Four Big Ten teams to play in 2018 NCAA Tournament

On Monday afternoon, the NCAA announced four Big Ten teams have been selected to play in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The 2018 tournament marks the third time in four years at least four Big Ten teams will participate in a regional tying. The conference record of five was set in 2015 and tied last year.

Hours after winning their 10th Big Ten Tournament title, securing the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota was announced on Sunday night as one of 16 host institutions for this weekend’s round of regional play. The Gophers were named the tournament’s No. 14 overall seed, before it was announced conference peers Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue, were tabbed as at-large selections, joining Minnesota in the 64-team tournament field.

For the fifth time in six years, Indiana is back in the NCAA Tournament. Heading to the Lone Star State as the No. 2 seed in the Austin Regional, where Texas is the top seed, The eighth time the Hoosiers will be on the road to Omaha, the Hoosiers were regional participants in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. Indiana enters regional play with a 38-17 record, including a 14-9 mark in the Big Ten to finish fifth.

Already safely in the field, and heading into the unveiling of the tournament field knowing they will be at home, Minnesota now knows they will be joined in the Minneapolis Regional by No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Gonzaga, and No. 4 seed Canisius. at 41-13, the Big Ten regular season and tournament champions will be in their second regional in three years, playing at home during the regional round for the first time since 2000.

Late movement around the country saw Ohio State bow out of the Big Ten Tournament on the NCAA Tournament bubble team, but Greg Beals has the Buckeyes safely back in a regional for the second time in three years, heading to the Greenville Regional, as the No. 3 seed, where East Carolina is the host. A year after going 22-34, the 2018 NCAA Tournament is the first time since 2009 the 36-22 Buckeyes have earned an at-large big to the NCAA Tournament, their 21st overall appearance.

Rounding out the Big Ten’s contingent of NCAA Tournament teams is the club with the most unlikely appearance. Just two years after finishing 2-22 in the Big Ten, second-year head coach Mark Wasikowski guided the Boilermakers to a second-place finish in the regular season before finishing as runners-up in the Big Ten Tournament. Now, Purdue will look to further cement the program’s turnaround, selected as the No. 2 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional, hosted by North Carolina. Purdue heads to Chapel Hill with a 37-19 record, and one of the country’s hottest teams, winning 21 of their last 24 games.

The NCAA Tournament begins on Friday, June 1, on the 16 regional host sites. Regional play is a double-elimination format, among the four teams in each regional, with the winner advancing to next weekend’s best-of-three super regional. If all No. 1 seeds advances, the tournament’s top eight seeds will host super regional play. The NCAA will announce the sites of the super regionals on June 5, upon the completion of regional play.

The super regional winners will participate in the 2018 College World Series, held at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the site of last week’s Big Ten Tournament. The last Big Ten team to reach the College World Series was Indiana in 2013. The Big Ten’s last national champion was Ohio State in 1966. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue are in search of their first national championship, with Minnesota claiming three of the conference’s six titles, winning in 1956, 1960, and 1964. Michigan were national champions in 1953 and 1962.

Minnesota to host NCAA Tournament regional

Hours after winning their Big Ten-leading 10th Big Ten Tournament, securing a place in the NCAA Tournament for the 31st time via the conference’s automatic bid, Minnesota was selected as one of 16 hosting institutions for next weekend’s regional round of the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA announced Sunday evening.

Improving to 41-13 on the season with their 6-4 win over Purdue, the Big Ten regular season champions are set to host their second regional in program history, first doing so in 2000. This year’s Minneapolis Regional will be the first time the Gophers are the top seed in a regional, as the 2000 regional saw Nebraska, then a member of the Big XII, head to Siebert Field as the regional’s top seed, while the Gophers entered the postseason holding a No. 2 seed. The Huskers went on to win the regional, topping Wichita State in the championship game.

In the program’s 37th season under the guidance of head coach John Anderson’s, Minnesota has already accomplished much to garner attention on the national stage. The Gophers entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 11 team in the nation, ranked by the National College Baseball Writers Association. Their 41 wins are the most since their 41-18 campaign in 2017, and, next to their second conference championship in three years, the Big Ten title was their first since 2010.

The tournament’s top 16 seeds, 33 at-large teams, and the three other teams set to join Minnesota in the Minneapolis Regional will be announced on Monday at 12:30 p.m. ET, on ESPNU, when the tournament’s entire 64-team field is unveiled. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, and Purdue, are conference peers expected to be considered for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. If five teams are selected to play in a regional, it will tie the Big Ten’s high-water mark, set in 2015, when Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, and Michigan and made the tournament, and tied last season, when Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, and Nebraska all saw regional action.

The last Big Ten team to host a regional was Illinois in 2015. On the heels of a 21-1 Big Ten season, the Illini entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 6 overall seed. Illinois won the Champaign Regional, before falling two wins shy of reaching the College World Series, as Vanderbilt, national runners-up, won both games of the Champaign Super Regional.

As Minnesota left Omaha as conference tournament champions Sunday afternoon, the team’s road back to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, and a bid for the program’s fourth national championship, first since 1964, is set to start at home in Minneapolis.

Staying power: Culture keeps Iowa in regional mix

Iowa’s Cole McDonald threw an offspeed pitch in the fourth inning against Michigan on April 29, and came out of the game with elbow discomfort. The pitch was actually a fastball, it was his elbow that slowed the pitch down and made it seem like a changeup. It was deja vu for Iowa head coach Rick Heller, who around the same time a year ago lost Friday starter CJ Eldred to a UCL injury that required surgery.

In 2017, Iowa went on to win the Big Ten Tournament without Eldred, making an NCAA Regional for the second time in three years. Since losing McDonald, the Hawkeyes have finished off a series win against the Wolverines and took two-of-three from a top-15 Oklahoma State squad the weekend after.

The success that comes every May for his team must be starting to become deja vu for Heller, as well.

“It’s a priority for us to figure things out in the fall,” Heller said. “We talk about how important it is to play our best baseball down the stretch. It’s just talk at that point, but it sets the tone that we will work hard, we’ll stay in the weight room…We’re either moving forward or moving backward. We need to constantly be pushing forward. It’s not a perfect science, but it’s a part of our program that’s planned out.”

It seems as though Heller has it down to a science. Even with a series loss at Northwestern last weekend, the Hawkeyes still stand a good chance at grabbing an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, barring another series loss against Penn State this coming weekend.

It wasn’t necessarily supposed to go this well for Iowa this season, though. Heller was tasked with replacing Big Ten Player of the Year Jake Adams, an impossible task after Adams reset the Big Ten’s single-season home run mark, and all-conference shortstop Mason McCoy, both sixth-round draft picks. And those were just the guys you fully expected were gone.

