Conference Tournament Capsules

AMERICA EAST CONFERENCE

Site: Endicott, N.Y.

Dates: May 21-24.

Format: Four teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Binghamton, No. 2 Albany, No. 3 Stony Brook, No. 4 Vermont.

Who’s Hot: Vermont won nine of its last 12—including three of four at Binghamton to close the regular season—to edge Maine for the final spot in the conference tournament. Vermont’s program will be eliminated after the season due to budget constraints, and the Catamounts would love to go out with a conference championship.

Who’s Not: The top-seeded Bearcats lost their final three games to Vermont and five of their last eight overall.

Bubble Watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will represent the one-bid America East in the NCAA tournament.

The Favorite: Binghamton won the AEC regular-season title each of the last two years but has yet to break through and reach its first regional. The Bearcats were the league’s preseason favorite thanks to their balance and experience, and they rank second in the AEC in batting (.315) and ERA (5.02). The offense is led by sophomore outfielder Corey Taylor, who ranks second in the league in homers (14) and RBIs (47). But Binghamton’s biggest strength is pitching. Righthander Murphy Smith (7-2, 2.39) and lefty Jeff Dennis (4-5, 5.24) give the Bearcats a pair of hard-throwing workhorses, and senior righty Greg Lane (4.50, six saves) is a dependable anchor in the bullpen.

The Darkhorse: Defending champion Stony Brook has the league’s most explosive offense, with three players in double digits in home runs, led by multi-talented senior outfielder Brian Witkowski (.349/.444/.675 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs and 10 steals). Righthander Mike Errigo (4-3, 4.63) shut out Binghamton in the championship game a year ago.

ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE

Site: Dayton, Ohio.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Dayton, No. 2 Rhode Island, No. 3 Xavier, No. 4 Massachusetts, No. 5 Fordham, No. 6 Charlotte.

Who’s Hot: Xavier has won its last five weekend series and nine of its last 10 games overall. The Musketeers finished the regular season with a series win against top-seeded Dayton. Massachusetts—rumored to be disbanding its program a month ago, though no such dissolution happened—surged into the conference tournament with six straight wins to end the regular season, including a series win against Rhode Island and a sweep of Duquesne.

Who’s Not: Rhode Island had been the most consistent team in the league for most of the season, but the Rams went just 5-5 down the stretch, including a series loss to UMass and a rain-shortened split with St. Louis.

Bubble Watch: Regular-season champion Dayton ranks too low in the RPI (100th) to snatch an at-large bid if it falters in the conference tournament. The only team with a legitimate shot at an at-large is URI, which ranks 64th in the RPI and has quality wins against Miami, Ohio State and Oklahoma State. But the Rams need to make a deep run this week to have a shot.

The Favorite: With apologies to the Flyers, we’ll stick with Rhode Island, which swept Dayton in early April. The Rams have the best pitching staff in the league with three quality starters in righthanders Eric Smith (5-2, 3.38), Tim Boyce (5-2, 5.94) and Nick Greenwood (6-3, 3.74), plus hulking closer Luke Demko (2.90 ERA, 11 saves). The scrappy offense even has a bit of pop, led by shortstop Dan Rhault (.393/.466/.667 with 11 homers, 57 RBIs and 11 steals), one of the best all-around players in the A10.

The Darkhorse: Two-time defending champion Charlotte finished five games out of first place, but the 49ers should not be taken lightly. Charlotte came on down the stretch, winning its final six weekend series, and it still boasts the best hitter in the league in junior third baseman Lyerly (.390/.487/.688 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs), plus a breakout two-way talent in Ryan Rivers (the A-10 leader with 18 home runs). The pitching staff is stout at the front with ace righty Joe Yermal (8-2, 3.04) and at the back with righty Kelly McLain (6-2, 3.16 with four saves).

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

Site: Durham, N.C.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Round-robin play within two pools of four teams. Team with the best record from each bracket advances to title game.

The Field: Pool One: No. 1 Florida State, No. 4 Georgia Tech, No. 5 Miami, No. 8 Boston College. Pool Two: No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Clemson, No. 6 Virginia, No. 7 Duke.

Who’s Hot: Clemson has won five in a row, 11 of its last 13 and each of its last four weekend series.

Who’s Not: Boston College lost its final four weekend series of the regular season, though the Eagles were not swept, even against heavyweights North Carolina, Miami and Virginia.

Bubble Watch: The top six seeds are safe, but Duke and Boston College need strong performances this week to bolster their cases. Duke has the stronger resume than BC, with a 15-15 conference record and series wins against Georgia Tech and the Eagles as well as at North Carolina. But a soft nonconference schedule and some bad losses kill Duke’s Ratings Percentage Index; the Devils rank 72nd, and no team with an RPI above 59 has earned an at-large bid in the last five years. Boston College, meanwhile, ranks 32nd in the RPI and boasts a series win at Florida State. But the Eagles finished just 13-15 in the ACC and, as mentioned previously, lost the head-to-head matchup against Duke. Both teams could get bids with strong weeks in the conference tournament, or neither team could make the cut.

UNC is the lone ACC team that is likely locked in to a national seed, but Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson are vying for a second national seed from the conference. Whichever team fares best this week will likely have the inside track. All four seem like strong bets to host regionals.

