2018 NCAA Tournament: Minneapolis Regional Preview
1. Minnesota (41-13, 18-4 Big Ten Conference)
31st appearance (first since 2016); automatic bid; first in the Big Ten Conference; Big Ten Tournament champions
BA 500 prospects: SS Terrin Vavra (428)
Season In A Sentence: Minnesota heated up just in time for Big Ten play and steamrolled through its conference schedule, going 18-4 en route to its third Big Ten regular season title in four years and then doubled up with a Big Ten Tournament championship.
Player To Watch: Patrick Fredrickson, RHP: The 6-foot-6 freshman was dominant on the mound in his rookie season. Fredrickson posted a 1.44 ERA through 68.2 innings, going 7-0 in 14 appearances. Fredrickson’s performance earned him both Big Ten pitcher and freshman of the year honors.
Best Weekend: Big Ten Conference Tournament, May 23-27. Minnesota dominated the Big Ten in 2018, winning all eight of their weekend series against conference opponents. However, the Big Ten Conference Tournament may have been the Golden Gophers’ best performance. Minnesota swept the competition, winning four straight games at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to claim the championship.
Outlook: Minnesota has a great combination of strong pitching and solid hitting. With six position players hitting above .300 and a deep bullpen, the Golden Gophers could advance past the regionals for the first time since 1977, when they made it to the College World Series.
2. UCLA (36-19, 19-11 Pac-12 Conference)
22nd appearance (second straight); at-large bid; fourth in the Pac-12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Kyle Molnar (232), RHP Jon Olsen (251), RHP Jake Bird (286), OF Jeremy Ydens (319), OF Daniel Amaral (329), LHP Justin Hooper (444)
Season In A Sentence: Despite three of UCLA’s top pitchers missing significant amount of time due to injuries, the Bruins built a strong, 36-win season and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the last nine years.
Player To Watch: Jake Bird, RHP: Bird had to step up for UCLA when some of the Bruins' top options on the mound were lost to injury. The senior righthander responded by logging 104 innings in 15 appearances, posting a 1.99 ERA along with 59 strikeouts.
Best Weekend: vs. Stanford, April 6-8. The Bruins didn’t fare too well against opponents in the top half of the Pac-12, winning only one series against teams in the top six of the conference standings. However, that lone series win came against eventual conference champion Stanford. UCLA and Stanford split the first two games, combining for 36 runs over the two games. The Bruins took the rubber match, however, with a 7-2 victory.
Outlook: The Bruins have struggled away from Jackie Robinson Stadium, going 14-13 away from home. However, the Bruins soundly defeated Minnesota, 6-1, in the Dairy Queen Classic held in U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings, back on March 4. That victory may give UCLA a mental edge this weekend, but they’ll need to solve their road woes to push deeper into the NCAA Tournament.
3. Gonzaga (32-22, 16-11 West Coast Conference)
Third appearance (first since 2016); automatic bid; second in the West Coast Conference; WCC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Daniel Bies (278)
Season In A Sentence: Gonzaga took advantage of having one of the best starting rotations in the country—the Bulldogs' starters combined for a 2.71 ERA—in order to finish second in the highly competitive WCC and go on to win the WCC Tournament.
Player To Watch: Daniel Bies, RHP: Bies was the ace of Gonzaga’s dominant pitching staff. The 6-foot-8 right-hander was a workhorse, pitching 104.1 innings while posting a 2.50 ERA. Bies also struck out 115 batters while only walking 23, earning first team all-WCC honors.
Best Weekend: WCC Baseball Tournament, May 24-26. Despite a strong regular season, Gonzaga finished one game behind Pepperdine for the top seed in the WCC Tournament. That didn’t stop Gonzaga, however, as the Bulldogs crushed Loyola Marymount, 13-1, before defeating Pepperdine in consecutive games to capture the WCC Tournament title and earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
Outlook: Gonzaga hasn’t had the opportunity to face many top teams this year, other than one-run losses against both Stanford and Oregon State. The Bulldogs won’t be favorites in Minneapolis, but they are carrying momentum into the NCAA Tournament after their success last weekend.
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4. Canisius (35-20, 16-8 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)
Third appearance (first since 2013); automatic bid; third in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference; MAAC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Canisius caught fire down the stretch and ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, winning the MAAC Tournament and punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in coach Matt Mazurek’s first season at the helm.
Player To Watch: Liam Wilson, UTIL: Wilson led his team in several statistical categories this season while hitting an impressive .360/.440/.640. Wilson also launched nine home runs and knocked in 48 RBIs. Wilson's performance from the plate was enough to earn him first-team all-MAAC honors alongside teammate Ryan Stekl, who hit 10 home runs and recorded 62 RBIs.
Best Weekend: MAAC Baseball Championship, May 23-26. Canisius entered the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed in the MAAC Tournament thanks to a four-game winning streak that included a sweep of Marist. Canisius extended their winning streak to eight games with four victories in the tournament, including two victories over top-seeded Monmouth. In the championship game, Canisius dominated, beating Monmouth 11-0 and punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
Outlook: Canisius is facing a tough task in Minneapolis. The Golden Griffins may have an eight-game winning streak headed into regionals, but Minnesota will be a hard team to overcome in the opener. If Wilson and Stekl produce, however, Canisius shouldn't be counted out.