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College : : Story
Preview: Jockeying for position
Published: Thursday, April 07, 2011

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PREMIUM: PG's college baseball midseason report

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Fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference couldn’t ask for a better weekend of premier matchups with Virginia heading to Georgia Tech and North Carolina making the trip south to face Florida State.

Virginia has been hot on Vanderbilt’s heels at the No. 2 spot for a few weeks, while the Yellow Jackets are one of the most pleasant surprises this season with a fabulous record and a No. 5 ranking.

Both the Cavaliers and Yellow Jackets bring a lot to the table this weekend, but it doesn’t get much better than the Friday night pitching matchup between Virginia left-handed pitcher and soon-to-be first-rounder Danny Hultzen and rising Tech right-hander Mark Pope.

The series between the Tar Heels and Seminoles also will be fantastic.

The series opener between the teams features a pair of starting pitchers that have exceeded expectations. North Carolina’s Patrick Johnson is performing much better than most thought as the staff ace, while Florida State’s Sean Gilmartin has returned to his freshman form with consistently dominating starts.

Both the Tar Heels and Seminoles are playing at a high level.

Though the series in the ACC highlight the weekend, we take an in-depth look at the weekend in college baseball.

WHO’S HOT

Charlotte: The Forty Niners made a statement last week with a midweek win over North Carolina and followed it up with a series win over Xavier. The Niners are 23-6, 9-1 in their last ten games and have won four-straight contests. Still, they’re a long shot for a postseason at-large berth at this point in the season.

Virginia: The Cavaliers are smoking hot entering this weekend’s series against Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers are 29-2 and 10-0 in their last ten games. It’s also worth noting the Cavaliers are riding a 10-game winning streak. Coach Brian O’Connor is doing a fantastic job this season.

Connecticut: Remember those Huskies that appeared to be down and out a few weeks ago? Well, they’re back in the mix after starting Big East play on the right foot. The Huskies have won conference series over Pittsburgh and St. John’s, and are 5-1 in league play. They also have won five-straight contests and are 8-2 in their last ten.

Cal State Fullerton: The Titans are far removed from that bad road trip to Texas and Louisiana. The Titans are playing a great brand of baseball at the right time with a huge weekend series coming up against UC Irvine. Fullerton is 21-8, 9-1 in its last ten games and has won nine-straight contests.

South Carolina: The defending champs are playing like, well, the defending champs. The Gamecocks are having another great season and 23-5 with already a series win over highly touted Florida this spring. The Gamecocks are 9-1 in their last ten games and have won six-straight contests.

WHO’S NOT

Michigan: The Wolverines couldn’t be having a more disappointing campaign. They began conference play with a series loss and are 7-19 overall. To make matters worse, the Wolverines are 3-7 in their last ten games and were picked to finish in the upper half of the league before the season.

Tulane: Coach Rick Jones has to be to the point of almost pulling his hair out. The Green Wave skipper was riding high a few of weeks ago when his team defeated Ole Miss and Wichita State in back-to-back series, but the Green Wave has struggled the past couple of weeks due in part because of recurring injuries. Tulane has lost six-straight contests and is 3-7 in its last 10.

Auburn: The Tigers appeared to be in good shape when they took a series from Arkansas a few weeks ago. However, they’ve struggled mightily since, most recently getting swept at home by top-ranked Vanderbilt. The Tigers are 2-8 in their last ten, are in the midst of a four-game losing streak and have an unimpressive 15-14 overall record.

Western Carolina: The Catamounts are used to experiencing success, but have taken a huge step back so far this season. The Cats are last in the Southern Conference with a dismal 2-10 mark. They’re also 3-7 in their last ten games and have lost four-straight contests. Overall, the Cats have an 11-15 record.

UNLV: The Rebels have had trouble getting their bearings straight after a rash of failures. The Rebels are 2-6 in Mountain West play and 3-7 in their last ten games. They catch a break this weekend with a series coming up against Sacred Heart.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Big-time ACC showdowns on tap: You’d be hard pressed to find a more desirable slate of weekend series in the ACC than this weekend. Miami hosts N.C. State in a series that could have postseason implications, but the highlighted series could have national title implications. No. 2 Virginia heads to No. 5 Georgia Tech and No. 13 North Carolina hits the road to face No. 6 Florida State. The ACC picture will become much clearer after this weekend.

