NCAA Road To Omaha: Regional Predictions

This article is in conjunction with Sam Bellestri who will be previewing half of the NCAA Tournament and myself, previewing the other half.

Host team is in bold

Los Angeles

Teams:

  1. #1 UCLA
  2. Ole Miss
  3. Maryland
  4. Cal State Bakersfield

UCLA finished with the #2 RPI and earned the #1 overall seed in the tournament despite two consecutive 11-inning losses to Oregon over the weekend. The Bruins are the clear favorite in the region and have series wins over Oregon State, USC, and Arizona State this season. Fans of pitching will love watching the Bruins this postseason as they rank first in the NCAA in ERA at 2.16. Right-hander James Kaprielian is the ace of the rotation and is projected as a first round pick in the upcoming MLB draft. The junior from Tustin, California is 9-4 with a 1.94 ERA this season. David Berg and Grant Dyer anchor the bullpen for the Bruins. The duo has combined for an 11-2 record with a 1.25 ERA in 115 innings. Ole Miss is a surprise #2 seed because they were inconsistent in the SEC, losing every road series except at Vanderbilt in mid-April. They pose upset potential because they have a pair of aces in Christian Trent and Brady Bramlett. Maryland is the greatest threat to UCLA advancing because of sophomore hurler Mike Shawaryn and second baseman Brandon Lowe. Shawaryn had a stellar season in College Park, posting a 1.65 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 15 starts. A series win against regional host Cal State Fullerton and a 2-1 defeat of Illinois in the Big Ten tournament highlighted the Terrapins’ season. Cal State Bakersfield checks in with the #4 seed in the region. The Roadrunners have shown they can play with wins over Arizona State, and UC Santa Barbara.

 

The committee gave UCLA a balanced region with talented teams, but it would be a big surprise if the Bruins do not advance.

 

Regional Winner: UCLA

 

Baton Rouge

Teams:

  1. #2 LSU
  2. UNC Wilmington
  3. Tulane
  4. Lehigh

The Tigers have to be thrilled with their regional draw as they play one of the easiest #4 seeds in the tournament, a 25-27 Lehigh team that surprised in the Patriot League tournament. LSU’s offense has eight starters that are hitting .300 or above, with the ninth regular hitting .294 with nine home runs. Alex Lange and Jared Poche’ lead a young rotation that has surprised many around college baseball this season. The pair has combined for a 17-1 record in 28 starts. The matchup that every fan in Louisiana wants to see is LSU versus Tulane. However, LSU has already won a pair against the Green Wave this season. The Tulane-UNC Wilmington matchup will be interesting because the UNC Wilmington pitching staff has a 4.43 ERA, while Tulane’s offense sputters at times with a .252 average and .331 on-base percentage.

 

This is one of the easiest regions to project, as LSU should coast to super regionals behind an experienced lineup and a talented rotation.

 

Regional Winner: LSU

 

Louisville

Teams:

  1. #3 Louisville
  2. Bradley
  3. Michigan
  4. Morehead State

Louisville headlines the region with the #3 overall seed. The Cardinals have beaten quality teams all season with series wins over Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Clemson, NC State, and Florida State.  However, they struggled in the ACC tournament and exited on Saturday with a 6-0 loss to Florida State. Junior right-hander Kyle Funkhouser has had a bit of a down year as the ace in the Cardinals’ rotation, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.29 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. The Cardinals also boast one of the best freshman in college baseball in lefthander Brendan McKay. The 6’2’’ pitcher from Darlington, Pennsylvania went 8-3 with a 1.76 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 18 appearances this season. The Bradley Braves are an interesting #2 seed, as they finished Missouri Valley conference play with a 9-11 record. They bounced Dallas Baptist from the tournament before dropping a 5-2 contest to national seed Missouri State on Sunday. On the other side of the region, the red-hot Michigan Wolverines have to be thrilled with their regional draw, as they should be the favorite in the opener against Bradley. If they continue their magical run to super regionals, the Wolverines will need a strong effort from their ace, Brett Adcock, who pitched a terrific game against Maryland in the Big Ten championship game. Adcock allowed two hits in 5 2/3 innings for his second win of the tournament. Jackson Glines, Carmen Benedetti, and Jacob Cronenworth lead the Michigan offense that has hit .297 this season. The trio has plenty of extra-base power, with 55 doubles, 8 triples, and 14 home runs. Morehead State is the final team in the region after posting a 38-20 record. Pitching is not the Eagles’ strength, as they have a team 6.27 ERA and have allowed nearly 600 hits this season. Despite their pitching problems, Morehead leads the NCAA in batting average at .335.

