The second half of the college baseball tournament bracket is home to some serious contenders in Vanderbilt, Oregon State and Virginia. This may well be Vandy's tournament to lose, and the Commodores will try to prove it this weekend. Having lost the last four games of their season, Florida State will be looking to rebound and set up a potential showdown with Indiana in the super regionals. Starting pitchers highlight most of the matchups here, as Louisville's Jeff Thompson, Vandy's Tyler Beede and Arkansas's Ryne Stanek will all take the mound.
(3) Oregon State
(7) Florida State
Here's a quick look at the bracket itself.
(Bracket from NCAA.com)
Teams to Watch
Despite an extra-innings loss to LSU in the SEC championship game, Vanderbilt enters the NCAAs as arguably the strongest contender in the country. The Commodores destroyed SEC competition in the regular season, going 26-3 and winning every weekend series they played. Tyler Beede and Kevin Ziomek are a lockdown duo on the mound, and they're supported by an offense with the seventh-best batting average in America, a major contributor to which is SEC Player of the Year Tony Kemp. The rest of the teams in the Nashville tournament will have to deal with constant pressure from Vandy baserunners, who swiped 126 bags this season.
The Hoosiers are Big Ten champs for the first time in 64 years and are looking to capitalize on their momentum with a run to Omaha. Their lineup holds four regular players with OBPs above .400 and their staff claims the nation's seventh-best ERA. There biggest challenge will be the Florida Gators, who barely squeaked into the field of 64 this year but have a strong tournament pedigree. Indiana did take two of three from Florida earlier this season, so you have to like its chances of advancing on their home turf.
It got a little sketchy for the Seminoles, who lost their last four games and were in danger of missing out on a national seed, but the selection committee forgave their rough finish and handed them home field advantage through the first two rounds. Its hard to argue against the decision, seeing as the team finished the season with 44 wins and a top-10 RPI. Second-seeded Alabama will try to keep the Seminoles' .400-plus OBP offense in check with a defense that has turned 76 double plays this year.
Virginia is battle-tested after going 22-8 in the hard-knock ACC this year and doesn't have all that tough of a draw for its first-round regional. Throw in the fact that the Cavaliers have only lost three games in Charlottesville all season, and it's difficult to think they won't take this regional on their home field. UNC-Wilmington could threaten, but right fielder Mike Papi and his tops-in-the-country .536 OBP will be tough to overcome.
A three-win run in the SEC Tournament, including a victory over South Carolina, solidified the Bulldogs' hosting credentials, and the raucous environment in Dudy Noble Field will give them a major advantage in getting to a super regional. An offense that ranks in the SEC's top three in hits, runs and RBIs won't hurt either. They're paced by Hunter Renfroe, who led the league in slugging percentage and blasted 15 bombs in his junior season. State should be concerned about Central Arkansas, who took a series from the Bulldogs earlier this year.
Players to Watch
Jeff Thompson, SP, Louisville
The right-hander's fastball touches the low 90s and his 97 strikeouts on the season proves he can control it. He sports a 10-1 record and a 2.09 ERA. He has surrendered six homers this season, so he'll have to be wary of Oklahoma State's power (31 round-trippers on the year) if they meet in the first round.
Tyler Beede, SP, Vanderbilt
Beede was heavily criticized for his decision to spurn the Toronto Blue Jays after they made him a first-round pick in 2011. Its not looking like a bad move two years later, as the sophomore has gone 14-0 and helped lead his team to a record-breaking season. Thanks to his equally impressive mound-mate Kevin Ziomek, Beede's 2.10 ERA is actually second on the team.
Ryan Kinsella, C, Elon
Kinsella is second in the nation after battering 20 home runs in 2013. A well-rounded catcher, he also fielded .980 behind the plate. He may not be facing top competition in the Southern Conference, but he'll get his chance if Elon can win their first game and advance to face Virginia in the Charlottesville Regional. It will be fun to watch he and the Cavs' talented pitching staff square off.
Ryne Stanek, SP, Arkansas
It was a rough start to the season for Stanek, who was actually moved to the Sunday slot for part of the season. But the highly touted MLB prospect bounced back to lead the SEC in ERA and post a 9-2 record. Not surprisingly, the Razorbacks' performance has surged alongside their ace -- a late season run came up just short of earning them a host site in Fayetteville. It could be one of the best matchups of the first round if the Hogs throw Stanek against Kansas State, who holds the second highest team batting average in the country.