We are days away from the announcement of the 2017 NCAA baseball tournament field. 64 of the best teams in the nation will duke it out in regionals, super regionals, and finally the College World Series with the top team being crowned national champions.
College baseball is a bit different from many other college sports due to the ability of the “little guy” to make a run and win the whole damn thing. Last season, Coastal Carolina defeated Arizona to earn the Chanticleers their first baseball national title. Before them, Fresno State (2008), Cal State Fullerton (2004, 1995, 1984, 1979), Rice (2003), Pepperdine (1992), and Wichita State (1989), Holy Cross (1952) have won Division I national titles. 15 other times, a Forgotten has played for a national title since 1947
Before your program of choice can win a national title, they have to first make the tournament. There are two ways to get invited to the big dance of college baseball: conference winner and at-large. Certain conferences have decided to eliminate the conference tournament as a way to choose a representative. The Pac-12 and Big West send the conference winner as a representative, while the Ivy league has a championship series to determine the representative. Every other conference in the nation has a tournament that will determine which program is the conference’s representative.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the In, almost in, and bubble teams among the Forgotten 5.
- #7 Long Beach State (35-16-1): The Dirtbags are the Big West Conference champions and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. They didn’t need the help as they are #7 nationally in the Baseball America rankings and will host a regional. BA currently has the Long Beach Regional as #1 LBSU, #2 Arizona, #3 New Mexico, #4 Yale.
- Yale (30-16): The Bulldogs are headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993. They had to beat Penn in a best of three series to earn the bid and rolled to 5-0 and 11-7 wins. Yale can hit the ball, but also give up lots of runs. Unless they can find some consistency on the mound, it will be a short trip. BA currently has them heading to the Long Beach Regional as the #4 seed.
- Bethune-Cookman (33-23): The MEAC champs are no stranger to the tournament with 15 overall appearances. Once they get there, it has been tough sledding with a record of 2-30 in 15 overall appearances. BA currently has them heading to the Gainesville regional yet again at the #4 seed.
- Holy Cross (23-25): A true Cinderella team in this year’s tournament, the Crusaders are one of the few F5 teams that can claim a national title (1952). They were able to outlast Army and watch #1 seed Navy get bounced by Bucknell before taking the Patriot League automatic bid. BA has them heading to the Corvallis, Oregon regional to face off versus projected overall #1 seed Oregon State.
- Texas Southern (20-32): A team that got hot at the right time, the Tigers took the SWAC tournament, bouncing heavy favorite Jackson State in back to back tournament games before taking out Alabama State in 13 innings for the title. BA has the Tigers heading to the Lubbock, Texas Regional to face off versus projected #4 overall seed Texas Tech.
- #23 Central Florida (39-19): The Knights were an afterthought heading into the season, but won the AAC regular season title and will be in the NCAA tournament no matter what. The loss to ECU in the first round hurts, but they bounced back and beat Tulane to face the loser of ECU and USF this afternoon. BA currently has UCF hosting a regional with #2 Auburn, #3 Florida State, and #4 Binghamton.
- #15 Southern Miss (45-13): The Golden Eagles dominated a very good CUSA this season and held a double-digit winning streak heading into the tournament. A loss to UTSA hurt, but they bounced back to eliminate bubble team Louisiana Tech in order to face off in the second round versus the loser of USA/Charlotte. BA currently has Southern Miss hosting a regional with #2 Michigan, #3 Ole Miss, and #4 Mercer.
- Houston (37-20): Despite an up and down season that saw start pitcher Seth Romero kicked off the squad, the Cougars are a lock for the tournament. An AAC title would only improve their stock, with the Cougars winning a huge second round game versus UConn on Thursday. BA currently has Houston as the #2 seed in the Fort Worth regional with #1 TCU, #3 UCLA, and #4 New Mexico State.
- Missouri State (38-16): After losing in the first round of the MVC tournament, the Bears bounced back with a win over Southern Illinois. The path to the conference crown will be tough, but many bubble teams are pulling for them to win out. They are a no doubt tourney team and getting eliminated in the MVC tournament would shrink the bubble. BA currently has them as the #2 seed in the Lubbock regional with #1 Texas Tech, #3 Texas A&M, and #4 Texas Southern.
- South Florida (41-15): The Bulls have a gaudy record and could put themselves in position to win the AAC with a win over ECU. They check off all the boxes and could even host a regional if they win the conference tournament. BA currently has them as the #2 seed in the Charlottesville Regional with #1 Virginia, #3 Old Dominion, and #4 VCU.
- #14 Cal State Fullerton (33-19): The biggest benefit from no conference tournament is the inability to lose an ugly game at an inopportune time. The Titans are talented and could make a run, but they cannot form any sort of consistency for longer than 2-3 games. They could jump a bit if they win this weekend series versus LBSU, but they are essentially already in the tournament via at-large. BA currently has them as a #2 seed in the Stanford regional with #1 Stanford, #3 Miami, and #4 Bryant.
