|We’re halfway to Omaha—eight weeks into the season—so we’re presenting our Midseason Report tomorrow in lieu of the standard Weekend Preview. We’ll also have a new projected NCAA tournament field Tuesday. But to whet your appetite, here’s a mini-Weekend Preview with a quick look at some key matchups, as well as a bonus In The Dugout with East Carolina’s Stephen Batts.
• Rice at East Carolina
The Owls and Pirates will battle for Conference USA supremacy on the Pirates’ home field. Rice, the perennial CUSA juggernaut, trails ECU (8-1 in conference play) by a game in the league standings, and the Owls will once again be without their top two pitchers, righthanders Ryan Berry and Mike Ojala. Expect a high-scoring series between two of the nation’s deepest, most dangerous lineups. See In The Dugout below for more on the Pirates.
• Miami at Clemson
The Tigers are talented enough to make a deep postseason run, but they’d love to start by hosting a regional. Clemson sits atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division at 9-6, but the Tigers lack a signature series win against a top contender. Miami, Georgia Tech and North Carolina all rank in the top five in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, according to Boyd’s World, and Virginia is 11th. So if Clemson (20th in the RPI) wants to snag one of the three or four host sites from the ACC, winning a home series against the Hurricanes is critical.
• Virginia at Georgia Tech
Like Clemson, Virginia has been competitive against the rest of the ACC’s elite but has yet to win a series against a top contender. Georgia Tech must avoid losing a second consecutive home series after dropping two of three against North Carolina last week. This matchup pits the ACC’s top pitching staff in Virginia (whose 2.68 ERA leads the conference) against the league’s most powerful offense in Georgia Tech (an ACC-best 50 home runs).
• Texas A&M at Kansas State
The preseason No. 1 Aggies have scuffled recently, going 7-8 over their last 15 games, including road series losses to Missouri and Texas Tech. To have a shot at hosting a regional, they must capture their first road series victory of the year this weekend at rejuvenated Kansas State. The Wildcats are coming off their first series sweep at Nebraska since 1974. At 24-8 overall and 5-4 in the loaded Big 12, Kansas State is in great position to make its first-ever regional appearance, and a series win this weekend would further solidify their case. Friday’s duel between A&M lefty Brooks Raley and K-State righty A.J. Morris is the best mound matchup of the weekend.
• San Diego at Gonzaga
The Toreros and Bulldogs each beat up on struggling West Coast Conference power Pepperdine over the last two weeks and have emerged as the favorites to meet in the best-of-three WCC championship series. USD has gone 6-0 in league play despite losing ace lefty Sammy Solis and leadoff man Kevin Muno to season-ending injuries. Gonzaga is 4-2 in the league and 21-9 overall, but the Zags are just 72nd in the RPI, so a series win against the league favorites would be a huge boost to their at-large credentials.
• UCLA at Stanford
In the ultimate Bubble Watch matchup, UCLA and Stanford will clash at Sunken Diamond. Both teams opened the year ranked in the top 15 and limped out of the gate, as Stanford got off to a 4-10 start and UCLA went 2-10. They’ve tried to battle their way back to .500 since: The Bruins won three straight series (at East Carolina and Southern California, and home against Arizona) before losing at Washington State last weekend, while the Cardinal won its last two series against Washington and at Oregon. Both teams are 5-4 in the Pac-10, but UCLA is just 12-17 overall, and Stanford is 11-12. The team that loses this series can probably kiss its longshot regional hopes goodbye.