As part of its coverage of the college baseball postseason, ESPN.com has posted an article detailing 10 things to watch for in regional/super regional play. The Bruins and its Los Angeles regional bracket took a outsized share of the piece, including the consquence of the questionable bracket construction that was discussed here yesterday.
3. Toughest regional: Los Angeles
Given the normal local nature of western regionals, you would think the Bruins would be happy to have their No. 2 seed shipped in from across the country. They probably didn't want to see the defending national champion (LSU) in the Los Angeles Regional, though.
UCLA has a great power pitching staff (3.02 ERA, second in the nation), and should be able to make it out of this regional even given the depth of the competition. All four of the Bruins' starting pitchers have an ERA below 3.30, and Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer have each struck out 124 batters.
LSU is on the road for a regional for the first time since 1989 (when the Tigers beat a 58-5 Texas A&M team in College Station to advance to Omaha). This year's squad is on the road largely due to its lack of success on the road during conference play -- the Tigers are 4-12 in true road games, but just swept through the SEC tournament.
After being dealt the toughest hand last season as a national seed, UC Irvine has the chance to play spoiler this season. The Eaters are in the top 20 in the nation with a 3.79 ERA; their small-ball repertoire is well suited to Jackie Robinson Stadium.
As became apparent when the regional matchups were announced yesterday morning, UCLA was given an absolutely stacked regional to make its way out of. Some refer to it as the NCAA's Group of Death, while I am content to simply call it a region with 3 top-25 teams (plus Kent State) fighting to make it into baseball's round of 16.
5. National seed with toughest path to Omaha: No. 6 UCLA
As if playing in the toughest regional wasn't enough, the Bruins are also matched up against the deep Fullerton Regional. ... New Mexico is playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1962, but the Lobos opened the season by taking a series at Texas.
As Ryan predicted in his pre-selection comments, the winner of the Los Angeles bracket will be paired with the champion from Fullerton in the super regional. While this is not a big shock, it still is a significant challenge for whoever makes it out of Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend. The top 2 seeds in Fullerton are CSUF (of course), who have beaten the Bruins twice this season and have finished their regular season on an absolute tear, and Stanford, who gave the Bruins a challenge early in Pac-10 play in a 2-1 UCLA series win at JRS.
9. Most compelling opening game: LSU vs. UC Irvine
This year, it's the defending national champion traveling for a regional for the first time since 1989 against one of the West Coast's most consistent programs. LSU just swept through the SEC tournament, but how will it play in Irvine's backyard?
In a tournament where 64 teams are distributed among 16 cities, it is unusual that in addition to the host school, two top-25 teams would be placed in the same regional, destined to compete on the first day of the postseason. The high, but even quality of these two teams would alone make for a compelling Friday afternoon game, but there is also a bit of recent postseason history betweeen LSU and UCI that could make this one fun (click through to ESPN for the explanation).