I spend a lot more time watching baseball than I do college basketball, but it’s a law that everyone — sports fan or not — must fill out a bracket. And I must obey the law. So knowing what I know about baseball, here’s my bracket.
1 Kentucky vs. 16 Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky
8 Iowa State vs. 9 UConn
Iowa State alum Buster Brown was 51-103 with a 3.21 ERA in the majors. Just how bad was his run support? So the Cyclones lose in a low-scoring affair. Scott Burrell, former fifth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, and UConn won it all last year, but will lose to Kentucky this year. No one from Mississippi Valley State has played in the major leagues. A handful of players have made it to the Show from WKU, and 11 Hilltoppers were drafted in the past two years, so that’s an easy call. I know just enough about college basketball to know that WKU can’t keep the Cats out of the Sweet 16.
5 Wichita State vs. 12 VCU
4 Indiana vs. 13 New Mexico State
Wichita State has been to seven College World Series, winning it all in 1989. VCU has never been. So that settles that. Indiana is synonymous with basketball, New Mexico State not so much. If this were about basketball, the Hoosiers would advance to the Sweet 16, but Joe Carter wins this one with a walk-off for the Shockers.
Wichita State has Darren Dreifort and Braden Looper, but I like Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to send UK to the Elite Eight.
6 UNLV vs. 11 Colorado
3 Baylor vs. 13 South Dakota State
UNLV, Colorado, Baylor and South Dakota State have a combined three CWS appearances — all three by Baylor. Former Baylor Bear and Hall of Famer Ted Lyons has 356 complete games, 27 shutouts and 23 saves in the majors. The Bears will cruise. Oh, to complete the bracket, take UNLV over Colorado.
7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Xavier
2 Duke vs. 15 Lehigh
Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Dick Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily, although Notre Dame’s 6’5” righthander Ron Reed, who doubled as a forward on the hardwood, will give the Blue Devils a battle.
I’ll ride Groat, Quinton and Crash over Baylor into the Elite Eight.
1 Michigan State vs. 16 LIU Brooklyn
8 Memphis vs. 9 Saint Louis
Michigan State wins easily over LIU Brooklyn. Brooklyn hasn’t played good baseball since the 1950s. Let’s see, Saint Louis and Memphis should be a blowout. Duh. Memphis Redbirds, Saint Louis Cardinals; Triple-A, Majors. Why does the University spell out Saint? The Spartans enjoyed a trip to the College World Series in 1954, and although they didn’t win or finish second, Tom Yewcic was named the Most Outstanding Player. The Saint Louis Bilikens earned a spot in 1965. They didn’t win, finish second or have the MOP. Spartans advance.
5 New Mexico vs. 12 Long Beach State
4 Louisville vs. 13 Davidson
The Dirtbags of Long Beach State played in four CWS from 1989-98, so a first-round win is a cinch. Same for Louisville, who was in college baseball’s final eight as recently as 2007. So edge to the Cardinals. Besides, the Cardinals’ nickname means something in baseball right now.
Can’t stop thinking about Tom Yewcic. Michigan State over Louisville and into the Elite Eight.
6 Murray State vs. 11 Colorado State
3 Marquette vs. 14 BYU/Iona
There’s very little tradition here, but BYU’s Danny Ainge will lead the Cougars into the Sweet 16. I understand VCU found its way into the Final Four from the First Four last season. Why can’t BYU do that? After all, Jack Morris is a big-game pitcher. I’ll go with Murray over Colorado in the battle of the first-round State schools. But BYU will march into the Sweet 16.
7 Florida vs. 10 Virginia
2 Missouri vs. 15 Norfolk State
Mizzou, with seven CWS appearances and one title, rolls past Norfolk State. Florida and Virginia both visited Omaha last summer and have played in the CWS a combined four times since 2009. Don’t sleep on a school that produced both Eppa Rixey and Ryan Zimmerman, but the Gators have a stronger tradition than UVa. Following David Eckstein’s lead, the Gators will do all the little things to defeat Missouri and play in the Sweet 16
Okay, I’m allowed to do this once. I flipped a coin and Florida won, so the Gators are in the Elite Eight.
1 Syracuse vs. 16 UNC-Asheville
8 Kansas State vs. 9 Southern Miss
I love the Asheville Tourists nickname and their tradition at the Single-A level. But there has been only one major leaguer from UNCA, Ty Wigginton, which is no match for Syracuse and its 26 big leaguers, not to mention the fact that the Syracuse Chiefs have competed at the Triple-A level since 1961. Southern Miss was in the CWS a few years ago, but will be taken down by the Orange.
5 Vanderbilt vs. 12 Harvard
4 Wisconsin 13 Montana
Harvard has played in the CWS four times, but had just one alum drafted in the first round of the regular June draft. Vanderbilt has played in just one CWS (2011) but has had 12 players selected in the first round in June, seven since 2007. Harvard may have a slight edge in SAT scores, but the Commodores have the athletic advantage. Wisconsin, behind Hall of Famer Addie Joss, cruises by Montana, then loses to VU’s David Price. Buster Olney, Tyler Kepner and Lee Jenkins are among those covering the Commodores’ run.
Pedro Alvarez of Vanderbilt awakens just in time to knock a game-winning double off Dave Giusti of Syracuse to send the Black and Gold to the Elite Eight.
