The School: the University of California, Santa Barbara
Location: ...Santa Barbara, California
The Mascot: the Gauchos. "Hey, how can we express the idea that we're cowboys, but we also love cocaine?" "Huh. Let me check what they've got down in South America."
The gaucho narrowly beat out the guinea pig and the Churrascaria to win the UCSB nickname challenge.
Record: 37-18-1. 13-11 in the Big West.
How'd They Get Here?: At-large bid. Santa Barbara finished the season ranked No. 23 in the RPI after playing a schedule filled with good, but not great teams. The Gauchos loaded up their schedule with non-conference games against teams like Oregon, USC, Kentucky, and UCLA only to see all of those programs fall off in 2016. Somehow, an early-season series sweep against Connecticut wound up being the team's measuring stick for success this season.
Best Win: A 16-2 thrashing of Rhode Island powerhouse Bryant way back in February. The Bulldogs finished the season ranked No. 25th in the D1Baseball.com poll, but no one's really sure if the Northeast Conference actually exists or if it's an elaborate prank being staged by bored millionaires. At any rate, UCSB only played five games against top 25 competition this spring.
Most Embarrassing Loss: Lost two of three to No. 227 UC-Davis (17-36 in 2016). The Gauchos also got beat in series play by 26-29 UC Riverside and were swept by a Cal Poly team that finished ranked 124th this season. For comparison's sake, Vanderbilt's series loss to Tennessee was so embarrassing Tim Corbin made Ro Coleman play left field for the rest of the season as penance, and the Vols finished the season ranked 82nd in the nation.
Most Terrifying Batter: Pass.
You Can't Pass. Just Name Someone: Well, 1B Austin Bush has some power (seven home runs), but he's batting just .267 and averages about a strikeout per game. 2B JJ Muno is the team's best all-around batter and CF Andrew Calica is rocking a Will Toffey-esque split where his OBP is about .200 points higher than his batting average, but UC Santa Barbara isn't the kind of team where one player drops a bomb on you. The Gauchos are more of a death-by-1000-cuts type of offense.
That's a good sign for a Vanderbilt team loaded with combo breaker pitching.
Pitcher Most Likely to Feast on the Bottom Third of the Vanderbilt Lineup: Shane Bieber went from walk-on to ace for the Gauchos, and he's the one guy on the UCSB roster Vandy would like to avoid. Biebs has limited opposing batters to a .236 average while posting an 11-3 record and has, I'm assuming, a strangely inappropriate relationship with Usher as well. The right hander threw four complete games this season and has the arm to keep his team from digging in to an underwhelming bullpen.
If Santa Barbara needs a big arm in the late innings, expect lefty Kyle Nelson to make an appearance. He leads the team in qualified ERA (2.27) and saves (eight) and is second in strikeouts per nine innings (10.37) in 2016.
Best NCAA Tournament Result: This is Santa Barbara's 11th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Gauchos have never advanced to a Super Regional.
Should Vanderbilt Be Scared?: It's tough to be super confident after Jordan Sheffield and Kyle Wright bombed out of the SEC Tournament, but the Gauchos give the Commodores a manageable two seed to fend off en route to a Super Regional appearance. With the exception of that awful trip out east, the teams who beat the Commodores are much deeper than a good, but not great Santa Barbara team. If Vanderbilt's pitching can prevent them from stringing together hits, they'll be able to dispatch UCSB.