2017 NCAA Tournament Winston-Salem Regional Preview

Gavin Sheets (Photo by Carl Kline)

SEE ALSO: NCAA Regional Preview Podcast

1. Wake Forest (39-18, 19-11 Atlantic Coast Conference)

13th appearance (second straight), at-large, second in ACC Atlantic

Top 200 Prospects: Stuart Fairchild (42), Gavin Sheets (58), Donnie Sellers (170)

Season In A Sentence: Despite losing program cornerstone Will Craig to the draft, Wake Forest returned as a deeper, more well-rounded team this year and earned its first hosting nod in 15 years.

Player To Watch: Gavin Sheets, 1b: The junior has had a huge season for Wake Forest, establishing himself as the most powerful bat in a powerful lineup and shooting up draft boards in the process. The Demon Deacons have nearly 100 homers as a team, and Sheets has 20 of them, including a couple of multi-homer games. The lefthanded slugger is batting .319/.424/.648 overall and could change a game with one swing.

Best Weekend: at Florida State, May 13-14. The Demon Deacons sealed their hosting bid with a series win in Tallahassee—a notoriously difficult environment to play in. The Deacons took two of three from the Seminoles in a hard-fought series, and that series win looks even better now that FSU earned a regional hosting nod of its own.

Outlook: Wake Forest has an obvious edge given its proficiency at home, where the ballpark’s offensive-friendly dimensions play perfectly to Wake’s lineup. The Demon Deacons are 21-7 at home this year and traditionally have been difficult to outslug in Winston-Salem. With that said, West Virginia and Maryland are both formidable foes that could take advantage of the ballpark, as well. The Deacons have an edge, but they’re not a lock.

2. West Virginia (34-24, 12-12 Big 12)

12th appearance (first since 1996), at-large, tied for fourth in Big 12

Top 200 Prospects: None.

Season In A Sentence: Randy Mazey’s steady program-building has culminated in West Virginia’s first regional appearance in 21 years, as the Mountaineers held their own in a fiercely competitive Big 12.

Player To Watch: B.J. Myers, rhp. West Virginia’s dependable veteran starter, Myers is a crafty righthander who throws from a variety of arm slots and mixes up his tempo while also touching the low 90s. Myers is 4-4, 4.15 and has been the team’s workhorse with 89 innings. He brings an ace-like swagger to the mound and likely won’t be fazed by a regional atmosphere.

Best Weekend: Texas Christian, April 14-16. Avenging a loss to the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 championship game the year before, the Mountaineers took two of three against TCU at home, winning two games in walk-off fashion. The series win catapulted West Virginia into the hosting conversation, and though that didn’t pan out, it was clearly a high point of the season.

Outlook: Though not the most talented squad in the regional in terms of draft prospects, the Mountaineers are a veteran club with a chip on their shoulder who competed with the top dogs in the Big 12. They’re a formidable No. 2 seed and could give Wake Forest a run for its money.

3. Maryland (37-21, 15-9 Big Ten)

Sixth appearance (first since 2015), tied for fourth in Big Ten

Top 200 Prospects: SS Kevin Smith (74), RHP Brian Shaffer (128), OF Marty Costes (197)

Season In A Sentence: The Terrapins battled some inconsistency—moving in and out of the Top 25—and were on the bubble heading into Selection Monday, but their No. 34 RPI was enough to push them into the field.

Player To Watch: Kevin Smith, ss. The top pro prospect on the team, Smith is tied for the team lead in homers with 11 and has seemingly been swinging better of late after a rough start to the season. Any player with power is worth watching in Winston-Salem, where popups often leave the yard, and Smith has power. He’s batting .269/.324/.538 in 182 at-bats overall.

Best Weekend: Michigan, March 24-26. The Terrapins opened Big Ten play on a high note, taking two of three from the Wolverines—their best series win in or out of conference. From there, the Terps mostly handled their own against the back half of the conference but lost series to the likes of Nebraska and Indiana.

Outlook: The Terrapins have the talent to come out of this regional, but they need to play better on the road than they did in the regular season (9-14 in road games). Helping Maryland is familiarity with Wake Forest from the program’s ACC days as well as a head-to-head win with West Virginia earlier in the year.

4. Maryland-Baltimore County (23-23, 11-9 in America East)

Second appearance (first since 1992), second place in America East, automatic bid

Top 300: None.

Season In A Sentence: The Retrievers couldn’t catch first-place Binghamton in the regular season, but they got hot when it mattered, winning the America East tournament for the first time in program history.

Player To Watch: Hunter Dolshun, c. The senior is the team’s leading hitter at .333/.406/.604 and leads the Retrievers with nine home runs. In a regional that is a likely to skew offensive, Dolshun will be key for UMBC—a team with a collective 5.63 ERA.

Best Weekend: America East Tournament, May 26-28. The Retrievers saved their best weekend for last. They wouldn’t have made the NCAA tournament if not for a strong showing in the conference tournament, beating Albany, 9-0, then walking off against Maine, 2-1, to earn the America East’s automatic bid.

Outlook: Like the majority of No. 4 seeds, UMBC is a clear underdog. The Retrievers aren’t likely to come out of this regional.

STAT PACK (National rank in parentheses)
Team Avg. Runs P/G HR SB ERA K/9 WHIP Field %
1. Wake Forest .308 (20) 7.81 (12) 96 (2) 38 (210) 4.15 (79) 8.8 (32) 1.37 (68) .976 (38)
2. West Virginia .288 (70) 5.90 (114) 45 (106) 72 (52) 4.12 (74) 8.5 (51) 1.35 (55) .973 (84)
3. Maryland .275 (132) 6.05 (96) 60 (41) 101 (11) 3.86 (55) 8.4 (56) 1.32 (41) .969 (149)
4. UMBC .293 (50) 5.67 (143) 27 (220) 44 (171) 5.60 (215) 6.3 (258) 1.57 (184) .968 (160)

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