Eldred and fellow RHP Nick Gallagher both signed professional contracts after last season, although both had eligibility remaining.

“All those things are so uncontrollable. Visualize this team if we had those guys back,” Heller said. “It’s the same mindset of losing guys to injury. Whoever is here, whoever is put out there, is expected to be successful. The accountability is there on this team, that’s an expectation. You can’t dwell on it, [because] there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”

Heller is not unlike other college coaches. The more control he can have, the better. Where he can’t control players leaving early in the draft, he can control the players filling their spots through recruiting. Now in his fifth year at Iowa, Heller’s lineup is filled entirely with his guys, instilled with his culture.

That’s a big reason why Iowa has become a contender each and every year.

“We have a culture established. The older guys understand you have to work hard on off days and in the weight room. They know we can’t just try to stay even,” Heller said. “It starts Day 1 when the players arrive. No matter who plays, we’re still going to find a way to get the job done. If somebody goes down, somebody’s prepared to fill in.

“We talk about it quite a bit, from the start of fall all the way through. That way, when someone does go down [or someone leaves], you don’t have that shock. we all know whoever that player that needs to step up might be and what he needs to do, and no one panics.”

There will be no panic this coming weekend for Iowa, although a series sweep of the Nittany Lions would go a long way in convincing the NCAA Selection Committee that the Hawkeyes should be in the tournament. Conference series wins against Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State make up a strong resume. The non-conference series win against Oklahoma State was another resume booster, and one that wouldn’t have happened without those Big Ten wins.

According to Heller, getting teams to travel to Iowa City has become easier as the team has improved each season. Come May, teams are looking for big wins, especially on the road, as those are worth more to the selection committee. For Oklahoma State, the idea of getting three games on the road against a team with a good RPI like Iowa was enticing.

The same was the case for Heller, with the added bonus of getting games in Stillwater next year. That being said, don’t picture Heller in his office calculating RPIs and scouring the internet for tournament projections depending on whether or not they were to beat the Cowboys, or any other high profile team. He doesn’t really pay attention to that stuff.

“I don’t [pay attention] a whole lot. It’s hard not to because everyone is talking about it, but it really doesn’t matter if you’re not taking care of your business on a daily basis,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in any of that. If we don’t take care of our business, none of that matters. If we play well, and if wins come our way…against one of toughest, if not the toughest, schedules in the Big Ten, I think we’ll be okay.”

Breaking down the NCAA Tournament picture

A little over one month away from the Memorial Day unveiling of the 2018 NCAA Tournament field, media outlets are starting to churn out weekly NCAA Tournament projections and discuss whose stock is rising or climbing. The Big Ten is drawing attention for having six teams with realistic regional odds, where if all were to make the tournament would set a conference record.

Whether it ends up six teams, or five, as was the case in 2015 and 2017, or even just four, it is becoming a May fixture to have a half-dozen teams pursuit a regional bid. This year, with respect to Purdue who is still hanging around on the outer edge of the bubble, the spotlight is on Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State as they prepare to via for a coveted spot in the field of 64 over the last four weeks.

To get you up to speed on where the six teams stand, here’s an overview of their seasons to date, their remaining schedules and what their postseason picture looks like as of today, ahead of the weekend where the six teams are set to square off against each other, as Illinois travels to Indiana, Michigan heads to Iowa, and Ohio State welcomes Minnesota.

References

Boyd’s World RPI Needs Report

NCAA Official RPI

Warren Nolan’s Big Ten page

(Opponent’s number parenthesis represent Warren Nolan RPI)

Illinois

Record: 24-12 overall, 9-3 in Big Ten (3rd)

Warren Nolan RPI: 58

Strength of Schedule: 113

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 4-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 6-6

Losses against RPI > 150: Four

Remaining schedule: April 27-29 @ Indiana (26), May 1 vs. Southern Illinois (128), May 4-6 vs. Ohio State (39), May 11-13 @ Michigan (53), May 17-19 vs. Nebraska (126).

In a nutshell: The Illini have dropped four of their last five games, placing their RPI in the upper-50s, a precarious position. Illinois’ sweep of Pac-12 opponents in the Dairy Queen Classic is starting to look better with Arizona (40) turning around their season and UCLA (31) remaining a strong team, and the team has a split of two games at Coastal Carolina (25) to work with. But, in their lone weekend games against an RPI top 50 team since Minneapolis, Illinois dropped two of three games against Iowa. If there is a slight concern in addition to their RPI, it’s the lack of a signature weekend series win. The good news is that multiple such opportunities await the Illini. Series at Indiana and Michigan, while hosting Ohio State in-between, will allow Dan Hartleb’s team to go over 20 games against RPI top 100 teams.  Winning two of their next three weekends, which would also likely lead to a top-four finish in the Big Ten, should allow the Illini to return to NCAA play for the first time since 2015. According to Boyd’s World’s RPI Needs, which breaks down needed win-loss combinations to reach various RPI benchmarks, assuming all other teams in college baseball maintain their current winning percentage, 10 wins will have the Illini approach an RPI of 32, with several combinations to reach eight wins getting them in the top 45.

 

Indiana

Record: 29-8, 7-4

Warren Nolan RPI: 26

Strength of Schedule: 126

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 4-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 9-5

Losses against RPI > 150: One

Remaining schedule: April 25 @ Purdue (84) , April 27-29 vs. Illinois (58), May 4-6 @ Minnesota (38), May 8 vs. Kentucky (18), May 11-13 @ Nebraska (126), May 15 @ Louisville (41), May 17-19 vs. Maryland (119).

In a nutshell: Indiana has been the highest ranked Big Ten team all season. The preseason favorite in the eyes of the conference coaches, the Hoosiers have the conference’s top RPI, spurred by a Big Ten-leading 29 wins. It is a bit premature to say the Hoosiers are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, especially with a tough slate over the next four weeks, but Chris Lemonis’ club should be viewed as safely in the field of 64. Now, where it gets interesting for IU is whether their resume will warrant a spot as a regional host. Currently their RPI would suggest no, an absence of a weekend series win over a top 50 club is slight knock on IU’s season to date, but Indiana will have six conference games to add to their current 14 games against teams in the RPI top 100, with three midweek games against rivals, two on the road, at Purdue and Louisville (41), with the Cardinals joining the Kentucky Wildcats (18) as likely regional-bound clubs where wins would add bullets on Indiana’s resume. If Indiana can go 13-2 over their final 15 games, Boyd’s World suggest a top 16 RPI is in the picture, which would likely net a third Bloomington Regional in six years.

