2023 NCAA Tournament Regionals Preview: Storylines To Watch, Top Prospects, Upset Watch & More

Image credit: Camden Minacci (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

The NCAA Tournament is upon us. On Friday, the 64 teams still on the road to Omaha will begin play in 16 regionals around the country. By Tuesday morning, there will be just 16 teams left.

Within this preview, we aim to get you ready for a weekend full of baseball. Here are the top storylines to follow, the biggest stars, the teams on upset alert and more.

So, before a weekend full of baseball begins, dig into everything you need to know for regionals.

Storylines To Follow

There’s plenty of intrigue to follow this weekend around regionals. Here are the biggest storylines.

1. The offensive environment. College baseball steps onto a bigger stage during the NCAA Tournament, bringing in fans who haven’t necessarily been locked into the season. A lot of those folks are going to be surprised by the high scores they see this weekend. Offense is up in a number of ways this season—most notably the home-run rate, which is at an all-time high of 1.13 per game—and I’d expect that to be a big talking point on TV and social media throughout the weekend.

2. The SEC’s dominant position in the sport. The conference set a record when it was awarded eight host sites, breaking its own mark of seven (2016). It matched the record for number of bids from one conference, with 10. All of this after a year that saw four SEC teams in the College World Series (plus two future members). There’s no pressure on the league to live up to those numbers as their bona fides have long since been secured. But you can be sure the college baseball world is keeping a close eye on how the league fares.

3. Alabama’s moment in the spotlight. The Crimson Tide are hosting a regional for the first time since 2006. It’s a big moment for the program and it comes after an eventful month. On May 4, coach Brad Bohannon was fired just a few days after gambling regulators in Ohio and later in New Jersey and Pennsylvania removed Crimson Tide baseball from sportsbooks due to suspicious wagering activity. ESPN later reported surveillance video from a sportsbook indicated the person who placed the suspicious bets was in communication with Bohannon. In the wake of that bombshell, pitching coach Jason Jackson was promoted to interim head coach and Alabama took the field that night to play Vanderbilt. The Tide defeated the Commodores, 11-2, starting a stretch that saw them go 10-2 to finish the season. Now, Alabama is hosting as the No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Jackson looks like a serious contender to get the head coaching job full time. How will they fare this weekend?

4. How will Arizona and Oklahoma fare? It’s unfair to the Sooners, Wildcats and the selection committee to judge their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament by how they play this weekend, but that’s what will inevitably happen. If Arizona and Oklahoma make a quick exit after their somewhat controversial inclusion in the Field of 64—both had strong RPIs but finished under .500 in their conference and behind teams that got left out like Southern California and Kansas State—it will only raise the ire of those that disagreed with this year’s RPI-centric selection process. If, however, one of them makes an Omaha run, like 2022 Mississippi did in a similar position, then the committee will avoid more scorn and perhaps feel even more emboldened to make similar choices in future years.

5. How will Wake Forest handle the moment? The Demon Deacons are in the midst of an incredible season that saw them rise to No. 1 for the first time in the 44-year history of the BA Top 25. They won the regular season ACC title and enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. The No. 1 overall seed famously has not won the national championship since Miami in 1999 (the first year of super regionals). But the No. 1 seed’s struggles don’t typically start until super regionals. The No. 1 overall seed hasn’t lost in a regional since UCLA in 2015. The team that took down the Bruins was Maryland, and the Terrapins are the No. 2 seed in Winston-Salem. Could turtle magic strike twice?

Bracket-Busting Players

If any No. 4 seed is going to spring a shocking upset or two, these are the players who are likely to be leading the way.

Teo Banks, OF, Tulane: Banks is hitting .303/.374/.621 with 18 home runs. He last week was named the American Athletic Conference Tournament’s most outstanding player after hitting three home runs to help the Green Wave win the title.

Jonah Cox, OF, Oral Roberts: Cox is hitting .422/.479/.671 with nine home runs and 26 stolen bases. He was named Summit League player of the year and brings a 41-game hitting streak into regionals. That’s tied for the seventh-longest streak in Division I history and the longest streak since Southeast Missouri State’s Kenton Parmley’s 47-game streak in 2012.

Ryan Dromboski, RHP, Penn: Dromboski is 7-2, 2.87 with 87 strikeouts and 31 walks in 62.2 innings this season. He was named Ivy League pitcher of the year, can run his fastball into the mid 90s and earlier this season set the program’s single-game strikeout record with 15 against Princeton.

