NCAA baseball preseason bracketology

February, 15, 2012
02/15/12
11:04
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As the 2012 NCAA baseball season gets under way this weekend, it seems a fitting time to ramp up the projections for the NCAA tournament.

The first pitch is scheduled for Friday; from there, it will be a quick 15 weekends until the field of 64 is selected on Monday, May 28. So, let the speculation begin.

First, a quick review of last year's February bracket projection. As is the nature of the beast, it had plenty of positives and negatives.

Four of the teams that I tabbed as national seeds ended up as national seeds in June  Florida, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Texas. Three of my other national seeds (UCLA, TCU, Cal State Fullerton) ended up hosting regionals, with the biggest miss being Oklahoma (preseason national No. 4 seed, ended up as the No. 2 seed in TCU). Three of the teams I had in the 9-16 range ended up as national seeds (South Carolina, Florida State, Rice), while eventual National No. 3 seed North Carolina was projected in the 17-32 range.

That's in line with the predictive ability of the preseason coaches' poll. Four of the eventual national seeds came from the top 10, while the others ranged from No. 11 (Florida State) to unranked (North Carolina).

What were the biggest misses overall? The biggest culprits were in the Pac-10. I had UCLA as the overall national No. 1 seed (matching the preseason rankings), while the Bruins barely ended up hosting a regional. Oregon missed the field after clocking in as a regional host (and No. 10 in the preseason poll) in the preseason. That's the opposite of Oregon State's fate, as the Beavers went from a regional No. 3 seed in the preseason to a regional host in June. Also out west, San Diego finished nine games under .500 after being slotted as a No. 2 seed.

The best call was Virginia. The Cavaliers had lost a lot of pieces from 2010 and were in the mid-teens in the preseason rankings but ended up matching my call for a national seed. While Connecticut didn't end up as a regional host, they won the regional in Clemson to show that the preseason consideration was merited.

With those caveats about the long season ahead of us, here is my initial projection for the 2012 field:

Gainesville Regional
No. 1 Florida
Miami
Florida International
Bethune-Cookman
   Tallahassee Regional
   Florida State
   UCF
   Jacksonville
   Monmouth
Fayatteville Regional
No. 8 Arkansas
Oklahoma
Missouri State
Oral Roberts
   Tucson Regional
   Arizona
   Vanderbilt
   Connecticut
   Navy
College Station Regional
No. 5 Texas A&M
California
Troy
Alcorn State
   Fort Worth Regional
   TCU
   Baylor
   Dallas Baptist
   Michigan State
Palo Alto Regional
No. 4 Stanford
UC Irvine
Mississippi State
Fresno State
   Fullerton Regional
   Cal State Fullerton
   UCLA
   Creighton
   San Diego State
Atlanta Regional
No. 6 Georgia Tech
Southern Miss
Mississippi
Jacksonville State
   Athens Regional
    Georgia
   Georgia Southern
   Stetson
   Kent State
Chapel Hill Regional
No. 3 North Carolina
Louisville
East Carolina
UNC Wilmington
   Brooklyn Regional
   St. John's
   Virginia
   Oregon
   Manhattan
Houston Regional
No. 7 Rice
LSU
Oklahoma State
Dartmouth
   Austin Regional
   Texas
   Oregon State
   Texas State
   Stony Brook
Columbia Regional
No. 2 South Carolina
Coastal Carolina
NC State
Charlotte
   Clemson Regional
   Clemson
   College of Charleston
   Alabama
   Wright State


Last five in: Oklahoma State, Mississippi, Jacksonville, NC State, Connecticut

First nine out: Texas Tech, Southeastern Louisiana, Cal State Bakersfield, Seton Hall, Long Beach State, Wichita State, Tulane, Tennessee, Elon

The Pac-12 adds one baseball-playing member in Utah (Colorado doesn't sponsor baseball), but loses Arizona State from June baseball due to a one-year postseason ban handed down from the NCAA. That could knock the conference down to five bids, with Oregon and USC on the bubble.

There's always a high-flier from the north in the preseason, and this year it's St. John's. The Red Storm return all four starting pitchers from last year to go along with slugger Jeremy Baltz. If the Johnnies live up to expectation, they could host a regional even if they don't finish the season as a No. 1 seed. As proven over the last two years by Ohio State and Connecticut, it can be hard to play with a big bullseye on your back. If St. John's lives up to expectations, it could host a regional either at its home stadium or the minor-league ballpark in Brooklyn.

The northern teams could be helped this season by the mild weather this year. Teams that are usually forced to practice inside all the way to opening day have been able to hit the field from the start of practice. There's still plenty of time for the weather to take a turn for the worse, but it will be worth keeping an eye on the Big East and Big Ten early in the season to see if their nonconference results improve over past years.

The SEC tournament expands to 10 teams this year, and that could immediately benefit the conference with an extra NCAA tournament bid. In past years, an invitation to Hoover, Ala., was usually enough to land an at-large spot while teams that failed to make the SEC tournament needed to sweat out the bubble. For the two extra teams in the field, that could reduce the stress on Selection Monday. There are nine teams (and three national seeds) in the initial projection and any of the 12 teams could make the field if the chips fall right.

The other power conferences all seem set to send an average number of teams into June. That means a combined 31 bids for the biggest five players (SEC: 9, ACC: 7, Pac-12: 6, Big 12: 5, C-USA: 4). That still leaves plenty of spots for some of the "mid-majors," with 11 conferences meriting multiple bids at this point.

Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.

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