The race for the top eight national seeds is officially in full swing, and the suspects are thinning. For me, there are three clear leaders in the discussion…Arizona St., Texas and Virginia have virtually locked up three of the eight. UT and ASU are among the hottest teams in the land, and UVA has lost only one series all year and leads the ACC conference. They will head to Miami to finish the season, with Miami a contender to claim a national seed as well. The Canes visit Georgia Tech this coming weekend before hosting the Cavs.
I expect that two of the remaining 5 will come from the SEC, with Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina now in the discussion. The Hogs losing two of three this past weekend to Auburn will bump them down a little. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that two of the above three SCE teams emerge with national seeds and Miami claims one as well. That leaves two to go, with Coastal Carolina, UCLA, Louisville and TCU all in the mix. I think that Louisville’s RPI will be tough to pass up, and the series win at Ole Miss continues to look better as the season moves along. The last is the most interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Let’s go team by team…
Start with Coastal, who could will win 50 games prior to regionals this year. The non-conference schedule has been impressive, with wins over Virginia Tech, UC Irvine (twice), NC State, Pitt, Clemson and North Carolina. The only series loss of the year was to San Diego at home, and they are now 17-0 in the Big South this year. The challenge for the Chants is keeping the RPI where it is (currently about 7th). If Coastal finishes the season with a top eight RPI, it will be very tough for the committee not to award them a national seed.
To UCLA, who just three weeks ago would have been in the discussion for top overall seed in the nation. The Bruins have gone 3-6 in the league over the past three weeks though and this weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Devils will not help. It will take some work over the last four conference series’ for the Bruins to re-enter the national seed discussion.
Finally to TCU, which seems to be getting hurt by the RPI the most. The Frogs have a series win at Fullerton and are 7-3 against the Big 12 this year. Granted, the Big 12 is down overall, but that is still an impressive number. They will host New Mexico next weekend in a series that should determine the league champ. I suspect that even with a great finish, the Frogs will be just outside of the top 8 but there is a very good argument to include them in the mix. If the SEC or ACC contenders slip up, the Frogs could sneak in to the 8th spot, but it looks like the will be hosting regardless.
I was in Gainesville this past weekend for LSU at Florida and came away very impressed with the Gators. There are not a lot of holes on this club. Defensively they are very sharp up this middle, with the freshman shortstop Fontana fielding .995 so far this year. I talked about it a lot on the air today, but that is an amazing number. He also leads off, and was impressive in that role as well. The rotation all pitched well this weekend, and Kevin Chapman came in throwing 95 on Saturday night to shut down an LSU rally. Matt den Dekker looked good in the 2 hole, and the youngsters in the middle of the lineup can really swing it themselves. I think that Florida will be there at the end of the year, and the last weekend series in Columbia against South Carolina could help determine who gets a national seed.
LSU on the other hand is really scuffling right now. Paul Mainieri went to Matty Ott for the first time in his career today (he has 57 career appearances out of the pen prior to the start today). Ott really struggled to keep the ball down consistently and UF made him pay today. The fact that they started Ott says a lot about the spot they are in right now. I also say Ranaudo on Friday night and he struggled again. The velocity was getting back to where it was last year (he hit 94 during the game), but he took a liner off his leg and that led to an early exit. I did not see the control of the fastball that I saw last year and the ball is still not sinking consistently. For LSU to make any run at the end of the year they will need Ranaudo to anchor them on Friday nights. Micah Gibbs impressed me again and Mahtook showed why he should be a first rounder next year. He hit the first pitch of the game into the seats on Saturday and took some impressive swings over the course of the weekend.
More later this week, I head to Oxford again this coming weekend for Ole Miss and Arkansas. That should be quite a setting this weekend as the eastern division lead in the SEC is on the line.