 

Iowa

Record: 23-13, 7-6

Warren Nolan RPI: 47

Strength of Schedule: 67

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 4-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 7-9

Losses against RPI > 150: Two

Remaining schedule: April 25 vs. Milwaukee (187), April 27-29 vs. Michigan (53), May 1 vs. Missouri (29), May 2 vs. Western Illinois (288) , May 4-6 vs. Oklahoma State (34), May 11-13 @ Northwestern (235), May 15 @ Western Illinois (288), May 17-19 vs. Penn State (206).

In a nutshell: After being swept in a three-game series at UNLV (51), March 9-11, the odds that the Hawkeyes would appear in a second consecutive regional appeared long, at best. But since St. Patrick’s Day, Iowa is 14-7, with series victories over Illinois and Ohio State, while splitting an abbreviated two game series with Indiana. Iowa’s turnaround has been powered by the return of leadoff batter Chris Whelan, making the team Iowa was over the first month a shell of it’s current self. Iowa is coming off of a weekend defeat at Minnesota, but are set to welcome Michigan to Iowa City this weekend. Iowa is the lone team of the Big Ten’s six regional hopefuls to face the other five teams, a tough task which is doesn’t include playing host to Oklahoma State (34) next weekend during their conference by weekend. Already with the best strength of schedule of these six teams, Iowa will have more opportunities to strengthen its case to be in the field of 64, before finishing with consecutive series against the conference’s last-place clubs. Northwestern and Penn State may offer a break in competition but poor records and 200+ RPIs where that may set back Iowa’s schedule strength a tick.

 

Michigan

Record: 24-11, 11-0

Warren Nolan RPI: 53

Strength of Schedule: 167

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 1-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 3-6

Losses against RPI > 150: Three

Remaining schedule: April 27-29 @ Iowa (47), May 1 vs. Eastern Michigan (181), May 2 @ Eastern Michigan (181), May 4-6 @ Rutgers (139), May 8 @ Central Michigan (225), May 9 @ Michigan State (203), May 11-13 vs. Illinois (58), May 17-19 @ Purdue (84)

In a nutshell: The Wolverines are drawing national attention with a current 20-game winning streak, the second-longest winning streak in the country this season. Unfortunately for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances, the month-long run hasn’t included any games against teams in the RPI’s top 100, with 15 being played against teams whose RPI is somewhere in the 200s. The competition Michigan has faced is reflected in their strength of schedule. The Wolverines do have a win over Stanford, the RPI’s top-rated team, but outside of the four-game set in Palo Alto the Michigan has played only one other game against a top 50 team. That will change this weekend with their series at Iowa, and potentially in mid-May when they welcome Illinois to Ann Arbor. U-M’s perfect Big Ten record has them in prime position to claim a conference-leading 36th Big Ten championship, but their conference slate to date, opponents Michigan State, Northwestern, Maryland, and Penn State are a combined 12-42 in Big Ten play, has them squarely bubble for their 24th NCAA Tournament appearance.

 

Minnesota

Record: 25-11, 9-2

Warren Nolan RPI: 38

Strength of Schedule: 96

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 6-6

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 12-9

Losses against RPI > 150: Zero

Remaining schedule: April 25 vs. South Dakota State (244), April 27-29 @ Ohio State (39), May 1 vs. Concordia-St. Paul (N/A), May 4-6 vs. Indiana (26), May 11-13 vs. Michigan State (203), May 15 @ St. John’s (48), May 17-19 @ Rutgers (139)

In a nutshell: The Gophers would have liked a better showing in the Dairy Queen Classic they hosted, only able to come away with one victory, although the win over Arizona (40) has aged well. Likewise, seeing where Creighton (33) stands in the RPI picture, it would have been beneficial to have won that home series following the DQ Classic. But the form the Gophers have showed since early March has them heading towards a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, and currently ranked in polls. As they join IU with a number next to their name, its similarly too early to say they’re a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but Minnesota can start dream about hosting a regional. Already with the most games against the RPI top 100, the conference’s best mark in such games, series victories over TCU (75), St. John’s (48), and Iowa, a steadily falling RPI, and no losses against RPI 150+ teams, Minnesota is compiling a pretty impressive resume. That’s with series yet to come against Ohio State and Indiana. Winning one of the two next weeks should all but wrap up a bid, where taking both may mean Minnesota in home during the first weekend of June, in the good way as a regional host. And the Gophers are two games back on Michigan, a conference championship would be icing on the cake.

 

Ohio State

Record: 27-11, 8-4

Warren Nolan RPI: 39

Strength of Schedule: 106

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 5-6

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 5-6

Losses against RPI > 150: Three

Remaining schedule: April 27-29 vs. Minnesota (38), May 2 @ Ball State (179), May 4-6 @ Illinois (58), May 8-9 vs. Campbell (136), May 11-13 Purdue (84), May 15 @ Cincinnati (150), May 17-19 Michigan State (203).

In a nutshell: Likely the team least expected to be among the six, the Buckeyes are in a position to reach a regional for the second time in three seasons, a feat last accomplished in 2007-09. Ohio State has a solid strength of schedule, although they have yet to play a game against a team rated 51-100 in the RPI, and has taken care of business at home with a 12-3 mark to have their overall winning percentage rewarded with a high RPI. OSU’s non-conference slate helped put them in the discussion of the NCAA Tournament, winning a game against Southern Miss (32), and going 1-1 against Coastal Carolina (25) . Ohio State squandered a big opportunity in a game against Oregon State (7), allowing six last-at-bat runs in a 10-8 loss during the second weekend of the season. Any lingering “what-ifs” about that game were likely thrown away when the Buckeyes knocked off the Hoosiers this past weekend, securing a resume-anchoring win. Now, the Buckeyes have two more opportunities, with Minnesota becoming the second straight ranked team to visit Columbus, before heading to Champaign. Barring a late May collapse, grabbing one of the next two weekends should punch their ticket, where, like Minnesota, if Ohio State game win at least four of their next six conference games, maybe NCAA play returns to the Buckeye State for the first time since 2003.

Road to Omaha: Houston Regional

After a inspired run through the Big Ten Tournament, the Iowa Hawkeyes are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. Although Rick Heller guided Iowa to 38 wins, the Big Ten’s automatic bid was the only way the Hawkeyes could reach the field of 64. Finishing in a tie for fourth in conference play, Iowa hopes their great postseason play continues as the fourth-seed in the Houston Regional, a four-team field with three teams from the Lone Star State. Here’s a look at what Iowa is up against in Houston, Baylor and Texas A&M.

