10 things to know about NCAA baseball tournament
Ten — just 10 — of the top topics in the 64-team NCAA baseball tournament, which starts Friday:
1. IS IT TAR HEEL TIME? North Carolina edged out Vanderbilt for the No. 1 national seed after sweeping the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular-season and tournament championships. The high-scoring Tar Heels haven’t lost consecutive games all season, and they have the ACC pitcher and player of the year in lefty Kent Emanuel and third baseman Colin Moran. Carolina has made it to the College World Series finals twice since 2003 but has yet to win a national title. This could be coach Mike Fox’s best chance.
2. NO. 1 JINX? Being labeled the No. 1 seed has seemed more like an albatross than advantage. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1999, Miami is the only top-seeded team to win the national championship — and that was in 1999. North Carolina will be out to end the jinx of No. 1, not to mention the ACC baseball title drought that dates to 1955.
3. OUT TO PROVE A POINT: Not that North Carolina State needed extra motivation, but plenty was provided when the tournament selection committee passed over the Wolfpack for one of the coveted national seeds. The Wolfpack was aced out by Oregon for the No. 8 seed despite going 18-10 against opponents in the top 50 of the RPI. The Ducks were 6-10 against those teams.
4. THE .400 CLUB: Three of the seven players who batted .400 are still playing. New Mexico third baseman D.J. Peterson is batting .411 and won the Mountain West’s Triple Crown. Vanderbilt second baseman and SEC player of the year Tony Kemp is batting .402. Virginia outfielder Mike Papi, who didn’t crack the starting lineup until mid-March, is batting .400 and leads the nation with a .536 on-base percentage.
5. PROLIFIC POWER: This probably is your last chance to see big bopper Kris Bryant before he turns pro. The San Diego junior is a projected top-three draft pick on the strength of his nation-leading 31 home runs. He’s easily the most productive power hitter since new bat standards were put in place in 2011. One can only imagine how many homers he would have amassed with the lively aluminum bats of yesteryear.
6. ARMED AND DANGEROUS: With Stanford ace Mark Appel done for the season, Oklahoma fireballer Jonathan Gray (9-2, 1.55 ERA) might be the best college pitcher still going. Gray, who has touched 101 mph with his fastball, goes into the Blacksburg Regional off a complete-game, three-hit shutout against Baylor. Among the other top pitchers in the tournament are North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon, who leads the nation at 13.5 Ks per nine innings, and Cal State Fullerton freshman Thomas Eshelman, who has 71 strikeouts against just two walks in 99 innings.
7. HE JUST GOES AND GOES: East Tennessee State’s Kerry Doane is one of those old-school pitchers who, more often than not, finishes what he starts. He’s thrown complete games in 12 of his 16 outings. No one else has more than eight CGs. No surprise, his 140 innings lead the nation. The senior right-hander mixes a 90 mph-94 mph fastball with a slider and curve and goes into the tournament with a 13-1 record and 1.99 ERA.
8. HOW DO YOU DO, LSU? LSU won the national title in 2009 and hasn’t returned to the CWS since. Oh, Tigers fans always come to Omaha anyway to enjoy the party. But this year it looks like coach Paul Mainieri’s club has a good shot to join them. The Tigers have won 52 games with a balanced offense led by Alex Bregman and Mason Katz and a deep pitching staff led by Aaron Nola, Ryan Eades and Cody Glenn. Tigers fans already are looking forward to a possible All-SEC CWS finals pitting the Tigers against Vanderbilt.
9. THESE TIGERS ARE SURVIVORS: At 29-28 and coming out of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Towson Tigers are easy to overlook. They just might merit sentimental favorite status. The program was destined for the chopping block as recently as April. But Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stepped in and provided $300,000 in state funding each of the next two years to keep the program alive. The story is reminiscent of the 2011 California Bears, who made it to the CWS two months after it had been announced their program would be saved, thanks to private funding.
10. OLD AND NEW: Miami hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since 1972. The Hurricanes are now tied with the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team for most consecutive appearances in an NCAA tournament, at 41. Johns Hopkins’ streak ended this year. Florida State is in the NCAA baseball tournament for the 36th straight year. Five teams are making their first appearances — Bryant, Canisius, Central Arkansas, Savannah State and South Dakota State.