Kevin Dubrule, SS, Army: Dubrule is hitting .411/.460/.630 with nine home runs. He’s struck out just 11 times in 219 at-bats (5.02%), making him the fourth toughest player in the nation to strike out. He was named the Patriot League’s player and defensive player of the year.

Sebastian Gongora, LHP, Wright State: Gongora is 10-1, 2.92 with 82 strikeouts and 32 walks in 86.1 innings. He was named Horizon League pitcher of the year, runs his fastball up to 92 and has an above-average changeup.

Jeremiah Jenkins, 1B, Maine: Jenkins is hitting .378/.506/.771 with 20 home runs. He was named America East Conference player of the year and ranks 16th nationally in OPS (1.258).

Jacob Mayers, RHP, Nicholls State: Mayers is 9-1, 1.93 with 97 strikeouts and 55 walks in 70 innings. He was named Southland Conference freshman of the year and ranks sixth nationally in ERA.

Dominic Niman, LHP, Central Connecticut State: NIman is 12-2, 2.76 with 90 strikeouts and 24 walks in 97.2 innings. He was named Northeast Conference pitcher of the year and has already set the program’s single-season records for wins and innings pitched.

Ryan Peltier, 3B, Ball State: Peltier is hitting .351/.432/.654 with 15 home runs and 12 stolen bases. In addition to his offensive prowess, he was named to the Mid-American Conference’s all-defensive team.

Logan Van Treeck, LHP, Lipscomb: Van Treeck is 8-4, 3.50 with 101 strikeouts and 13 walks in 82.1 innings this season. He was named ASUN Conference pitcher of the year and stands out for his control as his 1.42 walks per nine innings rank 14th nationally.

X-Factors For Top Seeds

To win a regional and advance every team needs its stars to contribute. But it also needs some players to lift their games on the biggest stage. Here’s one player from every No. 1 seed who could do just that this weekend.

Camden Minacci, RHP, Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons don’t really need an X-factor, not with all of their star power. But it isn’t hard to imagine Wake in a close game on Saturday or Sunday night, needing someone to get the final three outs to close out a crucial victory. Minacci, the team’s closer, is who coach Tom Walter will turn to. Minacci is 0-1, 2.93 with 12 saves on the season. He’s been asked to get as many as six outs in a game this season and he’s made five straight scoreless appearances since blowing consecutive saves in early May.

Jac Caglianone, LHP/1B, Florida: Caglianone is, of course, one of Florida’s biggest stars. But his status as a two-way player makes him the obvious answer for the Gators. He holds a critical spot in the lineup and is hitting .349/.409/.790 with 28 home runs, though he’s only homered three times in May. His spot on the mound is truly where his importance comes into play. He’s 6-3, 4.14 with 74 strikeouts and 46 walks in 63 innings as a pitcher. At his best, he’s excellent. He finished the regular season with back-to-back quality starts against Vanderbilt and Kentucky (13.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 17 K). But he’s often struggled to pitch deep into games, and he gave up six runs (two earned) in 1.2 innings against Vanderbilt at the SEC Tournament. Getting a solid start from Caglianone could be key to Florida advancing to super regionals for the first time since 2018.

Brady Tygart, RHP, Arkansas: Tygart missed nearly two months due to injury but has come back strong and helped stabilize the Razorbacks’ pitching staff. He hasn’t thrown more than 64 pitches this season, but before his SEC Tournament start last week, coach Dave Van Horn said he expected Tygart to “be good to go to do whatever (in regionals).” Tygart can pitch in any role on the staff, whether that’s a start or a high-leverage relief appearance.

Riley Bertram, 2B, Clemson: The Tigers are perhaps the hottest team in the country but there’s very little postseason experience on the roster because they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019. Bertram is the only position player with tournament experience, which he got at Michigan before transferring last summer. He’s hitting .280/.398/.341 with 18 stolen bases and one home run, which he hit in Sunday’s ACC Tournament championship game. If Bertram can harness his experience and momentum, it would help lengthen the Tigers’ lineup.

Thatcher Hurd, RHP, LSU: The Tigers are looking for a pitcher or two to step up in an important spot, whether that’s as a third starter or in a high-leverage role. Hurd could well be that answer. He’s had an up-and-down first season in Baton Rouge and is 5-2, 6.41 with 59 strikeouts and 31 walks in 46.1 innings. He’s coming off a couple solid appearances, as he threw 10.1 innings combined against Georgia and South Carolina in the last two weeks, holding them to five runs on seven hits and three walks. Another appearance like that this weekend would be good news for LSU.

