|BIG EAST CONFERENCE|
|HOW THEY’LL FINISH|
|*2012 conference champion
Teams in bold are 2012 NCAA tournament participants. Teams are listed in order of predicted finish. Records listed are from 2012 season.
|Projected NCAA Teams (2): Louisville, Notre Dame.|
|Conference Schedule: 24 games, begins March 22.|
|Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 22-26 at Clearwater, Fla.|
|Player of the Year: Eric Jagielo, 3b, Notre Dame.|
|Pitcher of the Year: Chad Green, rhp, Louisville.|
|TOP PROSPECTS, 2013-14 DRAFTS|
|1.||Eric Jagielo, 3b, Notre Dame|
|2.||Nick Burdi, rhp, Louisville (2014)|
|3.||Dan Slania, rhp, Notre Dame|
|4.||Chad Green, rhp, Louisville|
|5.||L.J. Mazzilli, 2b, Connecticut|
|6.||Adam Engel, of, Louisville|
|7.||Dace Kime, rhp, Louisville|
|8.||Pat Connaughton, rhp Notre Dame (2014)|
|9.||Conor Krauss, rhp, Seton Hall (2014)|
|10.||Trey Mancini, 1b, Notre Dame|
|11.||Jeff Thompson, rhp, Louisville|
|12.||Coco Johnson, of, Louisville|
|13.||Joe Filomeno, lhp, Louisville (2014)|
|14.||Sean Fitzergerald, rhp, Notre Dame|
|15.||Elvin Soto, c, Pittsburgh|
|1.||Kyle Funkhouser, rhp, Louisville (HS—Oak Forest, Ill.)|
|2.||Mike Sheppard, rhp, St. John’s (HS—West Orange, N.J.)|
|3.||Mitch Patishall, rhp, Cincinnati (HS—Pendleton, Ind.)|
|4.||Dan Rosenbaum, 3b, Louisville (HS—Plymouth Meeting, Pa.)|
|5.||Lane Richards, ss, Notre Dame (HS—Pendleton, Ore.)|
• Louisville enters as the Big East’s clear favorite, but the race for second could go down to the wire. Head coach Ed Blankmeyer has built St. John’s into a model Northern program, having made three straight regional trips and seven since 2004. The Johnnies broke through last year by winning a regional for the first time since 1980, upsetting North Carolina in the Chapel Hill Regional though they were dispatched by eventual national champ Arizona in super regionals. The Johnnies will have a different look in 2013 after losing four drafted players off last year’s team, most notably third-team All-America shortstop Matt Wessinger and outfielder Jeremy Baltz (.345/.434/.534), a second-round pick of the Padres, but they do return six regulars from a lineup that finished second in the Big East in scoring. The offense may have to do much of the heavy lifting early, as the Red Storm lacks experience on the mound. They did get a boon when LHP Sean Hagan (8-2, 2.72) chose to come back for his senior season rather than sign with the Twins as a 29th-rounder last June. Hagan doesn’t light up radar guns, but he mixes three pitches well and gets the most out of what he has. The Red Storm will need him to keep shouldering the load every Friday, as the rest of their rotation will be filled out by freshmen. They’re excited about the potential of Fr. RHP Mike Sheppard, an unsigned 35th-round pick of the Reds who should slide into a weekend spot. Sheppard is also part of what will be a family affair for the Johnnies. He’s Blankmeyer’s nephew, and he’ll be joined on the roster by the coach’s son, Fr. 2B Ty Blankmeyer.
• Notre Dame hasn’t finished higher than fifth in the Big East since 2009, but the Fighting Irish look poised to challenge for the league’s No. 2 position as third-year coach Mik Aoki and his staff have been building toward this year for the program to break out. The Irish led the conference in home runs in 2012 and return their top two power hitters in Jr. 3B Eric Jagielo (.310/.399/.546, 13 homers) and Jr. 1B Trey Mancini (.317/.395/.545, 12 homers). Jagielo added 13 more homers over the summer with Harwich in the Cape Cod League, impressing with his all-fields pop and strong arm at third base. Supporting the two veterans on the corners, Notre Dame’s freshman class should add an injection of speed and athleticism, led by SS Lane Richards. Richards’ bat may need a little time to catch up to college pitching, but he’s shown impressive tools on defense combined with the grinder’s mentality to maximize his ability. Junior righthander Dan Slania (3-0, 2.03) is the feature attraction on the pitching staff, as the righthander can ramp his fastball up to 97 mph and had his own dominant summer in the Cape Cod League. Slania led both the Big East and the Cape in saves last year with 12 and 10, respectively, but he is expected to slide into a rotation role this spring.
• Coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament trips in 2010 and 2011, Connecticut went 31-27 last year following the loss of first-round picks Matt Barnes and George Springer, but the Huskies should be back in contention behind Sr. 2B L.J. Mazzilli. Mazzilli (.339/.404/.548) passed up signing with the Twins as a ninth-round pick last year and gives the Huskies one of the best hitters in the conference, combining pop (nine homers in 2012) with a balanced approach that helps him hit balls to all fields. Athletic Sr. CF Billy Ferriter (.319/.389/.374) sets the table at the top of the lineup, and the Huskies should be strong defensively up the middle with Ferriter, So. C Connor David and Jr. SS Tom Verdi, who anchors the infield. The pitching staff is more of a wild card, as the Huskies need some talented but somewhat unproven arms to step up following Friday starter Jr. LHP Anthony Marzi (3-8, 2.55). He’ll be backed up in the weekend rotation by Jr. LHP Brian Ward, who has power stuff but posted a 5.57 ERA as a sophomore, and So. RHP Carson Cross, a strike-thrower who spent his freshman year working out of the bullpen. UConn also has to find a replacement for departed closer Scott Oberg and his nine saves from a year ago, with Sr. RHP Ryan Moore (1-0, 6.75), a converted outfielder, penciled in the role to open the year.
• South Florida made a run at ending its decade-long NCAA tournament drought last year, but the Bulls lost to St. John’s in the Big East tournament title game, and their third-place finish in the regular season wasn’t enough to nab them an at-large bid. USF was the Big East’s top pitching outfit a year ago, sporting a league-best 3.53 team ERA, and the Bulls will still have depth this year, but several of the key faces will be different. All three weekend starters from last year are gone, including all-conference LHP Andrew Barbosa (7-7, 2.75), but the Bulls believe Jr. LHP Nick Gonzalez (4-1, 2.61) can slide into the No. 1 role. Used mainly as a reliever in 2012, Gonzalez owns an above-average fastball and has sharpened his secondary pitches since the end of last season. The team also has confidence in Sr. RHP Joe Lovecchio (8-4, 4.78), a veteran who competes and mixes three pitches for strikes, giving USF the makings of a quality one-two pitching punch. The Bulls were undone by their offense last year, finishing last in the conference with a .255 team average. Their pitching and defense, also expected to be a strength, will have to carry them again in 2013.
• Few conferences have been rocked harder by the never-ending cycle of realignment more than the Big East, which will field 11 baseball members this season after losing West Virginia to the Big 12. As always, more changes are on the horizon. Pittsburgh and non-baseball playing Syracuse will head to the ACC after this season, and they’ll be followed out the door in 2014 by Louisville and Notre Dame to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten. What’s more, the league’s non-FBS football members—the so-called “Catholic 7,” which include baseball schools Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova—announced plans in December to form their own conference in 2015. Keeping itself afloat, the Big East plans to raid Conference USA, adding Central Florida, Houston and Memphis in 2013, followed by Tulane in 2014.