The road to Omaha is set for the 64 teams in the 2018 Division I baseball championship as regional action is slated to begin Friday, June 1.
As fans and experts alike begin to analyze the bracket, envision dream matchups and predict who will be playing in the College World Series, here are nine storylines to follow as the tournament gets underway:
What is the deepest region top to bottom?
There are plenty of top-heavy regions with little separation between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds (more on that later). But in terms of the best group of four teams, the Oxford, Mississippi region instantly jumps out. The combined record of Mississippi, Tennessee Tech, Missouri State and Saint Louis is 171-57 — a winning percentage of .750.Despite getting the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament, the SEC champion Rebels will certainly have their work cut out for them.
The Golden Eagles earned an at-large bid after falling in the Ohio Valley conference title game, boasting a 48-9 record, including a 28-game winning streak at one point in the season. Tennessee Tech also finished as the nation’s best hitting team with a team batting average of .342.
The Bears, who won the Missouri Valley tournament, present three big power hitters in their lineup with Drew Millas, Jeremey Eierman and Matt Brown. The Billikens, winners of the A-10 tournament, have four hitters in their lineup with at least 40 RBIs. The combined record in their weekend rotation is 29-7 with Drew Reveno, Miller Hogan and Jackson Wark, all of whom have an ERA under 3.40.
What No. 1 seed will feel the most amount of pressure from the No. 2 seed?
Connecticut, Louisville and LSU all made deep runs in their respective conference tournaments but all three fell short in the finals. Vanderbilt and Duke will also be tough squads, but the No. 1 seed that will face the most pressure from the No. 2 spot might reside in the Raleigh region.
After finishing the season 40-16 and jumping as high as No. 3 in national polls, No. 1 seed NC State has lost four of their last five games including back-to-back losses in the ACC tournament. If NC State somehow finds itself in an elimination game against No. 2 seed Auburn with Casey Mize on the hill, the Wolfpack better watch out.
Which No. 3 seeds have the best chance to advance to Super Regionals?
Since 2011, six of the last seven DI baseball championships have featured at least two No. 3 seeds in the Super Regionals (2013 was the lone exception). Texas A&M (39-20) might be the best team in the Austin Region, and playing in the gauntlet of the SEC has only helped prepare the Aggies for the tournament. Other No. 3 seeds that could make things interesting include Cal State Fullerton, Dallas Baptist and San Diego State.
Non-power conference schools hosting regionals
Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and Stetson all earned No. 1 seeds that were well-deserved. The Chanticleers (42-17, Sun Belt), Pirates (43-16, American Athletic Conference) and Hatters (45-11, Atlantic Sun) all won more than 40 games and their respective conference championships in multi-bid leagues. Don’t be surprised if all three move on to Super Regionals.
Which one-bid league has the best chance at representation in Super Regionals?
Of the 19 one-bid leagues included in the 2018 DI championship, the three representatives that instantly stick out are Cal State Fullerton (Big West), Gonzaga (West Coast) and San Diego State (Mountain West). The Titans boast plenty of recent postseason success and experience, reaching the CWS in two of the past three years. The Bulldogs are one of the more interesting teams in the tournament and outscored their opponents 34-5 in three games of the WCC tournament, including a 17-2 victory in the final against No. 1 seed Pepperdine. The Aztecs won 39 games this season and rank in the top 10 in team batting average (.305) and hits (623).
Is this the year a Big Ten team can reach the Super Regionals?
A Big Ten school hasn't gotten past the regional round since Illinois in 2014. This year, four Big Ten schools — No. 1 seed Minnesota (41-13), No. 2 seed Purdue (37-19), No. 2 seed Indiana (38-17) and No. 3 seed Ohio State (36-22) — will look to buck the trend.
How many SEC schools will advance?
The SEC once again proved to be the deepest league top to bottom with 10 teams selected to the tournament. Of those 10 schools, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss are regional hosts. No conference representative is seeded lower than No. 3 (Texas A&M). Last year pitted an all-SEC CWS final between the Gators and LSU. Will the conference see similar success in 2018? More than likely.
The DeLand, Florida Region will feature two of the nation’s best pitchers
Names to remember in this region: Stetson’s Logan Gilbert and South Florida’s Shane McClanahan. Stetson leads the nation in team ERA (2.58) and is spearheaded by one of the country’s best in Logan Gilbert. Gilbert is 10-1 on the season with a 2.52 ERA and has struck out 143 hitters in 100 innings holding opposing hitters to a .171 batting average against.
Don’t let McClanahan’s numbers fool you. The 6-2 lefty is only 5-6 with a 3.41 ERA this year, but he has some of the best pure stuff in the country. In 71.1 innings pitched, McClanahan has struck out 117 hitters and is holding hitters to a team-best .181 BAA. A Gilbert-McClanahan pitching matchup is something fans should root for.