The Favorite: North Carolina has played in the last three College World Series, and the Tar Heels have plenty of stars with big-game experience (including ACC player of the year Dustin Ackley and junior righthander Alex White, both of whom could be drafted in the top 10 overall picks in June). UNC also has a deep enough pitching staff to win three or four games this week, as sophomore righty Patrick Johnson is an accomplished No. 4 starter.

The Darkhorse: Clemson played its best baseball down the stretch, and the Tigers have a deep pitching staff that should be able to withstand four games in five days. Talented freshman lefthander Chris Dwyer might be the key: He can be outstanding when he’s on, but he has not pitched past the fifth inning since April 17. The Clemson offense has finally gelled in the second half of the season, as sophomore Chris Epps has provided a spark since being inserted into the leadoff spot.

ATLANTIC SUN CONFERENCE

Site: DeLand, Fla.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Jacksonville, No. 2 Lipscomb, No. 3 Stetson, No. 4 Belmont, No. 5 Mercer, No. 6 East Tennessee State.

Who’s Hot: Mercer concluded the regular season with a sweep of Belmont to earn the No. 5 seed in the tournament. The Bears have won six of their last eight overall.

Who’s Not: East Tennessee State dropped its last three weekend series and eight of its final nine games overall.

Bubble Watch: Jacksonville has a shot at an at-large bid thanks to a solid RPI (50th) and wins against Florida State, Georgia Southern, Florida International, South Florida and three against Bethune-Cookman. If the Dolphins win the tournament, the A-Sun will be a one-bid league.

The Favorite: Provisional A-Sun members Florida Gulf Coast and Kennesaw State finished first and second in the regular season for the second straight year, and Jacksonville actually finished four games behind the Eagles in the standings, but the two top dogs won’t be eligible for the conference tournament until 2010. Jacksonville has been the most consistent of the teams eligible for the conference tournament. The Dolphins have good balance, with a trio of double-digit home run hitters led by senior catcher Jeremy Gillan (.397/.487/.680 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs) and a steady pitching staff anchored by sophomore righty Matt Loosen (3-1, 3.79).

The Darkhorse: Never count perennial A-Sun power and tournament host Stetson, which had a down year by its standards but is still dangerous. The Hatters have a good offense led by the league’s best player, senior right fielder Jeremy Cruz (.397/.473/.723 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs).


BIG 12 CONFERENCE

Site: Oklahoma City.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Round-robin play within two pools of four teams each. The winners from each pool meet in the championship game.

The Field: Pool One: No. 1 Texas, No. 4 Kansas State, No. 5 Kansas, No. 8 Baylor. Pool Two: No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Missouri, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 7 Texas Tech.

Who’s Hot: Texas has gone 9-1 since losing a series to Kansas State. The only two series Texas lost all year were against Kansas and Kansas State; incidentally, both are in the Longhorns’ pool. Missouri also finished strong, winning its final six weekend series to cap a strong recovery from a 1-7 start.

Who’s Not: Teams don’t get much colder than Baylor, which lost 12 of its final 14 to drop out of the top 10 in the rankings, then out of the top 25, then out of serious regional contention. The Bears were swept by last-place Nebraska in their final regular-season series. Texas A&M also finished poorly, dropping its last two series against Texas and Oklahoma. The Aggies were swept in Norman in their final regular-season series.

Bubble Watch: The top six seeds all look like solid at-large teams. Baylor must win its pool to have even a chance of an at-large bid, but realistically the Bears probably must capture the automatic bid to continue their season. They do have a solid RPI (34th), but their horrid stretch run, 10-16 conference record and 27-23 overall mark speak far more loudly.

The Favorite: Defending champion Texas has the nation’s best pitching staff, and Oklahoma has the most explosive offense in the Big 12, so either would be a solid choice here. But the Longhorns swept the Cowboys in mid-April, and their much-maligned offense showed signs of life down the stretch, scoring nine or more runs in five of their last 10 games. More than any other reason, Texas is the favorite because it has the pitching depth to survive four games in five days with ease.

The Darkhorse: The Aggies stumbled down the stretch and have certainly underachieved after entering the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. But as their league-high 515 strikeouts in 486 innings attest, they still have a deep stable of power arms capable of dominating on any given day.

BIG EAST CONFERENCE

Site: Clearwater, Fla.

Dates: May 19-23.

Format: Eight teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Louisville, No. 2 South Florida, No. 3 West Virginia, No. 4 St. John’s, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 6 Connecticut, No. 7 Pittsburgh, No. 8 Cincinnati.

Who’s Hot: Preseason favorite and defending champion Louisville caught fire down the stretch, winning 11 of its last 12 and sweeping South Florida to blow past the Bulls for the regular-season crown.

Who’s Not: USF led the conference for most of the season before dropping its final two weekend series at Notre Dame and at Louisville.

Bubble Watch: Louisville is the only Big East team assured of an at-large regional bid if it fails to win the conference tournament. South Florida had a shot if it could have won the regular-season title, but its poor finish coupled with a mediocre RPI (71st) means it probably must win the automatic bid to continue its season.

The Favorite: The Cardinals opened the season in the Top 25 and finished the regular season back in the rankings. The Cardinals boast the Big East player of the year in Chris Dominguez (.365/.455/.721 with 21 homers, 75 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 22 tries) and the league’s pitcher of the year in lefthander Justin Marks (9-2, 3.47 with 106 strikeouts and 27 walks in 86 innings), and both played key roles on Louisville’s 2007 CWS team. Sophomore outfielder Phil Wunderlich (.365/.439/.668 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs) leads a strong supporting cast.

