PREMIUM ANALYSIS: Breaking down the postseason bubble
When the season began back in February, everyone hoped the final weekend of the regular season would be filled with intriguing matchups with conference title and national seed implications.
We’re getting that and more this weekend.
Texas A&M and Texas renew their annual rivalry this weekend, and the series features a pair of teams aiming for a Big 12 regular season title and a national seed. It also features arguably the best pitching matchup of the season with UT’s Taylor Jungmann and Texas A&M’s John Stilson – both soon-to-be first-round picks – starting the series opener.
While the series between the Aggies and Longhorns spearheads the weekend, there are plenty of other huge series to watch.
North Carolina hopes to solidify its national seed resume when it hosts Virginia, Clemson and Florida State have equally important goals worth fighting for this weekend, Rice and Southern Mississippi both are aiming for the Conference USA title, and Georgia and LSU need strong weekends to aid their postseason resumes.
We take an inside look at the weekend in college baseball.
St. John’s: The Johnnies appeared to be down and out after getting swept by South Florida a few weeks ago. Now they’ve won seven-straight and are right back in the thick of the NCAA postseason race. Can they finish strong enough to get a bid? We’ll find out.
Kent State: The Golden Flashes have three stalwarts in their weekend rotation with left-hander Andrew Chafin leading the charge and have won five-straight contests. The Flashes are 9-1 in their last 10 games.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are showing they’re serious about earning an NCAA Regional host. OU has won nine-straight contests and finishes Big 12 play with a huge road series against Baylor. OU becomes a much more practical host if it takes this weekend’s series from the Bears.
Clemson: The Tigers are finishing the regular season in incredibly strong fashion and have won nine of their last 10 contests. The Tigers also now have a solid 37-16 overall record and should eclipse the 40-win mark in the ACC tournament.
Mississippi State: It only was a couple of weeks ago the Bulldogs were in rough shape from a postseason standpoint. Now they’re in business having won nine of their last 10 and sitting solid with a 33-19 overall record.
Nebraska: Times are tough in the Cornhusker State. The Huskers have lost four-straight contests and are 2-8 in their last 10 games. But even worse, the Huskers are dead last in the Big 12 entering the final weekend.
Louisville: The Cardinals haven’t had the season they were expecting, but hope for a redemption tour in the Big East tournament. UL has lost eight of its last 10 games and has a weak 27-26 overall record.
UAB: There was a time when the Blazers were in the postseason projections. Now they’ve taken a turn for the worst. The Blazers are losers of three-straight and are out of the postseason mix after losing seven of their last 10.
The Citadel: The Bulldogs put together a solid 2010 campaign, but just haven’t been able to get anything going this spring. The Bulldogs are losers of nine-straight contests and are 1-9 in their last 10 games. They also are 20-33 overall.
Texas-Arlington: The Mavericks are going through some tough times. They’ve lost 10-straight contests, are near the bottom of the Southland standings and have just a 25-28 overall record.
Storylines to watch
John Stilson/Taylor Jungmann highlight Texas A&M vs. Texas: When it comes to elite pitching matchups, it simply doesn’t get better than this in college baseball. Multiple MLB executives are expected to be attendance as Stilson and Jungmann butt heads with a Big 12 title and a national seed on the line. Stilson has compiled a 1.59 ERA in 85 innings with 89 strikeouts and 22 walks while Jungmann has compiled a 0.86 ERA in 104 2/3 innings with 97 strikeouts and 21 walks. The matchup between the two soon-to-be first-round picks ought to be an absolute dandy.
North Carolina gets another huge chance: With already a road series win over Florida State this season, the Tar Heels had a golden opportunity to slam the door shut on a national seed last weekend against Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels, though, lost the series to the Yellow Jackets and probably need to take care of business this weekend to hold strong as a national seed. Accomplishing that goal will be difficult with a very good Virginia club coming to Chapel Hill, N.C. Should the Tar Heels take care of the Cavaliers, it’s hard to imagine them not getting a national seed in a couple of weeks. This series will be the difference between potentially staying home throughout the postseason or hitting the road for a super regional.
Conference USA title on the line this weekend: If there’s a conference that has taken a step forward this season, it’s this one. Both Southern Mississippi and Rice, and a host of other teams have put together solid campaigns. But the regular season title comes down to the weekend series between the Golden Eagles and Owls. USM took a step back in the national title seed race last weekend with a road series loss to Houston, but could at least seriously reenter the discussion with a series win over the Owls. The same goes for the Owls, who are playing catch up in that department. USM wins the conference title outright with a series win, the two teams share the title if Rice wins two of three, and the Owls win the title outright with a series sweep this weekend. It’s all on the line in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Clemson heads to Florida State: There was a time not too long ago when it looked like the Tigers would struggle just to make the NCAA tournament. Now, they’re one of the nation’s hottest teams and have accumulated 37 wins and a 15-12 ACC record. In other words, it’s still a long shot, but the Tigers have a chance to seriously join the NCAA Regional hosting discussion with a road series win over Florida State. The Seminoles, meanwhile, are playing for a lot this weekend, too. They’re in the mix with North Carolina, Georgia Tech and plenty of others for a national seed and could use a series win over the Tigers this weekend. Both teams have much at stake when they take the diamond.
