College baseball regionals begin this weekend, and we can’t wait to see what happens with a jam-packed field of talent. Wake Forest is the No. 1 overall seed for the first time in the tournament, with the other top seeds being No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Arkansas and No. 4 Clemson.
Vanderbilt is making its 18th straight appearance, the longest active streak in the country, as the SEC had 10 teams qualify, followed by the ACC with 8, the Big 12 with 6 and the Pac-12 with 5.
Our college baseball experts break down the regionals and players they’re most excited to watch and give their bold predictions for the entire tournament.
1. Which regional are you most excited to watch?
Chris Burke: This is a tough one. A few that jump out are Lexington, Fayetteville and Clemson. At the end of the day if I was gonna buy a ticket to a regional final game that featured the two highest seeds making the final, it would be the Clemson Regional. The “Orange Bowl” between Tennessee and Clemson would be must-see TV.
Kiley McDaniel: I like to follow well-rounded regionals where any team has a chance to win. I think the Clemson regional is really deep, with a blazing-hot Tiger squad, a strong Tennessee team and two power-hitting mid-majors that can rack up strikeouts on the mound in Charlotte and Lipscomb. Other candidates are the Coral Gables, Columbia and Fayetteville regionals.
Ryan McGee: I’m not saying that the Lexington Regional is going to produce an eventual MCWS champion or even a MCWS team, but I am saying that all four teams — UK, West Virginia, Indiana and Ball State — are border state schools that don’t exactly have a history of being friendly. This has a bourbon-scented high school state tourney fight-in-the-parking-lot-afterwards feel to it that I am all about.
Mike Rooney: Baton Rouge will be electric this weekend. We know the LSU fan base will pack Alex Box Stadium with record crowds. Paul Skenes, Dylan Crews and Tommy White will provide the star power. Let the fireworks begin.
2. Which regional has the toughest road to Omaha?
Burke: The battle between the Nashville and Stillwater regional will be fascinating. If chalk holds and it’s Vandy vs. Oklahoma State that will be a matchup between two teams that have a ton of recent history (they faced each other the past three years in non-conference play) and earlier this year played a 11-9 game that went Vandy’s way. That would be a fun one!
McDaniel: I’ll go with Kentucky narrowly over South Carolina and Indiana State. Kentucky has to win a tough regional over West Virginia, Indiana and Ball State, then go on the road and take two of three in Baton Rouge from LSU. South Carolina has to beat Campbell and NC State, then go to Gainesville. Indiana State has to beat Iowa and North Carolina, then go take two of three in Fayetteville.
McGee: Stillwater is the bunkhouse stampede of the first round. Cowboys fans are not happy with their guest list and they shouldn’t be. Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist have long specialized in being hard NCAA outs, and Washington is a team that has seemed to totally dig playing in hostile environments all season long.
Rooney: The Palo Alto regional features two of the scariest lineups in college baseball: Stanford and Texas A&M. Cal State Fullerton is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018. The Titans have earned 18 trips to the Men’s College World Series, and they won both the 2017 and 2018 Palo Alto Regionals. Ignore their pedigree at your own peril.
3. What teams should we be keeping our eyes on?
Burke: Three weeks ago, TCU wasn’t even a lock to make the field. Now the Horned Frogs have won 12 of 13 and are the Big 12 tournament champs. TCU third baseman Brayden Taylor is gonna be a big leaguer and is red hot. He leads an offense that topped the Big 12 in stolen bases, so they are a handful to prepare for. Watch out: Kirk Saarloos’ team is dangerous!
McDaniel: Santa Clara is the best 4-seed in the tourney, but unfortunately has to beat Arizona, TCU, and Arkansas which seems very unlikely. If I were a Gamecocks fan, I would be very scared of 2-seed Campbell. Clemson is red-hot, but 3-seed Charlotte or 2-seed Tennessee could catch fire and take that regional.
McGee: Southern Miss is the nation’s leader in COVID-19 extended eligibility holdovers. Seriously, there’s guys on this roster that might already be tenured at the university. Experience matters in the postseason. These guys, headed to Auburn this weekend along with Samford and Penn, won’t be rattled by any situation, and the Eagles always bring fans, especially in a ballpark setting that can be admittedly a little sleepy down on The Plains. That makes them very dangerous.
Rooney: Penn won a series at Texas A&M in 2022, and the #QuakeShow gave South Carolina everything it wanted early this spring. Wright State earned its sixth regional appearance in eight seasons, and it nearly took Tennessee down to start the 2021 Knoxville Regional. Ball State earned a “First Four Out” designation two years before winning the MAC regular season crown in 2022. This is no flash in the pan.
4. Who are the must-see players of the tournament?
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Burke: There are so many it’s hard to narrow it down, but why not start at the top of the upcoming draft! Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes and Wyatt Langford are the top three prospects in McDaniel’s latest write up, so let’s start there. Two potential star bats, and the best pitching prospect in the last decade qualify as must see.
McDaniel: I would refer you to my draft rankings and mock draft, as well, for the best pro prospects, but my top picks for pure fun to watch would be (obviously) Skenes and Crews of LSU, J.J. Wetherholt of West Virginia, Brody Brecht of Iowa and Enrique Bradfield Jr. of Vanderbilt.
McGee: Matt Shaw of Maryland is a monster. Just the thought of a regional where the Big Ten POY, a shortstop hitting .365/20/55, will be potentially facing off against No. 1 Wake Forest’s stable of pitchers — Rhett Lowder, Josh Hartle, Sean Sullivan, Seth Keener, Camden Minacci, etc. — it’s got me fired up and it’s got my truck gassed up to drive north to Winston-Salem.
Rooney: Second baseman Roc Riggio (Oklahoma State) collected an astounding 17 RBIs in last year’s Stillwater Regional. Brody Brecht (Iowa) is a former scholarship wide receiver on the football team, and the righthander has racked up 101 strikeouts as the Hawkeye’s ace. Joe Vetrano (Boston College) is a physical lefthanded bat with light tower power. Finally, college baseball’s home run title will be on the line as the four national leaders will all take the field this weekend: Cam Fisher, Charlotte (30), Jac Caglianone, Florida (29), Shane Lewis, Troy (27), Brock Wilken, Wake Forest (27).
5. Bold tournament predictions
Burke: The MCWS champion will be a first-time champ!
McDaniel: Campbell goes to Omaha. There’s depth to the lineup and to the power arms and it’s been a slow build over years from frisky mid-major to potential national threat.
McGee: East Carolina, far and away the best college baseball program to never make it to Omaha finally gets it done. Arrr, mateys, they be Pirates invading the shores of that there Missouri River!
Rooney: In the past five completed seasons, 38 of the 40 teams who advanced to the Men’s College World Series came from one of four leagues: SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC. This feels like a wide-open field. Offense is way up and quality bullpens are scarce. Look for regional regulars like UConn, East Carolina, DBU, Wright State, and Campbell to make some noise. Five wins over the next two weeks and you’ll find yourself in Omaha.
College baseball regionals preview: Analysis, must-see players, predictions