Philadelphia, PA – The 64-team field of the 2012 Division I NCAA Baseball tournament was announced on Monday two days after the NCAA revealed the 16 different Regional hosts.
The field was finalized after a wild weekend of conference tournaments that had a number of teams make historic runs into Regionals.
Missouri, which will join the SEC next season, ended its time in the Big 12 in style, as the Tigers claimed their first ever Big 12 baseball championship with an 8-7 win over Oklahoma on Sunday.
The Tigers were not the only team to grab a first conference championship, as Purdue (Big Ten), Dayton (Atlantic 10) and UAB (C-USA) also remained the last team standing in their respective conferences for the first time in program history.
On top of that, ACC champion Georgia Tech made its own history by becoming the first No. 8 seed to wear the conference crown, while Valparaiso took home the Horizon League championship to put itself in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 44 years.
There are 16 groups of four in the Regionals round with each of the Top 16 seeds serving as a host in that particular round. The four squads in each group will then compete in a double elimination format to determine the team that will advance to a Super Regional.
The 16 teams hosting Regionals this year are LSU, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Miami-Florida, Oregon, Florida, Purdue, Rice, UCLA, Stanford, NC State, Florida State, Arizona and Baylor.
Of the 16 Regional hosts, there are a few that seem like sure locks to not only move on to Super Regionals but to make the trip all the way to Omaha.
FLORIDA - With the most teams in the tournament field at eight, it is no surprise that the SEC also has the No. 1 overall seed with the Florida Gators (42-18) earning that honor in this year's tournament.
Just by nature of the seeding, Florida is a clear favorite especially with three-time All-SEC selections in shortstop Nolan Fontana and outfielder Preston Tucker leading a Gator team filled with All-Conference talent.
"I like this team going forward, but it���s one game at a time and we're going to have to play well, " said Gator head coach Kevin O'Sullivan.
FLORIDA STATE - The Gators aren't the only team from the Sunshine State that should be rolling through the Regional round, as Florida State is a very strong contender this season out of the ACC, which is sending seven teams to Regionals.
The Seminoles (43-15) are an offensive force, especially at the top of the order where Golden Spikes Award semifinalist Jayce Boyd (.395 BA) has dominated this season en route to the ACC's batting title.
Also aiding Florida State is the path it will take. The Seminoles' bracket does not include a 40-win team until a possible Super Regional matchup with fellow ACC member North Carolina.
LSU - The Tigers (43-16) have the best player in the best conference and therefore are a team that cannot be counted out.
Outfielder Raph Rhymes was named SEC Player of the Year after a season in which he led not only the SEC, but the nation in batting average (.459), while also leading the Tigers in RBI (50).
Not to be forgotten is the Tigers' pitching staff which is led by ace Kevin Gausman (10-1, 2.84 ERA). Both Gausman and Rhymes are Golden Spikes Award semifinalists.
UCLA - Don't make the mistake of thinking all the best teams this season play in the East. The Pac-12 co-champions (42-14) are the No. 2 seed overall and enter Regionals with wins in 11 of their last 12 games.
The Bruins are a stellar 15-8 versus the Top 25 this season and are a team that pounds out hits in bunches, with three players in the top five in the Pac-12 in batting average. Most notably is outfielder Jeff Gelalich (.367, 9 HR, 39 RBI), who is a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist.
In a field of 64 teams there are also teams that will pull out upsets and raise some eyebrows. After all what would a NCAA Tournament be without a few dark horses?
UCF - Although not hosting a Regional, the Knights (43-15) have the best record in their group of four. In addition, they will not have to travel far, as they will be in the Coral Gables Regional, which is hosted by 36-21 Miami-Florida. The C-USA regular season champions may be able to move beyond group play in this one.
PURDUE - Traditionally northern teams do not fare particularly well in the NCAA Tournament, a trend the Boilermakers will be trying to stop. The Big Ten champions and Gary Regional hosts are powered by a pitching staff (3.11 team ERA) with a number of strong arms, especially a bullpen anchored by Blake Mascarello, who went 8-1 with an 1.64 ERA in 26 appearances this year.
MISSISSIPPI STATE - Hot teams are always dangerous at this time of year and the Bulldogs are scorching right now. Mississippi State won five games in six days this past weekend to capture the SEC championship. That doesn't count the sweep of Kentucky (43-16) that the Bulldogs put together to end the regular season.It also doesn't hurt that the Bulldogs can trot out starting pitcher Chris Stratton (10-3, 2.16 ERA, 95.2 IP, 115 Ks) every weekend.
"A lot of people counted us out earlier in the year, but we never quit believing," said MSU head coach John Cohen. Counting out the Bulldogs now would be a mistake.
The Regionals round opens up this Friday and will run through the weekend with the 16 teams that advance meeting in the Super Regionals round beginning June 8th.