Conference USA picture becomes clearer: Southern Mississippi has been the biggest surprise in Conference USA this season, leading the league by a half game over surprising Houston. But outside of the Eagles and Cougars, it’s a big weekend for several clubs in the league. For instance, Rice heads to East Carolina for a series that could determine the regular season title by season’s end, and Tulane desperately needs a road series win over Central Florida after dropping to 1-5 in conference with a series loss at home to Houston last weekend. USM, meanwhile, hits the road this weekend to face Memphis, which dominated Ole Miss in midweek action.

Telling weekend ahead in the SEC: A quick look at the SEC standings tells you that LSU and Arkansas have little room for error this weekend. It just so happens the two teams that need to win the most besides Auburn butt heads this weekend in Fayetteville, Ark. It’s not the only intriguing series to watch, though. Mississippi State could forget about the Georgia series last weekend with a home series win over Florida, while Georgia heads to Ole Miss for a series the Rebels really need to win. Then there’s Auburn, which desperately needs a road series win over Kentucky. Desperation usually isn’t a word used this early in conference play, but it’s warranted.

Sun Belt’s weekend of biggies: There are several teams in the Sun Belt hoping to earn a trip to the NCAA postseason. For now, Troy is the only lock with a fantastic overall record, good RPI and a solid postseason resume. Outside of the Trojans, though, the picture is still very murky with Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida Atlantic and FIU vying for postseason position. We’ll know more after this weekend. Troy hosts Florida International for an important three-game set, Louisiana-Lafayette heads to Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic hopes to avoid a mild upset at South Alabama.

Pac-10 title race taking shape: Looking at the Pac-10 standings, Arizona State, California and UCLA are knotted up in league with 5-1 records. ASU and Cal have met expectations so far this season, while the Bruins have struggled at times and have an RPI in the 100s. All three teams have important series this weekend. Arizona State heads to Corvallis, Ore., for a series against upset minded and improved Oregon State, California heads to Arizona where the Wildcats are desperate, and the Bruins enter hostile territory with a series against struggling Washington State. The Pac-10 race could become more set in stone or crazier by the end of the weekend.

SERIES TO WATCH

No. 20 Alabama at No. 1 Vanderbilt: The Crimson Tide added another SEC series win to their resume last weekend against Arkansas, and hope to bounce back from a tough midweek setback to Samford. The Tide needs a strong weekend from their weekend rotation, especially Nathan Kilcrease and Adam Morgan. Vandy, meanwhile, is coming off a road series sweep over Auburn and is playing an exceptional brand of baseball. Vandy definitely has the edge in this series.

No. 2 Virginia at No. 5 Georgia Tech: If you’re looking for a series that includes teams with a plethora of talent, you’ve found the right one. The Cavaliers have a great one-two punch on the weekend with top draft prospect Danny Hultzen and Tyler Wilson leading the way. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has three solid prospects on the weekend in Jed Bradley, Mark Pope and Buck Farmer leading the way. This series comes down to which team can find a way to manufacture runs against stellar pitching. Virginia is on the road, but we’re giving it a very slight edge.

No. 4 Florida at Mississippi State: Two weeks ago the Bulldogs were sitting on top of the world after sweeping Auburn at home. Now, the Bulldogs are very much back to Earth after getting swept on the road at Georgia last weekend. The Bulldogs, led by weekend starters Devin Jones and Chris Stratton, hope to rebound this weekend against the Gators. UF definitely has the advantage on the mound and in the series, but State could pull off an upset with raucous crowds expected throughout the weekend.

No. 7 Arizona State at No. 18 Oregon State: Even after losing several key cogs from last year’s team, the Sun Devils really haven’t skipped a beat this season with a fantastic record and overall postseason resume. It’s also safe to say they’re the favorite to win the Pac-10 regular season title again. ASU is coming off a series win over Oregon and midweek triumph over rival Arizona, while Oregon State took two of three from Arizona last weekend and hopes to shock the Sun Devils with weekend starters Sam Gaviglio and Josh Osich leading the way. The upset watch is alive and well in this one.

