The NCAA Tournament has begun, and Louisville has once again been chosen to host a regional in the opening round. The Cardinals were selected as the #7 overall seed on Monday, making them a national seed with the potential to host a super regional if they advance to the next round.
Before that, though, we have to take it one round at a time and evaluate the contenders in this year’s regional, and how exactly does the NCAA Baseball Tournament work.
The NCAA Tournament
Because college baseball can be ridiculously unpredictable, the tournament is structured a little differently than most sports under the NCAA umbrella. Instead of one loss ending your season, two are what’s required to eliminate an opponent in any round.
The opening round of the NCAA Tournament consists of 64 teams, with 16 four-team regionals with a one-seed host in each of them. These regionals are played in a double elimination format until one team remains.
After that, the Super Regionals begin, and that round can be the toughest to explain for newcomers to the tournament. All Super Regionals are a best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to Omaha for the College World Series. Each national seed has another regional host paired with it (ex: #1 UCLA with #16 Oregon State, #2 Vanderbilt with #15 West Virginia, etc.).
- If, for example, both #1 UCLA and #16 Oregon State advance, then the Bruins and Beavers play each other at UCLA in a best-of-three series for a trip to the College World Series.
- If, however, #1 UCLA is eliminated but #16 Oregon State advances, then the Beavers would host a Super Regional in Corvallis against the winner of the Los Angeles regional.
- If both national seeds do not advance in their pairing, then the regional winners have to bid for an opportunity to host the Super Regional.
(In layman’s terms: If Louisville advances to the Super Regionals, they will automatically host a Super as they are the #7 national seed, regardless of whether or not #10-seed and regional host East Carolina advances or not).
Once at the College World Series, the cycle begins anew. Two four-team pools play in a double elimination tournament until two teams remain. The two teams left standing play each other in a best-of-three finals to determine the national champion.
Meet the Participants (Louisville Regional)
Louisville Cardinals (43-15)
How They Got Here: Grinding their teeth in the ACC schedule, the Cardinals earned the conference’s regular season title and Atlantic Division title with a 21-9 conference record. Louisville’s most notable wins include a two-game sweep of Ole Miss, sweeping NC State, and series wins over Duke, Florida State.
How They Win the Regional: Of the teams in this regional, Louisville appears to be the most well-rounded on paper. The Cardinals were among the ACC leaders in both ERA and batting average. All four teams in this regional have their conference’s pitcher of the year, but you won’t find many pitchers this year that were better than Reid Detmers. Detmers enters the NCAA Tournament with an 11-3 record, 2.80 ERA, .88 WHIP, and 145 strikeouts (needing only a couple more to break Brendan McKay’s single-season record). Bobby Miller is also a reliable righty that has had a lot of solid outings throughout the season. If Nick Bennett can bounce back from his last couple of starts, the trio will give Louisville a great chance to not only advance to the Super Regionals, but possibly the College World Series. That’s not even discussing their bullpen, which has a lot of quality options such as Adam Elliott (2.86 ERA, .238 opponents’ batting) and Michael McAvene (2.22 ERA, .78 WHIP, six saves).
Let’s not undersell Louisville’s hitting capacity either. Alex Binelas has been on a tear since early March, emerging as the top power-hitter and game changer in Louisville’s batting order. The freshman is hitting .315 with a 1.086 OPS, adding 12 doubles, 13 home runs, and 52 RBIs to his totals. Tyler Fitzgerald (.327, 13 doubles, seven homers, 60 RBIs) and Logan Wyatt (.299, 11 doubles, nine homers, 51 RBIs, 64 walks) are two upperclassmen that give the Cardinals consistency at the top of the order. Guys like Danny Oriente and Lucas Dunn also give UofL a pair of .300 hitters in their lineup, adding some depth to Louisville's batting order.
Indiana Hoosiers (36-21)
How They Got Here: Led by first-year head coach Jeff Mercer, the Hoosiers were able to secure their seventh Big Ten regular season title in program history. IU won seven of their eight conference series this season, including one over a ranked Michigan team at the time.
How They Win the Regional: A lot of offense, and a lot of home runs. The Hoosiers blasted 90 home runs this season, which ranks second in the entire country. Matt Lloyd and Cole Barr both hit 16 home runs each this season, and are liable to blast one out of the ballpark at any moment. They also have a lot of guys that are capable of hitting a spot home run and sparking some momentum, such as Matt Gorski (12 home runs), Grant Richardson (nine home runs), and Elijah Dunham (.305 batting, .976 OPS, seven home runs). However, they've tallied 611 strikeouts as a team. If they can avoid that and get the offense in rhythm, IU is going to be a tough out in the tournament.
The Hoosiers also have the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in Andrew Saalfrank (8-1, 2.58 ERA). The key, though, will be getting quality starts out of Tanner Gordon and Pauly Milto, possibly Gabe Bierman if IU has to play four games in this regional.
Illinois State Redbirds (34-24)
How They Got Here: The Redbirds got an at-large berth after earning a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. The Redbirds were also #26 in the RPI, sitting alongside fellow conference mates Indiana State and Dallas Baptist (both whom also made the NCAA Tournament).
How They Win the Regional: Offense will be the key for the Redbirds. They led the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.295) and doubles (119), which will give them a puncher's chance against teams like Indiana and Louisville. Joe Aeilts led the team with a .350 batting average, and both he and teammate John Rave have double digit home runs on the season. Eight qualified batters on the Redbirds roster have 10+ doubles, which gives them a decent chance to convert those into runs here and there.
Brent Headrick was the MVC Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 9-3 record with a 3.50 ERA. He will give them a chance to get a win at some point in the regional, but the rest of the Redbirds rotation will have to follow his lead and have solid outings.
Illinois-Chicago Flames (29-21)
How They Got Here: UIC won the Horizon League Tournament, defeating Milwaukee and 1-seed Wright State along the way.
How They Win the Regional: UIC has to get quality pitching from as many key guys as possible. Jacob Key and Alex Padilla won the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year and Relief Pitcher of the Year awards, respectively, and should be the names to watch for UIC. Key finished 7-7 with a 3.67 ERA, while Padilla had a .90 ERA, seven saves, and .115 opponents' batting average. Their bullpen has a lot of solid arms such as Sam Menegat (1.64 ERA) and Fred Gosbeth (5-1, 2.86 ERA), helping the Flames rank 26th nationally in team ERA (3.68).
The magic number for the Flames, though, is six runs. When they score six or more runs, they are 22-0; if they score less than that, the Flames are 7-21. If the Flames need to get to that six run threshold, they'll need Ryan Hampe (.369, 14 doubles, 47 RBIs) and Scott Ota (.358, 14 doubles, 19 home runs, 62 RBIs) to be the leaders. Ota accounts for half of the Flames' 38 homers this season, a true power-hitting threat whenever he steps up to the batter's box. Ryan Lin-Peistrup (.293 batting) and Joshua Figueroa (.279) also need to have big games at the plate.
Friday, May 31st:
- Game 1: (2) Indiana v. (3) Illinois State, 2 p.m. EDT
- Game 2: (1) Louisville v. (4) UIC, 6 p.m. EDT
Saturday, June 1st:
- Game 3: Game 1 loser v. Game 2 loser, 11 a.m.
- Game 4: Game 1 winner v. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Sunday, June 2nd:
- Game 5: Game 3 winner v. Game 4 loser, 12 p.m.
- Game 6: Game 5 winner v. Game 4 winner, 6 p.m.
Monday, June 3rd:
- Game 7: Game 6 rematch, winner take all, 1 p.m.