<
>

Statistical guide to the CWS

The 2015 College World Series begins on Saturday and runs through June 25 in Omaha, Nebraska. For the first time since 2008, all eight participants have been to the College World Series before, but two -- Cal State Fullerton and Miami -- are making their first trip to TD Ameritrade Park. After a record-low two national seeds reached last year's College World Series, half of this year's field comes from the top eight seeds (No. 2 LSU, No. 4 Florida, No. 5 Miami and No. 7 TCU). It's the fifth time in the past six years that four or fewer national seeds have made it to Omaha. Since national seeds were introduced in 1999, 57 percent (78 of 136) of them have advanced to the College World Series.

As for the other four teams, Cal State Fullerton and Vanderbilt were non-national No. 1 regional seeds; Arkansas was a No. 2 regional seed; and Virginia was a 3-seed.

Here are some notes and storylines to keep in mind as you watch the conclusion of the NCAA baseball tournament on the ESPN family of networks.

General notes

• For those who might need a refresher course, here's how the College World Series works. Using the master tournament bracket, the eight teams are separated into a pair of four-team groups -- each group is contested in a double-elimination format. The two group winners then play each other in a best-of-three championship series called the CWS Finals. It is, therefore, possible to lose twice in Omaha and still win the national title.

• There have been 135 home runs hit so far in this year's NCAA tournament, putting us on pace for the highest total since 2011. That's a result of the NCAA introducing new flat-seamed baseballs this year, which has led to a 42 percent jump in home runs from last season.

• There have been 13 extra-inning games in this year's NCAA tournament, tied for the second most (behind the 15 last postseason).

• By the end of Sunday, four teams will be 0-1 with the odds stacked heavily against them. In the past 34 years, only three teams have lost their opening games at the CWS and bounced back to win the championship. South Carolina did it in 2010; Oregon State did it in 2006; and USC did it in 1998. But winning the opener is only half the battle. Of the past 25 titles, 22 have been won by a team that started 2-0 in Omaha (the same three teams -- South Carolina, Oregon State and USC -- are the only exceptions).

Conference tidbits

• The SEC is represented in Omaha for the 23rd straight year (and 30 of the past 31). It has four teams in Omaha this season, tied for the most from a single conference to reach the College World Series in a single season. Only once, though, has a team from a four-participant conference won the title (LSU in 1997).

• The SEC has won four of the past six titles and sent at least one team to the CWS Finals in each of the past seven seasons. That's the longest streak for any conference in CWS history. And while USC represented the Pac-8 five straight years from 1970-74, six schools have represented the SEC during its streak.

• The ACC has won only one title in baseball, and that was when Wake Forest won the crown in the second year of the conference's existence. It hasn't been for lack of opportunities either, and the ACC has two teams in this year's CWS field.

• The Pac-12 won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 but hasn't had a team in Omaha since then. Based on the conference's current membership, it's the first time the Pac-12 hasn't been represented in consecutive College World Series.

• The Big Ten sent a record five teams to regionals. Two advanced to the super regionals but none reached the College World Series. Indiana in 2013 is the only Big Ten school to reach Omaha in the past 31 seasons.

Players to watch

• The finalists for the Golden Spikes Award were announced last week, and all four are at the College World Series. Vanderbilt's Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson are the first finalist teammates since Vanderbilt's David Price and Pedro Alvarez in 2007 (Price won the award). This is the first time that every Golden Spikes Award finalist has taken the field at the College World Series.

Andrew Benintendi, Arkansas OF

Benintendi entered the NCAA tournament with a chance to become the second hitter to win the SEC Triple Crown (Rafael Palmeiro in 1984 at Mississippi State), but Florida's JJ Schwarz likely has put the RBI race out of reach. And his average has dropped from .415 entering the SEC tournament to .380 entering the College World Series.

Carson Fulmer, Vanderbilt RHP

Fulmer has a chance to become the fourth pitcher to win the SEC Triple Crown. He leads the conference in ERA (1.82), wins (13) and strikeouts (152).

Alex Bregman, LSU SS

Bregman is one of the best all-around players in the country. He leads the SEC in stolen bases and trails only Dansby Swanson and JJ Schwarz in extra-base hits in the conference. But he's just 1-for-16 so far in the NCAA tournament.

Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt SS

Swanson is one of the leading run producers in the country. He's third nationally with 74 runs scored and is also tied for 21st with 62 RBIs. His 44 extra-base hits are seven more than any other SEC player. He's been even better this year after winning Most Outstanding Player in Omaha last season.