The Darkhorse: The grueling Big East tournament takes a toll on pitching, and no team is better suited to bash its way through the tourney than West Virginia, which led the league by wide margins in batting (.362), on-base percentage (.444), slugging (.568), runs (498), doubles (158) and even sacrifice bunts (82). Eight Mountaineers tallied 39 or more RBIs, led by junior DH Vince Belnome (.426/.522/.668 with nine homers and 82 RBIs).


BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE

Site: Asheville, N.C.

Dates: May 19-23.

Format: Eight teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Coastal Carolina, No. 2 Winthrop, No. 3 Liberty, No. 4 Radford, No. 5 Gardner-Webb, No. 6 High Point, No. 7 Charleston Southern, No. 8 Virginia Military Institute.

Who’s Hot: Coastal Carolina actually trailed Liberty in the Big South standings before finishing the regular season with 10 straight wins, including sweeps of the Flames, VMI and Charleston Southern.

Who’s Not: High Point went 2-8 down the stretch for the second straight year. The Panthers dropped 11 of their last 13 games to tumble to sixth place in the conference.

Bubble Watch: Coastal is the only Big South team that will earn a regional bid if it fails to win the conference tournament. The Chanticleers have an outside chance to host their third straight regional if they can win the conference tournament, but they have considerably fewer quality wins than fellow hosting hopefuls East Carolina, South Carolina, Clemson and North Carolina from the same geographic footprint. They also have the lowest RPI (31st) of that group.

The Favorite: The Chanticleers dominated the Big South for the third straight season and have far and away the most talented and experienced roster in the league. Coastal led the conference in batting (.335), runs (637), homers (76), stolen bases (107), fielding percentage (.969), ERA (3.90), saves (18) and opponents’ batting average (.246), among many other categories.

The Darkhorse: Winthrop actually won a series against Coastal in mid-March, and the battle-tested Eagles also posted a 3-9 record against Georgia, Georgia Southern, Arizona State, Southern California and North Carolina. Clearly that’s not a great mark, but the Eagles should derive some benefit from simply having faces those teams. The Eagles have a bit of pop in the lineup, led by sophomore slugger Eddie Rohan (.337/.406/.615 with 14 homers and 48 RBIs).

BIG TEN CONFERENCE

Site: Columbus, Ohio.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Indiana, No. 4 Illinois, No. 5 Michigan State, No. 6 Purdue.

Who’s Hot: The top-seeded Buckeyes won their last six weekend series, capped by a sweep of Iowa that pushed them past Minnesota for the regular-season title. The Golden Gophers also finished strong, winning their last four weekend series and 13 of their last 16 games overall.

Who’s Not: Illinois lost its last two series against Ohio State and Purdue to fall to fourth in the regular-season standings.

Bubble Watch: Minnesota and Ohio State are both on firm footing for at-large bids thanks to top-30 RPIs and strong regular-season performances. Illinois fell to 65th in the RPI with its poor finish, and the Illini probably need to reach the title game just to have a shot. A series win at Louisiana State early in the year is a nice feather in their cap if they can build some momentum this week.

The Favorite: Minnesota is the most battle-tested team in the league, with series wins at Texas Christian and Dallas Baptist plus quality victories against Missouri, Hawaii, Washington, West Virginia and UC Santa Barbara. The Gophers have been the Big Ten’s most consistent team on the mound, leading the conference with a 4.50 ERA and a .272 opponents’ batting average. They also have the league’s best all-around player in second baseman Derek McCallum (.401 with 15 homers and 72 RBIs).

The Darkhorse: Preseason favorite Indiana is the most talented team in the Big Ten. It took the Hoosiers a while to get going, but they finished 21-10 after starting the season 7-15. Few teams in the nation have a starting rotation as gifted as Eric Arnett (11-1, 2.78), Matt Bashore (6-4, 3.87) and Blake Monar (4-3, 4.82), and the offense is led by the nation’s best offensive catcher in Josh Phegley (.354/.470/.672 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs).

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

Site: Wilmington, N.C.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 George Mason, No. 2 Georgia State, No. 3 UNC Wilmington, No. 4 Old Dominion, No. 5 Northeastern, No. 6 Delaware.

Who’s Hot: George Mason lost just 10 games all year and hasn’t lost back-to-back games since the calendar turned to March. The Patriots have won nine of their last 11 games overall. Georgia State also won nine of its last 11 en route to a school-record 35 wins.

Who’s Not: Old Dominion is the lone team in the field that lost its final regular-season series, at home against UNC Wilmington. But the Monarchs won their previous three series.

Bubble Watch: George Mason is the only CAA team in position to earn an at-large bid if it fails to win the conference tournament. The Patriots have the dual security blankets of a 40-win regular season and a solid RPI (37th).

The Favorite: George Mason’s best-known players are sluggers Scott Krieger and Justin Bour, who combined to hit 35 of the team’s 76 home runs, but pitching actually carried the Patriots to the CAA regular-season title. George Mason led the conference by a wide margin in ERA (4.15) and held opponents to a league-low .271 batting average. The staff is led by workhorses Kevin Crum (8-3, 3.98) and Mike Modica (10-1, 4.16).

