PREMIUM SCOOP: Texas A&M top prospect John Stilson to miss weekend start
Vanderbilt is putting together its most impressive campaign in school history, and a series win over Florida this weekend would move the program one step closer to earning another SEC regular season title.
While the Commodores hope to continue their consistent ways, the Gators suffered a tough series loss to Arkansas last weekend and hope to bounce back this weekend.
The series between the Gators and Commodores isn’t the only set to follow in the SEC this weekend as South Carolina hopes to bounce back from a series loss to Ole Miss in a home series against Arkansas.
Another huge series this weekend is in the ACC, where North Carolina and Georgia Tech face off in Atlanta in a series that could determine a national seed.
Those are just a few series to watch this weekend, but there are plenty of other storylines, topics and teams to keep track of going into another huge weekend.
We preview the weekend in college baseball.
Florida International: The Golden Panthers have put themselves in fantastic position heading down the stretch. They’re 33-16 overall and have won their last 13 contests. FIU definitely is in great shape to make the postseason, but it’s now aiming for even more.
Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers left everyone’s mind several weeks ago because of some bad losses, but they’re right back in the saddle with an 8-2 record in their last 10 contests and eight-straight wins. Coastal could be a team no one wants in their NCAA Regional.
Clemson: The Tigers still are a long shot to host an NCAA Regional, but that could change with an incredibly strong finish. The Tigers are 9-1 in their last 10 contests and have won six-straight games. They finish the regular season against Florida State in two weekends.
Rice: The Owls are getting hot at precisely the right time. They’re 8-2 in their last 10 contests and have a fantastic 33-16 overall record. All eyes are on that series with Southern Mississippi in two weekends.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are having an incredible campaign and took over the SEC standings last weekend. Vandy is 9-1 in its last 10 games and has won six-straight contests entering the Florida series this weekend.
Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles have been solid the past few seasons, but finally are experiencing some struggles this season. FGCU is 3-7 in its last 10 games and has lost six-straight contests. It’s also worth noting FGCU is just 22-27 overall.
Michigan: Even in a weak Big Ten campaign, the Wolverines are having issues compiling victories. They’re 2-8 in their last 10 contests and have lost five-straight contests. It’s also worth noting the Wolverines have a dismal 15-33 record.
Louisville: The Cardinals definitely are having a season to forget. They’re just 3-7 in their last 10 contests and have lost six-straight games. Louisville now just has a 25-24 overall record and won’t make the NCAA postseason unless it wins the Big East tournament.
Santa Clara: It’s yet another disappointing campaign for the Broncos. Santa Clara is 3-7 in its last 10 games and is just 17-28 overall and last in the West Coast Conference with just a 4-11 league record.
Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks were tied for first in the Southland Conference just a couple of weeks ago. Now they’re searching for answers as losers of five-straight contests and four of their last six. The ‘Jacks must win the SLC tournament to make the NCAA postseason.
STORYLINES TO WATCH
Vanderbilt tries to stay atop SEC: The Commodores were expected to compete for the national title and nothing has changed in that regard with just a couple of weeks left to the regular season. The ‘Dores received a gift last weekend when South Carolina dropped a road series to Mississippi, ultimately moving them to first in the SEC (by a game) after a road series win over Kentucky, Now, starting pitcher Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin hope to give the club a boost this weekend as they host Florida for one of the biggest series of the season. Both UF and South Carolina sit one game behind Vandy in the SEC standings. In other words, VU has little room for error.
South Carolina hopes to bounce back: The Gamecocks have been one of the nation’s most consistent teams the entire season, but they took a step back last weekend with a surprising series loss to Ole Miss. It was the Gamecocks’ first series loss of the season, and we’ll see how they handle the adversity this weekend as they play host to a surging Arkansas club. South Carolina has fought some injuries to stud outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and others, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fair the final two weekends of the regular season. Chances are great the Gamecocks are just fine. They should get back on track this weekend.
North Carolina and Georgia Tech meet with a lot on the line: The consistency and production of both the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets this season has been surprising and rather unexpected. The two teams are aiming for a national seed down the stretch, making this series huge. The Tar Heels and Jackets both have solid RPIs and resumes. UNC, for instance, is 7-3 vs. RPI Top 25, 11-6 vs. RPI Top 50 and 30-10 vs. RPI Top 100, while Tech is 7-5 vs. RPI Top 25, 12-6 vs. RPI Top 50 and 23-12 vs. RPI Top 100. Chances are great the winner of this series earns a national seed in a few weeks.
More big series in Conference USA: The league has taken a step forward in the RPI department this season and needs to savor the fact it continues to be a hot topic. The league once again has a schedule filled with intriguing series. Central Florida is aiming for an NCAA postseason berth and needs to take care of business against UAB on the road this weekend, while Rice hopes to further solidify its status as an NCAA Regional host with a series win over Memphis. There’s also the series between Southern Miss and Houston. The Golden Eagles still have high hopes of earning a national seed, while the Cougars need an incredibly strong finish to end the year in the postseason.
