NCAA baseball regionals: Toughest MCWS paths, top players and bold predictions

Predictions for many things on Road to Omaha (5:05)

SEC Network baseball analysts Chris Burke and David Dellucci gaze into their crystal balls and share their predictions on how many SEC teams they think will make it to the College World Series, and more. (5:05)

A group of death in regionals? Top seeds in danger? The men's college baseball tournament begins Friday, and there is sure to be plenty of impressive play and, of course, drama.

Even though regional hosts advance to supers 67% of the time, our experts are predicting that because there is so much parity across the sport, we're going to seem some real upsets -- upsets that might not really qualify as such if you look at seeding alone. Of the top eight national seeds (Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, North Carolina, Arkansas, Clemson, Georgia, Florida State), only UGA has won a national title (1990).

Additionally, there are many top prospects playing across the board and record-breakers, such as new NCAA home run leader Charlie Condon, in the mix.

So which regionals offer the toughest road to Omaha? And which potential super regional matchups are we crossing our fingers we get? Our experts break down the 2024 field.

Jump to: Toughest road | Players and teams to watch
Underdogs | Potential supers matchups | Bold predictions

Which regional has the toughest road to Omaha?

Chris Burke: Tucson. The depth in this regional is sure to give us some memorable moments. Arizona is the host and has put together a regular-season and postseason Pac 12 title, but it welcomes three teams that all present problems. Dallas Baptist is the 2-seed, coming off a 44-win season and playing in its 10th straight regional. West Virginia, the 3-seed, has one of the best players in the country in JJ Wetherholt. To round it out, Grand Canyon is the 4-seed, and it beat Arizona two out of three times this year, including a 24-8 blowout. This regional is going to be juicy.

Ryan McGee: There are a LOT of stacked regionals, which I think is a testament to the parity we see across college baseball that we don't see in most sports. But my eyes are on Stillwater. Oklahoma State earned that 1-seed and the host spot, but Nebraska at 2, the red-hot Purple Eagles of Niagara at 4 ... and Jac Caglianone and Florida as a 3-seed?! This is a bunkhouse stampede.

Mike Rooney: The Tucson Regional offers difficulty that would make a World Cup "group of death" blush. Arizona is the nation's best strike-throwing pitching staff. And while that's noteworthy, Gregg Wallis' Grand Canyon might be the most dangerous 4-seed in the entire tournament. Dallas Baptist has ace Ryan Johnson and a lineup that is top 15 in slugging percentage. And don't mind this West Virginia team on a mission to extend head coach Randy Mazey's final season. The good news is that this regional likely matches up with North Carolina or LSU ... oh, wait. #DeepBreath

Kyle Peterson: Arizona was not given any gifts in the draw. Dallas Baptist has a host-worthy résumé and a true ace, and is currently top 20 in the country in home runs per game. West Virginia was 19-11 in the Big 12 (33-22 overall), has a first-round talent in Wetherholt (who has found his stride again after missing most of the first half of the season), and as Burke said, Grand Canyon won the season series against Arizona (all midweek games), so this is a tough 4-seed draw.

Kiley McDaniel: The runner-up to the Tucson Regional has to be the Tallahassee Regional that features Florida State, Stetson UCF and Alabama, and the winner of that group would more likely than not face Oklahoma or Duke out of the Norman Regional.

What are you most excited to watch this weekend?

Burke: I'm going with Caglianone from Florida. The best two-way player in the country carries a heavy load into the Stillwater Regional. Not only does the legendary slugger do the heavy lifting on offense, but my guess is he's going to be asked to pitch early in the regional, too. Florida was the last SEC team to get in, and if it is going to make some noise, Cags will have to be playing at his peak.

McGee: This is the time of year when we who watch college baseball all spring get to sit back and watch the faces of the people who watch the games only during the tourney and see how they react to their first viewings of certain players. I can't wait for America to watch Georgia's Charlie Condon play ball.

Rooney: The aforementioned Johnson owns 147 punchouts headed into regionals, good for third in the country. The junior runs his fastball into the mid-90s, but his wipeout slider is the real dream crusher for hitters. Johnson's eccentric quick-pitch delivery adds to the entertainment value. Oregon State junior Travis Bazzana broke the Beavers' home run record with 26 round-trippers in 2024. The Australian second baseman posted an OPS of 1.520, and only Condon put up a bigger number. Bazzana's big game matches his big energy.

Peterson: Eighteen of Kiley McDaniel's 30 top draft prospects for the 2024 MLB draft are playing in the postseason ... so take your pick. But if you're looking for players who haven't had much of a national run, Johnson is in fact elite and has a sub 2.00 ERA this season, and Trey Yesavage from East Carolina recorded 10 or more strikeouts in eight of his 12 starts this season. But pick about any game and you will be watching some future Major Leaguers.