The Darkhorse: Preseason favorite UNC Wilmington finished six games out of first place in the regular season, but the Seahawks have a number of key players back from last year’s NCAA tournament team, led by catcher Cody Stanley (.332/.442/.610 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs). But for Wilmington to make a run, it needs strong performances from junior righthander Seth Frankoff (3-5, 5.46) and sophomore lefty Cameron Roth (1-2, 7.77, but coming off six strong innings against ODU).

CONFERENCE USA

Site: Hattiesburg, Miss.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Double-elimination play between two brackets of four teams. Winners of each bracket play for the championship.

The Field: Bracket A: No. 2 Rice, No. 3 Houston, No. 6 Alabama-Birmingham, No. 7 Marshall. Bracket B: No. 1 East Carolina, No. 4 Tulane, No. 5 Southern Mississippi, No. 8 UCF.

Who’s Hot: East Carolina won its last four weekend series and nine of its last 10 games overall to capture its first CUSA regular-season title since 2004. Tulane won its last six weekend series to earn the No. 3 seed after starting the year 17-16 overall, 1-6 in CUSA.

Who’s Not: Rice lost its final weekend series at UAB and five of its last nine games overall to finish with eight conference losses, eclipsing its total from its first three CUSA seasons combined, when it lost just seven regular-season contests. This is the first time since 1996 that the Owls failed to claim at least a share of their regular-season conference title.

Bubble Watch: The Pirates and Owls are safe regional teams, and the Owls will host a regional regardless of their performance in the conference tournament, but they need a strong week to get back into the national seed discussion. ECU must have a solid showing to host a regional. Tulane is the only other team with a realistic shot at a regional, and the Green Wave can secure their position with a couple of wins in Hattiesburg, despite a shaky RPI (69th).

The Favorite: East Carolina led CUSA in batting (.344), runs (506), homers (94) and ERA (4.14), among other categories, but this is still Rice’s conference until somebody else drives a stake through its heart. The Owls have a balanced offense led by national freshman of the year candidate Anthony Rendon (.383/.455/.701 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs); they have an athletic defense that fielded at a .970 clip; and they have a pair of front-line starters capable of dominating when healthy in righties Ryan Berry (6-0, 2.06) and Mike Ojala (3-0, 1.63). But both missed significant time this year with arm woes, and the Owls need some other pitchers to step forward and help carry the load.

The Darkhorse: It will be a significant surprise if Rice or East Carolina does not win the conference tournament, but UAB is a well-coached team that can wreak havoc with its team speed. The Blazers stole a league-high 112 bases during the regular season, led by national leader Brint Hardy’s 46. Three other Blazers swiped at least 15 bags.

HORIZON CONFERENCE

Site: Lorain, Ohio.

Dates: May 19-23.

Format: Seven teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Illinois-Chicago, No. 2 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, No. 3 Wright State, No. 4 Valparaiso, No. 5 Cleveland State, No. 6 Youngstown State, No. 7 Butler.

Who’s Hot: Defending champion and preseason favorite Illinois-Chicago won 10 of its last 12 games to win the regular-season title by three games over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Who’s Not: Butler was the worst team in the league all year, and the Bulldogs lost seven of their last nine games, including a season-ending series sweep at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Bubble Watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will secure the Horizon’s lone regional bid.

The Favorite: UIC was the Horizon’s most consistent team in 2009 thanks largely to a steady pitching staff anchored by league pitcher of the year Adam Worthington (4-5, 3.24) at the front and senior righthander Derrick Miramontes (6-0, 1.91 with seven saves) at the back. The Flames are also the league’s best defensive team, with a Horizon-best .968 fielding percentage.

The Darkhorse: UIC and Wright State have been the Horizon’s best two programs this decade, winning five of the last six conference titles, and the Raiders are entirely capable of usurping the Flames in the conference tournament. Wright State’s strength is an offense that topped the league in batting (.318) and runs (383), led by Horizon player of the year Jeff Mercer (.367/.410/.580 with 26 doubles and 64 RBIs) and newcomer of the year Quentin Cate (.367/.440/.606 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs).

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

Site: Trenton, N.J.

Dates: May 21-23.

Format: Four teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Manhattan, No. 2 Canisius, No. 3 Marist, No. 4 Rider.

Who’s Hot: For the second
straight year, Canisius finished the regular season by winning nine of
its final 10 games. The late push earned the Griffs the No. 2 seed in
the conference tournament, a game ahead of Marist.

Who’s Not: All four teams in
the field carry winning streaks of at least two games into the
tournament, but Manhattan did go just 5-4 down the stretch. The Jaspers
still won their final two series, though, and won the regular-season
crown by two games.

Bubble Watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will capture the MAAC’s lone regional berth.

The Favorite: Manhattan
asserted its hegemony early, winning 11 of its first 12 conference
games heading into a late-April series against preseason favorite
Canisius. The Jaspers won two of three against the Griffs and haven’t
looked back. The key to Manhattan’s success is its offense, which
produced a .357 average and 127 doubles, both league highs. Three
Manhattan regulars batted better than .400, and all nine topped .300.
Leading the way is the dynamic outfield duo of Kevin Nieto
(.406/.486/.789 with 13 homers, 54 RBIs and 22 steals) and Mike McCann
(.407/.484/.684 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs).