No. 9 Texas A&M at Texas Tech: The Aggies lead the Big 12 along with rival Texas and are coming off a road series win over Kansas State. Texas Tech, meanwhile, took a huge step back last weekend by getting swept at Oklahoma, but could get back in good graces this weekend against the Aggies. The home team has dominated this series for years, but the Red Raiders could have an incredibly difficult time recording an upset with the Aggies having such an advantage on the mound. Tech’s pitching staff must rise to the occasion to win this series. The Aggies have the edge.

No. 11 Texas vs. Baylor: The Horns took a step back two weekends ago with a road series loss to Oklahoma State, but bounced back in impressive fashion last weekend with a home series sweep over Missouri. Baylor, meanwhile, needs a big weekend from its pitching staff after dropping a road series to Kansas last weekend. The Bears have struggled lately and are 4-6 in their last ten games. Even worse, they’re now just 4-5 in conference with an average 17-13 overall record. This series is ultra important for the scuffling Bears. UT, though, has the edge.

No. 13 North Carolina at No. 6 Florida State: The Tar Heels had some critics a couple of weeks ago because they hadn’t faced an elite level of competition. However, the Heels earned a great deal of respect last weekend when they swept Clemson at home. Now, starting pitchers Patrick Johnson and Kent Emanuel hope to hit the road and earn a huge series win over Florida State. The Seminoles, meanwhile, have a solid club with ace pitcher Sean Gilmartin leading the charge. The ‘Noles are at home and are expected to win the series.

UC Irvine at No. 10 Cal State Fullerton: The Anteaters entered the season with some question marks, and actually gained a lot of believers before hitting the road a couple of weekends ago and dropping a tough series to Gonzaga. Now, the ‘Eaters have another chance to earn believers with a road series vs. rival Cal State Fullerton. The ‘Eaters must be consistent offensively this weekend. The pitching staff also must click on all cylinders with the Titans having a substantial edge on the mound. Fullerton has the edge, but don’t be too surprised if Irvine surprises.

No. 8 Fresno State at San Jose State: The Bulldogs have been fantastic this season with ace pitcher Greg Gonzalez leading the charge. But they have their stiffest test of WAC play this weekend with a road series against San Jose State. The Spartans made headlines several weeks ago when they took two of three from UCLA. They haven’t skipped a beat since and have a 19-9 overall record. However, SJSU doesn’t have a single win over an RPI Top 50 team. The Spartans need good starts from Roberto Padilla and Blake McFarland to beat the Bulldogs this weekend. Fresno has the edge, but an upset wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

No. 17 LSU at Arkansas: The Razorbacks put together a solid record during non-conference play, but didn’t record many marquee wins. The Hogs desperately need a home series win over the Tigers this weekend. Arkansas has yet to win an SEC series, with series losses to Auburn, Vanderbilt and Alabama. The Hogs can’t afford to get too far behind in conference. LSU, meanwhile, rebounded in solid fashion from a series loss to Georgia with a series win over Ole Miss last weekend. LSU has the edge on paper in this series, but it’s hard to imagine Arkansas losing four-straight SEC series.

No. 24 UCLA at Washington State: This is an incredibly important series for both teams. The Bruins are still ranked, but have yet to establish consistency this season. The Bruins are 5-1 in conference play, but haven’t exactly been impressive on the way to that record. Washington State, meanwhile, was expected to take another step forward this season, but is sitting at 1-5 in conference and 11-11 overall. What’s interesting about the Cougars is the fact they still have a solid RPI of 38 with five wins over RPI Top 50 teams. The Cougars definitely need this series.

No. 15 California at No. 21 Arizona: The Golden Bears are playing a great brand of baseball and are 5-1 in conference, tied for first with Arizona State and UCLA. The Bears hit the road this weekend to face a desperate Arizona club. The Wildcats are 2-4 in conference and have an RPI of just 59 with a 5-6 mark vs. RPI Top 50 teams. The Wildcats let a series against Oregon State get away from them last weekend and hope to bounce back against the Bears. Cal has been a better team so far this season, but look for the Wildcats to find a way to take care of business this weekend.

