2021 turned out a lot better than most people expected in college baseball. This year we saw the top teams dominate all year and position themselves for a run at the sport’s pinnacle in Omaha. For myself, I have been drawn to SEC Baseball for years, specifically the Ole Miss Rebels. The SEC features multiple teams ranked inside the top 25 including, 6 of the 16 Regional Hosts, and 4 of the top 8 National Seeds headed into the NCAA Tournament. In this blog, I will preview the 8 Regionals on the left side of the bracket, with teams and players to watch for, as well as my picks to move on to the Super Regional Round.
1 Seed: Arkansas Razorbacks (Host)
2 Seed: Nebraska Cornhuskers
3 Seed: Northeastern Huskies
4 Seed: NJIT Highlanders
Sleeper Team: Nebraska
Yes, I get Nebraska is the two seed in this region so them being a sleeper is a bit of a stretch but with Arkansas having the potential to be one of the best teams in college baseball history, Nebraska escaping Fayetteville with a Regional championship would be one of the all-time upsets. Nebraska is one of the top two or three 2 seeds in this tournament. Led by Will Bolt, the Cornhuskers are fresh off a B1G Ten Tournament championship and head into the regional hot.
Player to watch for: Jalen Battles, SS, Arkansas
This dude put on a show for the Razorbacks in Hoover at the SEC Tournament. Roped a ball over the left-field wall in the SEC Title game and flashed the leather all week at short for the Hogs. The 6 foot, 2 inch junior from San Antonio, Texas is the real deal and a must-watch player for the number one overall seed this weekend.
Kniffy’s Pick: #1 Arkansas
The Hogs are rolling as they swept their way through the SEC Tournament, steamrolling Tennessee in the final. The Razorbacks are one of, if not the most complete team in the country. This team has the potential to be one of the top-5 teams of all time if they are able to make a run to and through Omaha in the next coming weeks.
1 Seed: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (Host)
2 Seed: NC State Wolfpack
3 Seed: Alabama Crimson Tide
4 Seed: Rider Broncos
Sleeper Team: Alabama Crimson Tide
One of the NCAAs Last 4 In teams, the Crimson Tide out of the widely talented SEC West Division, can be a scary team in this region because they are battle-tested. When asked about why Alabama was chosen for the tournament, the committee cited their strength of schedule, which leads me to believe that Bama could have a shot in this region.
Player to watch for: Jonny Butler, NC State
The Junior outfielder from Channahon, Illinois was the star of the Wolfpack’s lineup this year. Slashing .388/.460/.688 for the year, he was second on the team in homers (12) and led the team in RBIs (41) in 43 games this season. Also can run the bases as he stole 14 bags in 15 chances this year.
Kniffy’s Pick: NC State Wolfpack
Don’t get me wrong, playing at Louisiana Tech is going to be a gauntlet. They had great crowds all weekend for the Conference USA Tournament. But for me, it’s about who you’ve played all season and the Bulldogs haven’t played the best competition all year. That’s why I am leaning towards NC State in this region. Obviously, playing in the ACC battle tests a team so that is going to help propel the Pack into the Supers.
PALO ALTO REGIONAL
1 Seed: Stanford Cardinal (Host)
2 Seed: UC Irvine Anteaters
3 Seed: Nevada Wolfpack
4 Seed: North Dakota State Bison
Sleeper Team: UC Irvine
UC Irvine out of the Big West Conference could play a spoiler in this region because they play a different style of game. The Big West Conference is known to be a small ball league, something that a lot of the teams back east have never seen. If they are able to play small and take control of the region early, the Anteaters could be moving on.
Player to watch for: Dillan Shrum, Nevada
This 6 foot, 200-pound Redshirt Senior took full advantage of his extra year of eligibility as he put up crazy numbers this year for the Wolfpack. He slashed .479/.521/.992 this year with an OPS of an astounding 1.513 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs. I am really intrigued by this guy and am looking forward to watching him play this weekend.
Kniffy’s Pick: Stanford
Stanford is an all-around solid team this year as they locked in a top 8 National Seed. The Cardinal pitching staff is led by senior Brandon Beck as he was phenomenal this season, toting a 7-1 record, a 3.03 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 86 innings this season. With a solid team average of.276, I think the Cardinal is primed to make a run at hosting a Super Regional.
1 Seed: Texas Tech Red Raiders (Host)
2 Seed: UCLA Bruins
3 Seed: North Carolina Tar Heels
4 Seed: Army Golden Knights
Sleeper Team: UCLA
UCLA is one of the most storied programs in all of college baseball. With alumni such as Jackie Robinson, along with Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer more recently. Storied programs with high-level coaches like John Savage in Westwood, the Bruins shouldn’t be counted out of this regional.
Player to watch for: Jace Jung, Texas Tech
The younger brother of former Red Raider and Texas Rangers 2019 first-round pick Josh Jung. Jace had an unreal year in Lubbock as he stroked 20 home runs and amassed 65 RBIs while slashing .342/.475/.717 with a 1.192 OPS this year.