The Darkhorse: Canisius and
Manhattan tied for the regular-season crown a year ago before upstart
Rider stunned both to steal the automatic bid. The Griffs opened this
year as the team to beat and played their best down the stretch.
Canisius features the MAAC’s most powerful offense, which slugged a
league-high 85 homers in 53 games, 25 more long balls than second-place
Manhattan. Senior infielders Kevin Mahoney (.337 with 22 homers and 60
RBIs) and Kevin Mailloux (.382 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs) key the
Canisius attack.

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE

Site: Chillicothe, Ohio.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Double-elimination play within two brackets of four teams. Winners of each bracket play for the championship.

The Field: Bracket 1: No. 1
Bowling Green State, No. 4 Kent State, No. 5 Miami (Ohio), No. 8
Central Michigan. Bracket 2: No. 2 Ball State, No. 3 Ohio, No. 6
Toledo, No. 7 Eastern Michigan.

Who’s Hot: Bowling Green won
its last four weekend series and eight of its last 10 games overall to
surge to the regular-season crown. The Falcons have a deep lineup
anchored by infielders Ryan Shay (.392 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs) and
Derek Spencer (.389 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs), but catcher Ryan
Schlater (.300 with one homer) keyed BGSU’s season-ending series win
against Akron, batting .727 in three games. This is the second straight
year the Falcons rode a hot finish to a regular-season title; last year
they won their final 11 games to share the crown with Kent State.

Who’s Not: Preseason favorite
Kent State was in position to compete for an at-large bid before losing
consecutive series to Buffalo and Akron down the stretch. The Flashes
rebounded with a season-ending series win over Miami (Ohio), but they
are just 4-6 in their last 10 games.

Toledo finished even worse, losing its final five games and seven of
its last eight to relinquish the Western Division title to Ball State.

Bubble Watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will secure the MAC’s lone regional bid.

The Favorite: It’s amazing that
Kent State finished with the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament
considering how much talent is on the Flashes’ roster. A number of key
players had down years for Kent State, most notably junior righthanders
Brad Stillings (5-3, 6.68) and Kyle Smith (3-2, 5.14). Still, other
quality arms have emerged, led by standout freshman closer Andrew
Chafin (4-1, 1.26, eight saves). The Golden Flashes should dig deep
this week and make a strong run at their second MAC tournament title in
three years.

The Darkhorse: Watch out for
Western Division champ Ball State. The Cardinals stand out in this
field for their style of play: They stole 113 bases during the regular
season, 37 more than any other team in the MAC. Center fielder Jeremy
Hazelbaker (.426/.547/.718 with eight homers, 36 RBIs and 29 steals) is
one of the fastest players in college baseball and an emerging draft
prospect, and second baseman Nate Fields (.308 with 32 steals) is
nearly as disruptive.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE

Site: Wichita, Kan.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Round-robin play within two three-team pods. Pod winners play for championship.

The Field: Pod One: No. 1
Missouri State, No. 4 Creighton, No. 5 Southern Illinois. Pod Two: No.
2 Indiana State, No. 3 Wichita State, No. 6 Illinois State.

Who’s Hot: Missouri State
finished strong for the second straight year, winning its final seven
games, including a sweep of then-MVC leader Indiana State to snatch the
regular-season crown on the final weekend.

Who’s Not: Creighton has lost
six straight games, as the Bluejays were swept by Missouri State and
Wichita over the final two weekends. Indiana State dropped its last
four games to lose the regular-season title on the final day.

Bubble Watch: Missouri State is
the only team with a shot at an at-large bid if it fails to win the
conference tournament. The Bears don’t have a great RPI (65th), but
they win points for playing a stout nonconference schedule that
included series against Middle Tennessee State, Oregon State and Oral
Roberts. They went 4-4 in those games.

The Favorite: Preseason
favorite Missouri State is the most talented and experienced team in
the league, and it’s also playing its best baseball when it matters
most. The Bears have the Valley’s best weekend rotation in lefties
Buddy Baumann (10-1, 3.40) and Aaron Meade (9-2, 3.18) and righty Tim
Clubb (4-4, 5.18). The offense features the MVC’s premier power hitter
in outfielder Ben Carlson (.305 with a league-best 15 homers) and its
leading hitter in third baseman Brayden Drake (.418).

The Darkhorse: Defending
champion Wichita State has dominated the Valley over the years, and the
Shockers are always a factor, even in a down year like 2009. They
reminded the conference of that by outscoring Creighton 20-4 in a
season-ending three-game sweep. Wichita’s lineup may lack thunder, but
its weekend rotation has carried the load. Tim Kelley (5-3, 2.15),
Charlie Lowell (6-2, 2.97) and Jordan Cooper (7-5, 3.00) make Wichita
the team to beat in its pod, though the Shockers have their work cut
out for them against Indiana State’s big bats.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

Site: Fort Worth, Texas.

Dates: May 19-23.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Texas Christian, No. 2 New Mexico, No. 3 Brigham Young, No. 4 San Diego State, No. 5 Nevada-Las Vegas, No. 6 Utah.

Who’s Hot: Perennial MWC
powerhouse TCU has been hot all season—it lost back-to-back games just
twice—but is riding a five-game winning streak into the conference
tournament. The Horned Frogs have won eight of their last nine games.
San Diego State avoided the second-half swoon that sabotaged its
regional hopes each of the last two seasons, instead winning nine of
its last 11 games.

Who’s Not: UNLV was swept in
its final two regular-season series against BYU and TCU. The Rebels
lost seven of their last eight games overall.