Rice at East Carolina: Even as good as Southern Miss has been this season, there only is a 2 1/2 game difference between the top spot and the sixth spot in the Conference USA standings. In other words, it means the regular season title race remains wide open. Rice bounced back nicely from its series loss to Central Florida with a home series sweep over Marshall last week, while the Pirates suffered a bad series loss to UAB. Pitchers Austin Kubitza and Seth Maness are worth watching for Rice and ECU, respectively, this weekend.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Western Kentucky: This is a huge series from a Sun Belt title and postseason standpoint. The Ragin’ Cajuns made a statement last weekend with a home series win over Florida Atlantic and are tied for second in conference with the Hilltoppers. ULL has an RPI of 73 with a 2-2 record vs. RPI Top 50 teams. WKU, meanwhile, was upset by Arkansas-Little Rock last weekend and rebounded with a midweek triumph against Louisville. WKU has an RPI of 70 with a 3-3 mark vs. RPI Top 50 teams. The winner of this series moves up in the postseason pecking order.

Georgia at Mississippi: It’s too bad the Bulldogs aren’t in the SEC West. If they were, they’d be sitting second place, a game behind Alabama. As it stands, the Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC East behind stalwarts Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina. The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back series wins over LSU and Mississippi State, but could use another series win this weekend to improve their overall record. Ole Miss, meanwhile, only is 4-5 in conference and actually could get into the NCAA Regional hosting mix with a few more conference series wins given its great RPI of 14. Look for the Bulldogs to continue their shock tour in Mississippi this weekend.

TALKING POSTSEASON

Arizona State: It’ll be very interesting to see if the Sun Devils are eligible to compete in the NCAA postseason. If they are, there’s no question they’re a national seed barring a second half collapse. The Sun Devils have a top 10 RPI and a great resume on top of being the top team in the Pac-10. The Devils are 5-3 vs. RPI Top 50 and 14-5 vs. RPI Top 100 teams. They also have a SOS of 15. The Devils have a chance to increase their stock even more this weekend against Oregon State, another team with a solid postseason resume.

East Tennessee State: Some were wondering why the Buccaneers were left out of our first regular season postseason projections. Well, it’s easy to see why when you go beyond their actual RPI. Yes, the Bucs have a solid RPI of 21. However, their marquee series win is over Marist and they have a 2-4 record vs. RPI Top 50 teams. If the season ended today, the committee could be kind and put ETSU in the postseason field. However, look for its RPI to decline as the season progresses.

Cal State Bakersfield: There might not be a better story in college baseball this season than the Roadrunners. Some keep waiting for the Roadrunners’ RPI to decline. However, the ‘Runners scheduled decently well and continue to rack up wins. CSB has an overall record of 20-7 with an RPI of 37. Interestingly, it has a 3-5 record vs. RPI Top 50 teams and a 6-6 mark vs. RPI Top 100. Again, not overly impressive, but the committee will give the Roadrunners credit for already playing a pair of three-game series against Pac-10 teams and another against defending champ South Carolina. CSB has series left this season with UC Irvine, UCLA and Fresno State, all potential RPI boosters.

Coastal Carolina: Are the Chanticleers in a win the Big South automatic berth or else situation? As of right now, yes is the answer to that question. The Chanticleers simply haven’t established consistency this season. They enter the weekend against Presbyterian, which has upset some solid teams this season, with an RPI of 94. Coastal is 0-3 vs. RPI Top 50 teams and 7-8 against RPI Top 100 teams. The Chants still have time to increase their RPI, but increasing it enough to earn an at-large berth is likely asking for too much. It has been a strange year so far for the Chants.

UCLA: The Bruins have a plethora of work to do if they plan to return to the NCAA postseason. Though they have a solid 5-1 record in the Pac-10, the Bruins have an RPI of 112. They’re 0-2 vs. RPI Top 50 and 2-4 vs. RPI Top 100. The Bruins have a horrible postseason resume, but this team is infinitely better than their RPI and overall record indicates. Now we’ll see if the Bruins can find some way to get going offensively the rest of the spring. They’re in business if the offense rises to the occasion.

Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at kendall@perfectgame.org



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