The Longhorns have been given a gift by the tournament selection committee. Their regional has the distinction of being one of the weaker regionals overall.
The two seed, Southland Conference champion Texas State, is one of the softer two seeds in the entire field. We have also seen this script play out before.
Texas State was a two-seed in Austin a couple years back and ended up going 0-2. I know it's a different team, but I'm not so sure that previous version of the Bobcats wasn't a better team than this one.
Kent State is correctly seeded as a three-seed, but they play in the MAC, a weak baseball conference. Texas has also been given the Ivy League champion Princeton.
Let's take a look at a team-by-team preview of the Austin regional.
Texas (43-15): Big 12 at-large
Given the changing landscape of college baseball that puts more emphasis on pitching and less emphasis on bashing three-run homers, the Longhorns have to be considered one of the favorites to win the national championship.
As a team, the Longhorns have a team batting average of .270 and only have 13 home runs. They more than make up for that, though, with a team ERA of 2.25 and a .195 batting average against their pitching staff.
Led by stud pitchers like Taylor Jungmann, Sam Stafford, Hoby Milner and Cole Green, the Longhorns could easily play their way through this regional without using the bullpen for more than an inning or two.
Best-case scenario: The Longhorns get virtuoso performances out of guys like Jungmann, Stafford and Green and go undefeated without so much as having a single bullpen pitcher break a sweat.
Worst-case scenario: After moving to the winner's bracket, a pitcher like Cole Green has a tough game, loses, and forces the Longhorns to work their way back to the championship round. When there, the Longhorns may have to lean on their bullpen more than they would like. While their bullpen pitchers are talented, they haven't been asked to go out and carry the load very often.
Offensive players to watch: Erich Weiss (.368 BA, .510 OBP, 10 steals), Brandon Loy (.347 BA, 20 doubles, 15 steals) Tant Shepherd (.293 BA, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Taylor Jungmann (13-0, 0.95 ERA), Sam Stafford (5-2, 1.70 ERA), Cole Green (7-3, 3.20 ERA), Corey Knebel (1.32 ERA, 16 saves)
Texas State (40-21): Southland Conference automatic bid
In the open of this preview, I was critical of the Bobcats' placement as a two seed in this regional. That does not, however, mean I don't think they're any good.
Even without winning the Southland Conference tournament, Texas State had a great shot at grabbing an at-large bid to the tournament. That's no small feat in a conference like the Southland.
As a team, they are hitting just a shade under .300. They have a legitimate ace in Carson Smith and two late inning relievers in Jeff McVaney and Joseph Dvorsky that can shut the door on anyone.
I suspect their opening game against Kent State will be quite the dogfight.
Best-case scenario: Texas State defeats Kent State to get into the winner's bracket against Texas. After dropping the game to Texas, likely against ace Taylor Jungmann who was saved for the game against the Bobcats, Texas State fights their way back to the regional final to get one last shot at unseating the Longhorns.
Worst-case scenario: The Bobcats drop their opening game against Kent State and are forced to play out of the loser's bracket, likely against Princeton. They have their hands full with a Princeton team that has nothing to lose and even if they survive, their pitching will be ravaged enough to keep them from advancing.
Offensive players to watch: Tyler Sibley (.354 BA, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 20 steals), Jeff McVaney (.332 BA, 10 HR, 47 RBI), Casey Kalenkosky (.328 BA, 21 HR, 69 RBI), Kyle Kubitza (.314 BA, 9 HR, 61 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Carson Smith (9-3, 1.98 ERA), Jeff McVaney (2.08 ERA, 9 saves), Joseph Dvorsky (2.95 ERA, 6 saves)
Kent State (43-15): Mid-American Conference automatic bid
Kent State has established themselves as a mini-dynasty in the MAC. They have been the MAC tournament champions for the last three seasons and they have been a solid program for much longer than that.
Their calling card is their pitching. They boast a very Texas Longhorns-like team ERA of 2.56. All three of their weekend starters, Andrew Chafin, Kyle Hallock and David Starn, have ERAs under 2.00 and closer Kyle McMillen was among the national leaders in saves.
Offensively, they are no slouch either. They are led by sluggers Ben Klafczynski and Travis Shaw. As a team, they have a respectable .296 batting average. Teams might overlook the Golden Flashes when they consider the conference they play in, but that would be a mistake. They can play and will beat any team if they don't come ready to play.
Best-case scenario: Kent State gets into the winner's bracket and then upsets Texas when they get a dominating performance from one of their three aces. At that point, they would only need one more victory over whatever team fights their way back to the regional final round to move on to the Super Regionals.
Worst-case scenario: Kent State loses their opening game to Texas State and their ace Carson Smith. They then drop the loser's bracket game to Princeton, a team that will be playing with nothing to lose.
Offensive players to watch: Ben Klafczynski (.368 BA, 10 HR, 54 RBI), David Lyon (.318 BA, 8 HR, 49 RBI), Travis Shaw (.316 BA, 14 HR, 51 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Andrew Chafin (7-1, 1.90 ERA), Kyle Hallock (10-4, 1.91 ERA), David Starn (9-2, 1.95 ERA) Kyle McMillen (2.03 ERA, 17 saves)
Princeton (23-22): Ivy League automatic bid
The Ivy League champion personifies the ultimate underdog. In the Ivy League, there are no athletic scholarships. There are no academic exceptions for players that might not get in to the school otherwise.
There are very few examples of teams that dominate the conference. The champion of the league is usually a team that gets hot at the right time and Princeton is no exception here.
The Tigers won six of their last eight league games to get into the Ivy League championship series against defending champion Dartmouth. They won the championship series two games to one to get to the NCAA tournament.
Princeton is led on the mound by a couple of solid starters in Zak Hermans and Mike Ford. Offensively, the Tigers look to Sam Mulroy for a large percentage of their run production.
Best-case scenario: After losing their opening game to Texas, the Tigers win their loser's bracket game against either Texas State or Kent State when that team fails to show up for the game. The Tigers could then have enough momentum to give their next opponent a tough game when trying to advance to the regional final.
Worst-case scenario: Princeton gets pummeled in a loss to Texas and then they just simply don't have the pitching depth to defeat either Texas State or Kent State in a loser's bracket game.
Offensive players to watch: Sam Mulroy (.324 BA, 7 HR, 39 RBI), Mike Ford (.299 BA, 3 HR, 30 RBI)
Pitchers to watch: Zak Hermans (5-1, 2.85 ERA), Mike Ford (5-3, 3.98 ERA), AJ Goetz (1.33 ERA, 3 saves)
I can't see Texas having a lot of trouble coming out of this regional. They are battle tested and have four or five starters who you would feel comfortable throwing in a big game.
I see Kent State as the dark horse team in this regional, not Texas State. Depth in pitching is the name of the game in a regional when you are likely going to play four games in one weekend. Kent State has three aces and an elite closer. Texas State has an ace in Carson Smith, but no other starter with an ERA under 4.00.
Princeton, regardless of the outcome, will win over impartial fans just by being the Ivy League champions. They have literally nothing to lose and that can be a dangerous thing for the teams they play.