Key Mountain West showdown on tap: TCU is aiming for an NCAA Regional host and some would assume it has a stronghold on the MWC title race. Well, not exactly, but we’ll find out more this weekend. The Frogs play host to Utah this weekend, and the Utes are just 1 1/2 games back in the conference standings. The Utes also have a respectable 25-16 overall record. For those wondering whom to watch in this series, it begins and ends with Utah slugger C.J. Cron. The favorite to win National Player of the Year honors is hitting .448 with 23 doubles, 14 home runs and 54 RBIs. He also has a .520 on-base percentage.
SERIES TO WATCH
No. 7 Florida at No. 3 Vanderbilt: Much is on the line when the Gators and Commodores meet this weekend. The Gators must avoid back-to-back series losses in conference play, while Vandy hopes to continue its stronghold on the conference standings. Fortunately, both teams are in solid shape when it comes to positioning themselves for a national seed.
No. 19 Miami at No. 1 Virginia: The Hurricanes suffered a setback a couple of weekends ago to rival Florida State, and desperately needs a series win over the Cavaliers to have a chance to earn an NCAA Regional host. Virginia, meanwhile, finishes the season in tough fashion with series against the ‘Canes and North Carolina, but is in fantastic shape for a national seed. This series is absolutely huge for the Hurricanes.
No. 24 Arkansas at No. 2 South Carolina: This is one of the more intriguing series of the weekend for obvious reasons. The Gamecocks suffered a surprising series loss to Ole Miss last weekend, and hopes to bounce back against the Hogs. Back-to-back series losses could make some believe injuries are taking their toll on the Gamecocks. For the Hogs, this weekend is huge because they need it to continue their hopes for an NCAA Regional host.
No. 6 Florida State at N.C. State: This series is huge for opposite reasons for the two teams. The Seminoles have been red-hot the past few weeks and hopes to boost their national seed resume with a road series win over the Wolfpack. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, dropped a tough series to East Tennessee State at home last weekend and must avoid slumping the final two weeks of the regular season to make an NCAA postseason appearance.
No. 15 North Carolina at No. 9 Georgia Tech: There’s not a more important series this weekend from a national seed standpoint. Both the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets have put together solid resumes this season, and the two clubs are fighting for one of the eight national seeds. UNC already has a road series win over Florida State, so a road series win over the Jackets would help solidify a national seed. The Jackets, meanwhile, need to take care of business this weekend to feel good about their national seed chances going into the ACC tournament.
Long Beach State at No. 12 Cal State Fullerton: The Dirtbags’ postseason hopes could come down to the annual series against the Titans. The Dirtbags earned a solid midweek win over UCLA earlier this week, but still have an RPI of 66 with a 24-22 overall record. A series win over Fullerton and a strong finish is a must. For the Titans, a series win over the Dirtbags is integral to maintaining their status as a likely NCAA Regional host. It’s a big weekend for both teams.
Utah at No. 11 TCU: The Utes, outside of slugger C.J. Cron, have managed to stay out of the headlines the past few weeks. But they’re back in them this weekend as they hit the road to face the Horned Frogs. Some may not view this series as important, but it has implications on the Mountain West regular season title race. The Frogs lead the Utes by 1 1/2 games, so a series win this weekend by Utah would make things interesting going into the final weekend. Oh yeah, it’s also worth noting that TCU is fighting for an NCAA Regional host.
Baylor at No. 20 Oklahoma State: After dropping a home series to TCU last weekend, Oklahoma State’s ship likely has sailed when it comes to earning an NCAA Regional host. However, it’s safe to say anything can happen when it comes to the NCAA Selection Committee. While the weekend is mildly important for the Cowboys, it’s absolutely huge for the Bears. The Bears have an RPI of 41, but also have just a 24-22 overall record. For instance, the Bears technically would be ineligible to reach the NCAA postseason if they got swept this weekend. Times are tense for BU.
Central Florida at UAB: The Knights were in our NCAA Regional projections this week, but they’re in a must-win situation the rest of the way. Despite having a high RPI and respectable overall record, the Knights are just 7-11 and eighth place in Conference USA. In other words, they’re playing with fire when it comes to making the postseason. UAB, meanwhile, isn’t out of the postseason mix, but must finish the regular season on an incredibly high note, and also play well in the league tournament.
Memphis at No. 23 Rice: It wasn’t too long ago the Tigers were considered a contender for an NCAA postseason spot. Then came a bad series loss to Marshall. Now the Tigers hope to surprise everyone this weekend with a road series win over Rice. It’s a particularly big weekend for the Owls, who hope to earn a series win leading up to next weekend’s huge road series against Southern Miss. Rice is fighting to keep an NCAA Regional host, while also holding out hope for a national seed.