The teams

#1 Houston

Record: 40-19, 15-9 in American Athletic; champions and tournament champions

Head coach: Todd Whitting, seventh season

NCAA Tournament history: 21st appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .290 AVG, 92 2B, 25 3B, 52 HR, .445 SLG, 364 SO, 254 BB, .386 OBP, 80-97 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.37 ERA, 11 SV, 520.2 IP, 134 BB, 420 SO, 1.25 WHIP, 99 2B, 5 3B, 37 HR, .258 BAA, 20 WP, 378 HBP

Defense: .971 fielding percentage, 17 passed balls, 57 stolen bases allowed, 24 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Houston enters the NCAA Tournament without a potential first-round draft pick in Seth Romero. A junior left-handed pitcher, Romero racked up 85 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. But a second suspension this season was a final one as the talented but trouble-plagued southpaw is no longer in the program. The Cougars have handled the blow thanks to Trey Cumbie’s 1.88 ERA in 96 innings, with only 13 walks and a .226 batting average against.

#2 Baylor

Record: 34-21, 12-12 in Big XII; fourth place

Head coach: Steve Rodriguez, second year

NCAA Tournament history: 19th tournament appearance, first since 2012

Offense: .296 AVG, 100 2B, 14 3B, 49 HR, .445 SLG, 349 SO, 230 BB, .382 OBP, 22-40 SB-ATT

Pitching: 4.28 ERA, 13 SV, 483.2 IP, 240 BB, 424 SO, 1.53 WHIP, 84 2B, 10 3B, 43 HR, .272 BAA, 21 WP, 31 HBP

Defense: .973 fielding percentage, two passed balls, 32 stolen bases allowed, 32 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Baylor is pretty comfortable with this regional field. A week after taking down Texas A&M, 6-3, to end the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Baylor played host to Houston in Waco, taking two of three games from the Cougars. With their spot in the Houston Regional, Baylor is one of three Power Five schools to earn a bowl game/NCAA postseason appearance in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball, joining Florida State and Kentucky.

#3 Texas A&M

Record: 36-21, 16-12 in SEC; fourth in SEC West

Head coach: Rob Childress 12th season,

NCAA Tournament history: 19th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .277 AVG, 96 2B, 20 3B, 45 HR, .419 SLG, 364 SO, 221 BB, .364 OBP, 56-84 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.25 ERA, 12 SV, 502 IP, 186 BB, 491 SO, 1.26 WHIP, 99 2B, 5 3B, 31 HR, .235 BAA, 46 WP, 44 HBP

Defense: .975 fielding percentage, 17 passed balls, 44 stolen bases allowed, 24 caught stealing

Noteworthy: A 16-12 showing in the SEC is usually good enough to lead to something a bit better than a three-seed in a tough regional. But the Aggies 2-8 showing to finish the regular season curtailed a bit of what could have been in a better tournament placement. Texas A&M is led by freshman shortstop Braden Shewmake, a potential Freshman of the Year candidate, after a .344-11-67 season with 17 doubles and 11 stolen bases.

#4 Iowa

Record: 38-20, 15-9 in Big Ten; fourth

Head coach: Rick Heller, fourth season

NCAA Tournament history: Fifth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .283 AVG, 108 2B, 8 3B, 69 HR, .450 SLG, 395 SO, 258 BB, .377 OBP, 62-92 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.40 ERA, 14 SV, 517.2 IP, 215 BB, 453 SO, 1.52 WHIP, 93 2B, 17 3B, 36 HR, .288 BAA, 48 WP, 36 HBP

Defense: .979 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 38 stolen bases allowed, 20 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Though they did steal a bid, it’s hard to view Iowa as the typical four seed, after all, the Big Ten did place five teams in a regional and the Hawkeyes finished in a tie for fourth, a game and a half behind Nebraska for the conference title. Either way, Iowa is in and do so playing their best baseball, winning 15 of their final 20 games including the Big Ten Tournament.

Three keys to Hawkeye success

Adams stays within himself

Iowa first baseman Jake Adams enters the NCAA Tournament tied for the nation’s lead with 27 home runs. Setting s new Big Ten single-season record, Adams finished the Big Ten Tournament with a bang, hitting a homer in the semifinal win against Minnesota and two in the title game versus Northwestern. But before the trio of home runs, Adams scuffled in Bloomington, perhaps trying too hard to hit a home run during a week where the ball was jumping out of Bart Kaufman Field. Though Iowa will be seeing a three teams for the time this season, unless you’re living under a rock, you know who Jake Adams is. Opponents will be careful when pitching to the slugger, he may need to take what is giving to him.

Erickson continues storybook finish

Iowa senior left-handed pitcher Ryan Erickson returned to school after a poor showing in last year’s 2016 Big Ten Tournament title game. Falling one game shy of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, Erickson played a big role in getting the Hawkeyes back into a regional with his strong showing against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament. With each outing potentially his last, the former walk-on has the ability to continue a fantasy ending to his career with another strong outing, leading Iowa to even green pastures. But, outside of the feel-good story, it’s imperative Erickson goes long into his start. Iowa can expect a good outing from Nick Gallagher, but after that, the Hawkeyes are short on pitching. If Iowa can get a win behind Erickson, without using too much of their bullpen, it’ll set up nicely for a big weekend when the Hawkeyes can get by with one game of Johnny Wholestaff.

Keep it rolling

Every season there’s a team with the right chemistry that makes an unexpected run, looking as if they’re having more fun than anyone could have playing baseball. That’s Iowa. In appearing in the Springfield Regional championship two years ago, the Hawkeyes know how to handle themselves in a regional. As they take the field without being in awe, the Hawkeyes can be loose, have fun and do everything to keep their run going.

Required reading

Iowa baseball looks to open eyes nationally against Texas trio -Richard Dean, Cedar Rapids Gazette

5 players to watch at UH regional -Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

The story behind each of Jake Adams’ 27 home runs -Dargan Southard, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Zach Mackey calls Hawkeyes’ baseball games like an old pro -Scott Dochterman, Landof10

Bears looking to do some boot-scooting through Houston Regional -Brice Cherry, Waco Tribune

Road to Omaha: Lexington Regional

Headed to their fourth regional in five years, an appearance in the NCAA Tournament is now expected in Bloomington. Garnering a two-seed in the Lexington Regional, Indiana’s road to Omaha starts close to home and figures to be a weekend chock-full of action as there is never any love lost between the Hoosiers and hosts Wildcats if a showdown is in store. Here’s a look at the regional where NC State and Ohio join the IU and UK.

The teams

#1 Kentucky

Record: 39-20, 19-11 in SEC; second

Head coach: Nick Mingione, first year

NCAA Tournament history: Seventh appearance, last in 2014.