Bubble Watch: TCU will likely
host a regional with a solid week and has an outside shot at a national
seed with a conference tournament title. San Diego State, BYU and New
Mexico are all playing for their postseason lives. The Aztecs are in
the best position to earn an at-large bid thanks to the strongest RPI
of the trio (45th) and a strong finish.

New Mexico finished second in the standings and has a 7-3 record
against SDSU, BYU and Texas A&M, but the Lobos squandered chances
to bolster their resume down the stretch by going 1-6 in nonconference
action against struggling power conference foes Arizona, Nebraska and
Stanford. The Lobos rank 88th in the RPI and must win the automatic bid
to make regionals. BYU is likely in the same boat, ranking 67th in the
RPI and finishing just 28-22 overall in the regular season.

The Favorite: The Horned Frogs
did not dominate the league statistically as they have in years past,
but they have a balanced, experienced team that finds ways to win close
games. TCU lacks consistent front-line pitching but has a bevy of
quality arms and should be able to mix and match its way through the
conference tournament. The offense is led by all-conference first
baseman Matt Vern (.358/.470/.691 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs).

The Darkhorse: The Mountain
West might feature one of the best college pitchers of all-time in San
Diego State ace righty Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 1.34 with 174
strikeouts and 18 walks in 94 innings), but this is still an
offense-first league. Expect plenty of high-scoring games, which favors
New Mexico, one of the best offensive teams in the country. The Lobos
led the MWC by huge margins in batting (.369), runs (526) and triples
(47), led by conference player of the year Mike Brownstein
(.426/.496/.629 with 11 triples, 49 RBIs and 20 stolen bases).

NORTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

Site: New Britain, Conn.

Dates: May 21-24.

Format: Four teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Wagner, No. 2 Sacred Heart, No. 3 Central Connecticut State, No. 4 Monmouth.

Who’s Hot: Wagner won its last
five games and 10 of its final 12 to claim its first-ever NEC
regular-season championship and eclipse the 30-win mark for the first
time in school history.

Who’s Not: Monmouth was tied atop the standings before losing three of four to Central Connecticut State in its final weekend series.

Bubble Watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will earn the NEC’s lone regional bid.

The Favorite: This tournament
is wide open, as the NEC’s top five teams were separated by just two
games in the final standings (including defending champion Mount St.
Mary’s, which lost the tie-breaker to the Hawks). But we’ll ride the
hot hand and anoint Wagner the favorite thanks to the league’s best
pitching (its 4.55 ERA is 0.75 lower than second-place Monmouth’s). The
Seahawks have an edge in any close game thanks to dominant closer
Andrew Huebner (1.91 ERA, 13 saves), and they have a strong one-two
punch in the rotation in junior righties Kyle Morrison (8-2, 3.92) and
Matt Watson (9-1, 3.10). Morrison can run his fastball up to 92-93 and
could be a top-10-rounds draft pick.

The Darkhorse: Preseason
favorite Monmouth has the arms to give Wagner a run for its money, and
potential top-two-rounds pick Ryan Buch (7-4, 4.15) gives the Hawks a
real shot in the opening game against the Seahawks, assuming he
performs better than he did in his final regular-season start last week
(4 IP, 7 R, 6 ER). Or the Hawks can turn to junior righty Brett Brach
(6-2, 4.48), the younger brother of former Monmouth ace Brad Brach.

OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE

Site: Paducah, Ky.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Eastern
Illinois, No. 2 Murray State, No. 3 Morehead State, No. 4 Southeast
Missouri State, No. 5 Tennessee Tech, No. 6 Jacksonville State.

Who’s Hot: Eastern Illinois won eight of its final 11 games to cruise to the regular-season title by 2 1/2 games.

Who’s Not: Jacksonville State
is in freefall, having lost its last eight games, including sweeps
against Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin.

Bubble Watch: Eastern Illinois,
ranked 55th in the RPI, has a chance to earn the OVC’s first-ever
at-large bid if it fails to win the conference tournament. The Panthers
lost just one series all year en route to a 36-12 overall record, and
they have quality wins against Oklahoma, Indiana, South Florida,
Illinois, Indiana State and Southeastern Louisiana.

The Favorite: Amazingly, not
even an injury to star center fielder Brett Nommensen could slow down
the Panthers. Nommensen was leading the nation in batting (.521),
on-base percentage (.649) and slugging (1.021) when he broke a bone in
his wrist on April 10, but EIU expects to have him back on the field
this week. In Nommensen’s absence, three other Panthers joined him in
the double-digit home run club, led by shortstop Jordan Kreke
(.398/.432/.735 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs), the OVC player of the
year. The steady pitching staff is anchored by sophomore righty Mike
Recchia (8-2, 3.02).

The Darkhorse: Murray State is
capable of matching up with EIU on the mound, thanks to OVC pitcher of
the year Daniel Calhoun (10-3, 2.05 with 84 strikeouts and six walks in
88 innings) and Chris Craycraft (10-2, 4.06). The Thoroughbreds also
have some power in the lineup; they finished second in the OVC with 86
home runs, six behind conference leader EIU.

SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

Site: Hoover, Ala.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Double-elimination play within two four-team brackets. Bracket winners play for championship.

The Field: Bracket 1: No. 1
Louisiana State, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 South Carolina, No. 8 Vanderbilt.
Bracket 2: No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Arkansas.

