Friedlander: Predicting each ACC baseball team's chance of advancing to Super Regionals
Full season resumes, RPI rankings and advanced analytics are a good way to determine which baseball teams should make the NCAA Tournament and how they should be seeded.
But once the 1st pitch of a regional is thrown, all that becomes little more than a bunch of numbers on a computer screen.
Postseason baseball, like playoff hockey, is too dependent on a variable no algorithm can predict.
All it takes is 1 dominant performance by a goalie – or in this case, a pitcher – to throw any bracket into chaos.
It happens every year in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just a matter of where it’s going to happen and who it will be.
Just ask the Miami Hurricanes.
Their home-field advantage in last year’s regional was negated by an Ole Miss team that was one of the final at-large entries into the bracket. The 3rd-seeded Rebels won their 2nd-round matchup 2-1 to send Miami into the loser’s bracket, where it was eliminated by Arizona, while propelling them on a run that ended in a national championship.
The Hurricanes will get a shot at redemption this weekend when they once again host a regional at Mark Light Field.
They’re 1 of 4 ACC teams hosting a regional, led by top 8 national seeds Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia. In all, 8 conference members are in the 64-team bracket.
How far will each get on the road to Omaha?
That’s a question best answered by a Magic 8 Ball, not logic, seedings or advanced analytics. But since all we have to go on is those numbers on the computer screen, let’s give it a shot anyway.
Seed: 1 (No. 1 overall)
Site: David F. Couch Ballpark, Winston-Salem, NC
Biggest threat: No. 2 Maryland
Rest of the bracket: No. 3 Northeastern, No. 4 George Mason
ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson, on the network’s NCAA selection show, called the Deacons the most complete team in college baseball.
That’s not an exaggeration.
The Deacons have the nation’s best ERA on a staff anchored by ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder and lights-out closer Camden Minacci, and a deep lineup that ranks among the nation’s top 10 in runs scored and homers.
Although coach Tom Walter’s team enters this regional as a heavy favorite, it will be anything but a walkover into the Super Regional. Overmatched George Mason shouldn’t present much trouble in Friday’s opener.
But after that, Wake will have its hands full. Second-seeded Northeastern has already beaten ACC opponents Boston College and Duke this season and sports the nation’s 2nd-best ERA. And No. 3 Maryland, which eliminated the Deacons from the regionals last year, won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament this year.
Prediction: Wake goes unbeaten and advances to Super Regional.
Seed: 1 (No. 4 overall)
Site: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson, SC
Biggest threat: No. 2 Tennessee
Rest of the brackets: No. 3 Charlotte, No. 4 Lipscomb
The Tigers enter the NCAA Tournament as the hottest team in the nation, having won 16 straight over the past month, including 4 straight last weekend to earn the ACC championship in their 1st season under coach Erik Bakich.
Although 2-way threat Caden Grice is clearly the star of the show coming off his MVP performance at the conference tourney, he is far from the Tigers’ only potent offensive threat. A testament to the Tigers’ depth is their ability to keep the line moving and produce big innings, as they did in putting together rallies of 7, 5 and 8 runs last week in Durham.
That ability will be tested against Major League prospect Chase Dollander and a Tennessee pitching staff that leads the nation in strikeouts per 9 innings and has the 4th-best ERA in Division I. Volunteers figure to be doubly dangerous after failing to reach the College World Series as the top overall seed last year. And the law of averages is eventually going to catch up with the Tigers. The only question is whether it will happen this weekend.
Prediction: Clemson will see its winning streak snapped, but will still advance.
Seed: 1 (No. 7 overall)
Site: Disharoon Park, Charlottesville, Va.
Biggest threat: No. 2 East Carolina
Rest of the brackets: No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Army
The Cavaliers have flown under the radar a bit amid the attention being grabbed by No. 1 Wake Forest overall and red-hot Clemson of late. But they put together a steady, solid season with a lineup featuring 4 of the ACC’s top 10 hitters – led by conference Player of the Year Kyle Teel. The pitching staff is just as good, especially when Connelly Early takes the mound.
Home-field advantage in the regional might mean more to Virginia than any of the 3 other ACC hosts. Coach Brian O’Connor’s team is 34-2 at “The Dish,” with all 4 losses coming to conference rivals. Despite that edge, history could end up working against the Cavaliers.
Both ECU and Oklahoma know what it’s like to win regionals played in Charlottesville. The Pirates, who won the regular season title in the American Athletic Association, eliminated UVa and advanced to the supers the last time the Cavaliers hosted a regional in 2016.
The Sooners, meanwhile, won a head-to-head matchup in the 2010 supers to earn a trip to the College World Series, then eliminated UVa again in a regional 2 years later.
Prediction: History repeats itself as ECU eliminates the Cavaliers again.
Seed: 1 (No. 9 overall)
Site: Mark Light Stadium, Coral Gables, Fla.
