2021 NCAA baseball tournament: Which teams have the easiest paths to the College World Series?

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

Connor Noland photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas.

Every year, the NCAA releases its baseball tournament bracket and every year, the RPI is the computer ranking that the NCAA uses to pick and seed its field of 64. 

But as we know, the RPI isn't the final arbiter of how good a baseball team is. In fact, there are other computer polls--Boyd Nation's ISIRs, Warren Nolan's ELO, and several others complied here at MasseyRatings.com. As viewed through that lens, we get an interesting view of how competitive some regionals are--or aren't. 

Based on an average of how the six computer rankings rated the teams, here's a rough ranking of the draw each 1-seed got, from hardest to easiest, with each team's average computer ranking in parenthesis. Please note, this isn't necessarily a proclamation of who got the easiest draw--there's a wide variety in how the computers ranked teams, and the quality of starting pitching from one day to the next can vary greatly--but just for fun, here's how things break down. 

1. Arizona (9): vs. Oklahoma St. (13), UCSB (25) and Grand Canyon (54)

2. Tennessee (6): Duke (22), Liberty (41), Wright State (41)

3. Texas Tech (11): UCLA (10), North Carolina (42), Army (215)

4. Old Dominion (20): South Carolina 25--and the host), Virginia (33), Jacksonville (157)

5. TCU (7): Oregon St. (23), Dallas Baptist (27), McNeese St. (121)

6. Ole Miss (12): Southern Miss (32), Florida State (22), SEMO (111)

7.  Stanford: UCI (20), Nevada (49), North Dakota State (120) 

8. Louisiana Tech (29): North Carolina State (23), Alabama (38) and Rider (154)

9. Florida (17): Miami (24), South Alabama (58), South Florida (84)

10. Oregon (8): Gonzaga (25), LSU (30), Central Connecticut (186)

11. Notre Dame (9): Connecticut (52), Michigan (68), Central Michigan (64)

12. Mississippi St. (8): VCU (51), Campbell (70), Samford (87)

13. Vanderbilt (3): Georgia Tech (41), Indiana State (58), Presbyterian (184)

14. Arkansas (1): Nebraska (42), Northeastern (62), NJIT (204)

15. Texas (4): Arizona St. (40), Fairfield (51), Southern (260)

16. ECU (24): Charlotte (47), Maryland (75), Norfolk St. (260)

The RPI probably means less for leagues like the Big Ten, which didn't play an out-of-conference schedule. Michigan--a 3-seed in 2019--finished as the runner-up, and I'm skeptical that there are 67 teams better than the Wolverines, so don't shoot the messenger. 

You'll notice some huge discrepancies in draws. For instance, Tennessee drew a 4 (Wright State) that the computers liked more than four 2-seeds and more than half the three seeds (nine, to be exact) and a 3 that was rated ahead of 10 other 2s and 3s. The committee didn't balance that out with an easier 2-seed in Knoxville either, sending red-hot Duke the Vols' way. 

Comparing paths to Omaha

Presuming the highest seed wins in the bracket with which each host is paired, here are the toughest paths to Omaha for the top-8 overall seeds if you combine both weekends of play:

1. Tennessee (paired with 8-Oregon)

2. Arizona (12-Ole Miss)

3. Texas Tech (21-Stanford)

4. TCU (20-Old Dominion)

5. Mississippi State (9-Notre Dame)

6. Texas (17-Florida)

7.  Vanderbilt (24-ECU)

8.  Arkansas (23-North Carolina State)