McDaniel: I'd love to see Yesavage come back from a partially collapsed lung and deal in front of a rowdy home crowd, likely against Wake Forest.

What underdogs should we watch out for?

Burke: Vanderbilt had a 13-17 regular season in the SEC, but you would never know that watching the team in Hoover. The pitching has stabilized behind Bryce Cunningham and JD Thompson, and the offense played its best ball all year behind the leadership of RJ Austin and Alan Espinal. This group heads to Clemson where it won back-to-back regionals in 2017 and 2018. Talk about a dangerous 2-seed!

McGee: There are those who have criticized Coastal Carolina for the way it stumbled through the last third of the season, and rightfully so. It looked tired, finally eaten up by the emotions of Gary Gilmore's last days on the bench and his ongoing experience with cancer. But if you know your college baseball history, that kind of challenge has often powered amazing postseason runs. See: Arizona State making it to Omaha in 1994 while head coach Jim Brock was so sick he could barely make the trip, or this year with Birmingham Southern making the Division III MCWS as its school is going out of business.

Rooney: The #QuakeShow is back for an encore. Lest we forget that Penn started out 2-0 in the 2023 Auburn Regional before Southern Miss overcame the Quakers in the end. This club returns slugger Wyatt Henseler (.372-22-55) and aces Cole Zaffiro and Ryan Dromboski. If you're uncertain about the Quake Show's talent level, please note that 2023 alums Ben Miller and Jackson Appel are currently starring at Duke and Texas A&M respectively. These boys can play.

Peterson: Bryant or James Madison are two to watch in Raleigh; it wouldn't shock me if either is playing in a regional final.

McDaniel: UCF is a dangerous 3-seed, as is Georgia Tech.

Which potential super regional are you hoping to see?

Burke: This is an easy one for me. The potential for Chase Burns to pitch at Lindsey Nelson Stadium vs. his former team in No. 1 overall Tennessee in supers has the potential to be must-see TV. First, Wake Forest will have to get through the host, East Carolina, but if it does and Tennessee is waiting, it will be one of the most anticipated matchups in recent memory!

McGee: I am looking at a Texas A&M vs. UC-Santa Barbara super regional and all I see is a living, breathing metaphor for everything that is happening in college sports right now. The Aggies, an SEC machine with all the money in the world and stuffed NIL coffers vs. a West Coast non-football school with a proud baseball tradition. Aggies vs. Gauchos? Let's go.

Rooney: Arkansas ranks No. 1 nationally with a team ERA of 3.65. Ace southpaw Hagen Smith owns a strikeout rate of 50%. In other words, heads you strike out, tails you got lucky. Virginia's position player group is a frightening blend of physical ability and skill. Shortstop Griff O'Ferrall sets the Cavs' competitive edge, and Virginia ranks second nationally with a ridiculous batting average of .341. Something has to give here.

Peterson: Either East Carolina or Wake at Tennessee will be appointment viewing. East Carolina is still trying to get to Omaha for the first time, and Wake is trying to return with Burns, Nick Kurtz and Seaver King leading the way.

McDaniel: The potential Tennessee-Wake Forest super regional would have tons of star power and pro potential, but the Burns revenge game makes it extra juicy.

What's your bold prediction for these first sets of games?

Burke: My bold prediction for the regional round is that fewer than half the hosts will advance. There is so much parity in the game and so many regionals in which the 2-seeds are playing great ball that I think the hosts are going to have their hands full. Don't be surprised if many 1-seeds get their hearts broken in their own buildings this week.

McGee: Since the NCAA started awarding national seeds in 1999, there has been only one year when fewer than half of the Omaha field was made up of 1-seeds. That was way back in 2007, when only three 1-seeds made it to the big show. I say we'll come close to that this year, and it begins this weekend. When you look at non-1s such as LSU, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Dallas Baptist, South Carolina, Florida ... that's a lot of superpowers with crooked numbers next to their names.

Rooney: Just half (or fewer) of the No. 1 seeds will advance to super regionals. That's not pessimism by the way. This group of 2-seeds is scary. In fact, seven of these teams played in a super regional just last year. One of them won the national title (LSU), while another (Wake Forest) has two players projected to go in the first 10 picks of the MLB draft. In 2023, nine top seeds advanced past the regional round, with just five of them making it to the Men's College World Series. It takes only five wins to get to Omaha, but it ain't easy.

McDaniel: There's a lot of 2- and 3-seeds that I think can win regionals. Wake Forest, Duke (hot after winning the ACC tourney), Mississippi State, Dallas Baptist, LSU, San Diego and Vanderbilt are the 2-seeds I feel good about picking to move on to the supers.