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Illinois 3rd in Lexington Regional


OMAHA, Neb. — Tennessee, the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament champion and the consensus No. 1 team in the country for a month, was awarded the top national seed for the NCAA Tournament on Monday.

The 64-team tournament opens Friday with 16 double-elimination regionals. Winners advance to eight best-of-three super regionals. Those winners move on to the College World Series beginning June 14 in Omaha, Neb.

Illinois (34-19), the Big Ten regular-season champion, is seeded third in the Lexington (Ky.) Regional and will open play at 6 p.m. Friday against second-seeded Indiana State (42-13). No. 2 national seed Kentucky is the regional host. The Illini are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019.

The Volunteers haven’t lost consecutive games since mid-March and are the only team in the country to win 50 games three of the last four years. They will try to become the first No. 1 national seed to win the championship since Miami in 1999, the year the NCAA went to the current tournament structure.

Tennessee, which has reached two of the last three College World Series, comes into regionals in the top 10 nationally in five offensive categories. The Vols’ 147 homers are the most in the nation, and Christian Moore has 28 to lead five Vols players with at least 17. The pitching staff has a 3.83 ERA and ranks in the top five in four other categories.

“If you look back to August when it started, the group has had good vibes up at the field every day,” Vols coach Tony Vitello said. “That’s a good start because when you win or lose, it’s going to be fun to come to work every day and you can probably improve because you have guys who are willing to listen and willing to work together.”

The national seeds after Tennessee (50-11) are Kentucky (40-14), Texas A&M (44-13), North Carolina (42-13), Arkansas (43-14), Clemson (41-14), Georgia (39-15) and Florida State (42-15).

Seeds 9 through 16 are Oklahoma (37-19), North Carolina State (33-20), Oklahoma State (40-17), Virginia (41-15), Arizona 36-21), UC Santa Barbara (42-12), Oregon State (42-14) and East Carolina (43-15).

The last four teams to get at-large bids, in alphabetical order, were Coastal Carolina, Indiana, James Madison and UCF. The first four left out were California, Charleston, Cincinnati and TCU.

The SEC set a record with 11 teams in regionals and five among the top eight national seeds. The Atlantic Coast Conference has eight teams in the tournament and the Big 12 has six.

Selection committee decisions sure to be debated were having East Carolina host a regional over other contenders and Coastal Carolina, Kansas State, Indiana and Florida receiving at-large bids. All five of those schools have representatives on the committee, and all but East Carolina were thought to be on the bubble for bids.

Chairman Matt Hogue, the athletic director at Coastal Carolina, said NCAA protocols ensure fairness by requiring committee members to leave the room when their schools are discussed and not to participate if their schools are the subject of a vote.

“One thing that you do want to have with a committee are folks who are tuned into the sport,” Hogue said, “so just as an inherent natural result, if you have quality people on the committee, it’s going to be likely in many years you’re going to have teams in that situation. So I think that’s important to note.”

Other notes about the tournament:

  • Defending national champion LSU, in danger of missing the tournament six weeks ago after losing 12 of its first 15 SEC games, has won 18 of 24 overall and made a run to the conference tournament championship game to earn a No. 2 regional seed in Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • A total of 19 college players projected to be taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft, according to MLB.com, are in the tournament. The group is led by Georgia’s Charlie Condon, whose 35 homers and .443 batting average lead the nation.
  • Vanderbilt has the longest active streak with its 18th straight appearance. Texas is in the tournament for a record 63rd time. Florida State, which had its record-tying streak of regional appearances end at 44 in 2023, is back in the tournament and will be a host for a Division I-record 36th time.
  • UC Santa Barbara will be an intimidating regional host. The Gauchos have won all 25 of their home games this season, the only Division I team to do so, and have the nation’s longest overall active win streak at 14.
  • Oral Roberts (27-30-1), which made a surprise run to the CWS last year, won the Summit League Tournament to make it back to the NCAA Tournament and is the only team in the field with a losing record.
  • First-time participants are High Point, Niagara and Northern Kentucky.

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