Kniffy’s Pick: Texas Tech
This Regional is loaded with perennial postseason teams in TTU, UCLA, and UNC but the Red Raiders are going to feed off the home crowd and roll into the Super Regional round, looking to advance to Omaha for the 5th time in 8 years. Jace Jung goes yard 3 times en route to the Supers.
1 Seed: Arizona Wildcats (Host)
2 Seed: Oklahoma State Cowboys
3 Seed: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
4 Seed: Grand Canyon Lopes
Sleeper Team: UCSB
In 2016, UCSB clinched a bid to the College World Series with a walk-off Grand Slam off the bat of freshman Sam Cohen. It truly was one of the best moments in college baseball history. The path to the Super Regionals for the Gauchos is to do what California teams do best, outrun and play small ball.
Player to watch for: Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Oklahoma State
The 6 foot, 224 pound sophomore for OSU had a great year at the dish. The second-year third baseman slashed .362/.437/.674 with an OPS of 1.111. He stroked 15 home runs and drove in 66 runs this year.
Kniffy’s Pick: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are battle-tested in the highly competitive BIG 12 Conference. Arizona is a new team on the block and I see them folding under the bright lights of the postseason. Oklahoma State will lose the winner’s bracket game but will come back and beat Arizona twice to move on.
1 Seed: Ole Miss Rebels (Host)
2 Seed: Southern Miss Golden Eagles
3 Seed: Florida State Seminoles
4 Seed: Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
Sleeper Team: Florida State
The Seminoles are one of those national powerhouse teams who had a down year this year but still find themselves in a Regional, with two other very competitive teams. FSU is led by the son of Mike Martin Sr., the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Baseball history. The Seminoles are no stranger to postseason success.
Player to watch for: Jacob Gonzalez, Ole Miss
The freshman shortstop from California has been nothing but nails for the Rebs this year. He only stepped into the role of shortstop filling in for All-American Anthony Servidio and ran with it. He started off the year in the 2 hole and is now the everyday 3 hitter on one of the best offenses in the country.
Kniffy’s Pick: Ole Miss Rebels
I have to take my Rebs here, even with their lack of success in the postseason of late. The Rebs are led by the SEC active all-time winningest coach in Mike Bianco. The Rebels lost former first-round pick Gunnar Hoglund to Tommy John Surgery a few weeks ago but are led by Gonzalez and senior captain Tim Elko, who is playing on a torn ACL. Doug Nikhazy is one of the best starters in America and is poised to lead the Rebs to the Super Regional round.
1 Seed: East Carolina Pirates (Host)
2 Seed: Charlotte 49ers
3 Seed: Maryland Terrapins
4 Seed: Norfolk State Spartans
Sleeper Team: Charlotte
I like Charlotte this year, the regular-season champs out of a competitive Conference USA. The 49ers are led offensively by Tennessee transfer Austin Knight who put up solid numbers at the plate and by Friday night starter Bryce McGowan. With ECU coming off of a rough showing in the AAC Tournament, Charlotte could be a team sneaking into the second weekend.
Player to watch for: Connor Norby, ECU
This dude flat-out rakes for the 13th overall seeded Pirates. This season he amassed a slash line of .428/.488/.698. He also cranked 15 home runs while driving in 51 runners and also stole 15 bags in 18 chances. If ECU wants to move on this weekend, Norby has to show out.
Kniffy’s Pick: ECU
Quite honestly, there are 3 teams that could win this regional. I feel as if ECU was gifted a cupcake regional but with how they played in the AAC Tournament, I’m not as confident in this pick. I see ECU responding in the late game at the Greenville Regional to their 2019 loss to 4 seeded Quinnipiac in a big way and riding that momentum to next weekend.
1 Seed: Vanderbilt Commodores (Host)
2 Seed: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
3 Seed: Indiana State Sycamores
4 Seed: Presbyterian Blue Hose
Sleeper Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
There are two teams in this Regional that can move on and that’s Vandy and Georgia Tech. Tech as a team hit .278, which is a respectable number. But I won’t sugarcoat it, it isn’t enough to beat this Vandy team. Tech will have to beat Vandy twice to move on and I don’t see that happening
Players to watch for: Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter
If you love pitching, I suggest you keep your eyes locked on the Nashville Regional. Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter are two of college baseball’s premier starting pitchers. Rocker is the nation’s leader in wins (11) while boasting a 2.86 ERA in 91.1 Innings with 135 strikeouts. Leiter has been just as dominant, if not better. The sophomore righty from Delbarton High School in New Jersey posted an 8-3 record with a 2.28 ERA, punching out 135 in 83 innings.
Kniffy’s Pick: Vanderbilt
This is another Regional where it’s a one-team show. Vanderbilt got off easy with this Regional and a potential matchup with ECU in the Super Regionals. Vandy’s Sunday starter Christian Little will likely throw Friday’s game against Presbyterian, leaving the Commodores with Rocker and Leiter to close out the Regional on Saturday and Sunday.