We started with 293 teams. Sixty-four made the NCAA Tournament. And now we're down to the eight which will pack up and head to Omaha for the College World Series.
Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State will represent the SEC, marking the 12th time the conference has had at least three teams in Omaha — twice as many times as every other conference combined. Texas, Arizona, Stanford, Virginia and NC State round out the field.
It's hard for me to look at everything in this College World Series objectively when Tennessee is five wins from a national championship, but I'll do my best. Every team in this field is incredibly talented and I think there are five or six teams which could very realistically come out on top. So let's look at how each team got here.
It didn't look like the Longhorns had quite the squad to get to the CWS after Opening Weekend, when Texas lost all three of its games in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown to Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss. Now the Horns will square off against MSU again looking to advance to the winners' bracket in Omaha.
Texas hasn't had much of a test in the postseason so far, breezing through the Austin Regional and then drawing 4-seed South Florida out of the Gainesville Regional as its Super Regional opponent. The Longhorns will likely need to rely on their pitching staff more in Omaha than they have so far in the NCAA Tournament. Texas has three starters with an ERA under 3.00, led by soon-to-be MLB first rounder Ty Madden.
If you like dramatic finishes and a team that's going to let you hear about it when they beat you, the Vols are the team for you.
Tennessee was picked to finish third just in the SEC East this season and climbed as high as No. 2 in the country en route to Omaha. The real UT is powered by a lineup which was fourth in the country with 98 home runs in 66 games. We'll see how that offense plays in Omaha's cavernous TD Ameritrade Park, but the Vols will try to launch the baseball.
Tennessee was pushed to the brink by Wright State in its Regional opener, but won on Drew Gilbert's walk-off grand slam and has gone on to win every other game it's played this postseason, capped by an emphatic 15-6 win over LSU to win the Knoxville Super Regional.
It's no secret that you're going to have to get through two of the best arms in college baseball to get by Vanderbilt. Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker are a combined 23-6 with a 2.31 ERA (2.16 and 2.46, respectively) on the season and look like they have their A-game so far in the NCAA Tournament.
On offense, watch out if Enrique Bradfield Jr. gets on base. He's stolen 46 bases in 52 attempts this season, seven more successful attempts than the next-highest player in the country. And then Dominic Keegan and his 1.114 OPS can drive him in from anywhere.
Arizona was a team that sort of lurked in the shadows out west for most of the season, but just kept stringing wins together. And after dispatching Ole Miss in the Tucson Super Regional, the Wildcats are headed back to Omaha for the first time since they fell in the national championship series to Coastal Carolina in 2016.
Arizona has five starters with an OPS of at least .926 and scored 25 runs in its two wins over Ole Miss in the Supers. We'll see how that offense fares against Rocker on Saturday.
The Fightin' Brandon Walkers looked like they were faltering down the stretch, losing a series to Missouri late in the season before getting blasted in their two SEC Tournament games by a combined score of 25-3. But Mississippi State has sure bounced back, fending off a tough Notre Dame team in three games in the Starkville Super Regional to make their third straight College World Series.
The Bulldogs are led by SEC Player of the Year Tanner Allen at the plate, who's slashing .392/.463/.634 with 10 HR and 62 RBI this season. And on the mound, Landon Sims has been one of the best relievers in the country with a 1.55 ERA in 21 appearances.
It looks like this tweet from Brandon may have been prophetic after all.
I'd also like to extend my thanks to him for helping grow the game.
In classic Stanford fashion, you just kind of look up and the Cardinal is going to Omaha. It wasn't one of the dominant teams you heard a ton about throughout the season, but Stanford certainly made a statement when it went into Lubbock and took Texas Tech to the woodshed in a Super Regional in the Red Raiders' home ballpark.
Brock Jones is the straw that stirs the drink for the Cardinal, putting up a 1.072 OPS, 16 HR and 54 RBI this season. Stanford hasn't taken on an SEC team yet this season, so we'll see what happens if it has to take on one of Vanderbilt's top arms or advances to take on Tennessee or MSU from Bracket Two.
If you didn't know North Carolina State was the hottest team in the country before last weekend, you definitely found out after the Wolfpack battled back from a 21-2 defeat at the hands of Arkansas in Game 1 of the Fayetteville Super Regional to take down the No. 1 overall seed in three games. State held the best offense in the country to just seven runs in the final two games and found a way to win both by a single run and advance to the CWS.
The Wolfpack started 1-8 in the ACC and looked dead in the water before flipping a switch and finishing 19-14 in conference and then obviously hitting another gear in the NCAA Tournament. NC State still somehow has the longest odds to win the national title at +1200 on the Barstool Sportsbook, but this is a team everybody in Omaha should be terrified to see in the other dugout.
I mentioned Tennessee's flair for the dramatic earlier, but Virginia seemingly chooses to make things hard on itself. The Cavaliers were a 3-seed in the Columbia Regional, where they lost their first game to South Carolina and had to battle all the way back through the losers' bracket to even get to the Supers. Then, the Hoos lost the first game again to Dallas Baptist and had to win the next two to get to Omaha.
So if that trend continues, it should be good news for Tennessee on Sunday. But if you see UVA once they've already gotten that loss out of the way, look out. The Cavs have just one starting position player hitting over .300, but if they get to their loaded bullpen with the lead, it's usually lights out.
I can't wait to get everything started on Saturday. This field is loaded with talent and a couple surprises, so we'll see who ends up making it out of each bracket to play for the national title. Will we get a Tennessee-Vanderbilt in-state battle for the crown? Will NC State or Virginia continue their Cinderella stories?
Only time will tell. See y'all in Omaha.