College | Story | 5/2/2019

Weekend Preview: Week 12

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: TJ Sikkema (Mizzou Athletics)

College Top 25 | Player/Pitcher of the Week
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Only three weekends remain until the regular season comes to a close, at least for most teams across the country. The SEC West, again, will draw a lot of the focus when it comes to rankings and the postseason hosting picture as No. 6 Mississippi State at No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 9 LSU have significant implications.

After spending three weeks at home, No. 1 UCLA has a stiff road test against Arizona State in Phoenix. While ASU hasn’t been as tough in recent weeks, losing three of their last four weekend series, they still pose a difficult matchup as a ranked road opponent. Pitcher of the Week Ryan Garcia has been light’s out recently meaning Sun Devils ace Alec Marsh will need to be at his best to open the series as runs are likely to be at a premium.

There’s a handful of intriguing out-of-conference series taking place this weekend, none bigger than Oklahoma State at Oregon State. UC Irvine also travels to play Iowa in Iowa City for a meaningful Big West/Big Ten matchup.

Below we identify several teams that have been right on the cusp of rankings consideration in recent weeks. All of the teams listed are in need of statement wins, and several of them have that opportunity this weekend. Indiana at Illinois, Missouri at Tennessee, Indiana State at Illinois State, FAU at Southern Miss, Dallas Baptist at Missouri State and BYU at Loyola Marymount are among the more notable series from this group.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 UCLA at No. 21 Arizona State Phoenix, AZ
2 Oregon State home vs. Oklahoma State Corvallis, OR
3 Stanford at Southern California Los Angeles, CA
4 Vanderbilt at South Carolina Columbia, SC
5 Arkansas at Kentucky Lexington, KY
6 Mississippi State at No. 16 Texas A&M College Station, TX
7 Louisville at Notre Dame South Bend, IN
8 East Carolina at Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH
9 Louisiana State home vs. No. 15 Ole Miss Baton Rouge, LA
10 UC Santa Barbara at CSUN Northridge, CA
11 Georgia Tech home vs. Western Carolina Atlanta, GA
12 Georgia home vs. Florida Athens, GA
13 Texas Tech at Oklahoma Norman, OK
14 North Carolina no games scheduled NA
15 Mississippi at No. 9 LSU Baton Rouge, LA
16 Texas A&M home vs. No. 6 Mississippi State College Station, TX
17 UC Irvine at Iowa Iowa City, IA
18 West Virginia home vs. TCU Morgantown, WV
19 Indiana at Illinois Champaign, IL
20 Baylor home vs. Kansas State Waco, TX
21 Arizona State home vs. No. 1 UCLA Phoenix, AZ
22 NC State home vs. Radford Raleigh, NC
23 Miami home vs. Bethune-Cookman Coral Gables, FL
24 Michigan at Maryland College Park, MD
25 Tennessee home vs. Missouri Knoxville, TN

On the cusp

Every week as part of the updated PG College Top 25 we listed a small handful of teams that were also considered for the rankings. Some weeks that consideration may simply be that we’re following their results with interest. Other weeks it may mean we actually had a difficult decision to make, depending of course on the overall body of work.

This week only two teams were listed as “considered,” Illinois and Missouri, but there were a total of nine teams that Mike Rooney and myself discussed as realistic possibilities to come in (outside of the three that actually did enter the Top 25). Illinois and Mizzou just happened to be the last two we whittled down that list of nine teams down to.

Here’s a look at those nine teams, how they stack up and what they have in front of them between now and the end of the season for both the Top 25 and postseason pictures.

Coming off of a weekend series win at Nebraska, Illinois had the highest RPI rating (20) of any unranked team (Auburn, with an RPI rating of 14, fell out of the Top 25 this week). The Illini have been in the mix most of the season, with an offense that may not have a lot of power but knows how to get on base, a strong team defense and a pitching staff with a cumulative ERA of 3.51. Garrett Acton has quietly accumulated 15 saves and the middle infield duo of Michael Massey and Ben Troike is one of the best in the business.

From a national perspective they have season sweeps over FAU, Grand Canyon and Illinois State, as well as a midweek sweep in a pair of games against Coastal Carolina. They also have Big Ten Conference series wins over Nebraska and Minnesota. However, they also have series losses against Iowa (they were swept in Iowa City) and Maryland, and overall their conference record sits at a very mediocre 8-7. This is a team in need of a statement series win and they have the perfect opportunity ahead of them with No. 19 Indiana coming to town.

