Road to Omaha begins with 3 ACC teams hosting regionals

The ACC placed seven of its 14 baseball teams into the NCAA Tournament, including three national seeds.

Every year, seemingly, ACC baseball fans have been wondering if this is the year the league’s 60-year drought in the College World Series ends. Particularly in the last decade, when the ACC has gotten seven or more of its members into the Tournament nine times.

The league features some of the nation’s better and more consistent programs — but a bad bounce here, a tough break there and it’s all for naught when the final out is recorded in Omaha.

Even in a down year for ACC baseball — by ACC standards, anyway — the league still got seven of its 14 teams into this year’s NCAA Tournament, and two are national seeds.

But it’s clear that the down year had its impact, too. There was buzz yesterday, according to Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, that Clemson might be left out of the field altogether because the committee was not impressed with the quality of baseball in the ACC. Still, the Tigers, along with the North Carolina Tar Heels, were two of the NCAA’s last four teams into the field as at-large selections in the field of 64.

Those two joined Georgia Tech (which earned the league’s automatic berth), Maryland, Miami, Florida State and Virginia.

And Miami, a team that won 27 of its last 30 games, didn’t do enough in the committee’s eyes to earn a national seed, which was somewhat of a surprise. The Hurricanes will still host a regional this weekend, but should they advance, they’re paired up with the No. 2 overall seed, Florida — and they’ll have to travel to Gainesville, too.

Virginia, the No. 1 team in the RPI, was the No. 3 overall seed and is paired up with the Columbia Regional (South Carolina is the host there). Florida State is paired up with the winner of the Louisville Regional should it advance past this weekend as the No. 5 overall seed. Both will host Super Regionals next weekend should they get past this one.

But it’s one round at a time, of course, so let’s take a look at each ACC team’s Regional matchups and how they should (or could) fare:

Virginia is obviously the top seed here, with No. 2 seed Arkansas (38-23), No. 3 Liberty (41-16) and No. 4 Bucknell (30-19-1). Liberty makes geographical sense, but that’s a tough draw for the Cavaliers. Bucknell is just 113th in the RPI, but Liberty is 30th and will be a sneaky-tough opponent.

Arkansas is actually two spots lower in the RPI at 32 in spite of being the higher seed. Liberty even spent some time in the top 25 this season. With Virginia’s pitching depth, though, it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers not coming out of this regional.

Florida State’s draw is an interesting one, for sure. The No. 2 seed Alabama (34-22) had a hot start to the season and got as high as No. 8 in the polls but lost 11 of its last 17 games to take a bit of a tumble. Still, Alabama is No. 21 in the RPI. The No. 3 seed is Kennesaw State (37-21) while the No. 4 is Georgia Southern (39-21). Kennesaw State is 61st in the RPI and Georgia Southern is 94th.

But the Seminoles are clicking at the right time (if that comeback win over Virginia on Saturday was any indication), and this should allow them some more time to get some of their better arms healthy.

One of the reasons the Hurricanes didn’t get any special treatment by the committee in spite of their record was some of their bad losses. One such bad loss was against Bethune-Cookman (26-31), who, it just so happens, is the No. 4 seed in this regional. The No. 3 seed is Columbia (29-18), while the No. 2 is Texas Tech (40-18) — the No. 17 team in the RPI.

Miami, it should be noted, is just two spots higher at No. 15. That’s a pretty tough 2-seed for a first-round regional, and Columbia is No. 34 in the RPI. All the same, it’s a draw that the Hurricanes can come out of if they play better than they did in Greensboro.

Maryland will be the No. 2 seed in this regional, which will be hosted by South Carolina (42-16). The Gamecocks are no stranger to postseason success, having made trips to the College World Series in three of the last four seasons. After a bit of a swoon in April (half of their losses all season came that month), the Gamecocks have seemingly returned to form, winning seven of eight heading into the SEC Tournament (where they lost two games).

It’s a big challenge for Maryland, but they showed last week with wins over Virginia and Florida State that they can play with anyone. The 3-seed is Old Dominion (36-24) while the No. 4 is Campbell (40-19), a team that was snubbed a year ago in spite of a top-40 RPI.

Georgia Tech won the ACC Tournament, but that didn’t earn them anything with the committee.

The Yellow Jackets were considered a bubble team coming into the weekend anyway, but they now are the No. 3 seed in a Regional with host Ole Miss (41-18) 2-seed Washington (39-15-1) and No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (36-25). This regional is insanely difficult, as Ole Miss is No. 14 in the RPI while Washington is 25th and Georgia Tech is 35th.

When the Yellow Jackets get good outings from their starting pitchers, though, they’re generally in good shape because they can certainly hit. Still, this seems like too tall an order.

North Carolina will have to play at the No. 2 overall seed as one of the last four teams into the field. UNC is a No. 3 seed in this regional, and it’s certainly not easy. College of Charleston (41-17) is the 4-seed and Long Beach State (32-24) is the No. 2.

If UNC can ever get its pitching and hitting clicking on a few consecutive nights, the Tar Heels could make some noise here. But that’s an ‘if’ at this point, and a lot depends on the health of senior shortstop Michael Russell, who was limited throughout the ACC Tournament with back spasms. Florida (40-21) is far from the only tough matchup for UNC in this regional — the Tar Heels lost a series to College of Charleston earlier this year, and Long Beach State is 29th in the RPI.

The Tigers were fortunate in two ways — one, they avoid the dreaded Columbia Regional, and two, they draw a regional host that is not a top-eight national seed. But Vanderbilt (41-18) did finish the year No. 7 in RPI in spite of losing six of their last 11 games.

Oregon (42-18) will be one of the tougher No. 2 seeds any ACC team has to face. The Ducks are No. 23 in the RPI and were in the top 25 most of the season before getting swept by Oregon State (the No. 1 overall seed). The No. 4 seed is Xavier (29-27). Their RPI is just 106, but they took one game of a series at UNC (and lost the last two by one run each), and they lost by just one run at Indiana (the No. 3 overall seed).

This will be tough for an up-and-down Clemson team, but they certainly have the talent to compete.