Troy LaNeve, OF, Vanderbilt: LaNeve has been hampered by injuries much of the last two seasons but has recently found his stroke at the plate. The lefthanded hitter has three home runs in Vanderbilt’s last seven games and for a team that doesn’t have a lot of players who can change the game with one swing, that’s a welcome sight. LaNeve is unlikely to start against a lefthanded pitcher, but he’s shown he can make an impact in the right situation.

Jack O’Connor, RHP, Virginia: We know Virginia is going to hit. The Cavaliers lead the nation in batting (.334) and rank seventh in scoring (9.1). On the mound, they’ve been quite good as well, ranking seventh in team ERA (3.96). O’Connor has been a big part of that, as the freshman is 6-3, 3.92 with 61 strikeouts and 24 walks in 62 innings. He can pitch in a variety of roles—lately he’s mostly been coming on in relief—but no matter how Virginia uses him, it will be looking for him to throw important innings this weekend.

Drew Dowd, LHP, Stanford: The Cardinal don’t want to throw a lot of different pitchers this weekend. They want to stick to their three starters and their primary trio of relievers as much as possible. So, this really could be any of Dowd, Ryan Bruno or Brandt Pancer, Stanford’s top three relievers, but we’ll settle on Dowd. He’s 9-2, 4.70 with 73 strikeouts and 28 walks in 53.2 innings. He’s capable of going multiple innings or pitching twice on a weekend. Pretty much anything Stanford wants him to do, he can. So, you’re sure to see him in some key spots this weekend.

Karson Ligon, RHP, Miami: Ligon missed a month due to injury before coming back to pitch 2.1 innings (52 pitches) in the ACC Tournament semifinals. His return is significant, as it gives Miami one of its best pitchers back going into regionals. The sophomore is 3-1, 4.25 with 34 strikeouts and 19 walks in 48.2 innings. Exactly how much he’ll be able to throw and in what role is unknown at this point, but it’s a welcome development for a pitching staff that ranked ninth in the ACC in team ERA (5.12).

Teddy Sharkey, RHP, Coastal Carolina: Sharkey is one of the best relievers in the country and Coastal wants to get the ball in his hand. He’s 7-1, 2.68 with 10 saves in 25 appearances. He has 69 strikeouts and 17 walks in 47 innings. Most of his appearances this year have been for more than three outs and Coastal isn’t shy about using him twice on a weekend. If the Chanticleers are in a close game this weekend, expect to see Sharkey on the mound.

Nolan McLean, OF/RHP, Oklahoma State: McLean is one of the most dynamic players in the country and he’s going to make an impact this weekend in Stillwater. He’s hitting .256/.383/.545 with nine home runs and on the mound is 1-1, 2.08 with 31 strikeouts in 26 innings. He has six saves this season but after turning in a quality start against West Virginia at the Big 12 Tournament (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K), expect to see him starting this weekend.

Mason Moore, RHP, Kentucky: The Wildcats rank 23rd nationally in team ERA (4.33) but they’ve gotten there without a group of dominant starters. Kentucky is going to look to get the ball in the hands of their best relievers in good matchups and Moore is one of the pitchers it wants on the mound with the game on the line. He is 2-1, 2.43 with 42 strikeouts and 27 walks in 40.2 innings. Moore is good for multiple innings in an outing—he threw 60 pitches in three innings last week at the SEC Tournament—and can pitch twice in a series, so you’ll likely see a lot of him this weekend.

Chris Stanfield, OF, Auburn: Stanfield has come on strong as a freshman and is hitting .292/.379/.429 with nine stolen bases. He’s established himself as the Tigers’ leadoff hitter and comes into the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game hitting streak. His speed makes him a threat on the bases and he’s the kind of athlete who can impact the game in a number of ways.

Randal Diaz, SS, Indiana State: Diaz was named most outstanding player at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament after going 10-for-22 at the event. He’s hitting .296/.370/.513 with 10 home runs on the season. Indiana State is built around its strong pitching more than anything, but it this weekend needs a player or two like Diaz to step up to lead the offense.

Braylen Wimmer, SS, South Carolina: Wimmer has been unable to play shortstop for a month due to a hamstring injury, but is expected to be back at the position this weekend. That’s big news for the Gamecocks, who have struggled with injuries on the infield in the second half of the season. Wimmer anchors the defense, and his glove should steady things for South Carolina. He’s hitting .290/.397/.534 with 12 home runs and 13 stolen bases.