The Tigers are strong up the middle thanks to star center fielder Kameron Misner, shortstop Chris Cornelius and catcher Chad McDaniel. The 1-2 weekend punch of Jacob Cantleberry and TJ Sikkema has also been very effective, as Sikkema is coming off of a 10-strikeout performance that led to him being named SEC Pitcher of the Week. Hard-throwing sophomore closer Ian Bedell is enjoying a breakout season and the team overall has a sub-3.00 ERA (2.96).

Mizzou is coming off of a sweep of South Carolina, one week after they were swept by Georgia. They also have series wins over LSU and Ole Miss as well as a series split against Texas A&M, so they have more than held their own against some of the SEC’s best. They close the year at Tennessee and Vanderbilt and home against Florida, and they currently have an even conference record at 10-10. A series win over Tennessee would lead to a flip-flop between the two teams in the Top 25, and a loud overall regular season finish could lead to a promising postseason.

Florida State
After being removed from the Top 25 at the very beginning of the month of April, Florida State has gone 10-6 with series wins over Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest. Not surprisingly Preseason All-American lefthander Drew Parrish is 3-0 in the three series-opening starts against those teams, including his most recent, a 10-strikeout performance over seven innings against Wake Forest that led to him being named ACC Pitcher of the Week. FSU regularly starts four freshmen – Nander De Sedas, Elijah Cabell, Robby Martin and Matheu Nelson – in their everyday lineup, at key positions to boot, so not surprisingly their productivity has been inconsistent.

CJ Van Eyk and Conor Grady have helped create some stability to the starting staff while JC Flowers is enjoying a breakout season in a two-way capacity. Series losses to NC State, Boston College and Miami hurt their standing in the middle of the season but they have since rebounded to a 14-10 conference mark, which has them tied for second with NC State in the ACC Atlantic Division. Their biggest test of the season remains ahead of them as they wrap up the regular season by playing Louisville on the road.

Indiana State
When talking about Indiana State the conversation starts with their weekend starting trio, particularly their Friday and Saturday starters Triston Polley and Collin Liberatore. Each recorded double-digit strikeouts over the weekend in ISU’s weekend sweep of Southern Illinois, and those two, along with Sunday starter Tyler Whitbread, are a combined 19-1 this season. Throw closer Tyler Grauer and setup man Tyler Ward into the conversation and you have one of the stingiest pitching staffs in the nation.

At 9-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference, Indiana State has a huge matchup against Illinois State (a team that is also 9-3 in the MVC) this weekend before traveling further south to face Dallas Baptist (8-4 in conference). They wrap up the season at home against Bradley, which is no walk in the park, as they finish the year with their roughest stretch to their schedule, a stretch for the Sycamores that could determine if the MVC is more than a one-bid league.

Southern Miss
Southern Miss opened the year ranked 33rd in our expanded Preseason rankings, returning a legitimate Player of the Year candidate in outfielder Matt Wallner, who was expected to pull significant double duty as one of the team’s weekend starters. That didn’t pan out, but he is once again leading the team in home runs (14) for an offense that’s hitting .291 as a unit. Hunter Slater, Bryant Bowen and Matthew Guidry are also among the team’s more notable run producers while Walker Powell has been a steadying presence as the team’s staff ace, coming off of an impressive complete game, 10-strikeout victory over Middle Tennessee.

This year’s team has been streakier than last year’s, not surprising considering the pieces they lost. After last weekend they lead Conference USA with a 17-4 mark, two games up on Florida Atlantic, a team they play at home this weekend in Hattiesburg. After their series with FAU they hit the road to play Rice, who at 12-9 in C-USA is tied for third and offers yet another stiff test for the Eagles who look to close out the season strong.

Dallas Baptist
DBU lost some big pieces from last year’s high-powered club, but not surprisingly head coach Dan Heefner and his staff have the Patriots playing competitive baseball at a high level again this year. The Patriots have a deep and well-balanced lineup with a little bit of everything from power to speed and are especially strong up the middle given the presence of sophomore star shortstop Jimmy Glowenke. The pitching staff is more deep than it is top heavy, although Friday and Saturday starters Jordan Martinson and MD Johnson are enjoying fine, albeit inconsistent, seasons.

