The field of 64 is set and the Road to Omaha can officially begin. The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee released the bracket for the 2019 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship, and 16 regions will begin battle Friday, May 31 for a chance to reach the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
REGIONAL HOSTS: NCAA announces the 16 teams hosting first-round action
Let's take a look at the field and see what we can look forward to in the first days of the 2019 DI baseball championship.
The road for No. 1 UCLA to Super Regionals may not be so clear
UCLA has had a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot for most of the college baseball season and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and rightfully so. The Bruins blended pitching and timely hitting into a 47-win season and first place in an extremely stacked Pac-12. UCLA leads the country with a dazzling 2.59 ERA, led by undefeated Ryan Garcia whose 1.42 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 11.91 strikeouts-per-nine are amongst the best in Division I. This is a team that hasn't lost a weekend series in 2019.
That is what makes a possible showdown with Baylor intriguing. The Bears are in the top 10 in DI baseball with a .311 batting average, and when the offense is clicking, it can score runs in bunches. Baylor is streaky, however, but on its best days has shown the ability to hang with opponents' aces. While it would be fun to see Omaha’s historic season reach its hometown in the CWS in its first tournament appearance, UCLA is about as tough an opening game draw the Mavericks could get. Baylor will prove to be the trickiest challenge for the Bruins in an otherwise clear field for them. This sets up a possible showdown between UCLA and the reigning champs Oregon State in the Super Regionals — one of five Super Regionals that could see in-conference rivalries — and a rematch of the early March series UCLA took 2-1.
Familiar faces amongst the regional hosts
Of the 16 teams hosting, eight — Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon State, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Ole Miss, East Carolina, and Stanford — are repeating from last year's tournament as No. 1s. Four of those seven — North Carolina, Texas Tech, Arkansas and Oregon State — wound up in Omaha, with the Beavers and Hogs playing for the national championship. Georgia, Stanford, East Carolina, and Ole Miss did not advance to Super Regionals, so it seems it is either College World Series or bust for the regional hosts.
Georgia Tech and West Virginia are the only two hosts that were not in the 2018 tournament. The Yellow Jackets, behind their strong ACC runners-up season, host for the first time since 2011 and 12th time overall, earning the No. 3 national seed. But for the Mountaineers, this is a very welcomed return to Morgantown, marking the first time West Virginia has hosted since the 1955 season.
Some other quick facts about the hosts:
- Texas Tech is the only current team to host a regional four years in a row.
- UNC, Oregon State and Arkansas are all hosting for the third year in a row and all three were Omaha-bound last season. ECU is making its second straight appearance as host.
- Five of this year's No. 1 seeds were the second seed in 2018: LSU, UCLA, Louisville, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Mississippi State and Vanderbilt faced each other in Supers.
- Oklahoma State is making its 45th appearance in the tournament, fourth all time. They are the only three seed from last year to host, earning the honors for the first time since 2015.
The toughest regions in the bracket
Let's face it. If you make it this far, every region is a balanced one, but four stood out to us a little more than the rest.
Oxford (Ole Miss): Illinois is a tricky No. 2 seed for the host Rebels, especially after stumbling in the Big Ten tournament and opening the door for Michigan to solidify its chances in the postseason. That may give the Illini a much-needed refocus for June. While it has also had an up and down season, Clemson is a tough three seed to contend with, especially with the returning tournament experience.
Baton Rouge (LSU): The Tigers are back in familiar territory, hosting regional tournaments at The Box from 2012-17 before their one-year hiatus in 2018. Unfortunately, LSU's pitching staff has to contend with Arizona State's offense, led by Hunter Bishop and Spencer Torkelson, no matter how much they may have cooled off from their scorching hot starts. Southern Miss regained its momentum, making yet another tricky three seed, claiming the Conference USA title with back-to-back shutouts. Sometimes, momentum is just as dangerous as talent this time of year.
Morgantown (West Virginia): The Mountaineers' Alek Manoah will make it tough on any lineup, but he can't pitch every day. Texas A&M has a scary 1-2 punch atop the rotation in John Doxakis and Asa Lacy that sets up nicely for this kind of tournament, and Duke returns after surprising Georgia in the Athens region in 2018. Even Fordham is rolling, owners of a top-10 ERA in DI baseball, winners of six-straight and the Atlantic-10 title, and will be hoping for a chance to avenge its season-opening sweep by the Aggies.
Atlanta (Georgia Tech): The Yellow Jackets are a feel-good story this year. But this Coastal Carolina offense is playing close to home and can put up home runs and runs with the best of them. Auburn is coming off perhaps the toughest loss in the conference tournaments and you can be sure the Tigers will be re-focused.
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Don’t forget about these teams that could surprise
While the above regions have some very formidable three seeds to watch, there are still plenty of teams not seeded No. 1 hoping to make some noise.
Florida State (No. 3, Athens): We know the story here. Florida State had an up and down season that led to a point where there were some questions whether the Seminoles make it. But Mike Martin is back for one last run at that elusive national championship and Florida State certainly has the talent to pull off a surprise or two.
Creighton (No. 2, Corvallis): The Bluejays are rolling, winners of the Big East, including a six home run semifinals performance. Though they have to figure out a way to get around Michigan's Tommy Henry in the first game and then the reigning champs, you just have to watch the school right down the road from TD Ameritrade with intrigue.
California (No. 2, Fayetteville): Here's his chance. Everyone knows the name, now it's Andrew Vaughn's turn to show the college baseball field just how good he is. Having to contend with Arkansas and its quest to get back to the finals is quite the handful, but Cal matches up nicely with the rest of the bracket.
Central Michigan (No. 3, Starkville): How do you leave the Chippewas off this list? Central Michigan has won 18 in a row, the longest winning streak entering the tournament.
Tennessee (No. 2) and Liberty (No. 3, Chapel Hill): Two teams of intrigue from one region. Tennessee returns to the tournament for the first time since 2005 thanks to a deep bullpen with names like Redmond Walsh, Richard Jackson and Will Heflin all with ERAs under 3.00, and as they say, pitching wins championships in small brackets like these. Why is Liberty intriguing? Amongst the ASUN champion's signature wins this season was a mid-week 2-0 shutout over host North Carolina on March 19. You don't think UNC forgot about that, do you? Neither should you.
Who's the best of the best?
UCLA, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Louisville, and Texas Tech are the No. 1 through No. 8 seed overall, in that order. While there is no denying UCLA's greatness, Vanderbilt is making a case as the best of the bunch. JJ Bleday is putting together a player of the year campaign, but this team is deep on the mound and in the lineup. The Vandy Boys have won nine in a row, the SEC championship and have a favorable regional bracket and Super Regional matchup should they advance.
How about the next eight? This is a fun bunch, but it may be the ECU Pirates' year to show college baseball what's happening in Greenville, North Carolina. The Pirates have two nice pitchers in a pair of Jakes — Agnos and Kuchmaner — and a very nice offense. ECU has a tricky bracket having to deal with an intriguing Campbell pitching staff and in-state N.C. State, so should it advance, it will have some serious momentum.