OMAHA, Neb. — The NCAA baseball tournament starts Friday with regionals. The 16 winners advance to super regionals next week, and the final eight go to the College World Series in Omaha beginning June 14.
Here are 10 of the tournament’s top story lines:
1 YEAR OF THE BEAVER? Oregon State has lived up to preseason expectations, and now it’s time to see if the overall No. 1 seed can finish the job. Ben Wetzler and Jace Fry are two of the nation’s best starters, and left fielder Michael Conforto will be a first-round MLB draft pick. The Pac-12 champs have survived with freshmen in prominent roles — Logan Ice at catcher, Trever Morrison at shortstop and Caleb Hamilton at second base.
2 THE NO. 1 PROBLEM: As good as Oregon State has been, the Beavers are up against some bad history. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1999, Miami is the only top-seeded team to win the national championship — and that was in 1999.
3 WHO’S HOT: Louisiana-Lafayette has won 10 straight thanks to its high-scoring offense. The Sun Belt Conference’s Ragin’ Cajuns also had a 10-game win streak the first month of the season and a 14-gamer in March. Their 53 wins are eight more than any other team. SEC tournament champion LSU has won eight straight, and Cal State Fullerton and Kennesaw State have won seven in a row.
4 WHO’S NOT: The Anteaters of UC Irvine are sucking air right now. They’ve lost six in a row and eight of their last nine. The good news is they made the tournament. The bad news, howvever, is they played their way into Oregon State’s regional.
5 THE GUY EVERYONE KNOWS: Florida State’s Jameis Winston is the first Heisman Trophy winner to play college baseball since Auburn’s Bo Jackson in 1986. Winston has been a shutdown reliever with his 95-mph fastball, striking out 29 and allowing four earned runs in 30.2 innings for a team-best 1.17 ERA. Winston, who has started two games in left field and three as designated hitter, is batting .132 in 38 at-bats.
6 THE GUY YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: Max Pentecost of first-time tournament participant Kennesaw State is the best draft-eligible catcher. He chose to go to the Georgia school instead of turning pro after the Texas Rangers drafted him in the seventh round in 2011. His .423 batting average is second nationally — and best among players in the tournament — and he’s batting .481 since March 15. Pentecost has driven in 55 runs with nine homers and 21 doubles, and he’s thrown out 21 of 41 base stealers.
7 THE GUY WHO DOES IT ALL: Kentucky’s A.J. Reed is by far the top two-way player in the nation. He’s blossomed from a 25th-round draft pick coming out of high school to the SEC player of the year and probable first- or second-round pick. The left-handed Reed leads the nation in home runs (23) and slugging percentage (.768) and is fourth in RBIs (70). Oh, and the pitcher is tops in the SEC in wins (11).
8 PENGUIN POWER: Horizon League champion Youngstown State enters the national tournament 16-36 and, at .308, with the lowest winning percentage of a participant since at least 2001. The Penguins got 25 percent of their wins in their conference tournament. Before last weekend, they had won back-to-back games just three times. Two other teams with losing records are in the field: Siena and Bethune-Cookman, which are both 26-31.
9 YOU LOOK FAMILIAR: Texas A&M’s move from the Big 12 to the SEC didn’t sit well with Texas and led to the end of their famous football rivalry. Since the Aggies’ SEC membership took effect in 2012-13, the schools have met in a sport just once, that being women’s basketball last season. It took the Division I Baseball Committee to bring the Longhorns and Aggies back together on the diamond. They’ll play Friday in Houston in one of the most anticipated regional matchups.
10 HOME SWEET HOME: The host team has won 70 percent (169 of 240) of the regionals held since the tournament went to its current format in 1999. Last year 14 of the 16 hosts made it to super regionals. No year has come close to matching the debacle of 2007, when only seven hosts advanced.