How far can each SEC team go in the NCAA Baseball Tournament?
The NCAA Baseball Tournament starts on Thursday, and 10 SEC teams are participating in the race to get to Omaha for the College World Series. Of those 10 teams, six will host their own regionals.
However, only the best eight teams will make it to Omaha, and once they’re there, only two will make it to the final series with a title on the line.
So, what is the absolute best-case scenario each SEC squad can hope for? Who has real title potential and who will fizzle out before Omaha?
Here’s a look at how far each SEC team can go in the upcoming tournament:
Vanderbilt (No. 2 overall seed): Finals
The Commodores cruised through the SEC this year, winning both the regular-season and tournament titles in exciting fashion. They have a surefire first-round MLB Draft pick in OF JJ Bleday and a deep pitching staff.
One thing that concerns me is the outing staff ace Patrick Raby had in the title game against Ole Miss, giving up six runs (two earned) and walking four batters in only two-thirds of an inning before getting pulled. That does mean he should be fresh for the regionals this weekend, though, and that’s a good sign.
Still, with the offense this team has, and with the depth in the staff behind Raby, this is a team that should make it to Omaha. I think UCLA will be tough to stop on the other half of the bracket, but the Commodores could run into the Bruins in the final series.
Georgia (No. 4 overall seed): Omaha
The Bulldogs had an outstanding 2019 season, giving the Commodores all they could handle in the race for the SEC regular-season title. They also made it to the SEC Tournament semifinals last week before losing to the red-hot Ole Miss Rebels.
They’re hosting a very winnable regional, with No. 2 seed FAU and No. 3 seed Florida State providing the biggest challenges. Given their home-field advantage in Athens, they should advance to the super regionals. There, they could host an LSU team that has been up and down all season long.
As I mentioned above, though, I think UCLA will be a very tough out in this tournament, so if Georgia ends up in Omaha in the same bracket as the Bruins, it won’t be easy to advance to the finals.
Arkansas (No. 5 overall seed): Omaha
The Hogs had a lackluster showing in the SEC Tournament, but that can be forgiven with a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. However, they don’t have an easy road through the regional round, even though it will be played in Fayetteville.
That’s because potential top-five MLB Draft pick Andrew Vaughn and the Cal Bears are the No. 2 seed in the regional. Vaughn won the 2018 Golden Spikes Award and is a finalist for the award this season.
Baum-Walker Stadium is a different animal in the postseason, though, so the Hogs should make it through to the super-regional round, when I anticipate they’ll host Ole Miss (see below). If they want to be the OmaHogs again, they’ll have to channel the fan energy to get past the red-hot Rebels.
Mississippi State (No. 6 overall seed): Finals
The Bulldogs have a scary roster. First, they have OF Jake Mangum, who became the SEC’s all-time hits leader this season and will likely crack the top five on the all-time NCAA hits list during this tournament.
Then, there are the pitchers. The Bulldogs had both the SEC’s pitcher of the year (junior LHP Ethan Small) and freshman of the year (RHP JT Ginn). They both ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in strikeouts, with Small fanning 139 batters and Ginn piling up 95 whiffs.
I believe either Mississippi State or Vanderbilt will be in the CWS finals, so we could see those two teams in the same group in Omaha, which would be a lot of fun.
Ole Miss (No. 12 overall seed) — Omaha
The Rebels got hot at the right time. Yes, they ended up losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament final after building up a big lead, but the NCAA tourney won’t have them playing so many games in a row. I think Ole Miss simply ran out of fresh arms in the SEC final.
With closer Parker Caracci feeling confident again and with the staff as a whole coming off a great performance in Hoover, that confidence should carry over into the Oxford regional this weekend. No. 2 seed Illinois and No. 3 seed Clemson are nothing to scoff at, but I think the Rebels are the superior team, even more so with the home-field advantage.
Getting past Arkansas (potentially) in the super regional, especially in Fayetteville, won’t be easy, but the Rebels did win two of their three games in Arkansas during the regular season.
LSU (No. 13 overall seed) — Super-Regionals
The Tigers have battled injuries and inconsistency all year long, though they finally started to put it together in Hoover at the SEC Tournament. They eventually ran up against the buzzsaw that is the Vanderbilt Commodores, but it was definitely a positive sign.
Hosting a regional is huge for Paul Mainieri’s squad, and even as the No. 13 overall seed, they should be able to advance comfortably. The super-regional round, though, will be a different story.
That’s when they could head to Athens to take on Georgia. During the regular season, the Tigers went 1-2 in Athens, so it would be tough to do better with a trip to Omaha on the line. You can never count out LSU, though, no matter what obstacle is in their path.
Texas A&M (No. 2 seed in West Virginia regional) — Super-Regionals
The Aggies can throw a ridiculous amount of left-handed pitching at teams, and that is something that they can use to their advantage. In Hoover at the SEC Tournament, the pitching staff showed what it can do.
After winning 8-7 in the first game against Florida, the Aggies only allowed two runs to Georgia and one to Ole Miss. The problem? The offense didn’t score a single run in those two games, so the Aggies were eliminated.
If A&M remembers to bring its bats with it to Morgantown, I believe the Mountaineers (the No. 15 overall seed) are one of the more-susceptible host teams in this tournament. Playing at Vanderbilt in the super regionals would be a much tougher task, though.
Tennessee (No. 2 seed in North Carolina regional) — Regionals
The Vols have a talented pitcher leading their staff in Garrett Stallings, but they aren’t an experienced postseason team. Yes, they broke their 13-year NCAA Tournament drought this year, and that’s something to be proud of.
However, after losing in the first round of the SEC Tournament, they’ve shown they’re not quite ready for the big time yet. North Carolina, meanwhile, won the ACC Tournament and enter the regionals in Chapel Hill on a four-game winning streak.
This team is turning a corner under coach Tony Vitello, but they’ll have to settle for gaining postseason experience this year.
Auburn (No. 2 seed in Georgia Tech regional) — Super Regionals
Yes, Georgia Tech enters this tournament as the No. 3 overall seed after an outstanding 41-17 record during the regular season. However, the Yellow Jackets’ home-field advantage won’t be as strong as some other home teams.
That’s because Auburn won’t have to travel far to make it to Atlanta, so the Tigers should bring plenty of fans with them.
It still won’t be easy, but if some of the players who helped last year’s squad make it to the super regionals, this could be a dangerous team in Atlanta. Running into a red-hot North Carolina squad or a tough Tennessee team in the super regionals wouldn’t be easy for the Tigers, though.
Florida (No. 3 seed in Texas Tech regional) — Regionals
The Gators lost a lot of talent from last year’s squad, and thus, have been frustratingly inconsistent this season. Could this team go on a run to the super-regional round? Absolutely. Will they? That’s another question.
The Gators head to Lubbock to play in a Texas Tech regional against a Red Raiders’ squad that is no joke. Texas Tech won the Big 12 regular-season title and enters this regional as the No. 8 seed nationally.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gators playing in the last game of the regional round, but don’t expect them to make it to the super regionals.