Crazy finish to the SEC regular season crown: Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina were expected to compete for a national title entering the season. And with just a few weeks left until the College World Series, it looks like all three will be doing exactly what was expected of them. So, it’s no surprise the fantastic trio are knotted up at 20-7 atop the SEC standings. Florida, though, has the best chance to win the outright title. Vanderbilt hits the road this weekend to face a very motivated Georgia club, South Carolina is on the road to face gritty Alabama and Florida has the luxury of hosting 11th place Kentucky. Chances are good the Gators sweep the Wildcats at home, thus likely winning the regular season crown for the second-straight season.
Series to watch
No. 1 Virginia at No. 15 North Carolina: This series doesn’t have much bearing on the Cavaliers, and means everything to the Tar Heels. UNC took a huge step forward from a national seed standpoint last weekend against Georgia Tech. However, it really could solidify things with a home series win over the Cavaliers.
No. 2 South Carolina at Alabama: The Gamecocks responded from a series loss in impressive fashion last weekend with a home series win over Arkansas. Now, with a national seed likely wrapped up, they hope to earn yet another confidence booster entering the SEC tournament. Alabama, meanwhile, needs to win one game to avoid perhaps falling into a bad postseason trap.
No. 7 Vanderbilt at Georgia: The Commodores likely have sealed up a national seed, so this weekend’s series isn’t too huge. It’s everything to Georgia. The Bulldogs earned a midweek win over Kennesaw State and are one game above .500 (27-26) entering the series. Should they lose the series to the Commodores, they’d be in some trouble (to stay above .500) in the SEC tournament. Georgia’s postseason chances could come down to whether it wins this series.
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 9 Texas A&M: It simply doesn’t get much better than this to end the regular season. The Longhorns have the leg up in the national seed department for now, but the Aggies would move ahead of them with a series win this weekend. Additionally, arguably the best pitching matchup of the season is in this series, and the two teams are fighting for the Big 12 regular season title, which A&M leads by one game entering the series. UT has had A&M’s number lately, but perhaps the Aggies are primed to turn the tide.
Kentucky at No. 6 Florida: This series is big for one reason and that’s Florida’s chances to win the SEC regular season title for the second-straight season. The Gators are tied with Vanderbilt and South Carolina, but have the easier road with a weekend series against the Wildcats. Should the Gators get past UK stud starter Alex Meyer in the opener, they should sweep the series. Chances are good that result would give them the outright SEC title. It’s a big weekend in Florida.
No. 16 Clemson at No. 5 Florida State: The Tigers have played an exciting brand of baseball the past few weeks and hope to increase their chances of earning an NCAA Regional host with a road series win over the Seminoles this weekend. FSU, meanwhile, has its sights set on a national seed and a series win over the high RPI Tigers would be yet another step forward going into the ACC tournament. There’s a lot at stake in this series.
No. 13 Oklahoma at Baylor: Speaking of potential NCAA Regional hosts, the Sooners are a team that have quietly risen up the pecking order the past couple of weeks. OU, though, has to win this series to be a legitimate contender for one of those 16 host sites. While Oklahoma is playing a solid brand of baseball, the same certainly can be said for the Bears, who are coming off a road series win over Oklahoma State and have been different since Brooks Pinckard moved to the weekend rotation.
No. 22 Rice at No. 18 Southern Mississippi: Both the Owls and Golden Eagles have put together solid campaigns, but something must give when the two butt heads this weekend in Mississippi. The Golden Eagles lead the Conference USA regular season title race by one game, and need just one win this weekend to clinch at least a share of the title. A series win by the Owls or Golden Eagles could greatly improve their respective national seed resumes, too.
Mississippi at No. 25 Arkansas: The Razorbacks took a small step back last weekend with a road series loss to South Carolina in a hard-fought series, and needs a home series win over the Rebels this weekend to stay in the hunt for an NCAA Regional host site. The Rebels, meanwhile, are hanging on the bubble by a thread and will be in rough shape with a series loss to the Hogs this weekend. It’s safe to say the Rebels need this series to make the NCAA tournament.
