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2018 NCAA Tournament: Raleigh Regional Preview

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1. North Carolina State (40-16, 19-11 Atlantic Coast Conference)

30th appearance (fourth straight); at-large bid; second in the ACC Atlantic Division

BA 500 Prospects: OF Brett Kinneman (160), OF Brock Deatherage (296), OF Josh McLain (430)

Season In A Sentence: Behind a deep lineup filled with talented hitters, N.C. State battled its way to a 40-win season, earning the opportunity to host a regional for the second time in the last three years.

Player To Watch: Brett Kinneman, OF: Kinneman's .279 batting average may not stand out among the impressive numbers of his teammates. However, his slugging numbers are the best on the team. The junior outfielder hit 17 home runs, recorded 60 RBIs and had a .607 slugging percentage in 2018, earning him a first team all-ACC honors.

Best Weekend: at Clemson, March 16-18. N.C. State won eight of its 10 ACC series this season, but none of them were quite as impressive as its series sweep at Clemson. In an early season matchup between the two sides, N.C. State dominated the first two games, outscoring the Tigers by a combined 10-1 margin. In the final game of the series, the Wolfpack edged out a 5-4 win in order to complete the three-game sweep.

Outlook: N.C. State has had a strong season, relying on explosive bats and solid pitching performances, headlined by ACC pitcher of the year Brian Brown. Although the Wolfpack have an impressive resume and talented roster, N.C. State has struggled recently, losing four of its last five games entering NCAA Tournament play.

2. Auburn (39-21, 15-15 Southeastern Conference)

21st appearance (second straight); at-large bid; third in the SEC West

BA 500 Prospects: RHP Casey Mize (1), RHP Davis Daniel (293), C Brett Wright (454)

Season In A Sentence: Led by top-ranked draft prospect Casey Mize, Auburn put together a solid season, dominating its non-conference schedule, and came within one victory of a 40-win season.

Player To Watch: Casey Mize, RHP: Mize, the No. 1 draft prospect in the BA 500, undoubtedly attracts more attention than anyone else playing for Auburn. Mize backed up the hype in 2018 by striking out 140 batters and walking only 10, all while holding opposing hitters to a .197 batting average. Mize was named an All-American for the second straight year.

Best Weekend: vs. Vanderbilt, May 4-6. Auburn had an up-and-down SEC season against a tough conference schedule. Auburn played its best in a three-game sweep over fellow regional team Vanderbilt. The Tigers won the first game, 4-1, behind a 15-strikeout performance by Mize. Then, after an 11-5 win in Game 2, Auburn completed the sweep with a 14-0 drubbing in the series finale.

Outlook: Auburn was hoping to host a NCAA Regional. However, the final host slot went to NC State and Auburn was given the top two-seed. Now, the Tigers have a good chance to prove that they were worthy of the hosting nod. Auburn will hold Mize for a potential Saturday matchup against N.C. State and should have the edge on the mound this weekend.

3. Northeastern (36-19, 17-6 Colonial Athletic Association)

Eighth appearance (first since 2003); at-large bid; first in the Colonial Athletic Association

BA 500 Prospects: None.

Season In A Sentence: Northeastern punched a ticket to regionals for the first time this decade after managing an aggressive non-conference schedule and having tremendous success against CAA opponents.

Player To Watch: Jake Farrell, INF: Farrell did it all for Northeastern this season, hitting .341/.410/.627 with 11 home runs and 61 RBIs. He led the Huskies in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs.

Best Weekend: vs. Elon, April 7-8. Northeastern narrowly edged Elon for first place in the CAA regular season standings. A big reason for that was the Huskies’ sweep of Elon. Northeastern took both games of a doubleheader on April 7, winning the first game by six runs and then squeaking past the Phoenix in the nightcap. The Huskies finished the sweep the following day with another impressive hitting performance, putting up nine runs against Elon.

Outlook: Northeastern comes to Raleigh battle-tested, having earlier this season played series at Auburn and Texas Tech. The Huskies will take confidence from beating the Tigers in the series finale in Auburn and will have something to prove after being one of the last teams to make the field. If they can put everything together, they have the pieces to make some noise in Raleigh.

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4. Army (36-22, 18-7 Patriot League)

Seventh appearance (first since 2013); automatic bid; second in the Patriot League; Patriot League Tournament champions

BA 500 Prospects: None.

Season In A Sentence: Army took advantage of catching fire toward the end of the regular season, winning the Patriot League Tournament in order to secure an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Player To Watch: Daniel Burggraaf, RHP: Burggraaf put together a solid season for Army, winning seven of his 10 starts after beginning the season in the bullpen. The righthander pitched one shutout, helping him reach his current 2.34 ERA. In addition, opposing hitters only have a .191 batting average against Burggraaf.

Best Weekend: Patriot League Tournament finals, May 20-21. Facing archrival Navy on the road with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line, Army swept the best-of-three series. The Black Knights finished second to the Midshipmen in the regular season standings but got their revenge in the championship series.

Outlook: Army has never advanced past the regionals in its six trips to the NCAA Tournament and it would take a big upset for the Black Knights to accomplish that feat this season. Army has a solid roster and plays solid, disciplined baseball. It’ll need to lean on its pitching if its going to shock the higher seeds in Raleigh.

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