The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

College Baseball Bracketology Extravaganza

Today’s College World Series analysis focuses on both of the brackets - Bracket A, where play begins on Friday and continues on Sunday, and Bracket B, where play begins on Saturday and continues on Monday. Friday’s games feature Arizona and Georgia in the afternoon game and Arkansas and Texas in the primetime matchup. Instead of calling this “Bracket A” or “Bracket 1,” we’ll give it a more appropriate name, like the Large State Schools Bracket.

For a review of how the brackets work, check out yesterday’s post. Otherwise, let’s jump into it…

Bracket A - Large State Schools
To put it simply, Texas should emerge from this bracket with relatively little difficulty. In terms of rankings, RPI, and other measures of team strength, nearly everyone agrees that Texas is the top team in the country. Also in the Longhorns favor is that Arizona, Georgia, and Arkansas (although Arkansas did receive the number 8 seed nationally), are not regarded as highly. Still the tournament is wide open and anything can happen.

Why Texas will advance to the Championship series...
The Longhorns are deep, boasting a pitching staff with more quality starters and relievers than any other team in the tournament. That alone should be enough to make them a favorite, but the Horns also boast a wealth of Omaha experience and major league prospects.

A quote from an anonymous scout (from “Texas has unreal pitching depth. The only thing I've seen close to it was the USA national team. They have as good depth on a college staff as I've ever seen.” Should that quote be true, it’s more than enough to reach the championship, and to probably win the whole thing.

Why Texas will be eliminated before the Championship series...
This is a tough argument to make. Texas is the best team on this side of the bracket, and possibly in the tournament, on paper. They have been playing well of late – having reached the World Series with hardly a challenge in the regionals or super regionals. But baseball isn’t played on paper, it’s played by little men inside your television, so no one really knows what will happen.

The one potential knock on Texas is that they don’t have a lot of power. Still they’ve been able to score a lot of runs this year.

Why Arkansas will advance to the Championship series...
After being picked to finish 11th by experts in the Southeastern Conference this season, the Razorbacks ended up winning a share of the SEC championship this season. Three of the Hogs top players are pitchers (RHP Charles Boyce, LHP Clint Brannon, and LHP Jay Sawatski). Pitching depth is always at a premium in Omaha, particularly when you could be forced to play five games in seven days, including up to three games in those last three days.

Why Arkansas will be eliminated before the Championship series...
First off, they have to play Texas to open up the tournament, which almost ensures a loss. That would mean that they’d have to play five games to reach the championship series, which is a tough road to go down.

Truth be told, it’s most likely that reality will catch up with the Razorbacks in Omaha though. They finished 9th in the SEC in batting, 7th in pitching, and 11th in fielding. None of those numbers are impressive in a positive way. In a sense, it is impressive that Arkansas has made it this far without major superlatives in any particular area of the game, but I doubt they’ll be able to go much further.

Why Georgia will advance to the Championship series...
Like many teams that come this far, Georgia is a solid, scrappy team – if unspectacular – that so far this year has simply found a way to win. They’re led by a freshman first baseman, Josh Morris, who allegedly swings a strong bat (although I’ve never seen him play). Georgia also has two power arms in their bullpen (Startup – great name – and Lanier). If UGA has a lead late, you can pretty much shut the book.

The biggest factor working in the Bulldogs favor is that they are coming off a two-game sweep of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Going into last weekend’s Super Regional, most everyone thought of Georgia Tech as a top-5 team and a lock for Omaha.

Why Georgia will be eliminated before the Championship series...
As mentioned earlier, they’re led on offense by a freshman. This is a big stage for a freshman (although I suppose they’re all at least sophomores by this point) and it’s not like Georgia has any other big-time standouts on offense.

Why Arizona will advance to the Championship series...
Arizona has an (at times) explosive offense. If they’re able to get their bats going, Arizona could make a solid run in Omaha. They’ve scored ten or more runs in 25% of their games, and they’re 15 – 2 when they reach double digits.

While the team doesn’t have much post-season experience, head coach Andy Lopez does. The Wildcats are the third school he’s led to Omaha (Florida and Pepperdine are the others). Lopez also won a title with Pepperdine in 1992.

Why Arizona will be eliminated before the Championship series...
The Wildcats were a bubble selection (not everyone was sure they’d even make the tournament on selection day), so why should anyone think they’d be amongst the top two?

Also, Arizona has been explosive on offense, but mostly at home. For the year, the Cats hit over .330 at home, but just above .270 on the road.

This four team bracket has some strong ball but probably only one team that anyone thought going into the season (or even going into the postseason) that would actually reach Omaha. Yes, Arkansas, Georgia, and Arizona are all great stories and Cinderellas in their own rights, but the run will end here. Texas will reach the championship road in fairly easy fashion.

Bracket B - Omaha Frequent Visitors Club
Today we will focus on Bracket B – which will now be known as the “Omaha Frequent Visitors Club” Bracket (as opposed to the Large State Schools Bracket).

The Omaha Frequent Visitors Club Bracket consists of Miami (21st trip to Omaha), Louisiana State (13th trip), South Carolina (8th trip), and Cal-State Fullerton (13th trip). South Carolina is the only member of this sub-set of college baseball’s elite which has not won a national title. In fact, between LSU, Miami, and Fullerton, 11 national championships have been won all time, including six of the last ten (and South Carolina and Miami have each been the runner-up in that time). This bracket truly represents some of the cream of the crop in college baseball. Picking who will emerge from the scrum this year is a tough task.