While MVC rival Indiana State is heading into a weekend series against Illinois State, Dallas Baptist is coming off of one, a series they won after losing the first game on Friday. They’ve been in the mix for Top 25 inclusion for quite some time now, but just when you think they’re poised to come in they have a bad week. The two notable times that occurred this season came in mid-March, when they lost a weekend series to Houston after an eight-game winning streak that included midweek wins over Oklahoma and Texas A&M, and again in early April when they started the month 0-3.

As for Illinois State, despite their lofty RPI rating (29) after last weekend’s play, their overall 27-17 record is nice but a little short when it comes to Top 25 consideration for a mid-major.

Texas State
Don’t look now but Texas State currently leads the Sun Belt standings with a 15-6 mark in conference play. After last weekend’s play they stood 31-13 overall and owned the nation’s 33rd-best RPI rating. They went 2-1 at the Shriners Classic in early March and have midweek wins over Rice, Texas A&M and Texas. The offense has no problems scoring runs with a cumulative .281/.391/.432 slash line led by dynamic infield duo of Jaxon Williams and Jaylen Hubbard. The pitching staff is more in the bend-don’t-break mold, but each member of their weekend trio – Nicholas Fraze, Hunter McMahon and Connor Reich – has made 11 starts this year with at least 66 innings of work.

And while Texas State doesn’t play Sun Belt power Coastal Carolina this year (although Coastal hasn’t been looking very powerful lately), they close out the year playing the current third- and second-place teams in the West Division, Little Rock and UT Arlington. Before then they have the opportunity to pad their already impressive record against 4-17 Georgia State.

The West Coast Conference has the eighth-best conference RPI, just behind the Big Ten, and the WCC is led by BYU with the nation’s 32nd-best mark. That number didn’t happen by accident as they have a very well balanced team with an offense that’s hitting .285 as a unit and a pitching staff with a cumulative 3.34 ERA. Brock Hale, Jackson Cluff and Mitch McIntyre are doing most of the heavy lifting in the middle of the lineup while weekend starters Easton Walker, Justin Sterner and Jordan Wood are a combined 18-4. Bullpen ace Reid McLaughlin is one of the nation’s unsung relievers.

While the overall record (29-10) after last weekend was strong, BYU is lacking signature wins, losing series to both Gonzaga and San Diego, although they have beaten Saint Mary’s, Pepperdine and Washington. Arguably their biggest tests come this weekend and next as they travel to Los Angeles to take on Loyola Marymount and then return home to play San Francisco, a pair of opportunities that could force them into the rankings with positive results.

Florida Gulf Coast
Although Liberty initially stood out this season among the teams in the Atlantic Sun, it has been Florida Gulf Coast that has charged forward recently. Similar to Texas State, FGCU has plenty of firepower, with five regulars batting over .300 on the year, and another, Eric Gonzalez, who’s hitting .283-4-28 as the team’s shortstop. Staff ace Mason Studstill is now 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 84 strikeouts spanning 68 2/3 innings while closer Hunter McGarry is 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA and eight saves.

The RPI after last weekend’s play wasn’t pretty (109), the fourth-best mark in the ASUN, but the overall play has been. In sweeping North Alabama they swept their fifth straight weekend opponent and sit in first place in conference play with a 12-3 record (30-14 overall). They play at Stetson this weekend and close out the year two weeks from now at home against second-place Liberty. Without having a strong RPI number in their favor they’re going to need to continue to pile up wins to stay in rankings conversation from a national perspective.

Creighton was in this mix a week ago, but a series loss to Big East-leading Xavier – a team with a sub-.500 overall record – pushed the Bluejays out of consideration. Making headway will be difficult between now and the end of the regular season considering they play Nebraska-Omaha, Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova. The highest RPI of those three teams is St. John’s at 112.

Nebraska at 23-16 is in a similar situation coming off of back-to-back series losses to Iowa and Illinois. However, they have more ground to gain as they close the regular season at home against Arizona State and then Michigan. With a 12-6 conference record, good for third in the Big Ten, they do have some room to gain ground in conference and in the RPI ratings (38 after last weekend’s play).

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