Image credit: Oklahoma State RHP Justin Campbell (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State)
Happy Selection Monday! The NCAA Tournament bracket is here, so it’s time to break it all down and give you a preview of what’s to come this weekend.
Let’s take a look at some winners and losers from Monday’s bracket reveal.
Coming out of the Big 12 Tournament, there was plenty of optimism that Oklahoma State had done enough to host. It went 3-2 in the event and ended up with the best RPI of any team in the conference. There was less optimism, however, about the Cowboys being a top-eight seed, but as the No. 7 overall seed, that’s how it played out. OSU doesn’t have the easiest draw, as it has Arkansas as its two seed, but it has to be thrilled at the prospect of being able to play at home at O’Brate Stadium all the way to the College World Series.
One of the impediments to East Carolina getting to Omaha in the past is that it always seemed to end up on the road for a super regional against a juggernaut, needing a massive upset to advance. Take last year’s draw against a Vanderbilt team led by Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, for instance. And that’s why it’s huge that ECU ended up as the last top-eight seed in the field. Being drawn opposite Texas isn’t the easiest possible super regionals matchup, but any matchup at home beats the Pirates trying to get it done on the road.
Mississippi began the week firmly on the bubble after losing in its SEC Tournament opener to Vanderbilt, and it was only pushed further into the periphery as the bubble tightened throughout the week. In the end, though, the Rebels were team No. 64 in the field and will live to fight for at least one more weekend. Going to Coral Gables, a notoriously tough place to play as a road team and seeing two seed Arizona, which beat the Rebels in the super regionals last season, makes for a tough draw, but Ole Miss will take it considering that the alternative is sitting at home this weekend.
Gonzaga is probably a bit disappointed to not be hosting considering that was a real possibility as recently as a few weeks ago, but in the grand scheme of things, it got a favorable draw. As a two seed in Blacksburg, it’s matched up with one of the softer three seeds in the field in Columbia, and there are even reasons to like its matchup with host Virginia Tech. For one, the Zags have the pitching talent to at least partially neutralize the powerful Hokies lineup, but beyond that, there is a specific pressure that comes with being a breakthrough team hosting for the first time in a long time, as Virginia Tech is, and perhaps Gonzaga can take advantage. Also, Gonzaga avoided going to Corvallis, the place most expected it to go, and potentially facing off with an Oregon State team that has beaten it three out of four times this season already.
By getting sent to Louisville as a two seed, Oregon will have to make a long trip, but it got a fairly favorable matchup in its regional. Its opening game opponent, Michigan, wasn’t going to be an at-large team had it not won the Big Ten Tournament title Sunday evening. And while Oregon has some real questions on the mound, those kinds of questions are shared by the host team, Louisville. These games could be real slugfests, and the Ducks have shown themselves to be plenty comfortable in those types of games this season.
For the second year in a row, Notre Dame was snubbed in the host selection process. Last year, it didn’t receive a top-eight seed after dominating the ACC. This year, it didn’t receive a host spot at all despite a top-16 RPI, an 18-12 record in ACC games (including the tournament) and a 14-7 record against RPI top-50 teams, which compares quite favorably with a lot of other host teams. On top of that, it’s not like Notre Dame got an easy draw all around. It did end up at the 16th host site, Georgia Southern, but the three seed in that regional is Texas Tech, which might have been a host if not for the RPI problems that plagued several teams in the Big 12 this season.
The Terrapins are in as a host for the first time, but it was a real shock to see them all the way down as the 15th host, suggesting that they were closer to not hosting than they were to being a top-eight seed, which for much of last week seemed like a foregone conclusion, especially as Maryland’s RPI at one point soared to No. 3 in the country. Getting Wake Forest and Connecticut in that regional also did the Terrapins no favors. Both have the talent to be an upset winner in College Park.
North Carolina State
With an RPI of 32, 14 ACC regular season wins, a run to the ACC Tournament title game and a 13-15 record against the RPI top 50, NC State woke up Monday morning with a fairly straightforward case to be an at-large team and no one would have looked askance at the Wolfpack being included. But it wasn’t enough, apparently, as they were the first team left out. There are holes in NC State’s resume, to be sure. It won just four ACC series. It lost seven series overall. It didn’t play a particularly difficult non-conference schedule. But those are just nitpicks on what has almost always been a winning at-large resume. It was shocking to see NC State left out.
Georgia Tech got a tough draw on two fronts. For one, it was sent to Knoxville to take on No. 1 Tennessee, truly the only excellent team in college baseball this season and the prohibitive favorite to win a national title. Second, its opening matchup is against Campbell, which boasts two of the top prospects in this year’s draft, shortstop Zach Neto and righthander Thomas Harrington, the latter of whom the Yellow Jackets will almost certainly see on the mound to start the weekend.
Rutgers was team No. 67 on the committee sheet, meaning had the bubble not shrunk to the degree it did last week, the Scarlet Knights would be in rather than on the outside looking in. It’s a tough way for a breakout season to end. Rutgers won 44 games and was the clear second-best team in the Big Ten this season and to have that kind of season not end in the postseason has to be heartbreaking. A soft Big Ten in 2022 and a soft non-conference schedule was ultimately the demise of the Scarlet Knights’ postseason chances.