NCAA Super Regional Matchup Analysis: Favorites and Dark Horses

NCAA baseball super regionals begin Friday, with eight three-game series that will determine who advances to the College World Series in Omaha.

The Tennessean developed a method to evaluate the teams in super-regionals through various computer rankings. Those rankings were RPI and Elo by Warren Nolan, Massey rankings, KPI by Faktor Sports and Diamond Sports Ranking (DSR) by D1Baseball. Only RPI and KPI are used in NCAA tournament selection, but the other rankings taken together can help evaluate a team’s quality.

To create the benchmark, each team’s ranking among all Division I programs in the five metrics was averaged to give the teams a score that was then used to rank each team. The Tennessean conducted the exercise the day matchups were announced on May 27 and a second time on June 5 after regionals concluded.

Eight of the top ten teams in the initial rankings advanced to the super regionals, with only Arkansas and Oklahoma State being upset.

Here’s an evaluation of the super-regional matchups with the stats as a guide:

Yes, Tennessee-Evansville is a mismatch

Tennessee was the No. 1 team in every metric evaluated. The Vols will match No. 4 seed Evansville, the ultimate underdog.

Simply saying the Aces were a No. 4 seed is underselling them a bit. The pre-regional rankings had Evansville as the top 4-seed in the tournament, ahead of 3-seed St. John’s, Nicholls and VCU. However, the Purple Aces are still the weakest team in the super regionals.

Tennessee has dropped a pair of home games to much lower-ranked teams, including one of a series against Ole Miss and a midweek game against Lipscomb. It may not be out of the question for the Purple Aces to win one game, but winning two out of three would be much more difficult.

Teams in Tennessee’s position have dealt with mismatches on paper before. Not all of them were as easy as they seemed. Perhaps the best example is No. 1 UCLA losing a home super to Michigan, a low-end 3-seed team that was one of the last teams in the tournament in 2019. The Wolverines eventually went all the way to the national championship series.

And while none of them were against the top seed, No. 4 seeds have won a handful of super regionals before. Oral Roberts did it a year ago against No. 11 Oklahoma State, Stony Brook beat No. 7 LSU in 2012 and Fresno State beat No. 3 Arizona State in 2008. The Bulldogs won the national championship that year, beating No. 2 North Carolina and No. 8 Georgia twice each.

FULL BRACKET NCAA Baseball Super Regional Tournament: Full TV schedule, scores, results for Road to College World Series

There are eight clear favorites

Eight of the super regional teams each had a score that was five points or more better than any other team left in the field. Those teams are the eight super-regional hosts.

Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida State, Virginia and Clemson should all be considered the favorites. Of course, it’s highly likely that this won’t be the field in Omaha. The last time every team in Omaha hosted a regional was in 2013; At least two non-host teams have gone to Omaha every season since. But that group is a lot better than the rest.

The most competitive super region is…

Every super regional matchup had a gap of at least 10 points between the score of the higher-ranked team and the lower-ranked team – except one.

Super regional Athens with No. 7 Georgia (score of 6) and No. 10 NC State (score of 12.25) is the most competitive on paper, with just a 6.25 difference between the two teams. It is one of only two two-team supers that hosted their respective regional competitions.

One dark Omaha horse

Many believe that Florida, which had a 28-27 record on selection day and a 13-17 SEC mark, should not have made the tournament. But once the Gators got an offer, they were always dangerous. On selection day, they rated as the tournament’s top 3-seed, with stats more like a mid-tier 2-seed.

Florida became the only team to emerge from the losers’ bracket to win the regional and faces Clemson. That super regional has an 11.5 gap between the two teams’ scores, tied for the second most competitive matchup with Oregon State/Kentucky. The Gators, led by two-way sensation Jac Caglianone, have the star power to compete. While Clemson is much more versatile, the Tigers don’t have a player who can take over games like Caglianone can.

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @aria_gerson.

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