Who’s Hot: South Carolina won
its final three weekend series, bookended by sweeps of Vanderbilt and
Georgia, to finish second in the SEC’s Eastern Division. The Gamecocks
have won seven straight and 10 of their last 11, and lately they’ve
done it with pitching as well as with their characteristic big bats.
South Carolina pitchers allowed just seven runs against Georgia, their
season low for a three-game series.

Louisiana State won its last four weekend series and 13 of its last 16 games overall.

Who’s Not: Vanderbilt limped
into the conference tournament for the second straight year, losing its
final four games, including a home sweep at the hands of Tennessee.

Bubble Watch: The top seven
seeds are safe for at-large berths, but Vanderbilt must avoid an early
exit on the heels of its poor finish to the regular season. The
Commodores have an unsightly 12-17 conference record, but they are in
decent shape in the RPI (38th). LSU is a lock for a national seed,
while Mississippi and Florida are vying for a second national seed out
of the SEC. Alabama and South Carolina are competing for the
conference’s fourth hosting site.

The Favorite: Defending
champion LSU entered the season as the team to beat in the SEC, and the
Tigers did not disappoint, winning series against all six conference
tournament foes they faced en route to the regular-season crown (they
did not play opening-round opponent Vandy). The Tigers boast the
league’s best one-two pitching punch in sophomore righthander Anthony
Ranaudo (7-3, 3.26 with 118 strikeouts in 86 innings) and SEC pitcher
of the year Louis Coleman (10-2, 2.99 with 105 strikeouts in 90
innings). They also have a deep, powerful, athletic lineup, but their
Achilles’ heel is pitching depth, which could hurt them in a condensed
tournament.

The Darkhorse: Led by SEC
player of the year Kent Matthes (.362/.462/.883 with 27 homers and 79
RBIs), Alabama features the league’s most explosive offense, and the
Crimson Tide is capable of bashing its way through the tournament even
if its on-again, off-again pitching is exploited. ‘Bama led the league
in batting (.335), runs (490), homers (106), doubles (133), OBP (.418)
and slugging (.581).

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE

Site: Greenville, S.C.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Double-elimination within two four-team brackets. Bracket winners play for championship.

The Field: Bracket 1: No. 1
Elon, No. 4 Western Carolina, No. 5 College of Charleston, No. 8
Furman. Bracket 2: No. 2 Georgia Southern, No. 3 The Citadel, No. 6
Appalachian State, No. 7 Davidson.

Who’s Hot: Elon won its last
four games, its last 17 conference games and 13 of its last 14 overall
to cruise to the regular-season title by 3 1/2 games. The Phoenix
scored in double digits in 11 of those final 13 wins and eclipsed the
20-run mark three times. Appalachian State and The Citadel each went
8-2 in their last 10 games, while Georgia Southern and Western Carolina
went 7-3.

Who’s Not: College of
Charleston dropped its final four games, including a three-game sweep
at The Citadel, to slide to fifth place in the standings. Davidson lost
eight of its last nine, including sweeps at the hands of CofC and
Western Carolina.

Bubble Watch: Elon is a lock
for regionals even if it suffers an early exit this week. Georgia
Southern is in strong position for an at-large bid also, with a 38-15
overall record and a strong RPI (35th). Western Carolina (47th in the
RPI) probably has a better shot at the league’s third bid than The
Citadel (77th), though the Bulldogs have better series wins (against
CofC, Georgia Southern and Elon). That likely won’t be enough to offset
the difference in RPI. Charleston might have played itself out of
at-large consideration in the last week, but its RPI (53rd) is still in
striking range if the Cougars can make a strong showing this week.

The Favorite: As usual the
SoCon is a hitter’s paradise, and there might not be a team in the
nation that swings the bats better than Elon. Seven Phoenix regulars
reached double figures in home runs, and an eighth (Neal Pritchard) has
nine long balls. Not surprisingly, Elon leads the nation with 124 home
runs, and is second in scoring (10.7 runs per game) behind New Mexico
State. Good luck finding an Elon hitter to key upon, but the most
dangerous might be junior infielder Chase Austin (.379/.457/.701 with
19 homers, 69 RBIs and 16 steals in 17 tries), the SoCon’s co-player of
the year.

The Darkhorse: Playing in one
of the league’s most pitcher-friendly home parks, The Citadel has a
completely different offensive style than mashing units like Elon, CofC
and Georgia Southern. The Bulldogs rank eighth in the league and 134th
in the nation in home runs (48), but their offense is still potent
thanks to a .333 team batting average that ranks second in the SoCon
and 25th nationally. Veterans Sonny Meade (.402/.444/.539) and Chris
McGuiness (.377/.529/.670), whose 61 walks is tied for the national
lead, headline a relentless lineup with few easy outs. The Citadel also
boasts the conference’s best pitching staff, having led the league in
ERA (4.64) by a wide margin. The staff is anchored by SoCon pitcher of
the year Wes Wrenn (9-2, 3.84). If any team can slow down the SoCon’s
hot bats, it’s The Citadel, which won series against the three best
offensive teams in the league, though all three were home sets.

SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE

Site: Corpus Christi, Texas.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Double-elimination within two four-team brackets. Bracket winners play for championship.

The Field: Bracket 1: No. 1
Texas State, No. 4 Lamar, No. 5 Texas-Arlington, No. 8 Stephen F.
Austin State. Bracket 2: No. 2 Southeastern Louisiana, No. 3 Texas-San
Antonio, No. 6 Northwestern State, No. 7 Sam Houston State.

