- Jeremy Mills
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For the third straight season, the NCAA selection committee produced a solid tournament field with few surprises.
The best eight teams over the course of the season took home the national seeds. The selection of Coral Gables (Miami) over Lexington (Kentucky) for a home regional was not a reflection of the committee's overall opinion of the SEC, so South Carolina was awarded the final national seed over a Purdue team with a better RPI but a weaker overall résumé.
The committee's weighing of overall body of work over RPI did not necessarily continue throughout the field. The selection of the Hurricanes as a host over the Wildcats was largely based on RPI, though the Wildcats' weak nonconference schedule was a contributing factor. And while past at-large bids have been earned by teams with RPI numbers in the 60s or 70s, the lowest ranked at-large bid this year went to Sam Houston State, which finished No. 51.
Biggest omission: Southeastern Louisiana
The Lions finished second in the Southland Conference and had a 5-1 record against the RPI top 50 and 13-7 record against the top 100. College of Charleston was below .500 against both RPI bands, but made the field by finishing tied for first in the Southern Conference. The main difference between the teams? The Cougars were No. 43 in RPI, while the Lions were 16 spots lower.
Honorable mention: The ACC bubble teams
In a year in which the pendulum swung back toward RPI over conference standing, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest were the only top-40 RPI teams not to make the field of 64.
Toughest regional: Columbia
It's a Palmetto State showdown between South Carolina, Clemson and Coastal Carolina. The committee did the two-time defending national champion no favors in sending two in-state rivals to Columbia. The Tigers took one of three games when the teams met in March, and the Gamecocks and Chanticleers met in a hard-fought super regional in 2010. Assuming the Gamecocks and Tigers play, it will be their first meeting in a regional since 1980.
Honorable mention: Coral Gables
Miami draws the toughest No. 4 seed, with a Stony Brook team that ranks in the top 10 in the nation in batting average, ERA and fielding percentage and sent multiple players to the Cape Cod League all-star game last summer. Missouri State leads the nation in ERA, and UCF was in the discussion to host a regional until a late-season slump.
Easiest regional: Waco
The Bears won 29 of 32 games this season at Baylor Ballpark. Dallas Baptist has a gaudy RPI, but lost all three games it played against top 30 RPI opponents this season (a series sweep against Rice). UT Arlington is 10-16 on the road and has a losing record against the RPI top 100. Those factors, combined with the fact that Big 12 conference mate Oklahoma (5-0 record against Baylor) couldn't be sent to Waco, should make for an easy regional for the Bears.
Honorable mention: Tucson
No. 2 seed New Mexico State started 30-11 but struggled down the stretch and gave up 30 runs in its two WAC tournament games. If Missouri stays hot, the Tigers could be the biggest risk to Arizona.
Best regional storyline: George Horton vs. his former team
Cal State Fullerton travels to a regional for the first time since 2007, and gets sent to Eugene to take on the Ducks in their fourth year under former Titan skipper George Horton.
Honorable mention: Ron Polk
The long-time Mississippi State skipper is now a volunteer assistant coach at UAB. The Blazers and Bulldogs could meet in the Tallahassee Regional.
Best possible super regional matchup: No. 1 Florida vs. Vanderbilt
In 2011, the Gators won five of the six meetings between the schools on its way to the CWS finals, including handing the Commodores both of their losses in Omaha. Florida also swept the SEC season-opening series between the two this year as Vanderbilt started 7-15. The young Commodores are a completely different team now, and won both games between the schools at the SEC tournament last week.
Honorable mention: No. 3 Florida State vs. Stanford
If Seminoles coach Mike Martin and Cardinal coach Mark Marquess meet in the supers, it would be a matchup of two of the top four active coaches with more than 1,400 Division I wins.
Teams that should make reservations in Omaha:
(Disclaimer -- take these with a grain of salt based on my miserable 3-for-8 performance last year)
No. 1 Florida
No. 8 South Carolina
No. 4 Baylor
No. 7 LSU
No. 6 North Carolina