high note, collecting a road series win over LSU along the way. They also played well in the SEC tournament before dropping a tough bout to Mississippi State in the tourney title game. The ‘Dores are playing their best baseball.
3. NORTH CAROLINA -- The Tar Heels didn’t reach the ACC tournament title game, but they still played well in the tourney. UNC, as a whole, has really put together a very balanced and consistent campaign. That trend should continue this weekend.
4. KENT STATE -- In not such a surprise, coach Scott Stricklin has the Flashes playing their best baseball as they enter the NCAA postseason. Kent reached the Austin Regional title game last season. Now, in the midst of a 17-game winning streak, they finally hope to seal the deal this season.