OMAHA, Neb. — The NCAA baseball tournament starts with regional play Friday through Monday. The 16 winners advance to super regionals next week, and the final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha beginning June 18.
Here are some of the tournament's top story lines:
Coastal Carolina (44-15) has won 10 straight and Bryant (47-10) and Louisiana-Lafayette (41-19) each have won nine in a row. LSU (42-18) has won 14 of its last 16 games, going 3-2 against No. 1 national seed Florida in that stretch. Clemson (42-18) knocked off No. 1 regional seeds Virginia, Louisville and Florida State on its way to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title and has won eight straight.
South Alabama (40-20), the final at-large pick, has lost six of nine and dropped its final three series (to No. 81 RPI Georgia Southern, No. 97 UT Arlington and No. 91 Troy). Washington (32-21) is 8-7 over its last 15 games, including series losses to No. 177 Washington State at home and at No. 92 Utah. Georgia Tech has lost five of six, albeit one of those was against No. 3 national seed Miami and the others were against No. 1 regional seeds Florida State and North Carolina State.
FEELING A DRAFT
A dozen prospective first-round draft picks are in the tournament. Among them are Florida pitcher A.J. Puk, Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, Miami catcher Zack Collins, Mississippi State pitcher Dakota Hudson, Vanderbilt pitcher Jordan Sheffield and Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss.
Clemson freshman right fielder Seth Beer is a candidate for national player of the year with his .372 batting average and 16 home runs. Texas A&M third baseman Boomer White, who played for TCU in the 2014 CWS, is batting .395 in his first season with the Aggies. Navy left-hander Luke Gillingham (8-3, 1.96) is the NCAA active leader in career complete games (17) and shutouts (7). Southeastern Louisiana first baseman Jameson Fisher's .437 batting average leads the nation.
CHAMPS AT HOME
Virginia (37-20) begins defense of its national title at home as a No. 1 regional seed after having to go to the West Coast as a No. 3 last year. The Cavaliers won their last five ACC series after moving Adam Haseley and Alec Bettinger into the weekend rotation and shifting Tommy Doyle to the closer's role.
The Gators (47-13) have done everything except win a national title under ninth-year coach Kevin O'Sullivan, and they enter the tournament as a No. 1 seed for the second time in five years. SEC pitcher of the year Logan Shore and A.J. Puk lead a staff averaging 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Leading hitter Peter Alonso (.352, 9 HRs), out since May 13 with a broken left hand, is expected be in the lineup against Bethune-Cookman on Friday.
WEST TEXAS, NOT COAST
There'll be no regional on the West Coast for the first time since 1994. Arizona (38-20) was No. 21 in the RPI and submitted a bid to host a regional, but the selection committee sent the Wildcats to Lafayette, Louisiana. That makes Texas Tech, in Lubbock, the westernmost regional site.
Utah (25-27) finished last each of its first four seasons in the Pac-12 and was picked there again this year. The Utes ended up winning the league, at 18-11, for an automatic berth. According to NCAA and Associated Press research, Utah is the first baseball team from a power five conference to win a regular-season title with a losing overall record. Then there's surprise Mid-American Conference tournament winner Western Michigan (22-32), which brings a No. 217 RPI ranking.
Four teams are in the tournament for the first time, all as automatic qualifiers. They are Fairfield (32-24) of the Metro Atlantic Conference, Alabama State (38-15) of the Southwestern, Utah Valley (37-21) of the Western Athletic and St. Mary's (33-23) of the West Coast.
Duke (33-22), among 10 ACC teams in the field, is in for the first time since making it to the CWS in 1961. Louisiana Tech (40-18) made the tournament for the first time since 1987 and Western Michigan for the first time since 1989.