2019 NCAA Baseball Tournament Bracket Analysis

Image credit: Nick Lodolo (Photo by John Williamson)

The selection committee on Monday revealed the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket and it delivered one big surprise among the at-large bids, selecting Texas Christian as the last team in the field ahead of teams such as Central Florida, Houston, Missouri and Texas State.

TCU finished the season 32-26 and ranked No. 59 in RPI, the worst of any at-large team and below Arizona, Brigham Young, Houston, Texas State, UCF and UC Irvine—all teams also considered to be on the bubble.

But the Horned Frogs went 14-15 against Big 12 competition and reached the semifinals of the conference tournament. They also had a dozen wins against top-50 opponents, more than any of the other bubble teams, and won 16 games away from Fort Worth.

That rationale—an emphasis on top-50 wins and not on RPI—also seemed to drive the selection committee’s decision to award a home regional to Mississippi, which was announced Sunday night. The Rebels ranked No. 22 in RPI, typically outside the range necessary for an SEC team to host, but the Rebels went 20-19 against top-50 opponents. No team in the country played more games against top-50 competition, and their 20 wins in those games were far more than Miami (15), North Carolina State (11) and Texas A&M (14), the other teams that were in the hosting race.

That kind of emphasis is somewhat of a departure for the committee, which at times in the past has used RPI as a crutch. But in a year where the RPI always felt a little off—Oregon State and Stanford have never fared well and Auburn and Tennessee maintained top-20 RPIs despite having losing records in the SEC—going away from a strict reliance on RPI was probably necessary.

Most of the rest of the field aligned with Baseball America’s final projections, which had 63 of the 64 teams correct for the third year in a row. The selection committee seeded Georgia Tech at No. 3, higher than had been expected, but, again, the Yellow Jackets fared better in top-50 wins (19) than in RPI (No. 8)

Most Dangerous Lower Seeds

Everyone is looking for this year’s Cinderella, a team like Kent State or Stony Brook that can make a run to the College World Series despite being a No. 3 or 4 seed in its regional. Here are this year’s most dangerous No. 3 and 4 seeds.

Three Seeds

Coastal Carolina — The Chanticleers didn’t have the regular season they would have liked, but this was a Top 25 team for much of the first half of the season, so the potential to get through a regional is clearly there. As a team, Coastal is hitting .309/.418/.506 with 87 home runs, and it got a relatively favorable draw in going to Atlanta to face off with Auburn and potentially Georgia Tech. Those are two teams whose pitching staffs have been compromised due to injury, which could creative a very offense-minded regional, and that plays into Coastal’s hand. The Chanticleers are also hot, having won five straight games to win the Sun Belt Tournament.

Fresno State — With the way it laid waste to the Mountain West Conference over the last few weeks to double up and win both the regular season and tournaments titles, Fresno State has to be on the short list of hottest teams in college baseball. It drew UC Santa Barbara to open in the Stanford Regional, which is a tough draw, but hard-throwing righthander Ryan Jensen (11-1, 2.92) is capable of shutting down a talented UCSB offense. Offensively, outfielder Zach Ashford (.386/.496/.543) and third baseman McCarthy Tatum (.353/.397/.601, 12 HR) have helped lead a Bulldogs’ lineup hitting .300 as a team.

Four Seeds

Army — Beware the No. 4 seed that has been there before, and last season, not only were the Black Knights in a regional, they took down host team North Carolina State in their opening game. A whole host of key contributors from that team will head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this time around, including outfielder Jacob Hurtubise (.383/.550/.456), whose 45 stolen bases are the most of any player in a regional, the one-two rotation punch of lefthander Tyler Giovinco (8-5, 3.43) and righthander Daniel Burggraaf (5-2, 2.85), and lefthanded reliever Cam Opp (3.53, 5 SV).

Ohio State — The Buckeyes will head to Nashville as one of the most battled-tested and hottest No. 4 seeds in the field. OSU had to sweep a series at Purdue on the last weekend of the regular season just to get into the Big Ten Tournament, and once in Omaha, it had to play five games, including two on Sunday, to clinch the automatic bid. Outfielder Dominic Canzone (.351/.448/.628) had a real claim to the Big Ten player of the year award, and workhorse lefty reliever Andrew Magno (2.33, 13 SV) was named Big Ten Tournament MVP after throwing 9.2 scoreless innings across four appearances last week.