Offense: .317 AVG, 138 2B, 9 3B, 66 HR, .495 SLG, 367 SO, 275 BB, .418 OBP, 59-91 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.65 ERA, 14 SV, 515.2 IP, 185 BB, 528 SO, 1.21 WHIP, 91 2B, 3 3B, 56 HR, .228 BAA, 29 WP, 58 HBP

Defense: .971 fielding percentage, eight passed balls, 15 stolen bases allowed, 17 caught stealing

Noteworthy: In his first season as Kentucky’s head coach, former assistant Nick Mingione has the Wildcats back among the elite in college baseball, on the tails of in-state rival Louisville as the Bluegrass State’s premier program. Kentucky has never won a regional, but in boasting a 27-5 home mark, UK has to like its chances. Kentucky’s pitching coach, Jim Belanger was previously at Maryland, so he will know more about Indiana than a typical regional team may. The Wildcats beat the Hoosiers, 5-2, on May 9.

#2 Indiana

Record: 33-22-2, 14-9-1 in Big Ten; sixth

Head coach: Chris Lemonis, third season.

NCAA Tournament history: Sixth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .266 AVG, 106 2B, 8 3B, 67 HR, .430 SLG, 455 SO, 190 BB, .347 OBP, 55-76 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.48 ERA, 15 SV, 512 IP, 152 BB, 385 SO, 1.39 WHIP, 118 2B,

Defense: .978 fielding percentage, 11 passed balls, 39 stolen bases allowed, 12 caught stealing

Noteworthy: IU opens the NCAA Tournament with a game NC State, a team that saw some as a top 10 team at the start of the season. If they survive the Wolfpack, a showdown with the host Wildcats await, setting the stage for a raucous evening in Cliff Hagan Stadium. But if any Big Ten is ready for such a setting it is the Hoosiers. Though they finished sixth in the conference, the Hoosiers enter the tournament with the Big Ten’s highest RPI and are the lone program with four appearances over the last half-decade, this is an old hat for them. Indiana picked up series wins against fellow NCAA Tournament participants Maryland and Michigan, the start of a second-half surge that saw Indiana grab a two-seed.

#3 North Carolina State

Record: 34-23, 16-14 in ACC; fourth in Atlantic division

Head coach: Elliott Avent, 20th season

NCAA Tournament history: 29th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .277 AVG, 130 2B, 10 3B, 58 HR, .444 SLG, 406 SO, 211 BB, .356 OBP, 33-46 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.01 ERA, 16 SV, 505 IP, 249 BB, 447 SO, 1.42 WHIP, 92 2B, 10 3B, 44 HR, .252 BAA, 30 WP, 46 HBP

Defense: .975 fielding percentage, 11 passed balls, 41 stolen bases allowed, 17 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Wolfpack are in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. NCSU started the season ranked sixth by D1Baseball.com. North Carolina State obviously didn’t have the season on par with such lofty expectations, but they have played their best baseball of late, taking their final three ACC series, going 8-1, with sweeps of Pitt and Boston College before taking two of three against Clemson.

#4 Ohio

Record: 30-26, 13-11 in MAC; tournament champions

Head coach: Rob Smith, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 16th appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .277 AVG, 93 2B, 9 3B, 47 HR, .400 SLG, 380 SO, 206 BB, .358 OBP, 36-48 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.33 ERA, 18 SVs, 522 IP, 240 BB, 477 SO, 1.44 WHIP, 78 2B, 4 3B, 43 HR, .265 BAA, 34 WP, 59 HBP

Defense: .980 fielding percentage, 25 passed balls, 50 stolen bases allowed, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The MAC program most recognizable to many is probably Kent State, after the Golden Flashes went to the 2012 College World Series. But it is their East Division rivals down I-77, Ohio, that have appeared in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments as the MAC representative. The Bobcats were the fourth-seed in the 2015 Champaign Regional, falling to Illinois, 10-3 in the regional open. OU’s ties to the Big Ten don’t stop there, head coach Rob Smith is an IU alum and appeared in the 1996 NCAA Tournament with Indiana under head coach Bob Morgan.

Three keys to Hoosier success

Miller and Sowers can’t swing and miss

They have mighty swings, which can either hit tape-measure home runs or cool off the stands with a forceful breeze from an empty swing. Sophomore third baseman Luke Miller and junior outfielder Logan Sowers have 19 home runs between them, but Miller has 40 strikeouts while Sowers has 72 punch outs on the season. Indiana has an aggressive approach which has led to a Big Ten-best 67 home runs, but with college baseball down to 64 teams, the pitching will pick up in the tournament and the duo need to find ways to make contact and get on base if the Hoosiers have a chance. Craig Dedelow leads IU with 17 home runs, but the offense clicks when Miller and Sowers are locked in, setting the table for Dedelow to really do damage.

Steady Stiever

It’s likely that at some point Jonathan Stiever will have the ball in his hand at the start of a game. Which game is unknown. Stiever has had an up-and-down season, showing flashes of brilliance but also moments of struggles. On April 14, in 4.1 innings against Minnesota, Stiever allowed seven runs off 13 hits. In his next outing against Michigan, Stiever blanked the Wolverines, scattering just six hits. Pauly Milto and Cal Krueger have down well for IU, likely the game one and three respective starters, if IU has a third game. And if so, it’s likely IU will need Stiever to be on.

Bullpen steps up

Indiana’s roller coaster season has been a reflection of the state of its bullpen. Early in the season the IU bullpen struggled, head coach Chris Lemonis couldn’t figure out who could step up in a key situation. When Indiana won back-to-back-to-back series against Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland, the Indiana pitching staff was stable. The most recent look at Indiana saw the Hoosiers give up a 6-0 lead to Minnesota, with a five-run eighth inning by the Gophers send IU home early from the Big Ten Tournament, played at their Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana has plenty of options to turn to, which can be a blessing and a curse. Lemonis can play match-ups, but there still isn’t a true lockdown guy, outside of closer Matt Lloyd that can be relied on.

Required reading

IU baseball has found right formula to NCAA success -Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star

A guide to the NCAA baseball regional in Lexington -Kentucky.com

Hoosiers excited to ‘prove that we deserve to be in this tournament’ -Fletcher Page, Lexington Courier-Journal

Pack Readies for Indiana -Rob McLamb, Scout.com

Road to Omaha: Corvallis Regional

The Cornhuskers of Nebraska are the closest team in the NCAA Tournament to Omaha, a little more than an hour’s drive west of the home the College World Series. But as the boys from Lincoln take to the tournament in search of a fourth Sollege World Series appearance boys, their path to TD Ameritrade Park may be the toughest, opening the tournament in the Corvallis Regional, hosted by top overall seed Oregon State. Joined by Holy Cross and Yale, here’s a look at the Corvallis Regional.