California at UCLA: Two games separate the Golden Bears and Bruins in the Pac-10 standings, so the Bears hope to chip into that difference this weekend. Cal is in solid shape for a postseason bid with a solid RPI and overall record, but would like to push into the top three in the Pac-10. UCLA, meanwhile, is coming off a less than stellar week and hopes to bounce back this weekend with starting pitcher Trevor Bauer leading the charge. Both teams are postseason bid, but the two are playing for seeding.
Arizona at Stanford: The Cardinal has had some serious consistency issues the past few weeks, and they need to avoid losing their final two series of the season to be 100 percent safe for a postseason bid. Arizona, meanwhile, is in the postseason for now with a solid overall record and an 11-10 mark in the Pac-10. However, as with the Cardinal, losing its last two series could be a recipe for disaster. Both teams could use a series win this weekend to solidify their postseason statuses.
East Carolina at Tulane: The Pirates have been good at times this season, and they’ve also been not-so-good. But this weekend, the Pirates hope to solidify their postseason seeding with a solid series win over Tulane. The Green Wave, meanwhile, appeared to be out of the postseason mix a few weeks ago. But they’ve since turned up their play and likely are a series win over ECU away from punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Missouri State at Creighton: The Missouri Valley regular season title race is hotly contested entering the final weekend. Creighton leads the way with a 12-6 league record, while the Bears are just a half-game back with an 11-6 record. Interestingly, Wichita State is just one game back and Illinois State is just two games out of first place. The result is clear should the Bluejays win the series, but things get complicated if the Bears win the series, but take just two of three.
LSU at Mississippi State.: The Bulldogs have played a much better brand of baseball the past few weeks and have punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament barring a disastrous weekend that keeps them out of the SEC tournament. LSU, though, must win this series to have a legitimate chance to reach the postseason. The Tigers are just 11-16 (10th) in the SEC and a road series win over the Bulldogs would greatly help their postseason case.
Florida Atlantic at Florida International: FIU has been fantastic the past few weeks and had been on a 15-game winning streak before tying a game against Arkansas State last weekend. Now, the Panthers, who are just a half-game behind Troy in the conference standings, hope to win the Sun Belt regular season title with a series win over FAU this weekend. The Owls, meanwhile, are very much hanging by a thread on the NCAA bubble and need this series to feel better about their postseason chances.
LSU: The Tigers are a hot topic and it’s not because of good things. It’s because they could very well miss the NCAA tournament. The Tigers have a solid RPI of 28 with a 34-19 record, but that’s where the impressive nature of their resume ends. The Tigers are 5-11 vs. RPI Top 25, 9-16 vs. RPI Top 50 and 15-17 vs. RPI Top 100. Additionally, the Tigers have just an 11-16 SEC record. LSU must win this weekend’s series at Mississippi State to have a legitimate shot to reach the tournament. It makes this weekend bigger than ever.
Mississippi: Though the Tigers are in dire straits right now, they’re not the only SEC team in the situation. Actually, the Rebels are in worse shape. Ole Miss has a slightly better conference record, but has a much worse resume and dropped the head-to-head matchup with LSU. The Rebels have an RPI of 38 and a 29-23 overall record. They’re also just 5-13 vs. RPI Top 25, 7-17 vs. RPI Top 50 and 12-22 vs. RPI Top 100. Can’t see the Rebels making the postseason with a series loss to Arkansas this weekend.
Florida State: Should North Carolina or Georgia Tech fall back this weekend or in the ACC tournament, the Seminoles certainly are waiting in the wings. They’ve put together a solid campaign and a good resume. Another solid series win over Clemson this weekend would provide a solid resume booster. FSU has an RPI of 4 and is 39-13 overall. Additionally, the Seminoles are 12-9 vs. RPI Top 25, 16-10 vs. RPI Top 50 and 25-13 vs. RPI Top 100. There’s still some work to do, but they’re on the right track entering the weekend.
Oklahoma: If the Sooners can take care of business at Baylor this weekend and play well in the Big 12 tournament, they could become yet another Southwest host. For now, though, the Sooners have some work to do. They have a solid RPI of 17 with a 39-13 overall record. Additionally, the Sooners are 4-6 vs. RPI Top 25, 10-8 vs. RPI Top 50 and 17-12 vs. RPI Top 100. Don’t be surprised if the Sooners (or perhaps even Arkansas) earn a host site before Selection Monday arrives.
Oregon State: What an interesting animal the Beavers are becoming down the stretch. It was just two weeks ago they appeared to be a slam dunk for a national seed. And even though we still feel strongly about their national seed chances, the RPI suggests they might have little room for error. OSU is down to 10 in the latest RPI with a 37-12 overall record. The Beavers are 3-2 vs. RPI Top 25, 13-5 vs. RPI Top 50 and 22-8 vs. RPI Top 100. Chances are still good OSU enters the postseason with a national seed, but their chances are a bit less right now.
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