Why South Carolina will advance to the Championship series...
Simply put, South Carolina is the second seed in the tournament and the highest seed in this bracket. Since receiving their 2nd seed, South Carolina has done little – if anything – to prove they didn’t deserve it, by winning both their regional and super regional in sweeps. In addition, South Carolina has Omaha experience; this is their third appearance in three years (in 2002 they were the runners-up).

The Gamecocks hit for power; they strikeout opposing batters frequently and walk them infrequently. Each of these things is important in order to win in Omaha. They are also led by senior catcher Landon Powell, who was a 2nd round draft pick by the Oakland A’s.

Why South Carolina will be eliminated before the Championship series...
Like with Texas, it’s tough to make an argument here. South Carolina is a solid team. In order for them to be eliminated, someone will have to beat them twice. USC is not likely to beat themselves.

Why Cal-State Fullerton will advance to the Championship series...
Fullerton received arguably the toughest draw in the tournament (relative to their position in the rankings) in that they were awarded the right to host their regional, but they were seeded second and had the national number 7 seed Arizona State Sun Devils sent to their region. Fullerton quickly dispatched of ASU in the regionals. Seemingly as a reward, Fullerton had only to defeat Tulane in order to advance to the CWS, which they did in two games.

Fullerton has two premier catchers, and their regular backstop, Kurt Suzuki, is hitting nearly .500 over the past month and a half. Fullerton is well coached and has solid starting pitching.

Why Cal-State Fullerton will be eliminated before the Championship series...
Although the Titans solid pitching is solid, their bullpen is not. This is a flaw that is readily exposed in the College World Series. Strong teams can work around this in the Regionals and Super Regionals, but it’s hard to get far in Omaha without a bullpen.

Why LSU will advance to the Championship series...
They’re LSU, and that’s worth something. Luckily for Miami, nearly everyone – other than coaches Jim Morris and Gino DiMare – everyone associated with the program in 1996 is gone, so that part of the intimidation factor is gone with it. But this team has still won three titles between 1996 and 2000.

Besides that, they have a solid lineup. You won’t confuse this team with the mashers of the late 90s, but you really won’t do that with any team (other than possibly South Carolina this year) – but that has more to do with the restrictions placed on bats now than on the quality of the players.

Why LSU will be eliminated before the Championship series...
LSU’s pitching staff is nothing to write home about. It’s decent, but not great. Nothing is more important in winning a tournament like this than pitching. LSU just doesn’t have it.

Why Miami will advance to the Championship series...
The Hurricanes, seeded 3rd nationally coming into the tournament and ranked 1st by Baseball America for the past two weeks, are strong, but like LSU not as powerful as teams you may remember from the late 90s. Miami hit over .330 for the year, 8th in the nation, and scored nearly 9 runs a game. They slap, and run, and bunt and score runs. It’s nothing that’s going to overpower you. The pitching staff has the potential to shut down any team on any night, but whether that actually happens or not is questionable.

During the last month the Miami offense has roughed up All-American starters Jeff Weaver (Long Beach State), Michael Rogers (North Carolina State), and Justin Hoyman (Florida). It’s unlikely the Canes will be intimidated by any pitcher any opponent “throws” at them the rest of the way.

Why Miami will be eliminated before the Championship series...
Starters J.D. Cockroft and Brandon Camardese are solid college pitchers overall, but for any given start they may be on or may be off. One off start could doom the Canes chances in Omaha.

Canes fans would feel more comfortable if Sean Valdes-Fauli and George Huguet were still a part of the team, but they’re not and the bullpen is markedly weaker because of it.

Offensively, the Canes don’t overwhelm you anywhere in particular. There’s a lot of potential in the bats of guys like Erick San Pedro, Ryan Braun, Gaby Sanchez, and Brian Barton, but they haven’t lived up to their potential this year. Jim Burt is a full effort, all of the time guy, but he’s not likely to change the course of the game on his own. However, when the Canes hit, they’ve hit (and scored) in bunches this year. The question for the Canes in Omaha is whether or not those hits will come early and often enough.

This will be a truly exciting half of the College World Series. Whichever team emerges from this field of four will be truly battle tested when they reach the Championship Series against Texas, or whichever team emerges from the other bracket. Who that team will be is a difficult pick to make. My heart tells me Miami, but it’s far from a sure thing. South Carolina is probably the safer bet, but it’s far from a lock.

LSU and Fullerton likely don’t have what it takes to win out here, but both clubs definitely have enough to make it a long week for Miami and South Carolina. In the end, South Carolina should emerge from this bracket, but I’m going to hold out hope that the Canes survive.

Championship Series Preview
I guess I have to say that I think Texas will play South Carolina in the final, since those are the two teams that I picked to emerge from the brackets. That probably is the most likely scenario, but it was also the easiest to settle on since Texas is the #1 seed in the tournament and South Carolina is the second.

Although you’ll probably think I’m just being a homer, Miami is also a serious threat to reach the championship series. Not only are the Canes the number three seed in the tournament, but they’re also riding the nation’s longest winning streak and they’ve also knocked off some top shelf pitchers over the past three weeks.

My darkhorse teams (one from each bracket) are Georgia and Fullerton. Georgia surprised everyone by quickly dispatching a talented Georgia Tech team on the Yellow Jackets home turf last weekend. Fullerton had to overcome being seeded second in a regional that they hosted. Of the four teams in their bracket, Fullerton is likely to receive the least press and hype, but they are a talented team (which swept Long Beach State towards the end of the season).

Once the teams for the Championship series are set next week, I’ll give a more in depth preview. We should all know a lot more about the two teams then since they’ll be on television all week.


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