2018 NCAA Tournament: Conway Regional Preview
1. Coastal Carolina (42-17, 23-7 Sun Belt Conference)
16th appearance (first since 2016); automatic bid; first place in Sun Belt Conference; Sun Belt Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Jason Bilous (175)
Season In A Sentence: In their second year in the Sun Belt, the 2016 national champions showed no problems acclimating, running away with both the conference regular season and conference tournament titles.
Player To Watch: Seth Lancaster, SS: The senior shortstop has had a career-best year at the plate, batting .311/.462/.660 and tied for the team lead with Kevin Woodall Jr. with 19 home runs. He’s a dangerous hitter in the two-hole of a deep lineup.
Best Weekend: at Troy, April 13-14: Troy was Coastal’s greatest threat in winning the Sun Belt, but the Chanticleers established their dominance with a series win on the road, combing back from a weekend-opening loss.
Outlook: Unlike the 2016 national title season when the Chanticleers played in Raleigh as the No. 2 seed, this Coastal Carolina squad gets to host in beautiful Spring Brooks Stadium. The Chanticleers still have a few key pieces from that championship team and are a veteran group with power at the plate and power stuff on the mound. It’ll be a tightly contested regional with strong No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, but the Chants certainly have an edge.
2. Connecticut (35-20, 14-10 American Athletic Conference)
20th appearance (first since 2016); at-large bid; third place in the American Athletic Conference
BA 500 Prospects: LHP Tim Cate (54), C Zac Susi (326)
Season In A Sentence: Opening the year with a grueling road record and then playing all the way to the AAC championship game, the Huskies certainly had a strong case to host a regional of their own, but they pose a difficult challenge for the Chanticleers and actually rank one spot higher in RPI.
Player To Watch: Mason Feole, LHP: The hard-throwing sophomore lefty stepped up when ace Tim Cate went down with injury and put together a stellar campaign, going 9-1, 2.50 with 114 strikeouts in 93.2 innings to lead a strong staff.
Best Weekend: vs. East Carolina, May 17-18. In need of another marquee series win to earn a regional hosting nod, the Huskies seemingly pulled off that feat with a series win against the higher-RPI Pirates, but UConn would still wind up with a hosting snub after falling to those same Pirates in the AAC title game.
Outlook: The Huskies compare favorably to the Chanticleers and have similar metrics and a similarly experienced, blue-collar roster. UConn is used to the road warrior role and in fact thrives in it. The Huskies are one of the most dangerous No. 2 seeds in the field.
3. Washington (30-23, 20-10 Pac-12 Conference)
11th appearance (first since 2016); at-large bid; third place in the Pac-12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: SS A.J. Graffanino (248), C/3B Willie MacIver (314), RHP Joe DeMers (317)
Season In A Sentence: The Huskies had an uphill climb from an RPI standpoint in a down year for the Pac-12, but they finished strong in conference play and were a couple of outs away from sweeping Stanford to steal the Pac-12 title in the last game of the season.
Player To Watch: Joe DeMers, RHP: DeMers put together his best campaign as UW’s ace, going 6-3, 2.56 as a 105.1-inning workhorse. When he’s on, DeMers has dominant stuff—he threw the program’s first perfect game earlier this season.
Best Weekend: vs. Stanford, May 24-26: With an RPI in the 70s, the Huskies needed a statement weekend to end the season and had the perfect opportunity against one of the country’s best teams. They rose to the moment and nearly swept a Cardinal team that had only lost two other series all year.
Outlook: These Huskies, like the other Huskies, are among the upper echelon of their seeding. Having just won a huge series against Stanford, Washington enters with plenty of momentum and could—at the very least—make life more difficult for Coastal and UConn.
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4. LIU Brooklyn (31-24, 16-12 Northeast Conference)
Third appearance (first since 1972); automatic bid; third place in the Northeast Conference; NEC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: The Blackbirds ended a 46-year absence from the NCAA Tournament by claiming their first NEC Tournament crown.
Player To Watch: Mike Kreiger, RHP: The reliever has been as steady as they come for the Blackbirds in the back end of the bullpen, going 4-2, 1.73 with seven saves, 55 strikeouts and just 29 hits allowed in 41.2 innings. If the Blackbirds are going to win, it’ll likely be with the ball in his hands.
Best Weekend: NEC Tournament, May 24-26. The Blackbirds beat both Wagner and Bryant—the two teams that tied for first in the regular season conference standings—to earn the conference’s auto-bid for the first time in program history.
Outlook: Considering it’s been 46 years since their last regional and they haven’t played a single top 50 RPI opponent this year, the Blackbirds chances seem slim.