The Teams

#1 Oregon State

Record: 49-4 overall, 27-3 in Pac-12; conference champions

Head coach: Pat Casey, 23rd season

NCAA Tournament history: 17th appearance, last in 2015, 2006-2007 National Champions

Offense: .289 AVG, 98 2B, 17 3B, 23 HR, .401 SLG, 316 SO, 253 BB, .382 OBP, 57-71 SB-SBA

Pitching: 1.84 ERA, 20 SV, 484 IP, 136 BB, 433 SO, .98 WHIP, 66 2B, 7 3B, 18 HR, .198 BAA, 26 WP, 27 HBP

Defense: .978 fielding percentage, three passed balls

Noteworthy: The Beavers met the Huskers during the second weekend of the season, joining Ohio State and Utah in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge. Oregon State opened the season with a 10-1 win over Nebraska, then beat the Huskers 5-2 two days later. Oregon State picked up two wins against Indiana the weekend prior, and split their two games against Ohio State in the challenge, going 5-1 against the Big Ten this season. The 2017 season is the 10th anniversary of Oregon State’s last national championship, a year where they advanced to Omaha by knocking off Michigan in the Corvallis Super Regional, a weekend after the Wolverines knocked off overall number one seed Vanderbilt.

#2 Nebraska

Record: 35-20-1, 16-7-1 in Big Ten; conference champions

Head coach: Darin Erstad, sixth season

NCAA Tournament history: 15th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .282 AVG, 108 2B, 9 3B, 24 HR, .383 SLG, 419 SO, 220 BB, .364 OBP, 41-47 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.64 ERA, 20 SV, 497.1 IP, 165 BB, 371 SO, 1.34 WHIP, 86 2B, 6 3B, 27 HR, .262 BAA, 30 WP, 35 HBP

Defense: .977 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 23 stolen bases allowed, 16 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Nebraska is in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, doing so as first-time Big Ten champions. The Huskers have continued to take steps to get the program back to its heyday of the early 2000s when the program made trips to the College World Series in 2001, 2002 and 2005. If the Huskers reach Omaha this year, there will be no questions to Big Red’s returned state of glory, likely needing to topple to tournament’s top seed, at home, in order to advance.

#3 Yale

Record: 32-16, 16-4 in Ivy League; conference champions

Head coach: John Stuper, 25th season

NCAA Tournament history: 5th appearance, last in 1993

Offense: .291 AVG, 97 2B, 7 3B, 40 HR, .433 SLG, 339 SO, 166 BB, .366 OBP, 39-55 SB-SBA

Pitching: 5.51 ERA, 7 SV, 395.1 IP, 187 BB, 300 SO, 1.59 WHIP, 79 2B, 11 3B, 40 HR, .282 BAA, 61 WP, 32 HBP

Defense: ,973 fielding percentage, nine passed balls, 40 stolen bases allowed, 11 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Yale heads to the postseason after a regular season of dominance in the Northeast. The Bulldogs handled their Ivy League foes, winning the conference by four games. Finishing with nine wins in their last 10 games, Yale heads to the postseason with momentum, but it was an early-season showing that draws attention to the Bulldogs. In two midweek games, March 14 and 15, Yale scored 14 runs at nationally-ranked Clemson. The Tigers won both contests, 10-6 and 10-8, but Yale showed they can go toe-to-toe with a top 20 team and has an offense capable of putting up a crooked number or two.

#4 Holy Cross

Record: 23-27, 12-8 Patriot League; tournament champions

Head coach: Greg Dicenzo, 10th season

NCAA Tournament history: 11th appearance, first since 1978

Offense: .257 AVG, 79 2B, 3 3B, 36 HR, .377 SLG, 369 SO, 173 BB, .341 OBP, 19-29 SB-SBA

Pitching: 5.18 ERA, 5 SV, 412 IP, 166 BB, 361 SO, 1.151 WHIP, 82 2B, 8 3B, 46 HR, .280 BAA, 58 WP, 45 HBP

Defense: .964 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 55 stolen bases, 22 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Holy Cross’ non-conference slate included a three-game set at Auburn and a three-game set at Southern California. The Crusaders will enter the weekend knowing what it’s like to play in front of a large audience on a big stage, as well as understand the style of play found out west. Holy Cross will also be quite familiar with one regional participant, having just played a non-conference, two-game set last week at Yale, the fifth and sixth time the two met this spring. But for all that is familiar for Holy Cross, the NCAA Tournament is not, this weekend is program’s first trip in 39 years.

Three keys to Husker success

A quality game one start from Meyers

This is key to every team in every regional, but more so as Nebraska is turning to Jake Meyers for game one. Meyers has been the Sunday starter for Nebraska over the last two seasons, allowing the Huskers to get everything out of him at the plate and in the field before putting him on the mound. In potentially sacrificing a bit of energy from their leadoff batter and center fielder for at least a second game of the regional, its imperative Meyers makes the bump up worthwhile. The left-hander did not pitch in the Big Ten Tournament, so he is the most rested starter, and has been the most consistent starter. With Meyers on the mound, Nebraska has an all-in approach to take down Yale, to worry about a second game when they get there.

Stay true to themselves

Consistency has been the key for Nebraska all season. The Huskers throw strikes, they pick it, they put the ball in play. There isn’t anything overly sexy about the Huskers, they just compete and fins ways to win. That can’t change now. While Ben Miller and Scott Schreiber have power, they have not been power hitters this year. Both have been productive and would do well to keep their sound approach and not get too pull happy. The same for the Huskers on the bases. They run the bases well, but they’re not a base-stealing team. If they were to face Oregon State, the Beavers are no team to give outs to or end innings on the bases. Nebraska has played good baseball this season being methodical and smart, picking times to be aggressive. That will bode well in Corvallis.

Run into one, or a few

BUT it won’t hurt to run into a few long balls. The Oregon State staff is as stingy as a team can be in college baseball, it’s hard to manufacture a run off of them. If Nebraska can run into a few home runs that will help their cause as they are not a team that churns up stolen bases nor has a starter with a slugging percentage of at least .500. Relying on hit-and-runs or going first to third against a team average less than a walk AND hit combined in an inning isn’t ideal.

Required reading

Huskers locked in and ready to face anyone in Corvallis Regional -David Eickholt, HuskerOnline.com

Big challenge awaits Yale baseball -Chip Malafronte, New Haven Register

49-4!?! Oregon State is making it rain in baseball -John Walters, Newsweek

Sweet swings or swoon? Which offense shows up holds key to Huskers’ regional chances -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

Holy Cross not intimidated -Jennifer Toland, Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Road to Omaha: Winston-Salem Regional

A end-of-season slump had Maryland on the bubble come Selection Monday. Now, safely in the field, the Terrapins’ attention turns to Omaha. Though Maryland has struggled away from home, 16-18 in games not played at Bob “Turtle” Thomas Stadium, John Szefc’s team will be in familiar territory and the most postseason-experienced team of the regional. Here’s a Winston-Salem Regional with Maryland-Baltimore County, Wake Forest and West Virginia joining the Terps.