- Coastal Carolina (37-18-1): OF the teams sweating it out, the defending national champions should be the least worried. They won the Sun Belt regular season, played very well away from home, and should get the blind vote from the committee due to last year’s success. BA currently has them as a #3 seed in the Chapel Hill regional with #1 North Carolina, #2 Vanderbilt, and #4 UNC Wilmington.
- Louisiana (35-20-1): The Ragin’ Cajuns are another up and down team. They played a tough schedule, but lost too many games to inferior foes to be completely safe. In the end, they are in the tournament barring a complete collapse in the Sun Belt tournament. Win a couple of games to feel safe. BA currently has them as a #3 seed in the Baton Rouge regional with #1 LSU, #2 Texas, and #4 Fairfield which is interesting considering they have played LSU and Texas head to head this season already, going 1-1.
- Old Dominion (37-19): Conference USA is getting at least two teams in the tournament and the Monarchs are one of them. A win over Rice would give them two in the tournament and that is enough to secure an at-large bid. BA currently has them as a #3 seed in the Charlottesville regional with #1 Virginia, #2 South Florida, and #4 VCU.
- McNeese State (37-18): The case for the Cowboys is the fact that they won a conference with Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State in the mix. They also played a tough non-conference schedule, including a 4-game trip to Arizona. The case against is the lack of signature wins on the schedule. A 2-9 record versus likely tournament teams is tough to overcome. BA currently has them as a #3 seed in the Fayetteville regional with #1 Arkansas, #2 Oklahoma, and #4 Oral Roberts.
Sweat it out:
- Gonzaga (31-18): The Bulldogs are the top seed, but have to face off versus a very good Saint Mary’s squad in the opening round of the four team tournament. All four teams could make cases as an at-large, but Gonzaga would likely get the call if they do not win the tournament. Honestly, it is better to go ahead and win the league because Loyola Marymount or Saint Mary’s could easily take their spot. BA currently has them as a #3 seed in the Corvallis regional with #1 Oregon State, #2 NC State, and #4 Holy Cross.
- Mercer (39-15): The Bears were a top 25 team at one point and them fell apart down the stretch. They need to win the SoCon to guarantee a berth, because I don’t think the selection committee wants to put two teams in from that conference. BA currently has them as a #4 seed in the Hattiesburg regional with #1 Southern Miss, #2 Michigan, and #3 Ole Miss.
- Southeastern Louisiana (36-18): Anything less than a trip to the title game would worry me. The Lions have the ability, but play in a conference with McNeese State and will have trouble winning the tournament. BA currently has them as a #3 seed in the Winston-Salem regional with #1 Wake Forest, #2 Nebraska, and #4 Winthrop.
- UConn (32-24): Last season’s trip to the NCAA tournament may be the closest this year’s squad gets to the dance. They just took too many bad losses and struggled away from home to a 14-16 away record. There is still hope that the selection committee can overlook those losses and get them in.
- Kent State (36-16): I personally think that the Golden Flashes have done enough to get an automatic berth, but I don’t think the selection committee shares my belief. If at least one other MAC team had an impressive season, we would be talking about Kent State pushing for a #2 seed in their regional. Instead, they have to sweat it out if they don’t win the tourney. BA currently has them as a #4 seed in the Lexington regional with #1 Kentucky, #2 Baylor, and #3 UConn.
- San Diego State (38-18): The Aztecs are the cream of the crop in the MWC, but seemed to find a way to lose one game in nearly every series all season long. A sweep here or there and we are talking about SDSU being a lock. A title game appearance may be just enough to sway the committee. BA currently has them out of the tournament.
- Florida Gulf Coast (38-17): It would be a travesty to see the Eagles left out of the tournament this season. This is a team that beat FAU, Florida (2x), Ohio State (2x), Florida State, USF, Jackson State, and Miami (2x). I almost hate to say it, but FGCU will either barely make it in or be team #65 in a 64 team tournament. BA currently has them out of the tournament.
- Dallas Baptist (37-19): The Patriots are in a tough spot. They are the #2 team in a league that looks like a one-bid league. They will get a look, but have to run the table to the title game to enter the conversation. BA currently has out of the tournament.
- Others: BYU, Loyola Marymount, San Diego, Sam Houston State, Navy, FAU, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech.
One-Bid Leagues (My projected winner):
- Virginia Commonwealth (33-20): Atlantic 10.
- Binghamton (30-12): America East.
- Liberty (32-22): Big South.
- William & Mary (32-23): CAA.
- Illinois-Chicago (37-15): Horizon.
- Canisuis (35-21): MAAC.
- Central Connecticut (33-20): Northeast.
- Tennessee Tech (38-19): OVC.
- Oral Roberts (40-14): Summit.
- New Mexico State (35-20): WAC.