6 Cincinnati vs. 11 Texas
3 Florida State vs. 14 St. Bonaventure
It makes no sense that Texas and Florida State are in the same group. Who does this seeding anyway? Since WWII, Texas has had an alum in the majors leagues every season but 1961. Florida State can claim an alum in the majors all the way back to include 1961. Texas has played in 34 College World Series, winning six championships. Florida State has played in 20, but never taken home the hardware. But I’m going with the Seminoles in an upset and move FSU into my Sweet 16. If this game were played 15 years ago, I’d go with Roger Clemens, but I like Buster Posey and the Drew brothers (J.D. and Stephen) now over Brandon Belt and Huston Street.
7 Gonzaga vs. 10 West Virginia
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Loyola (MD)
Ohio State should dominate this regional (or whatever the basketball folks call these four-team groups). The Buckeyes are the only team that can claim an appearance in baseball’s big, big dance, having won a championship in 1966. But they haven’t made it to the CWS since 1967. Of the 25 West Virginia alums in the majors, none have appeared in an All-Star Game, so I’ll give the edge to Gonzaga’s Jason Bay.
Posey just keeps getting stronger and leads the Seminoles into the Elite Eight.
1 North Carolina vs. 16 Lamar/Vermont
8 Creighton vs. 9 Alabama
This is as strong of a quartet as there is in the tournament. Creighton has experience in the CWS, which is played near its home in Omaha. Alabama has been five times, twice a runner-up (Texas 1983, LSU 1997). The Tar Heels have been nine times, five times since 2006. UNC was runner-up back-to-back years to Oregon State. The Creighton Bluejays can bring some heat when Bob Gibson is on the mound. But there’s no offense. Of the 18 Creighton alumni in the major leagues, nine are position players, and Gibson is third among all those players in hits, runs and stolen bases, second in home runs. Lamer has three alums that played in the bigs last season. Vermont hasn’t been represented since Kirk McCaskill retired after 1996. Edge to Lamar. I have the Tar Heels advancing past Alabama. B.J. Surhoff is the all-time leader among big league alumni of North Carolina. Since his dad, Dick Surhoff, played in the NBA, I like North Carolina as a threat to win it all.
5 Temple vs. 12 California/South Florida
4 Michigan vs. 13 Ohio
All of these teams have visited the CWS except for South Florida. There have been 16 appearances from this group with four titles. California and Michigan each have two championships, but none since 1962. So, it’s easy to take Cal and Michigan into the second, uh, make that third round. Cal played in the CWS last June. We love the distinguished alumni list of Wolverines: Three Hall of Famers, Charlie Gehringer, George Sisler and Barry Larkin, plus Jim Abbott, Bill Freehan and J.J. Putz. But the two that stand out above all of them are Moses Fleetwood Walker and brother Welday Wilberforce Walker. Google those guys and you’ll learn why they’re special. Wolverines march on.
The Tar Heels have excellent tradition in both the CWS and NCAA tournament. We couldn’t find any information on the football tournament. Evidently there is a real confusing bracket that’s not really a bracket at all. But we like the sky blue Heels in both basketball and baseball. On to the Elite Eight.
6 San Diego State vs. 13 NC State
3 Georgetown vs. 14 Belmont
Of the 35 Georgetown alumni to play in the majors, 21 of them left the game by 1916. And only one player has made the show since 1960. I think the Hoyas are primed for an upset by the upstart Belmont Bruins. Perhaps the best game of the first (or is it second?) round might be the San Diego State-NC State game. The Aztecs are led by point guard-turned baseball coach Tony Gwynn, who incidentally had 3,000 knocks in between. The Wolfpack features the play of power forward Tim Stoddard, who holds the distinction of starting an NCAA Final and winning a championship as well as relieving in the World Series and earning a ring. We believe Stephen Strasburg’s elbow will hold up and pitch the Aztecs into the Sweet 16.
7 Saint Mary’s vs. 10 Purdue
2 Kansas vs. 15 Detroit
Kansas claims James Naismith as its first basketball coach. I’m going to editorialize for my own benefit; since he was officially hired as a physical education instructor, he must have coached baseball there at some point. Detroit claims Dick Vitale as a former coach. Advantage KU. Purdue and Saint Mary’s have a combined zero College World Series appearances. The Purdue Boilermakers list Bob Friend and Archi Cianfrocco among their 20 alums in the bigs. Saint Mary’s claims Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and Icehouse Wilson as two of its 60. Saint Mary’s defeats Purdue, but falls to Naismith and Kansas.
A part-time baseball coach like Naismith can carry a team only so far. Backing up the Gwynns (Tony, his brother Chris and son Tony Jr.) and Strasburg are Mark Grace and Graig Nettles. Aztecs keep rolling into the Elite Eight.
Elite Eight Games
So, who will play in the Final Four? One of my colleagues, Mitchell Light, a college basketball expert, might have you believe that Kentucky, Marquette, Syracuse and North Carolina will make it to New Orleans. But he thinks baseball is better with the DH, so what does he know?
Down by one in the bottom of the ninth, Duke’s Groat hits a two-run homer with McCracken on base to shock the Wildcats and send Kentucky home. (Or some scenario such as that.)
Spartans Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey played a little football, so they can probably play a little basketball as well. Behind Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and a little help from Mark Mulder, Sparty puts the chomp on the Gators.
Florida State’s 20 CWS appearances trump Vanderbilt’s one. But that’s all right, that’s okay….
The Tar Heels have had 27 players drafted in the past five years. And 14 of them went in the first seven rounds.
In the Final Four, Kirk Gibson hits a miracle shot to catapult the Spartans into the finals against North Carolina, as Florida State proves once again that it can’t quite win the big one.
I understand from colleagues that former Chicago White Sox farmhand Michael Jordan was a decent basketball player at North Carolina, so just as we predicted in our College Basketball magazine, the Tar Heels will win the National Championship.