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NCAA BASEBALL TOURNAMENT 101: HOW DOES THIS THING WORK?

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How the heck does this thing work anyway?

It's been a long (long) time since Iowa had a team at the NCAA Baseball Tournament, so we figured that folks might need a refresher course on just how the tournament works -- since it's not quite like the NCAA Basketball Tournament that we're all very familiar with.  So without further ado...

1) What's the format of this tournament anyway?

That's a little tricky because this isn't a nice clean single-elimination, winner advances and loser goes home bracket like we get for the NCAA Basketball Tournament (or the NFL Playoffs, for instance).  The NCAA Baseball Tournament is double-elimination, which leads to messier-looking brackets.  If you want to get a sense of that, take a peek at the brackets from past tournaments.

But in a nutshell: there are 64 teams in the tournament.  Those 64 teams are divided into 16 Regional locations.  The four teams in each Regional compete in a double-elimination bracket until three of the four teams have two losses and are eliminated.  The winner advances to play the winner of another Regional in the round called the Super-Regionals.  That round is still double-elimination, so it's effectively a Best-of-3 series.  After that round, the tournament field is down to 8 teams, at which point everyone relocates to Omaha for the remainder of the tournament, which is also called the College World Series.

The CWS portion of the tournament is also double-elimination, and it functions as two four-team mini-brackets, each with their own winner's bracket and loser's bracket.  A team on the top half of the CWS bracket can't play a team on the bottom half of the bracket until the final round.  While double-elimination rules apply in the CWS, losses earlier in Omaha also reset before the final round, as that round becomes another Best-of-3 series between the last two teams left standing.  The winner of that Best-of-3 series is the national champion.

Again, it probably helps to look at a bracket -- it makes more sense visually.

2) What's a National Seed?

The top-8 seeds in the NCAA Tournament field are also called National Seeds.  They're the best of the best, essentially.  That translates into them getting a lot of home field advantage, too -- they get to host a Regional in the opening round of the tournament and they also get to host a Super-Regional in the next round (assuming they don't get upset in the Regional round, of course).  This year the National Seeds are:

#1 UCLA
#2 LSU
#3 Louisville
#4 Florida
#5 Miami (FL)
#6 Illinois
#7 TCU
#8 Missouri State

And in case you were wondering: yes, it is exceedingly rare for a Big Ten team to be a National Seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The bracket is also set up so that National Seeds cannot meet one another until the College World Series portion of the tournament.

3) How do the Regionals work?

The Regionals are the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.  There are 16 Regionals, 8 hosted by the National Seeds and 8 hosted by the next best teams in the field of 64.  Each regional contains 4 teams, seeded 1-4.  As we know, Iowa was considered to be in contention to host a regional going into the final week of the regular season; alas, losing two of three to Rutgers and then going 1-2 in the Big Ten Tournament put an end to those dreams.  Iowa wound up earning the #2 seed in Missouri State's regional.  Again, since the National Seeds are considered the top-8 teams in the tournament, you'd rather not be drawn into a regional containing one of those teams.  But the other regional seeds (the 9-16 teams, essentially) contain some very good teams, too, so there was probably no "great" draw for Iowa anywhere.  Springfield is the closest host site to Iowa City, outside of Champaign*, so that's nice.

* Iowa couldn't have been drawn into Illinois' Regional, though -- conference opponents cannot be drawn into the same Regional.

4) How do these seeds correspond to seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

That's a good question.  We're far more familiar with the seeding structure in that tournament and it is kind of weird to see 16 #1 seeds, 16 #2 seeds, 16 #3 seeds, and 16 #4 seeds in this tournament.  There's no absolute guide for mapping the baseball seeds onto the basketball tournament, but here's a rough guide.

National Seeds (#1-8): #1 and #2 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament
Other Regional #1 Seeds (#9-16): #3 and #4 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament
Regional #2 Seeds (#17-32): #5, #6, #7, and #8 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament
Regional #3 Seeds (#33-48): #9, #10, #11, and #12 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament
Regional #4 Seeds (#49-64): #13, #14, #15, and #16 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament

As an aside: this is what makes Fresno State's win at the 2008 College World Series so incredible to me.  They entered that NCAA Tournament as a regional #4 seed, probably the rough equivalent of a #13 or #14 seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Imagine a team like Valparaiso somehow winning the NCAA Basketball Tournament and that's kind of what it was like for Fresno State to pull off the victory in baseball that year.

So this would make Iowa baseball roughly a #5, #6, #7 or #8 seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  If they were really on the verge of being a Regional #1 seed, then I'd guess they were around a #5 or #6 seed (since the non-National Seed Regional #1 seeds roughly correspond to #3 or #4 seeds) in basketball terms.  On the other hand, the fact that they're paired up with Missouri State, a clear #2 seed in basketball terms, makes me wonder if they're more of a #7 seed, since that's what pure bracketing would suggest.  But maybe not, since "pure bracketing" doesn't really exist, because...

5) How much does location matter in setting up these brackets?

A lot!  A whole lot.  We know location matters a lot in how the NCAA Basketball Tournament is set up, but it seems to play an even bigger role in the make-up of the baseball bracket.  Look at some of the Regionals.  The Houston Regional has Houston, Rice, Louisiana-Lafayette, and... Houston Baptist.  The UC Santa Barbara Regional has UC Santa Barbara, Southern California, Virginia (OK, an outlier), and San Diego State. The Florida Regional has Florida, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, and Florida A&M.  I don't know about you, but I'm sensing a theme here.  Not every Regional is quite so geographically bound as those (there are few random-looking potpourri Regionals), but geography is definitely something that plays a fairly big role in how the tournament is set up.  And that probably makes sense: keeping teams (especially the top teams) closer to home reduces travel costs for them and makes it easier for fans to attend games (which is good for everyone).

6) OK, so how do Super-Regionals work?

The Super-Regionals are basically the middle round of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.  They're also functionally the Sweet 16 of the event, although as noted earlier they're Best-of-3 series, not single-elimination, loser-goes-home games.  National Seeds cannot play one another until the College World Series, so each Super-Regional can contain only one National Seed.  On paper (and if results go according to scratch), each Super-Regional is designed to feature a National Seed and another Regional #1 seed, with the National Seed hosting the Super-Regional on their home field. If the National Seed loses in the Regional round, then the surviving teams from that bracket "bid" to serve as the home site.  (In effect, the team with the better facilities will probably be chosen to host.) The team with the winning bid gets to host all three games (if necessary), but may not be the "home team" (in terms of batting last) for all three games. If a third game is needed in that situation, they flip a coin to determine which team will be the "home team."

Iowa is technically in the Springfield Super-Regional, but obviously if they made it to the Super-Regional round they would not actually play in Springfield -- because they would have already eliminated the presumed host team, Missouri State, in the Regionals.  The Springwater Regional is paired with the Stillwater Regional in the Springfield Super-Regional part of the bracket.  That means that if Iowa is able to emerge from the Springfield Regional this weekend they would play either Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts, or St. John's.  I would guess that Iowa would only be able to host a Super-Regional if Oral Roberts or St. John's surprisingly emerged from that Regional.

You can see the full NCAA Baseball Tournament bracket here, which gives you a better sense of which Regionals are paired together.

I think that pretty well covers it.  The NCAA Baseball Tournament is a little convoluted, especially compared to something like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, but it's a really fun tournament, too.  It's great to have Iowa back in the tournament.  Now let's just hope their stay is longer than the minimum of two games.

If you've got questions about the NCAA Tournament, hit up the comments.