 

Any of the top three teams in this region have the potential to advance. Louisville should win this region, but I have a strange feeling that Michigan’s pitching will hold up and continue their Cinderella run.

 

Regional Winner: Michigan

 

Gainesville

Teams:

  1. #4 Florida
  2. Florida Atlantic
  3. South Florida
  4. Florida A&M

By RPI, this is a tough region for the Gators, who are coming off an SEC postseason championship. Florida Atlantic and South Florida are #15 and #29, respectively. However, Florida has already beaten both teams this year on the road. Logan Shore is the ace of the Gators rotation and compiled a 2.79 ERA with two complete games this season. The main question mark for the Gators is their offensive consistency, but they have plenty of pop in the middle of their order in JJ Schwarz and Harrison Bader, who have combined for 27 home runs. Florida Atlantic stumbled down the stretch with two losses to UAB in the Conference USA tournament and a series sweep at the hands of Rice in Boca Raton. South Florida has an average offense that should be handled by the Gator rotation should they meet in the region. Junior right-hander Jimmy Herget is the ace of the Bulls rotation and could lead USF to an upset this weekend. Herget has a 2.95 ERA, a .224 opponent batting average and 109 strikeouts. Finally, Florida A&M rounds off the all-Florida region as the Rattlers will play the Gators for the first time this season. Their February 17th contest was rained out and never rescheduled. Interestingly, Florida A&M doesn’t seem to have a true ace. Ricky Page has filled the role in eight starts, but only registered 34 innings in 16 total appearances with a 1.32 ERA. In a 3-2 loss against Auburn earlier in the season, the Rattlers used six different pitchers, with each not pitching more than two innings.

 

While Florida Atlantic or South Florida winning this region would not be a mammoth upset, nearly everyone in college baseball expects the Gators to advance to super regionals and the College World Series.

 

Regional Winner: Florida

Coral Gables

Teams:

  1. #5 Miami
  2. East Carolina
  3. Columbia
  4. FIU

Miami drew a very fun regional as every team, with the exception of the Hurricanes, actually won their conference tournament. FIU has been up and down all year, and needed the C-USA Tournament Championship to make the tournament. The Panthers are still a dangerous team though and should not be taken lightly. To begin the season, they took two out of three from then-top 25 Tennessee, and ended the season running straight through the C-USA Tournament at 4-0 with wins over Rice, UTSA, Middle Tennessee, and UAB. The Pirates of East Carolina are one of the more dangerous two seeds in the tournament as they were able to beat the Houston Cougars to take the American Athletic Conference Crown. On the season, the Pirates have a team batting average of .283, and are led by Luke Lowery with 12 home runs on the season, and Hunter Allen who sports a .353 average at the plate. On the mound, the Pirates will look to David Lucroy on the mound. He sports a 2.18 era in 66 innings with 47 strikeouts. The tournament’s three seed, Columbia, has become a force to be reckoned with in the Ivy League and a 31-15 record would support that. The Lions split a four game series to begin the season at the University of Houston, and also has wins over tournament teams Lehigh and St. John’s University. The best team in the regional though, and I don’t think it is close, is the Miami Hurricanes. Out of the ACC, the Canes can do it all from pitching, to defense, and they have the pop in the lineup to go gap to gap for power and run scoring.

 

At the end of the day, Miami should run through this regional without too much trouble.

 

Regional Winner: Miami (3-0)

 

Champaign 

Teams:

  1. #6 Illinois
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Wright State
  4. Ohio

Although Notre Dame has had a great year, this regional is one of the best suited in entire tournament to go for the Host. The Illini are the host team and a national seed so I understand it, but I find it very hard to believe that any of the teams in this regional can really challenge this team. Illinois won 25 straight in the middle of the season and are enjoying their best effort in the ten years that Dan Hartleb has been the head coach. Tyler Jay, Kevin Duchene, and Drasen Johnson are the unquestioned leaders of one of the best pitching staffs in the country. The team ERA for the Fighting Illini is a 2.46, one of the best in the country. The lineup is led by David Kerian (.366), Ryan Nagle (.329), and Casey Fletcher (.325). The trio has over 130 runs scored, 20 homers, and 111 RBI.