Hardest Regionals

Baton Rouge — It’s not an easy draw for Louisiana State, the No. 13 overall seed. The Tigers open against Stony Brook, which famously upset LSU in the 2012 Baton Rouge Super Regional on its Cinderella run to the College World Series. The Sea Wolves don’t have that kind of talent, but they’re a tough team that’s used to playing road games and has already played in a big-time SEC venue this year, having visited Arkansas for a weekend in March. Arizona State, the No. 2 seed, led the nation in home runs in the regular season and has one of the most potent lineups the country, fronted by outfielder Hunter Bishop and first baseman Spencer Torkelson. Southern Mississippi, the No. 3 seed, got hot in the Conference USA Tournament after scuffling down the stretch and the Golden Eagles have some big time bats of their own, including outfielder Matt Wallner.

Corvallis — Oregon State was the last host school, so it makes sense that it would have one of the toughest regionals. Creighton, the Big East champion, is a tough No. 2 seed having won 38 games and it won’t be thrown off by the travel, having played 31 of their 49 games away from home this year. Michigan is a tricky No. 3 seed with a tough one-two punch at the front of its rotation in righthander Karl Kauffman and lefthander Tommy Henry, not to mention an athletic, exciting lineup. No. 4 seed Cincinnati just swept through the American Athletic Conference Tournament and has completely turned its season around in the last two months, going 20-13 since the start of April after beginning the year 10-16.

Stanford — The all-California regional will be a tricky affair. Stanford has been ranked near the top of the Baseball America Top 25 all season, but its metrics never aligned with that evaluation and so it got seeded No. 11 overall. For its trouble, it gets UC Santa Barbara, the Big West champion that ranks fourth in the nation with 45 wins, as its No. 2 seed. The Gauchos haven’t been tested like this so far this season, but they’re a talented bunch. Fresno State rolled through the Mountain West Conference and has some premium talent in righthander Ryan Jensen, outfielder Zach Ashford and catcher Carter Bins. And Sacramento State is a pesky No. 4 seed. The Hornets won five straight elimination games in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and won’t be an easy out this weekend.

Easiest Regionals

Fayetteville — Arkansas, the No. 5 overall seed, can feel good about this draw. California, the No. 2 seed, has played a lot of premium teams tough, but it ultimately didn’t win a series against an NCAA Tournament team. Texas Christian, the No. 3 seed, was the surprise team in the Field of 64, and while the Horned Frogs have some good wins, they also have some bad losses. Central Connecticut State, the No. 4 seed, upset Bryant in the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game and that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the Blue Devils haven’t played anywhere like Baum Stadium since their 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance at TCU.

Los Angeles — As the No. 1 overall seed, it’s only right that UCLA be given an easier regional. Baylor, the No. 2 seed, has ground out a strong season and made a run at the Big 12 title. But it’s also lost five of its last seven games going into the NCAA Tournament and is just 9-11 away from Waco. Loyola Marymount, the No. 3 seed, put together a solid year but is 0-2 against UCLA in midweek games this season and doesn’t have the pitching to match up with the Bruins’ weekend arms. Nebraska-Omaha, the No. 4 seed, is an excellent story as it makes its NCAA Tournament debut and did win a game at Southern California on opening weekend, but the Mavericks aren’t a scary opening game.

Starkville — It’s not a bad draw for Mississippi State, the No. 6 overall seed. Miami, the No. 2 seed, is talented, but it only won three series against tournament teams and they were all in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are also lacking postseason experience after missing regionals the last two years and now will have to go play in what will be a packed Dudy Noble Field. Central Michigan, the No. 3 seed, has put together a spectacular season and is red-hot, but it also has only played one top-100 opponent (Illinois State) and it lost that series. Southern, the No. 4 seed, does own a win against LSU this season, but it’s not going to be able to match Mississippi State’s talent in the opening game.

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