Thomas Eshelman, Cal State Fullerton RHP

Eshelman, who was not named a Golden Spikes finalist, has an amazing 18.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season after striking out 131 batters and walking only seven in 131⅓ innings so far. And in three seasons at Cal State Fullerton, he's posted a career mark of 17.4 (313/18).

Opening matchups

Virginia (39-22) vs. Arkansas (40-23), Saturday (3 ET, ESPN)

Virginia recovered from a roller coaster season to win the Lake Elsinore Regional as a 3 seed. In early March, the Cavaliers ascended to the No. 1 spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll in the midst of a 12-1 start, but they finished 15-15 in ACC play and became the sixth team in the past 10 seasons to reach the College World Series without posting a winning record in conference games.

On March 24, Arkansas fell to 11-12 overall and 1-5 in SEC play. The Razorbacks haven't lost a weekend series since then, while posting a 29-11 record. After emphasizing pitching recently, Arkansas has advanced to Omaha this year on the strength of its bats. The Hogs are 102nd in Division I in ERA after finishing in the top 20 nationally the previous three years but also have only three players hitting more than.300 this season and seven more hitting between .280 and .300.

No. 5 Miami (49-15) vs. No. 4 Florida (49-16), Saturday (8 ET, ESPN)

The Hurricanes and Gators have a long history, but it's been all Florida lately. The Gators have won 19 of the past 24 meetings, a stretch that started with two wins at the 2009 Gainesville Regional.

Miami is in the College World Series for the 24th time -- the second-most appearances for any school -- but for the first time since 2008. The Hurricanes' six-year drought was their longest since first reaching Omaha in 1974.

Florida is making its ninth College World Series appearance. Only five schools have made that many appearances without winning a title. The Gators are looking to become the second school to win the College World Series after winning the SEC tournament. LSU did so on three occasions (1993, 2000 and 2009).

Florida beat up on its foes on its way to Omaha, outscored opponents by 41 runs in the NCAA tournament. The only other team with that large a run differential entering Omaha in the BBCOR bat era won the title.

Speaking of the BBCOR bats, or batted ball coefficient of restitution, no team was affected more by the new bats than Miami, which went from 106 home runs in 2010 to 33 in 2011. But the Hurricanes have their power back this year, leading the ACC with 62 home runs and ranking second in Division I with 8.5 runs per game. The Hurricanes have 11 players hitting better than .300 this season and are sixth in the country with a .311 team batting average.

No. 7 TCU (49-13) vs. No. 2 LSU (53-10), Sunday (3 ET, ESPN)

TCU enters the College World Series with 49 wins and a chance to reach 50 for just the second time in school history. This is TCU's 11th NCAA tournament appearance in 12 years under Jim Schlossnagle. The Horned Frogs had only reached regionals twice before his arrival.

The Horned Frogs have one of the best pitching staffs in the country, ranking second nationally in ERA. TCU has held its opponent to two runs or fewer in 35 games this season. It's the second straight season TCU has led Division I in that category.

In the opposite dugout, the Tigers are good at everything: hitting, pitching, fielding and running. LSU has allowed nine runs in five games in the NCAA tournament and no more than three runs in any game. It also ranks fourth nationally in batting average and stolen bases.

Cal State Fullerton (39-23) vs. Vanderbilt (47-19), Sunday (8 ET, ESPN2)

Cal State Fullerton is looking to join USC as the only school to win championships in five decades, while Vanderbilt is looking to become the seventh school to win back-to-back College World Series titles.

The Commodores have been one the most successful NCAA tournament schools the past six seasons, winning 32 tourney games since since 2010. That's second only to South Carolina (36). This season, the Dores have have made their name on their dominant pitching staff, but they can do it all offensively as well. As a team, Vandy ranks sixth in home runs (66), 10th in slugging (.464 percentage) and 12th in stolen bases (102).

Fullerton, on the other hand, loves to play small ball. The Titans are 230th out of 295 teams in slugging percentage, but they're tied for 13th in sacrifice bunts (66) and tied for 76th in stolen bases (68). Fullerton makes its hay on the mound. The Titans are eighth in the country in ERA at 2.84, one of 18 teams with an ERA of less than 3. And they have one of the best pitchers in the country: Eshelman (1.58) is 14th in Division I in ERA.