The NCAA baseball tournament field of 64 is set, with a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series on the line.
Tennessee was the consensus No. 1 overall seed, with a pair of Pac-12 teams, Stanford and Oregon State, rounding out the top three.
The top 16 teams host regionals this Friday through Monday, with four teams at each site competing in a double-elimination format. The 16 regional winners advance to super regionals, which are best-of-three series hosted by the top eight remaining teams and will be held June 10-13.
The last eight teams left standing move on to the College World Series in Omaha beginning June 17. All CWS games will air on the ESPN family of networks.
We asked ESPN college baseball experts Chris Burke, Kyle Peterson, Kiley McDaniel, Mike Rooney and Ryan McGee for their takeaways from the 64-team bracket, including the biggest surprise, the seeded team with the toughest draw, an unseeded team that could make some noise, and the matchups and players they’re most looking forward to.
What was the biggest surprise from the bracket reveal?
Chris Burke: The biggest surprise for me was the shade thrown at the ACC with the omission of NC State from the field and Notre Dame not being a top-16 seed. NC State was 15 games over .500, had a winning record in the ACC and was No. 33 in RPI, which are almost always at-large worthy metrics. The snub feels almost worse for the Fighting Irish. Last year they won the ACC regular season by four games and weren’t a top-eight seed; this year they had an ACC record of 18-12 (including the tournament) and were No. 12 in RPI — and will be traveling for regionals. That’s a tough pill to swallow for the ACC.
Kyle Peterson: Can’t argue with any of that. I was surprised to see NC State out of the field and believe they deserve to still be playing. And it felt like Notre Dame was a safe host but instead will travel to Statesboro (Georgia Southern). That surprised me as well.
Kiley McDaniel: Ole Miss making the field over NC State, especially given the teams’ conference tournament performances. The Wolfpack made it to the ACC title game before falling to North Carolina, while the Rebs were one-and-done.
Mike Rooney: I was shocked that Notre Dame did not receive a host bid.
Ryan McGee: I also can’t believe that NC State didn’t make the cut. The Raleigh kid in me thinks that the Pack was robbed and the coaches of the ACC have come out and backed me up on that. But the sportswriter in me can’t help but relish what is merely the latest chapter of the most vicious rivalry in all of college sports, NCSU vs. NCAA!
What seeded team has the toughest route to Omaha?
Burke: Florida has the toughest draw of the “big brand” hosts. Granted the Gators had to get hot late just to be a host, but they drew a loaded field. The 4-seed in Gainesville, Central Michigan, dominated its conference in making its third straight regional. The 3-seed, Liberty, won a series against the Gators earlier in the season, and second-seeded Oklahoma is red hot on the heels of its Big 12 tournament title. The Gators are playing great, and I still like their chances of advancing, but they will have their hands full.
Peterson: Georgia Southern. But to be fair, this would have been whoever the No. 16 seed was. The route through Knoxville will be a difficult one.
McDaniel: Virginia Tech has to face the Gonzaga pitching staff in its regional and probably either Florida or Oklahoma in the super, but Central Michigan, with ace Andrew Taylor, is a sneaky 4-seed in that Gainesville regional.
Rooney: Florida received a very tough draw that includes arguably the best 2-seed (Oklahoma) and 4-seed (Central Michigan) in the tournament. That group also is paired with a very deep Blacksburg bracket.
McGee: Oregon State has to survive a hornet’s nest in Corvallis. San Diego is legit and Vandy is always Vandy. But Stanford has a super tough draw at home at Sunken Diamond. I thought UC Santa Barbara might get a regional but instead they are a 3-seed, and my season-long man crush on Texas State is well documented.
What unseeded team has the best chance to make the CWS?
Burke: Take a long look at the Oklahoma Sooners. Skip Johnson’s team finished the season on fire, winning series against TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech before rolling through the Big 12 tournament undefeated. Led by star shortstop Peyton Graham, the Sooners are playing with a ton of confidence and might surprise some folks this June.