Tommy Seidl, OF, Alabama: Seidl is in his sixth year of college baseball and that experience plays well for the Crimson Tide. He carries a 10-game hitting streak into the NCAA Tournament and is hitting .364/.470/.568 with nine home runs and eight stolen bases. He was banged up a bit in the SEC Tournament and missed the Tide’s final game in Hoover. He’ll be ready to go this weekend and Alabama needs him to be.

Upset Alert

In the last decade, an average of about six hosts have not advanced past regionals. So, who are the six No. 1 seeds who are most likely to be upset this week?

Alabama: The No. 16 seed hasn’t won a regional since the selection committee began seeding all 16 hosts in 2018. This year’s No. 16 seed? Alabama. The Crimson Tide are hot, having won 10 of their last 12 games, but they have a tough draw. No. 2 seed Boston College is as comfortable playing on the road as any team in the field and mad about not getting a home regional. No. 3 seed Troy is talented and familiar with Alabama. No. 4 seed Nicholls State beat LSU in Baton Rouge earlier this year. And for as old as Alabama’s roster is, there’s very little postseason experience to be found. The Tide have handled incredible circumstances for the last month, but what about the pressure of hosting?

Arkansas: The Razorbacks really shouldn’t be here. They’ve been remarkably consistent all season long and are nearly unbeatable at Baum-Walker Stadium, where they’re 30-4 this season. But if you’re looking for a top-eight seed that might get upended this weekend, they got a tough draw with TCU, which comes in having won 12 of its last 13 games and just won the Big 12 Tournament, and Arizona, which has won seven of its last nine games and was the runner-up at the Pac-12 Tournament.

Indiana State: Fairly or not, everyone has by now been made very aware of Indiana State’s 2-9 record vs. RPI top-50 teams. Now, the Sycamores welcome two high-level opponents to Bob Wren Field in Iowa and North Carolina and an experienced No. 4 seed in Wright State. It’s not the hardest draw Indiana State could have gotten, but it’s not an easy one either.

Miami: The Hurricanes have been great this season at Mark Light Field (28-5) and have won seven of their last nine games, including an upset of No. 1 Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament semifinals. But they also haven’t won a regional since 2016 and last year went 1-2 at home. If they haven’t learned from that experience, No. 2 Texas, which has swept through three straight regionals (though all were at home) under coach David Pierce, and No. 3 Louisiana, which has a tricky offense to deal with, will be ready.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys last year lost the Stillwater Regional as the No. 7 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and now face a tricky draw this year. Oral Roberts, the No. 4 seed, has the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games and is plenty familiar with the Cowboys, having beaten them twice in midweek games this season. No. 2 seed Dallas Baptist knows a thing or two about winning regionals on the road, went 1-1 against Oklahoma State this season and will be playing with a chip on its shoulder after getting passed over as a host. No. 3 seed Washington may struggle to keep up if this turns into a slugfest of a regional, like it did last year, but if not, it’s got high-level pitching.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have lost 13 of their last 18 games after an impressive start to the season. They’ve been very good at Founders Park (26-7) but will home-field advantage be enough? No. 2 seed Campbell is feeling snubbed as a host candidate and is plenty talented. No. 3 seed NC State probably feels like it’s playing with house money and No. 4 seed Central Connecticut State isn’t going to be intimidated by the atmosphere, having this season already played at Alex Box Stadium.

Best Draft Prospects

Regardless of their draft class, here are the top 25 draft prospects playing this weekend.

  1. Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
  2. Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
  3. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
  4. Jac Caglianone, LHP/1B, Florida
  5. JJ Wetherholt, 2B, West Virginia
  6. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
  7. Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest
  8. Kyle Teel, C, Virginia
  9. Ethan Petry, OF, South Carolina
  10. Tommy White, 3B, LSU
  11. Nick Kurtz, 1B, Wake Forest
  12. Jace LaViolette, OF, Texas A&M
  13. Vance Honeycutt, OF, North Carolina
  14. Tommy Troy, 3B, Stanford
  15. Cade Kurland, 2B, Florida
  16. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland
  17. Brody Brecht, RHP, Iowa
  18. Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU
  19. Chase Burns, RHP, Tennessee
  20. Malcolm Moore, C, Stanford
  21. Cam Cannarella, OF, Clemson
  22. Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Vanderbilt
  23. Braden Montgomery, OF/RHP, Stanford
  24. Travis Bazzana, 2B, Oregon State
  25. Ike Irish, 1B/C, Auburn 

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