Biggest threat: No. 2 Texas
Rest of the brackets: No. 3 Louisiana, No. 4 Maine
Even though they lost to Clemson in the ACC Tournament title game, the Hurricanes opened some eyes by knocking off top-seeded Wake Forest to get to the final. They come into the regionals playing their best ball of the season, having won 13 of their previous 15 games to come within 1 spot of earning a coveted top-8 national seed.
Miami’s late-season surge has been fueled by offensive catalyst YoYo Morales, a projected 1st-round MLB Draft pick, and a deep bullpen back-ended by star closer Andrew Walters.
The biggest potential stumbling block standing in the Hurricanes’ way is Texas, which won a share of the Big 12 regular season title and had hopes of hosting its own region before going 2-and-BBQ at its conference tournament last week. Even if the Longhorns stumble again, 3rd-seeded Louisiana is no soft touch, either. Among their 40 wins this season is a victory at LSU.
Prediction: Miami goes unbeaten and advances.
Site: Sewell-Thomas Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Team to beat: No. 1 Alabama
Rest of the brackets: No. 3 Troy, No. 4 Nicholls State
The Eagles barely missed out on hosting a regional but still ended up with a favorable draw. Alabama is the No. 16 seed and has played well despite the distraction of their coach Brad Bohannon getting fired in midseason for his alleged role in a gambling scandal.
A more substantive reason for optimism is that the Crimson Tide’s pitching staff has been prone to giving up big numbers and BC’s bats – led by heavy hitters Joey Vetrano and Nick Wang – are more than capable of taking advantage.
The Eagles have been the ACC’s biggest surprise after going just 19-34 a year ago. They’ve beaten Tennessee on the road and handed Wake Forest 1 of its rare ACC losses. But before they can start thinking about knocking off the region’s top seed, coach Mike Gambino’s team can’t get caught looking past opening opponent Troy and its offense that averages nearly 8 runs per game.
Prediction: BC upsets the host Crimson Tide and advances to the Super Regionals.
Site: Spring Brooks Stadium, Conway, SC
Team to beat: No. 1 Coastal Carolina
Rest of the brackets: No. 3 UNC Wilmington, No. 4 Rider
Coach Chris Pollard has done a remarkable job of piecing things together with a pitching staff that lost its top 2 starters to injury. He’s done it by mixing and matching his bullpen to the situation and opponent and getting some unexpected contributions on offense – including a team-leading 13 homers from Division III transfer MJ Metz.
The Blue Devils catapulted themselves into NCAA Tournament contention with a red-hot April but have cooled off considerably since. They’ve lost 8 of their past 11, including both games in the ACC Tournament last week – although both were 1-run decisions.
Complicating matters is the fact that Alex Gow, the team’s 1 consistent starting pitcher, left his last outing with an apparent injury after only 37 pitches. His availability will be a key to any chance Duke has of advancing in a region that also includes 2 conference champions – 1 of which, Rider, has already beaten the Blue Devils.
Prediction: Duke goes 0-2 and is eliminated.
Site: Bob Warn Field, Terre Haute, Ind.
Team to beat: No. 2 Iowa
Rest of the brackets: No. 1 Indiana State, No. 4 Wright State
The Tar Heels will be happy just to see anyone other than Clemson facing them in the opposing dugout. They’ve been steamrolled by the Tigers’ express 4 times in the past 7 games after facing the nation’s hottest team in the final weekend of the regular season and again in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
Against everyone other than the newly crowned conference champions, UNC has won 7 of its past 9 with the only 2 losses coming to teams in the NCAA field. And they’ve done it without ACC Defensive Player of the Year Vance Honeycutt, who is still sidelined with a back ailment. In his place, coach Scott Forbes has gotten huge performances from catcher Tomas Frick and Patrick Alvarez to go with the steady Mac Horvath.
The Tar Heels may also have gotten a break with their draw. They’ll be the most experienced team in a region that includes a top seed, Indiana State, that is 1 of only 2 mid-majors to earn host status and the No. 2 team, Iowa, is making its 1st regional appearance since 2017.
Prediction: Even without Honeycutt, UNC finds a way to advance.
Site: Founders Park, Columbia, SC
Team to beat: No. 1 South Carolina
Rest of the brackets: No. 2 Campbell, No. 4 Central Connecticut St.
The Wolfpack, as usual, are a hard bunch to figure. At times, they look like a team capable of going on a run similar to the one that got them to within a win of the College World Series championship round in 2021. But then there are times when they look as if they can’t get out of their way.
But here’s something to remember about State. In any sport. It usually performs its best when the least is expected of it. And in a stacked region that includes SEC power South Carolina and a Campbell team that should have been a top 12 seed, the expectations on Elliott Avent’s team are low.
How far the Wolfpack is able to go in this region will depend on their pitching, especially a bullpen that has had a hard time holding onto late-inning leads.
Prediction: NC State gets to the region final, but runs out of pitching and is eliminated by South Carolina.
Feature photo by Jaylynn Nash courtesy of the ACC