Cal State Bakersfield at UCLA: It wasn’t long ago we were putting the Roadrunners in our weekly projections, but they’ve since taken a step back and are down to 83 in the RPI with a 26-19 record. The Roadrunners hope to play spoiler this weekend as they hit the road to face the Bruins. UCLA isn’t in danger of missing the NCAA postseason, but needs to find a way to bounce back from a pair of bad midweek losses.
Mississippi State at Mississippi: The Bulldogs and Rebels are part of the big jumbled mess otherwise known as the SEC Western Division. The Bulldogs won the series opener against the Rebels and improved to 12-13 in league play. Ole Miss, meanwhile, dropped to 11-14. The rest of the series is particularly important to the Rebels, who have a dismal 6-16 record vs. RPI Top 50 teams. They can’t afford to finish the regular season a sour note.
Alabama at Auburn: The Crimson Tide has played well the past two weeks and earned series wins over Mississippi State and LSU. They hope to take the lead in the SEC West with a win over the Tigers. While the Tide is safely in the postseason for now, the Tigers are like Georgia and Baylor in the sense they’re only a few games above .500 (26-23), so they need some wins down the stretch to stay above .500. It’s an important rivalry series with great postseason implications.
Stephen F. Austin at Southeastern Louisiana: The Lumberjacks have suddenly struggled the past few weeks and their RPI has taken a huge hit as a result. They’re out of the postseason mix unless they win the Southland tournament. The Lions, though, have a lot to play for this weekend. They have an RPI of 52 with a 32-18 overall record, and need to take care of business the final two weekends to feel confident about their postseason position going into the conference tourney.
No. 13 Southern Mississippi at Houston: The Golden Eagles are pretty much locked in to an NCAA Regional host, but have aspirations for a national seed. That means they need to win their final two series of the regular season against Houston and Rice to feel good about their chances going into the conference tournament. UH, meanwhile, has dropped to 62 in the latest RPI with a 22-26 overall record, and needs a miracle to make the NCAA postseason. This series is more about USM staying on track more so than anything with the Cougars.
Florida State: We’ve talked about Georgia Tech and North Carolina, and their chances for a national seed. Well, Florida State also is in the mix entering the weekend. The Seminoles have been red-hot lately and have a solid resume that still has room for improvement. The ‘Noles have an RPI of 4 with a 37-12 record. They also are 12-9 vs. RPI Top 25, 14-9 vs. RPI Top 50 and 23-12 vs. RPI Top 100. It’s completely possible the Seminoles leapfrog UNC and GT in the national seed pecking order, but UNC has the head-to-head and FSU needs to finish the regular season with a pair of series wins over N.C. State and Clemson.
Southern Mississippi: The Golden Eagles are another team to watch down the stretch from a national seed standpoint. They’ve put together a solid overall record this season and have an RPI of 10. However, the Eagles still have some work to do from a resume standpoint, and a series over Rice in two weekends would be a big step in the right direction. USM is just 3-2 vs. RPI Top 25, 10-6 vs. RPI Top 50 and 24-10 vs. RPI Top 100. Though USM is just out of the top eight right now, don’t be too surprised if it earns a national seed in a few weeks.
Stetson: The Hatters are trying to complicate their hosting situation. Stetson entered the week in wonderful shape to earn an NCAA Regional host. But after dropping midweek games to Florida State and Florida International, the Hatters are back down to 17 in the latest RPI with an RPI of 17. Going deeper into their resume, the Hatters are 4-2 vs. RPI Top 25, 8-5 vs. RPI Top 50 and 18-6 vs. RPI Top 100. Stetson still is in good shape for a host site given the NCAA’s recent love to worthy mid-majors, but it needs to bounce back the final two weekends of the regular season against Lipscomb and Belmont.
LSU: The Tigers are in a must-win situation the rest of the regular season. They really need to sweep the final two series, but winning the last two series at least gives them a fighting chance on Selection Monday. The Tigers lost a tough series to Alabama last weekend and enters this weekend’s Tennessee series with something to prove. The Tigers have an RPI of 26 and a 30-19 record, but that’s where the impressive nature of their resume ends. LSU is 5-11 vs. RPI Top 25, 9-16 vs. RPI Top 50 and 15-17 vs. RPI Top 100.
Too close to .500: There are several teams to watch this weekend from a postseason standpoint, but Georgia, Baylor and Auburn lead the way for a unique reason – all three teams are close to being .500, which of course, means you can’t play in the NCAA postseason. Georgia has an RPI of 20 and is 25-24 overall, Baylor has an RPI of 41 and is 24-22 overall and Auburn has an RPI of 28 with a 26-23 overall record. The Bulldogs play Kentucky this weekend, while Baylor heads to Oklahoma State and Auburn hosts rival Alabama.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org