OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Losses in six of its last seven games didn’t diminish defending national champion Florida’s overall body of work when it came to seeding the NCAA baseball tournament.
The Gators (42-17) are No. 1, and there never was much doubt, NCAA Division I Baseball Committee chairman Ray Tanner said Monday after the 64-team field was unveiled.
Kevin O’Sullivan’s program is the first to earn the No. 1 overall seed three times since the tournament went to its current structure in 1999. The Gators also were top seeds in 2012 and 2016.
“They were incredible the majority of the season and didn’t finish strong,” said Tanner, athletic director at South Carolina. “As we were finishing up our data last week before coming to Indianapolis, I was curious to see if they were going to be a clear-cut (choice) once we got into the committee room, and they continued to be, despite not finishing the way coach O’Sullivan would have wanted them to finish. They clearly were the No. 1 seed with all the metrics considered.”
Play begins Friday in 16 regionals. Winners advance to eight best-of-three super regionals. Those winners move on to the College World Series in Omaha.
The NCAA seeded 16 teams for the first time. There had been eight seeds previously.
Stanford (44-10) is the No. 2 seed, followed by Oregon State (44-10-1), Mississippi (46-15), Arkansas (39-18), North Carolina (38-18), Florida State (43-17) and Georgia (37-19).
Seeds nine through 16 are Texas Tech (39-17), Clemson (45-14), Stetson (45-11), East Carolina (43-16), Texas (37-20), Minnesota (41-13), Coastal Carolina (42-17) and North Carolina State (40-16).
Florida, the regular-season champion in the Southeastern Conference, is the only team to earn a national seed in each of the last five seasons.
“Obviously, we haven’t played well lately, but coming home and having a full week of practice before the regional will certainly help,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll try to get healthy ahead of the weekend and get some guys back on track before we play Columbia on Friday. At the end of the day, everybody has a clean slate now, and our guys will be as motivated as anyone to show everyone how good they are.”
Florida State, at 41 appearances in a row, has the longest active streak, but no national championships to show for them.
“For me to say a national championship isn’t important is as dumb a thing as anybody can say. Darn right it’s important,” said Seminoles coach Mike Martin, whose 1,987 career wins are an NCAA record. “Every coach that works is striving to be known as the top dog when it’s all said and done. That is something our program is lacking and we’re working very hard to achieve that.”
The last four teams to make the field were Dallas Baptist (40-19), Northeastern (36-19), Oklahoma State (29-24-1) and Troy (41-19). The first four out were Arizona (34-22), Illinois (33-20), Kentucky (34-22) and Central Florida (35-21).
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Kentucky’s exclusion and Northeastern’s inclusion.
At No. 30, Kentucky had the highest RPI of any team not selected. The Wildcats went 3-0 in a March tournament in Houston, including a win over the host and American Athletic Conference regular-season champion Cougars. They won two of three each against national seeds Texas Tech and Georgia.
Northeastern, No. 35 in the RPI, lost two of three at Auburn, was outscored 56-12 in losing four straight at Texas Tech, and lost four of six to No. 65 RPI team UNC-Wilmington.
Kentucky was punished for going 13-17 in the SEC and losing its league tournament opener. Northeastern went 17-6 and was first in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Tanner said the committee placed emphasis on conference play perhaps more than previous committees. He pointed out that only one team in the field, Texas A&M, had a below-.500 conference record. The Aggies are No. 15 in the RPI, though.
The SEC tied the tournament record with 10 teams in the field, including four top-eight seeds.
Big 12 regular-season champion Texas is making its record 59th appearance. Hartford (26-29), the America East regular-season and tournament winner, is in for the first time and will play host Stetson as a No. 4 regional seed.
Notable teams not in the field are Rice (26-31-2), which had made 23 straight appearances, and Virginia (29-25), which had made 14 in a row. TCU (33-23), which lost to Baylor in the Big 12 final, also will stay home after reaching the College World Series the last four years.