The teams

#1 Wake Forest

Record: 39-18, 19-11 in ACC; second in Atlantic division

Head coach: Tom Walters, eighth season

NCAA Tournament history: 13th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .308 AVG, 116 2B, 3 3B, 96 HR, .510 SLG, 465 SO, .278 BB, .402 OBP, 38-53 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.15 ERA, 11 SV, 507.2 IP, 223 BB, 498 SO, 1.37 WHIP, 102 2B, 10 3B, 41 HR, .248 BAA, 62 WP, 63 HBP

Defense: .976 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 41 stolen bases allowed, 16 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Demon Deacons head into regional play at home full of power. Wake Forest’s 96 home runs are the second-most in the NCAA, and five players have at least 12 home runs: Gavin Sheets (20), Johnny Ailleo (18), Stuart Fairchild (15), Bruce Steel (12) and Keegan Maronpot (12). With a .308 team average, Wake doesn’t sell out power, four players have a batting average of at least .350.

#2 West Virginia

Record: 34-24, 12-12 in Big XII; fourth

Head coach: Randy Mazey, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 12th appearance, first since 1996

Offense: .288 AVG, 84 2B, 18 3B, 45 HR, .415 SLG, 413 SO, 245 BB, .370 OBP, 72-108 SB-ATT

Pitching: 4.14 ERA, 11 SV, 515.2 IP, 234 BB, 488 SO, 1.35 WHIP, 88 2B, 9 3B, 46 HR, .241 BAA, 35 WP, 52 HBP

Defense: .973 fielding percentage, two passed balls, 48 stolen bases, 26 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Mountaineers were potentially inline to host a regional, sitting 25-15 with a top 25 ranking on April 28. West Virginia then lost their next two game against Oklahoma, starting a string of three straight Big XII series losses to end the regular season. But with series wins at Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU, the Mountaineers showed they are deserving of their spot in the NCAA Tournament and can beat anyone in the field, a sentiment cemented in a 12-7 victory over Texas Tech in the conference tournament. Unfortunately WVU’s ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone took a hit with Michael Grove (3-1, 2.87 ERA, 61 SO, 47 IP) being lost to Tommy John.

#3 Maryland

Record: 37-21, 15-9 in Big Ten; fourth

Head coach: John Szefc, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: Sixth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .275 AVG, 87 2B, 15 3B, 60 HR, .429 SLG, 443 SO, 257 BB, .375 OBP, 101-123 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.86 ERA, 14 SV, 507.2 IP, 169 BB, 476 SO, 1.32 WHIP, 78 2B, 12 3B, 39 HR, .258 BAA, 56 WP, HBP 61

Defense: .969 fielding percentage, 10 passed balls, 45 stolen bases allowed, 18 caught stealing

Noteworthy: This regional should be pretty friendly to Maryland. The Terps met West Virginia on April 11, winning the midweek game, 7-6 and they’re no stranger to Winston-Salem, the home of their former ACC peers Wake Forest. There were questions on Maryland’s spot in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the regular season with four straight losing weekends, but now that they’re in the field, all that matters is what happens going forward. Maryland has the talent to come out on top, as well as the edge in recent history, a regional win is not a long shot here.

#4 Maryland-Baltimore County

Record: 23-23, 11-9 in America East; tournament champions

Head coach: Bob Mumma, sixth season

NCAA Tournament history: Second, first since 1992.

Offense: .294 AVG, 93 2B, 7 3B, 27 HR, .416 SLG, 274 SO, 176 BB, .372 OBP, 44-63 SB-SBA

Pitching: 5.63 ERA, 7 SV, 388.2 IP, 163 BB, 271 SO, 1.57 WHIP, 102 2B, 17 3B, 37 HR, .291 BAA, 35 WP, 17 HBP

Defense: .969 fielding percentage, nine passed balls, 44 stolen bases allowed, 12 caught stealing

Noteworthy: UMBC opened the season 1-9 before finishing 22-14. The Retrievers’ strong finish ended in the America East tournament, where they brought home the tournament title for the first time in program history. The key number for UMBC is six, as the Retrievers are 13-3 when scoring at least six runs.

Three keys to Terrapin success

Blohm plays beyond his years

It was a strong year for freshmen in the Big Ten with Maryland’s Tyler Blohm coming out on top as the conference’s Freshman of the Year. In his first start after receiving the honor, Blohm struck out a career-high 10 batters in Maryland’s 8-5 win over Nebraska to stave off elimination. Maryland will need Blohm to continue his stellar play with elevated stakes. Maryland doesn’t have a true fourth starter to go to in the event the Terps fall into the losers bracket. Juniors Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom both have NCAA Tournament experience, helping Maryland to the Charlottesville Super Regional in 2015 as freshmen, and should be ready to go. It’s not Blohm’s turn to be a rookie who caps his debut season in grand style.

Shaffer shining

Perhaps the worst outing of his career, Shaffer, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, was beat up in Maryland’s Big Ten Tournament opener by Iowa. In 6.1 innings, the Hawkeyes roughed up Shaffer for eight runs, seven earned, off 10 hits. Shaffer has been so dominant that the bloated outing only has his ERA up to 2.18. The reason for the minimal damage is the tournament outing sent Shaffer over 100 innings on the year, now at 103.1. It is the second consecutive season Shaffer has pitched more than 100 innings, creating just a little concern that his arm is starting to tire in front of his 16th start of the season.

Focus on the field

There’s a lot that can draw the attention of the Terrapins away from the field. Head coach John Szefc is in the mix for the open head coach position at Tennessee. Shortstop Kevin Smith is a potential top 75 draft pick in next week’s draft and Shaffer is expected to be drafted by the fifth round. But this is not Maryland’s first rodeo. Before missing last year’s tournament, the Terps appeared in back-to-back super regionals. That history and understanding what it takes to advance in June will help quiet the off-field noise.

Required reading

The Bar Has Now Been Raised for WVU Baseball -John Antonik, msnsports.net

Bob Mumma leads ‘amped up’ UMBC back to NCAA baseball tournament -Callie Caplan, The Baltimore Sun

Brian Shaffer’s baseball career has picked up velocity -Jonas Shaffer, The Balitmore Sun

Marty Costes’ diamond development a key for Maryland -Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Sun

Road to Omaha: Chapel Hill Regional

 

The last team in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan will begin regional action for the Big Ten with a 1 p.m. start Friday afternoon against Florida Gulf Coast. As the Wolverines look to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1984, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first team in or the last one. Where Big Ten peer takes on the first team in and the tournament’s top overall seed, Oregon State, Michigan will head to the Chapel Hill Regional hosted by the number two seed, UNC. Here’s a look at UNC, Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson who rounds out the field.