 

As a team, Illinois has a .294 batting average, also one of the best in the country. I think Illinois wins this regional pretty soundly.

 

Regional Winner: Illinois (3-0)

 

Ft. Worth

Teams:

  1. #7 TCU
  2. NC State
  3. Stony Brook
  4. Sacred Hart

Initial thought is that this one sets up incredibly well for the Horned Frogs of TCU. The more I think this one over, I have to think that there is a very legitimate chance that NC State can win this one as well. Sacred Hart and Stony Brook are in the tournament after winning their respective conferences this season and can’t be taken lightly, but TCU’s pitching should smother Sacred Hart on Friday, and I don’t think the Frogs will ever see Stony Brook. NC State comes into the tournament as the hottest team of the four in this regional, lost in the ACC title game to Florida State on Sunday.  The Frogs boast a team ERA of 2.33 and is one of the best in the country so I think that TCU will have a leg up in the pitching match-up no matter who is in the other duggout.

 

At the very least, NC State will make this one interesting, but if it comes down to a pitcher’s duel, TCU will win.

 

Regional Winner: TCU 4-1

 

Springfield:

Teams:

  1. #8 Missouri State
  2. Iowa
  3. Oregon
  4. Canisius

There has been some controversy in the decision of the NCAA Tournament Committee giving the Bears a National Seed over the Aggies of A&M, but consider me one that thinks they got this one right. As unpopular as that might be. Missouri State won the MVC outright AND won the tournament, but this regional might be one of the toughest in the tournament. Iowa was stride for stride with Illinois (Another National Seed) for much of the season, and has wins against Missouri State, Cincinnati (sweep), and Indiana (sweep). Oregon has played a great brand of baseball of late as they just took two out of three from #1 National Seed UCLA at home, and are winners of nine of their last ten games. Canisius won their conference title but has a tough road ahead of them.

 

Although Missouri State is the host and a top seed in this tournament, I think this could be the regional that sees an upset occur. Any one of the top three teams can win it, it will all come down to who plays best in stretch time.

 

Regional Winner: Iowa (4-1)

 

Lake Elsinore 

Teams:

  1. UC Santa Barbara
  2. USC
  3. Virginia
  4. San Diego State

This regional might be the toughest and most closely picked of any in the entire country. UC Santa Barbara leads the RPI for the tournament at 20, but Virginia is right behind them at 21, with USC sitting at 25. San Diego State, the four seed, comes into the tournament with a 40-21 season record. Virginia is having a down year by their standards (they are used to hosting), but the 2014 national runner-up has been playing a good brand of baseball in the latter part of the season. the Trojans were a one seed three weeks ago, but ran into some trouble against California and UCLA and fell out of the top 15. With a regional as well-rounded and evenly matched as this one is, it makes it harder to pick a winner, but the team that comes to mind here is the Trojans. The team ERA is a little bit high at 3.45, but the batting average is up there as well at .294.

 

If the lineup struggles this weekend, USC is sunk, but I think they have a great chance to come out of this one on top.

 

Regional Winner: USC

 

Fullerton

Teams:

  1. CSU Fullerton
  2. Arizona State
  3. Clemson
  4. Pepperdine

A regional highlighted by some of college baseball’s elite programs, the Fullerton Regional should impress any baseball fan. Fullerton had a less than stellar start to the season, but was able to get on a roll at the start of conference play. They are joined by Arizona State who was in the top 5 only three weeks ago. The Sun Devils dropped two out of three to UCLA and California toward the end of the season, but are very good all around. If ASU gets to the ninth with a lead, they have one of the best closers in the game in Ryan Burr. The Clemson Tigers were sweating it a little with somewhat of an early exit from the ACC Tournament, but will go across the country to take on the NCAA tournament. California should be a happy sight for the Tigers who have been stuck in South Carolina over the past few years, usually at South Carolina, and this team has a chance to get to the regional championship if they can score. They’ll need to score quite a bit and they’ll have their hands full with a regional full of pitching.

 

This one will come down to ASU’s depth, and I think they can slide past CSU Fullerton in crunch time.