Peterson: Arkansas. It feels like the Razorbacks’ offense has all the pieces to click, they just haven’t consistently done it yet. If that happens, Arkansas could find its way back to Omaha.
McDaniel: Oklahoma. The Sooners have veteran, pro-level depth on the mound with Jake Bennett, David Sandlin and Cade Horton, along with two legit pro prospects in the lineup in Peyton Graham and Jimmy Crooks, and all five are draft eligible. There’s solid depth on this team and they’re playing well; I wouldn’t want to face them. If they can get out of a tricky Gainesville regional, look out.
Rooney: The Gonzaga rotation matches up with nearly everyone in the nation. The Zags could pitch their way to Omaha.
McGee: There are so many teams just outside of the top seeds who are legit good if not great. I like Arkansas and UCLA, but keep an eye on Gonzaga, making its fourth NCAA appearance since 2016. They go to Virginia Tech, which has had an amazing year, but this is the first tourney for the Hokies in nearly a decade. “Been there, done that” matters in June.
What regionals matchups are you most excited about?
Burke: I’m guessing the Knoxville Regional will be as much fun as any in recent years. Three of the nation’s top 10 teams in home runs (Tennessee, Campbell, Georgia Tech) will be playing in a park that is as home run friendly as any in college baseball. If you’re looking for fireworks, take a trip to Rocky Top.
SEC Now analysts Chris Burke and David Dellucci agree that top-seeded Tennessee will have to break out its bats to win the NCAA Knoxville Regional.
Peterson: I think Florida has as tough a regional draw as anyone. Oklahoma would have been a worthy host, Liberty has already won a series in Gainesvi
lle this year and Central Michigan is the only No. 4 seed with 40 wins.
McDaniel: Oklahoma vs. Florida. Both teams are deep with pro prospects who can take over a game, both in the lineup and on the mound.
Rooney: UC Santa Barbara and Texas State, who will square off in the Stanford regional, put together dominant seasons and won their leagues decisively.
McGee: There are so many amazing pairings, and most of that has to do with the regionals being literally regional. The Hogs in Stillwater! LSU at Southern Miss! But Jim Schlossnagle coached at TCU for 18 years and led the Horned Frogs to Omaha five times … and now his first postseason at Texas A&M and he’s hosting … TCU?! Come on, y’all!
What player are you most excited to see this weekend?
Burke: I picked Stanford’s Brock Jones as my preseason player of the year, and while his regular season didn’t quite live up to my expectations, he has caught fire of late, finishing the year with 18 home runs after a very slow start. Don’t be surprised if Jones decides to put the Cardinal on his back on their way to another trip to Omaha. Last year the Stanford offense was explosive in the first two rounds, and something tells me they are about to have a repeat performance and that Brock Jones will be the catalyst.
Peterson: Ivan Melendez of Texas. He leads the country in home runs and has become one of the most complete hitters in the college game. It will be plenty warm in Austin, which has led to it being a very offensive ballpark.
McDaniel: Assuming the pitching schedules line up, I’m looking forward to Cooper Hjerpe (Oregon State) facing the Vanderbilt lineup; Virginia’s Jake Gelof and Nate Savino against Coastal Carolina’s Eric Brown and Michael Knorr, and Georgia’s Jonathan Cannon against VCU’s Tyler Locklear.
Rooney: Vance Honeycutt of North Carolina. He’s a 20-20 player as a true freshman.
McGee: Last weekend I was at the Indy 500 and watched them run 240 mph in the first turn. On Monday I just saw the new Top Gun movie and watched Maverick fly Mach 10. This weekend I will watch Ben Joyce, aka the Volunteer Fireman, throw 105 mph pitches for Tennessee.
Which eight teams will make it to Omaha?
McDaniel: Tennessee (also my pick to win it all because the Vols are the best college team I’ve ever seen), Stanford, Oregon State, Miami, Oklahoma State, Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma
Rooney: Tennessee, Stanford, Oregon State, Miami, Oklahoma State, East Carolina, Louisville, Gonzaga
McGee: Tennessee, Stanford, Texas A&M, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, UCLA, Gonzaga