It's official. The NCAA baseball tournament field of 64 that will be fighting its way to that big circular stadium in Omaha is all set. The pursuit of the ultimate dogpile under the confetti blasters begins Friday with regional play.
In order, the top eight national seeds are Oregon State, Florida, Virginia, Indiana, Florida State, Louisiana, TCU and LSU. How did the committee do with their selections? Let's answer that with 10 things about the bracket.
1. Streaks, peaks and no repeats
• Miami's impressive streak is still alive, as the Hurricanes have made the NCAA tournament for the 42nd consecutive year. Florida State has gone 37 straight years, and Cal State Fullerton continues its 23-year regional streak.
• Long Beach State made the steadiest climb of any team from about midseason onward. On April 23, the Dirtbags were sitting at No. 73 in the RPI, but now they've peaked at No. 29.
• It's been 58 years since North Dakota State last made the NCAA tournament in 1956. Coming in second is Maryland, which went 43 years between appearances.
• This is the first Big Dance for Sacramento State and Kennesaw State.
• The best RPI team to not make the tournament was No. 40 West Virginia.
• The worst RPI team to make the tournament was No. 271 Jackson State.
• For the second year in a row, we're assured of no repeat national champion as UCLA failed to make the field of 64, as did 31 other teams from last year's bracket.
That was a buzzword thrown around during the selection show as new committee chairman Dennis Farrell, the Big West commissioner, was upfront with the committee's decisions and how they came about. In the post-announcement news conference, Farrell said the last four teams to make the field (in no particular order) were Clemson, North Carolina, Texas A&M and UC Irvine. The first four to miss the field were Mercer, UCF, USC and West Virginia.
Farrell's honesty is both appreciated and much different from those years in the late '90s and early 2000s when all those committee chairmen, in their deep Southern accents, were either very vague or very close-lipped in their decisions and explanations.
3. The West fest
The West was treated badly once again, but also treated well, in a way. It all depends on your point of view.
The Good: Over the past few weeks, bubble teams such as Stanford, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton needed to get hot down the stretch if they wanted any hope of making the tournament. Well, all three went on good sprees and the committee rewarded them. Good favor was also shown to UC Irvine, which plummeted to No. 44 in the RPI during a recent cold streak but was still extended a bid. The fact that USC was under such heavy consideration was actually quite a surprise as well.
The Bad: For the first time since 2004, there will be only two regionals west of the Pecos River, at Oregon State and Cal Poly. Also, UC Santa Barbara, which won a series over Cal State Fullerton and finished with a better RPI, got snubbed so bad that the Gauchos weren't even a final four consideration for the committee. Outside of the two regionals in Corvallis, Oregon, and San Luis Obispo, California, there are six western teams spread out in six regionals. The committee always talks about saving money and having teams take buses instead of airplanes, but it didn't mind making the West Coasters pony up for travel. Don't those teams suffer from having some of the higher costs of living in the nation, anyway?
4. SEC reaches critical mass
As expected, the Southern monster conference got a record 10 bids this year. With the way the brackets fall, the maximum number of SEC teams that can reach Omaha is six. Ole Miss and Mississippi State will be matched up in the same super regional pairing if both win their regionals. Same scenario exists for Texas A&M and LSU, Alabama and Kentucky, and South Carolina and Arkansas.
5. The wide-eyed factor
When the brackets are announced, it's always interesting to see which greenhorn programs get picked to go into big-time, high-pressure environments for the first time and have eyes bigger than dinner plates as they're awestruck and intimidated. That's what LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina will have in their favor this weekend. Houston is a No. 2 seed at LSU, but the Cougars are new to success, having not been to the NCAA tournament since 2008. South Carolina will have newbies Maryland and Old Dominion walking in with wide wonder. Ole Miss welcomes in Washington as its 2-seed. The Huskies have yet to see anything like that Swayze Field environment -- or that oppressive humidity.
6. Dubious seeding
We all know about the parity across the board in college baseball, but the committee still had a few hiccups in seeding teams. Sure, the RPI shouldn't be followed to the letter of the law; I think we can all agree to that. But the first glaring miss was probably Houston getting saddled with a 2-seed and having to go play at LSU of all places. It could be argued that the Cougars deserved a home regional or maybe even a national seed. The same could be said for Texas, which came in with a No. 12 RPI but also got a No. 2 seed at Rice. It was curious to see Louisville hosting as a No. 1 seed with a No. 20 RPI while 2-seed Kentucky comes in with a better RPI at No. 19. Finally, Pepperdine sits at No. 34 in the RPI and is a 3-seed, while 2-seed Arizona State is No. 38.
7. Easiest regional: Indiana
It's hard to argue against the fact that the Hoosiers got the biggest red carpet to the supers of any national seed. They will start with No. 270 Youngstown State, a game that should be a glorified scrimmage. They get Indiana State as their 2-seed, but does anyone really think the Sycamores are the 21st-best team in the country, as the RPI suggests? Stanford could be formidable, but there are so many freshmen in the arms corps that you have to beware of their postseason freak-out factor.
Runner up: South Carolina
Maryland and Old Dominion have zero postseason experience and may not make many waves against the Gamecocks.
8. Toughest regional: Oklahoma State
This could be the most hard-fought regional of the bunch, mostly because the Cowboys and their Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, Nebraska and Cal State Fullerton, respectively, are very even teams -- nearly interchangeable. The possible exception is the Titans, who still have a formidable pitching staff that is one of the best in the nation when it is dialed in, making them extremely dangerous. But give the edge on offense to the Pokes.
Runner up: Florida
The youthful Gators drew the toughest 4-seed in College of Charleston and also have red-hot Long Beach State and potentially dangerous North Carolina in their bracket.
9. Staring down an old rival
How incredible is the Houston regional going to be? Rice will welcome back old Southwest Conference mates Texas and Texas A&M. Get ready for a good old-fashioned scratch-and-claw fest for that regional title at Reckling Park. That tasty opener between the Aggies and Longhorns boils down to old-school hate. Nearly as fun should be the potential matchup of Kentucky and Louisville in the Louisville Regional, plus old Big 12 adversaries Oklahoma State and Nebraska could square off in Stillwater.
10. Biggest snubs
As mentioned above, Mercer, UCF, USC and West Virginia were closest to getting into the field. Looking deeper than that, though, how UC Santa Barbara didn't get more consideration is a bit of a mystery, especially considering its two-game sweep of Mississippi State and series win over Fullerton, as well as the fact it went 8-3 in its final 11 games. Most egregious could be the stiff-arming of Illinois, the team that beat No. 2 national seed Florida twice in Gainesville by comfortable margins. The Illini should have been given more credit for their big wins but were instead penalized for their weak losses on extensive early-season road trips.