Friday, May 29, 2009

Breaking Down the Field of 64

The Texas Longhorns enter Regional play as the #1 overall seed

Tournament selection committees get a lot of heat, and so when they do something right they deserve to get some praise. This year, the committee that picked the 64-team field got it right. As we told you last week, 6 of the 8 National Seeds were fairly well determined. While we could argue about the order, those were the 6 top seeds in the tournament and Oklahoma and Florida clearly earned the other two spots. As to the 8 Regional hosts, from my perspective there was only one miss, which we will get to in a moment. Personally, I would have chosen either Louisville or East Carolina—not both of regional hosts, but who’s quibbling. As to the Field itself, I missed only 1 team—Southern Mississippi, but the committee can certainly justify its selection.

So who is going to do the complaining? Well if any one (or two) team(s) has a complaint, you are going to find it in the Irvine, CA Regional. We had Virginia rated 16th, ahead of Louisville and East Carolina, going into last weekend. All that the Cavaliers did was win 4 straight games and the ACC Tournament Championship. This should have easily made them a Regional host. Instead…the Cavaliers get to rack up their frequent flier miles and head to Irvine and play in the Tournament’s toughest Regional. If that wasn’t bad enough, for all of their trouble they get to open up against San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasuburg. The rest of the complaining should be coming from the host Ant-Eaters themselves. They not only handily won the Big West Conference, but could easily make a case for being one of the top 3 teams in the tournament. Instead of getting one of the 29th – 32nd ranked teams as their #2, they end up getting the Cavaliers as their #2, the toughest #2 seed in the Tournament, and then they get San Diego State, probably the top #3 seed, in their Regional. I still like Irvine to advance from this Region, but they shouldn’t have had to work so hard.

Here’s a look at the other 15 1st round Regions…

Austin, TX – The Longhorns should advance easily out of this Region as Texas State is one of the weaker #2s. Boston College is the only team here capable of giving the Longhorns a game.

Fort Worth, TX - The top three teams here; TCU, Texas A&M and Oregon State, are the most evenly matched of any Region. That should make for a long series and make pitching depth the difference. I’ll take the Beavers over the Horned-Frogs in a squeaker.

Atlanta, GA – This appears to be a two team Region with the Georgia Tech-Elon winner your likely champ. I’ll go with the host Yellow Jackets.

Gainsville, FL – With the geographic rivalries here, this may be the most fun Region to watch. During the regular season the host Gators had victories over both Jacksonville and Bethune-Cookman, but were swept in a three game series by the Hurricanes. On the other hand Bethune-Cookman took two of three from the Hurricanes. And then of course Jacksonville took both of its games against Bethune-Cookman. Nothing that happens here will surprise me, but the Gators have more victories against top 50 opponents than any other team in the country. That’s should have made them tournament ready and I’ll go with the Gators.

Tempe, AZ – The biggest gap between the best team (Arizona State) and the next best team (Cal Poly) in any Region. What did Oral Roberts do to get a #2 seed? Give me the Sun Devils in a rout here.

Clemson, SC – In Clemson we find my vote for the weakest of all Regions, but that just may make it more interesting. Whoever wins the Alabama- Oklahoma State opener becomes the favorite here, but any of the four teams could advance. I’ll take the Crimson Tide.

Greenville, NC – Should be another fun Region with any of the top three teams possibly advancing. Sam Dyson had led a Gamecock resurgence—until last weekend, and might have been my choice, but I just think the host Pirates are more balanced.

Chapel Hill, NC – This Region is home to the ‘worst’ best team, as I just can’t explain which Tar Heel team will show up on any given day. The Tar Heels are easily the most talented, but I have been warning of their pitching inconsistencies all season and an upset here would hardly be a surprise. In the end I think the talent will prevail…but don’t put money on it.

Fullerton, CA - Collectively teams #2 thru #4 here are as strong as in any Region except the previously discussed Irvine Region. That will make the Titans have to work hard to get out of here, but expect them to prevail.

Louisville, KY – Less than 300 miles separate the four teams in this Region, and, top to bottom, no Region is more evenly matched then this one. Once again that should mean a long drawn out Region, and those typically get decided by arms. If that’s the case, look for Sonny Gray and Mike Minor to edge out Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore.

Tallahassee, FL – Florida State isn’t likely to have to face either Wimmers of Ohio State or Holder of Georgia and that should make all the difference here. Look for the Seminoles to move on.

Norman, OK – The host Sooners will have their hands full, but before a couple of close defeats last weekend, they were playing as well as they have all year. Look for Oklahoma to advance.
Oxford, MS – Another two team affair here between the host Rebels and Missouri. If I am the Tigers I hold Kyle Gibson out for this match-up and take my chances in the other games. Look for the Rebels to sneak out of here—barely.

Houston, TX - Again a two team affair. This time it’s the host Rice Owls and the Wildcats of Kansas State. I expect this won’t be as easy as some may suspect, but make the Owls the favorites.

Baton Rouge, LA – Minnesota has quietly put together a solid season and they could surprise a lot of people. I’d like Baylor more if Kendall Volz wasn’t so lost right now. In the end, it should come down to quality and no team in the nation has played better against quality opponents than the Tigers who have a 20-7 record against Top 50 opponents.

Next week, we will take a detailed look at the Super Regionals.

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