ARIZONA

NCAA baseball tournament primer: Arizona, Grand Canyon in toughest regional

May 29, 2024, 6:00 AM

Garen Caulfield...

Arizona infielder Garen Caulfield (1) celebrates on May 27th, 2023, at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, AZ. (Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NCAA baseball tournament opens Friday with play in 16 double-elimination regionals.

Regional winners advance to best-of-three super regionals next week. The final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, beginning June 14.

NCAA baseball tournament preview

What is the toughest regional?

The Tucson Regional has no lightweights, and host Arizona (36-21) has first-hand knowledge of that.

No. 4 regional seed Grand Canyon (34-23) has won two of three against the Pac-12 champion Wildcats this season, including a 24-8 beatdown in Tucson that was stopped after seven innings by the 10-run rule.

Second-seed Dallas Baptist (44-13) is the only non-Power Five program to make 10 straight NCAA Tournaments, and the Patriots are third nationally in wins. No. 3 West Virginia (33-22), looking to send out retiring coach Randy Mazey in style, won a series at Oklahoma and had sweeps against NCAA qualifiers Kansas State and UCF.

Who are the hottest teams?

The two hottest teams are in the regional at Santa Barbara, California. Host UC Santa Barbara (42-12) of the Big West has won a school-record 14 straight games for the nation’s longest active streak and is 25-0 at home. West Coast Conference champion San Diego (40-13) has won 10 in a row and 18 of its last 19.

Who are the coldest teams?

No. 5 national seed Arkansas (43-14) and and No. 7 Georgia (39-15) each have lost three straight, all against Southeastern Conference opponents.

The Razorbacks closed the regular season with a 14-4 loss to Texas A&M in a seven-inning game ended by the 10-run rule, and they dropped games to South Carolina and Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. Arkansas hadn’t lost three straight since April 2023.

Georgia dropped two at home to Florida to end the regular season and lost to LSU in its SEC Tournament opener. The Bulldogs also lost three straight in a March series at Kentucky.

Tennessee trying to end the streak

The No. 1 national seed has not won the championship since Miami in 1999, the first year of the current tournament format. Tennessee (50-11) will try to break through this year.

The Volunteers haven’t lost consecutive games since mid-March. They are the only team in the country to win 50 games three of the past four years.

The national seeds following Tennessee (50-11) are Kentucky (40-14), Texas A&M (44-13), North Carolina (42-13), Arkansas (43-14), Clemson (41-14), Georgia (39-15) and Florida State (42-15).

East Carolina (43-15) has never reached the College World Series in 33 previous NCAA Tournament appearances. That is the longest streak of its kind. The Pirates are in the field for the eighth time in nine years.

Clemson (41-14) has never won a national championship, or finished as runner-up, in 45 previous appearances.

Which teams are in their first tournament

High Point, Niagara and Northern Kentucky are making their first appearances in the Division I national tournament.

The Panthers (34-25) of High Point, North Carolina, won the Big South Conference and have their first winning record since 2018. Niagara (38-15) won the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference and is on an eight-game win streak. Northern Kentucky (35-22), which became a full-fledged Division I member in 2016-17, won the Horizon League.

Arizona not guaranteed to advance

Since the tournament went to its current format, an average of just under 11 of the 16 regional hosts have advanced to super regionals.

The fewest regional hosts to advance were seven in 2007 and 2014. There were eight in 2018 and nine in 2017 and 2023.

Home run record?

Division I teams have combined to average 1.15 home runs per game, just ahead of the record of 1.14 set last year. Six teams are averaging at least two per game; only two average fewer than one.

The NCAA Tournament record is 452 homers in 2022.

Charlie Condon brings the power

Georgia slugger and SEC player of the year Charlie Condon heads a list of 19 players in regionals who are projected to be first-round picks in the Major League Baseball draft, according to MLB.com.

Condon’s 35 homers are most since Lance Berkman hit 41 for Rice in 1997. His .443 batting average, .584 on-base percentage, 1.043 slugging percentage and 219 total bases lead the nation.

Hagen Smith, the pitcher to watch

SEC pitcher of the year Hagen Smith of Arkansas leads the nation with a 1.48 ERA, 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.2 hits per nine innings. The lefty, one strikeout from David Walling’s school record of 155 in 1999, could be the first pitcher taken in the draft.

North Carolina has how many teams in the tournament?

The state of North Carolina has seven teams in regionals, most among the 28 states represented in the tournament.

Duke, East Carolina, High Point, NC State, North Carolina, UNC Wilmington and Wake Forest are the Tar Heel State schools that earned bids.

Louisiana has six teams in the tournament — Grambling, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Nicholls and Tulane.

The SEC set a record with 11 teams in regionals and five among the top eight national seeds. The Atlantic Coast Conference has eight teams in the tournament and the Big 12 has six.

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