The teams

#1 North Carolina

Record: 47-12, 23 in ACC; Coastal division champions

Head coach: Mike Fox, 19th season

NCAA Tournament history: 30th appearance, last in 2014.

Offense: .283 AVG, 105 2B, 19 3B, 55 HR, .437 SLG, 383 SO, 303 BB, .387 OBP, 76-102 SB-SBA

Pitching: 2.96 ERA, 15 SV, 535.2 IP, 218 BB, 513 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 68 2B, 8 3B, 35 HR, .221 BAA, 51 WP, 54 HBP

Defense: .979 fielder percentage, 12 passed balls, 28 stolen bases allowed, 14 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The tournament’s second overall seed, the Tar Heels return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Finishing a half-game behind Louisville for the ACC championship, North Carolina is led by junior right-handed pitcher J.B. Bukauskas and shortstop Logan Warmoth, two probable first-round draft picks. But as talented as the Tar Heels are, only one player as NCAA Tournament experience. UNC will be at home, but it’ll be far from a walk in the park with elevated stakes and a fairly deep regional.

#2 Florida Gulf Coast

Record: 42-18, 13-8 in Atlantic Sun; conference tournament champions

Head coach: Dave Tollet, 15th season.

NCAA Tournament history: First appearance.

Offense: .282 average, 100 2B, 16 3B, 54 HR, .427 SLG, 450 SO, 296 BB, .384 OBP, 32-45 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.65 ERA, 23 SV, 533 IP, 170 BB, 515 SO, 1.33 WHIP, 77 2B, 8 3B, 30 HR, .264 BAA, 28 WP, 32 HBP

Defense: .966 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 51 stolen bases allowed, 15 caught stealing

Noteworthy: FGCU played host to a pair of Big Ten schools in back-to-back weeks in March. Ohio State salvaged a weekend set, taking the Sunday game, 5-4, after falling 10-9 and 13-1. In the series opener FGCU scored six in the bottom of the ninth against the Buckeyes. The Scarlet Knights were unable to leave Fort Meyers with a win, being swept in the three-game set. The 5-1 showing against Big Ten schools came during a 23-3 start to the season which saw the Eagles crack the top 10 of polls.

#3 Michigan

Record: 42-15, 16-8 in Big Ten; second place

Head coach: Erik Bakich, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 23 appearance, last in 2015. 1953 and 1962 National Champions.

Offense: .284 AVG, 93 2B, 18 3B, 34 HR, .404 SLG, 392 SO, 258 BB, .380 OBP, 122-151 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.26 ERA, 16 SV, 516.1 IP, 184 BB, 551 SO, 1.2 WHIP, 77 2B, 11 3B, 36 HR, .228 BAA, 48 WP, 43 HBP

Defense: .983 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 21 stolen bases, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Though they were the last team in the field of 64, for the first time in nine years, Michigan has earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The most decorated Big Ten program, 42 wins wasn’t enough for the selection committee to view the Wolverines as a top 25 team, although they have been ranked in a poll since mid-March. The Wolverines have an all-around game to win in any way, be it a pitcher’s duel or high-scoring slugfest, and the near-snub may be just what the team needed to put an 0-2 showing in the Big Ten Tournament behind them and take to Chapel Hill with a scorched Earth mentality.

#4 Davidson

Record: 32-24, 13-14 in Atlantic 10; tournament champions

Head coach: Dick Cook, 27th season

NCAA Tournament history: First appearance.

Offense: .277 AVG, 96 2B, 5 3B, 70 HR, .438 SLG, 403 SO, 235 BB, .368 OBP, 17-25 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.54 ERA, 16 SV, 500 IP, 207 BB, 374 SO, 1.54 WHIP, 106 2B, 5 3B, 47 HR, .283 BAA, 40 WP, 42 HBP

Defense: .967 fielding percentage, six passed balls, 29 stolen bases allowed, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Wildcats, possibly most famous for being the college of NBA star Steph Curry, are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance and will open play against the tournament’s second-best team. That’s not an easy task, but Davidson can take solace in knowing UNC has a team without much NCAA Tournament appearance and they have shown they can match-up well against the Tar Heels. On May 9, Davidson lost a 10-inning game to North Carolina, 7-6, hitting four home runs off Tar Heel pitchers.

Three keys to Wolverine success

Bullpen bears down

Michigan entered the Big Ten tournament 36-1 when leading after eight innings. The record became 36-2 after a 6-4 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday, and Michigan saw it’s stay in Bloomington end with a 14-inning defeat to Indiana, another game decided late. Two relievers who entered the tournament with perfect 0.00 ERAs, Jackson Lamb and Mac Lozer, combined to allowed five earned runs in the 0-2 showing. At some point every reliever is touched up and for Lamb and Lozer to combine for for 47 appearances without allowing an earned run is incredible. For Michigan to succeed, the rough week in Bloomington needs to only be a hiccup and not a sign of a decline after heavy workloads.

Lugbauer swings the lumber

The Wolverines could use a power eruption from third baseman Drew Lugbauer to carry an offense which has been reliant on station-to-station baseball of late. Lugbauer leads Michigan with 11 home runs, adding 13 doubles, for a power production paired nicely with a .290 average. But the left-handed hitter has been stuck on 11 home runs since Michigan’s 14-4 win over Oklahoma on April 14. Michigan is only slugging .404 on the season entering the tournament, where runs are usually at a premium. There will need to be an ability to drive a run in from first base and nobody can do it better than Lugbauer.

Leverage the chip

Head coach Erik Bakich has not deferred to coachspeak when discussing the edge his team plays with. A May swoon kept the Wolverines out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and Bakich does not hide that the bitter ending has not been forgotten. Since the preseason, Bakich has spoke to a commitment to starting and finishing strong, using last year’s collapse as a reminder. Now, as the last team in the field, almost seeing a 40-win season go for naught, there is more fuel to Michigan’s fire. While the Wolverines have the skill to advance through the regional, they can’t be too focus on proving the doubters wrong. Michigan has excelled all year by playing quality baseball, inning to inning doing the small and little things right, that needs to continue.

Required reading

Back from hand injury, Ako Thomas is Michigan baseball’s catalyst -Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press

Wolverines rested, ready for NCAA tournament -Angelique Chengelis

UNC, back again in NCAA tournament, likes its chances with Bukauskas on mound -Andrew Carter, Raleigh News & Observer

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