It is by a strange quirk of scheduling and seeding that of all 16 regional pairings in this year's NCAA baseball tournament, only one features a complete set of teams who earned their way into the tournament via conference auto-bid. LSU will be hosting the champions of the Southland, American, and Northeast conferences. All three won their auto-bid via their conference tournament championship.
4 Seed - Southeastern Louisiana (37-23, 18-12 in Southland, RPI 73)
A familiar foe. The Lions only managed to finish 4th in the Southland behind teams like Sam Houston St (who earned an at-large bid) and Nicholls St. The boys from Hammond, America played many of the same local OOC games LSU usually does and had varying success, taking series from La Tech and Tulane, but dropping games to ULM and UL-L. The Lions won eight of their ten conference series this year, but only swept UNO. The Lions got hot at just the right time, sweeping their conference in 4 games with wins over Sam Houston and beating hosting Central Arkansas in the championship game. The Lions were expected to take a step back this season as long time head coach Jay Artigues took over the SLU AD role to clean up the mess in Hammond and assistant Matt Riser was promoted to head coach. Southeastern is having a great year, and will take advantage of a slip up in game 1 if LSU is caught looking ahead to Houston. The Lions are going for broke in the opener, throwing staff ace RHP Andro Cutura (10-2, 1.72 ERA, 99.2 IP, 19 BB, 95 K) and depending on their offense to get to Jared Poche'.
3 Seed - Bryant (42-14, 19-5 in NEC, RPI 45)
The Bulldogs arrive as the Champion on the Northeast Conference tournament. Of all the tiny northeastern auto-bid teams that fill out the NCAA tournament on an annual basis, Bryant's top 50 RPI and #3 regional seed stands out as a red flag of a team that might pull a big upset. An RPI of 45 (I'm using Warren Nolan RPI numbers here and throughout for consistency) and a win total north of 40 is an impressive accomplishment for any squad. However, a look at the schedule shows a bit of the admitted bias the current RPI formulas have for teams that, either forced to by local weather conditions or by their own choice, spend all of the first month of the year on the road. Bryant's early spring tour has lots of road wins, just not any you'd write home to mom about. Looking for recognizable names, Bryant only faced Maryland and UConn out of the power conferences, getting swept by the former and sweeping two from the latter. The rest of their slate is a list of teams you might expect to see fill out LSU's February home stands, including Sacred Heart and *shudders* Stony Brook. They piled up wins and demolished their own conference, sure, but it's a resume that's much less impressive when studied. The team doesn't have a lot of highlights, but the Times-Pic has a brief profile of the 5 best on their roster.
2 Seed - Houston (44-15, 14-9 in American, RPI 10)
Houston is one of the few teams this year who has a genuine bone to pick with the NCAA about their seeding. Their excellent RPI is built off of the strong points that we all believe the NCAA considers when choosing teams: A successful early season road trip to the west coast (beat USC, UCLA, lost to NCAA participant Pepperdine), road midweek games that they won against Texas A&M, Sam Houston, and Rice. They won all but one of their conference weekends and won their conference championship game by beating Louisville, a team that would get to host a regional. But they were swept by Louisville late in the regular season and they did have losses to Texas, and Texas A&M. And they have the unfortunate luck of being in the same city as Rice, who locked up a regional with a stronger resume. They are the best team in the tournament that isn't hosting and would love nothing more than to prove it by taking the Baton Rouge Regional and forcing some cross-town or cross-state revenge on Rice, Texas, or A&M in the Supers. Houston's head coach has decided to wait until Friday morning to announce his starter, but most expect the Cougars to hold staff ace RHP Aaron Garza (8-4, 2.65 ERA, 98.1. IP, 10 BB, 56 K) for a matchup against Nola on Saturday.