 

Regional Winner: Arizona State

 

Dallas

Teams:

  1. Dallas Baptist 
  2. Oregon St.
  3. Texas
  4. VCU

Much like the Lake Elsinore Regional, this one is going to be tough to pick. Dallas Baptist has been, by far, the best team of any from this regional, Oregon State, and Texas have a lot of talent that can win this one. Texas won the Big XII Tournament with four straight wins (3 complete games from starters), and a quality effort from a fourth to beat Oklahoma State. The more important thing for the Longhorns though, was that the hitting finally came around the last two weeks of the regular season. If the hitting can match the pitching for a third straight week, the Horns can win this one. Oregon State has been very good this season as well. The Beavers have the #36 RPI in the country and boast wins over Oklahoma State, USC, and California. The team has a .281 batting average but does have 40 homers on the season (only allowed 19).  KJ Harrison leads the team with 58 RBI and 10 home runs. If Andrew Moore, Drew Rasmussen, and Travis Eckert can keep hitters off-base, Oregon State can win it. Finally, the team with the number 2 RPI in the country, Dallas Baptist. DBU has been red hot from nearly start to finish this year as they benefit from a region of the country that is very rich in baseball talent. The Patriots have beaten TCU, Oklahoma, and a midweek sweep against Oklahoma. The team’s ERA is a little bit high (3.40) but the team’s batting average is as well (.290). At the end, I think this tournament will come down to Texas and Dallas Baptist. Texas has a 47-6 overall record against DBU.

 

If it comes down to a fourth game between the two sides, Texas might have the deeper talent, even though their record might not show it. I don’t, however, see DBU as losing in a winner take all at home. DBU has played better, but Texas has shown that they play well with their backs up against the wall. Still, DBU doesn’t lose at home.

 

Regional Winner: Dallas Baptist

 

Houston

  1. UH
  2. Rice
  3. HBU
  4. Louisiana

This one will be fun, if not only because there are three Houston teams in the tournament. The Cougars of the University of Houston have been as up and down as a team can be with a 40 win record. They have survived some tough injuries throughout the season, and have had a lot of freshmen in the lineup, but this is the same team that went into Baton Rouge last season and beat LSU. They took two of the three regular season meetings from the Rice Owls, and lost single season games against both Houston Baptist, and Louisiana. The Rice Owls won their conference for the 21st straight year, but like UH, has been a bit all over the place. Still, when it comes to Tournament time, the Owls always show up ready to go. Expect the Owls to play their best ball of the season, when the lights get big. Louisiana won the Sun Belt Conference yet again this season and received the conference’s only bid to the NCAA tournament. Although, the Cajuns didn’t win it as spectacularly as they did a year ago, they are always dangerous. Tony Robichaux loves to push the envelope, and isn’t afraid to play small ball at any point in the game, especially when his team has the lead.

I like this to come down to Rice and Houston. Houston won the regular season matchup two games to one, but I think the Owls will have a leg up in this showdown.

 

Winner: Rice

 

Tallahassee

  1. Florida State
  2. College of Charleston
  3. Auburn
  4. Mercer

This is one of the more intriguing regionals in the tournament as the #10, 18, and 22 RPI teams meet in Tallahassee. The Seminoles’ season ranged from a 24-1 thumping of USF to series sweeps at the hands of Clemson and Notre Dame. The up-and-down season culminated in an ACC tournament championship. Florida State does not excel at the plate and hit just .257. However, their rotation has an excellent 1-2 punch in Boomer Biegalski and Mike Compton, who have combined for a 2.84 ERA in 26 starts. While not many fans have heard of the College of Charleston, they have the talent to win the region with a team batting average of .309 and a 3.36 team ERA. Their ace, redshirt junior Taylor Clarke, had excellent starts over South Carolina and Indiana this season and finished pre-tournament play with a 1.34 ERA and a 13-1 record in 15 starts. Auburn fell flat at the end of the year after a strong start in SEC play. Alabama swept the Tigers in Auburn and the Tigers dropped a series at Florida before losing two of three in Hoover at the SEC tournament. If the Tigers advance to super regionals, it will have to be on the arms of Cole Lipscomb and Keegan Thompson. The pair won 15 for the Tigers so far this season.

 

Florida State certainly has the talent to win the region and a projected first round draft pick in outfielder DJ Stewart. However, Taylor Clarke will lead the College of Charleston past the opening stage of the tournament.

