So begins the 64-team frenzy known as the NCAA baseball tournament after the NCAA announced the regional hosts this past weekend to both predictable and shocking results.
It's not shocking to see a juggernaut such as Florida State playing host—it's the 32nd time the Seminoles will do so. More surprising are some of the first-time hosts such as Dallas Baptist, Illinois and Missouri State.
Things begin with double-elimination play in the 16 four-team regionals after Monday's reveal of the full field. The NCAA will announce the eight super regional hosts on June 1. This, of course, leads to the beginning of the 69th Men’s College World Series on June 13.
Below, let's outline some of the biggest details to know as play gets underway in the regionals.
2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament Bracket
NCAA.com provides 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|
Top Teams to Watch
One of the mentioned first-time hosts, Dallas Baptist touts the talent to play with most of the recognizable names in the bracket.
It also happens to be one of the best stories surrounding the bracket, as David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest offers praise for coach Dan Heefner:
“We challenged ourselves at the start of this year to raise the bar, to get to this level,” Heefner said, per Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. “We even talked about hosting.”
Call it a challenge won. Dallas Baptist ranks third in RPI behind just Miami (Fla) and UCLA, per NCAA.com, and touts an impressive 22-4 mark at home.
While Heefner's side is 4-4 in its last eight times out and lost in the Missouri Valley Conference semifinals, it's clear from an RPI and national-recognition standpoint that Dallas Baptist isn't one to underestimate.
The Patriots' journey begins Friday when they host VCU.
The owners of a 43-16 record and hosting a regional for the fifth time, it seems some forget about the Louisville Cardinals in the wake of bigger programs.
Head coach Dan McDonnell deserves a ton of praise, too, as this year was just another ho-hum affair on the way to the program's fourth consecutive 40-win season.
Like the Patriots, the Cardinals enter the fray disappointed, but hungry to turn things around after losing two of three in the ACC tournament. For Dan McDonnell, it's all about rallying and worrying about what's right in front of his team, as Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal captures:
"Really, you've got to live in this first weekend. You worry about the national seeds and hosting a super regional, but that's a lot of if-necessaries. We have to worry about Morehead State and the teams in our regional first."
A quiet 12th in RPI, the Cardinals perform best in a friendly environment, drumming up a 25-6 record at home this season. The home bracket will prove a far cry from a recent 6-0 shutout at the hands of Florida State, where the Cardinals couldn't find an answer for Seminoles pitcher Drew Carlton, who went seven scoreless innings.
Expect the Cardinals' bats to come alive again at just the right time with everything on the line.
How about one more feel-good story for the road before the bracket devolves into chaos?
The Illinois Fighting Illini are also first-time hosts, but it would be silly to expect the team to become akin to the proverbial deer in headlights on the big stage. After all, the team rattled off the nation's longest winning streak this year at 27 games.
While the historic tear ended in the Big Ten tournament, the Fighting Illini still won the regular-season title and offer an overwhelming sense of balance. Jeremy Werner of Rivals.com offers his take on what makes Illinois so dangerous in the bracket:
"The host Illini are the heavy favorite with the nation's fourth-best ERA (2.46), led by a likely top-10 pick (Tyler Jay) in the bullpen and the Big Ten's best starter (Kevin Duchene). The offense isn't elite, but - led by Big Ten Player of the Year David Kerian - the lineup is deep."
If the deep offense can keep games close, Illinois is a nightmare for any opponent deep in a contest thanks to Tyler Jay, who needed all of seven pitches to shut things down on May 20 against Nebraska, notching the 27th win and his 13th save in the process.
Losers of just two games at home, Illinois features the balance and ability to hit on an epic tear sure to strike fear into the rest of the bracket.
Stats and info courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise specified.