For 16 of the nation's best teams, Sunday proved to be a dream come true. The NCAA announced the hosts for the 2015 regionals over the weekend, some surprising and others wholly expected.
The likes of LSU, TCU and UCLA have long expected to be among the hosts. Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton, on the other hand, raised a few eyebrows in places like Charleston, which had a reasonable chance at landing one of the last spots.
As it stands, the remaining 48 teams will have to continue their postseason dreams on the road. This weekend's regionals will see the 64 teams selected for the tournament compete in a double-elimination bracket for rights to move on to the Super Regionals. All games will be completed by next Monday, when the NCAA will again announce the eight Super Regional hosts.
For now, it's about narrowing down the field of 64. With that in mind, let's take a look at each regional and assess the favorites to take home the whole thing.
NCAA.com has the full bracket.
|LSU||Baton Rouge, Louisiana|
|Texas A&M||College Station, Texas|
|Miami (Fla.)||Coral Gables, Florida|
|Dallas Baptist||Dallas, Texas|
|TCU||Fort Worth, Texas|
|Cal State Fullerton||Fullerton, California|
|UC Santa Barbara||Lake Elsinore, California|
|UCLA||Los Angeles, California|
|Missouri State||Springfield, Missouri|
|Oklahoma State||Stillwater, Oklahoma|
|Florida State||Tallahassee, Florida|
Viewed by a large swath of the country as college baseball's best team, LSU came up just a bit short in its conference tournament. Florida parlayed its semifinals upset of the Tigers into an automatic berth, benefiting from the strange double-elimination-but-not-really formats these tournaments take. The Gators are now a regional host after being the SEC's No. 5 seed, while LSU looks to get back into form.
The Tigers really shouldn't have any trouble doing just that. Their 48-10 regular-season mark helped them sit atop the rankings for most of the season, and they're still a very solid fourth in RPI heading into the regionals.
What's scary is that LSU might be getting even better. Alex Lange, the team's nominal ace who had struggled in some recent outings, was sensational in that Florida loss. He threw seven innings of five-hit ball, striking out seven while not giving up a run. While Lange did walk six and struggle with his command at points, he's seemingly gotten his velocity back up to where it needs to be.
“You’ve seen the last two times out that his stuff has had that extra gear. Breaking balls have had that extra juice to it,” pitching coach Alan Dunn said Friday, per Ross Dellenger of the Advocate. “Just getting back into being who he is. Pitchers go through periods of having a little fatigue in your arm. You just have to pitch and figure it out. That’s the thing he’s learned he—how to go out and pitch without your ‘A’ game.”
Lange is expected to start the Tigers' second game in the regionals. Jared Poche, who has gone 7-1 in 15 starts this season, should be in line for a regional final appearance.
This is all contingent on LSU's offense being able to pick up the slack when one of its non-aces throws in the regional opener, but that shouldn't be all that much of a problem. LSU had the 12th-highest run total in college baseball during the regular season, by far the highest in the nation's best conference. This should be all about getting the job done and moving on.
Using RPI, the Bruins are the nation's top team. They rampaged their way to a Pac-12 regular-season championship before faltering against Oregon in the conference tournament. Their strength of schedule both inside and outside the conference was among the nation's best, which makes their pitching prowess all the more impressive.
UCLA posted a team ERA of 2.16, nearly two full tenths of a point better than any other team. James Kaprielian, Grant Wilson, Cody Poteet and Griffin Canning each posted earned run averages under three, giving the Bruins inarguably the best staff in the country. Things are even better in the bullpen, with setup man Grant Dyer and closer David Berg consistently shutting down the competition.
“We try to emphasize winning those last three innings,” UCLA coach John Savage said, per Matthew Joye of the Daily Bruin. “And you throw in a really good bullpen—that helps, with [Tucker] Forbes and Dyer, their ability to strike people out. And then you turn the ball over to Berg.”
UCLA will need to extract every bit of effectiveness from its pitching staff over the next month. The Bruins are far from an offensive juggernaut, ranking 68th in runs scored during the regular season. No player hit more than seven home runs, and they've been largely reliant on getting clutch hits with runners in scoring position.
We've seen time and again that pitching most often swings the national-championship picture. But if UCLA can't put enough runs on the board to make that happen, it'll be a nail-biting trek through the regional.
After a dominant regular season, TCU's tournament bonafides are already in question. The Horned Frogs dropped both of their games at the Big 12 tournament, losing a heartbreaker to Baylor before getting trounced by Texas Tech. They had gone a combined 5-1 against those teams during the regular season, outscoring them by 19 runs.
The team that showed up for the conference tournament looked ill-prepared offensively and in the pitching staff.
“You have to go home, get some rest and get to work,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said, per Carlos Mendez of the Star-Telegram. “That’s our identity. That’s who we are. These guys know this. They’ve been around the block. Greatness isn’t awarded. It’s earned. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Schlossnagle will have to hope his team figures it all out fast. There really isn't any other option. The Horned Frogs are one of the nation's most veteran teams, featuring seven seniors from last year's World Series club. There are no second chances this time around; most of these guys will be doing that "professional in something other than sports" thing here in not too long.
Luckily, TCU's regular season was strong enough to earn it hosting rights for the regionals. This is still a team that boasts perhaps the best bullpen in the nation, led by superstar closer Riley Farrell. Both the bullpen and starting rotation were issues during the conference tournament, so it's certainly back to the drawing board.
But based on the regular-season results, a positive regression should be in order.
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