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May 24, 2010

Campus Notes

Conference Tournament Time

by Charles Dahan

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The regular season concluded Sunday in the SEC, ACC, Big East, and Big 12 with their conference tournaments beginning Wednesday.  While the weekend's results arguably moved Florida into the upper echelon of the nation's dominant teams- alongside Arizona State, Texas, and Virginia-after the Gators took two of three from South Carolina, the nation's hottest team, four national seeds as well as up to eight regional hosts could be determined during conference tournament play. 

Here is a look at how the conference tourneys stack up:

SEC

Hoover, Alabama from Wednesday-Sunday

First-Round Matchups

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 8 LSU

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 7 Alabama

No. 3 South Carolina vs. No. 6 Mississippi

No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt

What They Are Playing For:

National Seed: Florida, South Carolina

Regional Seed: Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi.

Tournament Bid: LSU

Again, the SEC demonstrates why it's the deepest conference, top to bottom, in the nation. In 2007, Mississippi State was the conference's lone representative at the College World Series, and in 2008, Georgia made it to Omaha along with LSU.  This year, both teams finished below .500 in conference play and took up the rear in their divisions, with Georgia (5-23) and Mississippi St. (6-24) 17 and 14 games out of first, respectively.

 Moreover, every team in the conference tournament was ranked at some point during the season, at least seven will begin the journey to Omaha (with both Kentucky and Tennessee in the running to also receive tournament invitations,) and six are in contention to host regionals.  The favorites are Florida and a South Carolina squad that was scorching hot until dropping two of three against the Gators to close the regular season.  The Gamecocks are still in the running for a national seed, but Florida's opportunity to host a super-regional is secure and each of the other seven teams are playing for the opportunity to host a regional (Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss), super-regional (South Carolina), or in the case of defending CWS champ LSU, simply making the tournament. 

Arkansas recovered from its five-game losing streak to close the season by taking two at Vanderbilt after losing three at home to South Carolina, a single game at Oklahoma, and its first game in Nashville.

After being swept at Kentucky, LSU took two of three from Mississippi State to edge the Wildcats out of the final spot in the eight-team tournament and they'll have the privilege of facing Florida-at whose hands they also suffered a sweep.  Prior to feasting upon Mississippi State, the Tigers were on a 1-13 skid in the SEC, proving their early schedule of Centenary, William & Mary, Brown, and Nicholls State did little to prepare them for conference play.

ACC

Greensboro, N.C., from Wednesday-Sunday

First-Round Matchups

No. 1 Virginia vs. No 8 Boston College

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 North Carolina State

No. 3 Georgia Tech vs. No. 6 Virginia Tech

No. 4 Miami vs. No. 5 Florida State

What they're playing for:

National Seed: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State

Regional Seed: Clemson, Miami

Tournament Bid: North Carolina State, Boston College

Virginia and Georgia Tech are certainly the favorites, with the Yellow Jackets having the nation's strongest lineup from top to bottom and the Cavaliers proving themselves as one of the nation's three elite squads.  Georgia Tech, with the conference's second-best record, was rewarded with having to face ranked Virginia Tech in its first games, while UVA has to get by Miami and Florida State to make the finals.  Very strong performances are needed by both North Carolina State and Boston College for them to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament.

Finishing as the ACC's ninth-place team means North Carolina missed the conference tournament and not qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001, when the Tar Heels' current freshmen class were 9-year-old. North Carolina's string of four straight CWS appearances was ended. An unexpected sweep of Virginia Tech wasn't enough to earn the Tar Heels a spot in the ACC tournament.

The hectic schedule in Greensboro should provide an answer as to whether Georgia Tech's rotation is up for a run to Omaha.  There is no question about the Yellow Jackets' explosive offense and pitchers Deck McGuire and Jed Bradley certainly always keep them in the game, but doubts exist about whether their rotation is deep enough.

Big 12

Oklahoma City from Wednesday-Saturday.

First-Round Matchups

Bracket 1

No. 1 Texas vs. No. 8 Missouri

No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 5 Texas Tech.

Bracket 2

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Kansas

No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 6 Baylor

What They Are Playing For:

National seed: Texas

Tournament Bid: Baylor, Kansas

Texas lived up to even the most optimistic expectations, running away with the Big 12 (a misnomer, as neither Iowa State nor Colorado field teams.) No matter what happens in Oklahoma City, the Longhorns will receive one of the top three national seeds. UT clinched the regular-season title at Kansas State two weeks ago, are 25-1 since April 1 and are running away with the conference with a 21-3 record (Kansas State, in second, is seven games back,) heading into the regular season finale at Missouri. The Longhorns' three top starters-Brandon Workman, Taylor Jurgmann, and Cole Green-are the best trio in college baseball, and holding the opposition to batting averages of .249, .199, and .189, respectively. To make matters worse for opposing lineups, the nation's best reliever is also a Longhorn as Chance Ruffin sports a 0.87 ERA, a 75/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and the ability to take the ball often (he's appeared in 30 games) while eating a significant number of innings as he led Big 12 and finished fourth in the nation last season as a sophomore with 124 innings last season.

Big East

Clearwater, Fla, from Wednesday-Sunday

First-Round Matchups

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 8 West Virginia

No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 7 Cincinnati

No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Rutgers

No. 4 St. John's vs. No. 5 South Florida

What They Are Playing For:

National Seed: Louisville

Tournament Bid: St. John's

The only drama will be whether St. John's, which has taken a beating in recent weeks, can make a deep run and enhance its case for a tournament bid, and whether Louisville's performance can earn the Cardinals a national seed.  Otherwise, Big East teams have fairly straightforward resumes-Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh should reach the postseason, South Florida, Rutgers, and Cincinnati need to leave Clearwater with some hardware to be playing in June.  Notable for its absence is Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish won the tournament five straight years from 2002-06.

---

The Pac-10 does not have a tournament and its regular season ends Sunday. Arizona State and UCLA are playing for national seeds, Oregon is playing for a regional seed, and Washington State, California, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington all have realistic hopes of getting a tournament bid as the Pac-10 could send anywhere from four-to-nine teams to the NCAAs.

Arizona State has already locked up the conference title, making its trip to Stanford this weekend meaningless for the Sun Devils. That bodes well for the Cardinal, who need a strong showing against ASU to secure their spot in the tournament and taking two of three would do wonders for their RPI.

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