 

Regional Winner: College of Charleston

 

Nashville

Teams:

  1. Vanderbilt
  2. Radford
  3. Indiana
  4. Lipscomb

Like Florida and LSU, Vanderbilt received a favorable draw in their region. The Commodores are loaded with MLB talent and are led by one of the best pitching rotations in college baseball. Walker Buehler and Carson Fulmer are experienced hurlers who have the capability to win games by themselves. Fulmer boasts a 1.97 ERA with 136 strikeouts while Buehler has a 3.18 ERA after sitting out the beginning of the season due to injury. Radford is a surprise as the #2 seed to casual college baseball fans, but they have quietly had a nice season with a 43-14 overall record. Michael Boyle is the ace of the Highlanders’ rotation with a 2.27 ERA and a .219 opponent batting average in 15 starts. Radford’s offense has plenty of pop with a .294 batting average, 117 doubles, and 43 home runs. Indiana has a quality pitching staff with a 3.41 ERA and a .245 opponent batting average. The Hoosiers’ opening game with Radford will be one of the best in the tournament. Lipscomb checks in with the #4 seed in the region. The Bisons’ season was highlighted by a 3-1 win at then-#1 Vanderbilt on April 7. Brady Puckett lasted 7 1/3 innings in the win, allowing five hits and one earned run with six strikeouts. The Commodores will get a chance for revenge this week.

 

Lipscomb is an interesting matchup for the Commodores, as they have already beaten Vanderbilt once this season. However, Vanderbilt’s talent and experience will be too much for the rest of the field.

 

Regional Winner: Vanderbilt

 

College Station

Teams:

  1. Texas A&M
  2. Coastal Carolina
  3. California
  4. Texas Southern

Texas A&M battled to a 24-0 start to the 2015 campaign. The Aggies then notched five straight SEC series wins before dropping two of three to Arkansas in mid-April. Offensively, the Aggies can hit the long-ball anywhere in their order, as eight players have five or more home runs this season. They ended the season with a .312 batting average and have a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation in Grayson Long and Matt Kent. Long started 15 games for Texas A&M, earning nine wins and a 2.62 ERA. The #2 seed in the region is Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers feature several big bats in their order, clubbing 60 home runs as a team this season. On the mound, Alex Cunningham leads the rotation with a 2.56 ERA in 10 starts. They have a deep staff with 11 different pitchers making starts. #3 seed California earned a spot in the tournament with late series wins over USC and Arizona State. The Bears struggle at times offensively, but they have an excellent staff that compiled a 3.13 ERA this season. Erik Martinez and Chris Muse-Fisher are a force in the bullpen, allowing 15 combined runs in 67 1/3 innings. They also have three pitchers with ERAs below 3.19. Texas Southern made the tournament late by winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament over Southern 10-0. While they have several offensive weapons including seven players that hit over .300, they are a long shot to beat the Aggies in the opening game.

 

California will give Texas A&M a fight, but their offensive attack wont be enough against Grayson Long and company. The Aggies escape their regional in a close game.

 

Regional Winner: Texas A&M

 

Stillwater

Teams:

  1. Oklahoma State
  2. Arkansas
  3. Oral Roberts
  4. John’s

Arkansas brings SEC player of the year Andrew Benintendi to Stillwater in what should be a showdown between SEC and Big 12 foes. Even though he struggled in the SEC tournament, Benintendi still hit .391 on the season with 18 home runs, 52 RBI and a .492 on-base percentage. If the Razorbacks have any question mark for winning the region it is in their rotation. Keaton McKinney is the ace with a 3.14 ERA and a .221 batting average against in 15 starts. Behind him, they have been unable to find consistent production. The #1 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys are the exact opposite team. They have a 2.84 team ERA and have one of the best pitchers in the country in senior lefty Michael Freeman. Freeman had a stellar 1.05 ERA in over 100 innings with a startling .183 batting average against. #3 seed Oral Roberts won their 16th Summit League championship with a 41-14 overall record. They actually defeated Oklahoma State twice this season, albeit they were both on weekday games. Their high-powered offense could give Arkansas trouble in the opening matchup as they had a .321 season batting average with over 600 hits. #4 seed St. John’s rounds out the tournament after they won the Big East championship over Creighton on Sunday. The Red Storm’s shot at defeating Oklahoma State lies on the arm of Ryan McCormick, who compiled a 2.81 ERA in 16 appearances in 2015.

 

Oral Roberts will give Arkansas a good game, but the Razorbacks advance and use the momentum to win the region.

 

Regional Winner: Arkansas

 

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