Baseball's version of March Madness kicks off this Friday. To get you ready, let's take a look at some of the best potential matchups of the tournament's first two rounds.
Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Arizona in a regional
This is the West Coast's best chance for vengeance after being stuck without a single regional host. Arizona is the Pac-12's highest RPI team and it landed with one of the weaker regional hosts. If the Wildcats can't get to a super regional, perhaps no one west of Texas can.
Virginia vs. ECU in a regional
The Pirates have already taken down UVA twice this season, winning a non-con series back on the second weekend of the season. Virginia, of course, is a decidedly different team these days: the Cavs won their last five weekend series and would have been a national seed if not for a poor showing in the ACC tournament. If getting hot at the end of the regular season before washing out in the conference tourney sounds familiar, its because that's how Virginia's 2015 title run began. But ECU, which has three starting pitchers with a 2.65 ERA or below, has the pitching depth to end the Cavs' postseason run early this year.
TCU vs. Texas A&M in a super regional
Last season, Aggies third baseman Boomer White was stuck on the bench while his former team, TCU, and his current team, A&M, battled through the most dramatic series of the postseason (the Frogs won the rubber game of the super in the 16th inning). After a promising start in Fort Worth, White jumped ship after TCU's 2014 Omaha run and headed for College Station, where he became the 2016 SEC Player of the Year. The Frogs lost a lot of pitching over the offseason while A&M, led by White, has put together arguably the most prolific offense in the tournament.
Florida State vs. Southern Miss in a regional
If not for a head-scratching sweep at the hands of FIU on the last weekend of the regular season, USM is probably hosting a regional this weekend. Instead, it has a chance to steal a regional on the road in Tallahassee against a Seminoles club that lost six of its last eight regular season games before finding footing in the ACC Tourney. Southern leads C-USA in just about every offensive category worth leading, including home runs. That could be a problem for a Florida State staff that's given up 42 long balls this season.
Things really get interesting if FSU holds off the Golden Eagles and advances to the next round, where they almost certainly face Florida in a Gainesville super. Well, interesting in that it'll be historic rivals facing off in the postseason -- if Florida's regular season sweep is any indication, the series itself won't be all that dramatic.
NC State vs. Coastal Carolina in a regional
A lot of folks like Coastal as a trendy upset pick over NC State, one of only three host teams to lose 20 games this season. The reasoning for that is Coastal's No. 34 non-con strength of schedule and No. 9 non-con RPI. But that mostly just shows the Chanticleer's scheduled tough opponents -- it doesn't mean they beat them. In fact, they're 3-7 vs. top 25 RPI teams and already lost a game to the Wolfpack at home during the first week of the season. Coastal also lost one-off games to Ole Miss and South Carolina and was swept in a three-game series against Georgia Tech.
South Carolina vs. Clemson in a super regional
You know the fellas on the selection committee enjoyed setting this up as a potential super. Neither team's regional is particularly daunting, so I expect we'll get to see it. Clemson took two of three in the regular season series way back in early March, but a lot has happened since then. The Gamecocks surged through their conference schedule to capture the SEC East title before falling out of the national seed race with an 0-2 showing in Hoover. Clemson was the opposite, stumbling through an up-and-down ACC slate before catching fire late to win the conference tournament and lock themselves into the top eight.
Louisville vs. Vanderbilt in a super regional
This would be one hell of pitching duel in the Louisville super. Both teams rank top 15 nationally in staff ERA and both are stacked with big-league caliber arms. Jordan Sheffield, Ben Bowden, Brenden McKay, Kyle Funkhouser, Zack Burdi ... the list goes on. Louisville, which has an elite lineup to match its star-studded pitching, is one of the favorites to win it all, but Vandy has the horses on the mound to pull off the upset. The last time these two teams faced each other in a super regional three years ago, it was the Cards snatching two games in Nashville. Can the 'Dores return the favor?