Who’s Hot: Northwestern State
won its final three weekend series and nine of its last 11 games
overall to earn the No. 6 seed in the tournament.

Who’s Not: Sam Houston State
got off to a 14-7 start in conference play before losing nine of its
final 12 games to sink to seventh in the Southland. Stephen F. Austin
lost five of its last six games, including series to Southeastern
Louisiana and Lamar.

Bubble Watch: With a 38-14
overall record and a strong RPI (33rd), Texas State is in strong
position to earn an at-large bid if it fails to win the automatic bid.
The only other team with a shot at an at-large bid is Southeastern
Louisiana, which went 35-20 overall and ranks 54th in the RPI. But the
Lions need a strong showing this week to bolster their case.

The Favorite: Texas State
dominated the Southland from wire to wire, posting a 24-7 conference
record and winning the regular-season title by four games. The Bobcats
won four of the Southland’s five individual awards, as first baseman
Paul Goldschmidt (.355/.475/.685 with 16 homers and 77 RBIs) earned
player of the year honors; senior righty Kane Holbrooks (9-1, 3.40) was
named pitcher of the year; junior outfielder Keith Prestridge
(.384/.450/.616 with seven homers and 46 RBIs) garnered newcomer of the
year honors; and Ty Harrington was voted coach of the year.

The Darkhorse: Preseason
favorite UTSA boasts the league’s most powerful offense, with 86 home
runs (tops in the Southland and 19th in the nation). The Roadrunners’
offense is headlined by 2008 Southland player of the year Michael
Rockett (.396/.439/.654 with 14 homers and 54 RBIs). If the Roadrunners
get hot, they are capable of slugging their way through the tournament.

SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

Site: Baton Rouge, La.

Dates: May 20-24.

Format: Double-elimination play within two four-team brackets. Bracket winners play for championship.

The Field: Bracket 1: East No.1
Mississippi Valley State, West No. 2 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, East No. 3
Alcorn State, West No. 4 Texas Southern. Bracket 2: West No. 1
Southern, East No. 2 Jackson State, West No. 3 Grambling State, East
No. 4 Alabama A&M.

Who’s Hot: Alcorn State won
eight of its final 11 games to finish third in the East Division.
Jackson State swept Alabama A&M to finish a half-game ahead of the
Braves.

Who’s Not: Mississippi Valley
State struggled mightily down the stretch, losing 14 of its last 16
games, including five losses against non-Division I opponents.

Bubble Watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will represent the one-bid SWAC in regionals.

The Favorite: Preseason
favorite Southern isn’t the flashiest team in the SWAC, but the Jaguars
are well coached and find ways to win. Junior outfielder Victor
Franklin (.360/.484/.672 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs) leads a Southern
offense that led the SWAC with 49 home runs. The Jaguars also ranked
second in the league with a 4.75 ERA, led by junior righty Jarrett
Maloy (6-2, 3.38).

The Darkhorse: Jackson State’s
team speed is downright disruptive. The Tigers rank second in the
nation with 141 steals, and they don’t have just one or two burners to
keep off the basepaths. Nine Tigers recorded double-digit stolen bases.
And Jackson State gets plenty of chances to run, as it tied for the
SWAC lead with a .441 on-base percentage. The Tigers also boast the
league’s lowest staff ERA (4.05).

SUMMIT LEAGUE

Site: Tulsa, Okla.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Four teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 Oral Roberts, No. 2 Southern Utah, No. 3 South Dakota State, No. 4 Centenary.

Who’s Hot: Perennial juggernaut
Oral Roberts has won five of its last six games. The Golden Eagles
dominated the league as usual, winning 16 of their 18 conference games
in the regular season. South Dakota State recovered from a 7-25 start
by winning 17 of its final 20 games.

Who’s Not: Southern Utah lost its final three games at South Dakota State.

Bubble Watch: The Summit is a
one-bid league unless Oral Roberts gets upset, in which case the Golden
Eagles have a good shot at an at-large bid thanks to a solid RPI
(51st), a strong nonconference schedule and reputation.

The Favorite: Oral Roberts is
seeking its 12th straight Summit League championship, and who’s going
to bet against it? ORU’s offense led the Summit in scoring (nine runs
per game) and home runs (67), while its pitching staff led in ERA
(3.81, seventh in the nation) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.7,
best in the nation). The Golden Eagles have three starters capable of
dominating in righthanders Mark Serrano (9-0, 2.38 with 107 strikeouts
in 72 innings), Jerry Sullivan (6-3, 3.29 with 97 strikeouts in 82
innings) and Andre Lamontagne (4-2, 3.41 with 62 strikeouts in 61
innings).

The Darkhorse: Centenary opened
eyes early with wins against Texas A&M and Arkansas, and the
Gentlemen have a balanced offense that ranked second in the Summit in
scoring (eight runs per game) and first in doubles (121). The Gents
also play small ball well, leading the conference in sacrifice bunts,
sacrifice flies and hit-by-pitches.

SUN BELT CONFERENCE

Site: Troy, Ala.

Dates: May 20-23.

Format: Double-elimination play within two four-team brackets. Bracket winners play for championship.

The Field: Bracket 1: No. 1
Middle Tennessee, No. 4 Florida International, No. 5
Louisiana-Lafayette, No. 8 Florida Atlantic. Bracket 2: No. 2 Western
Kentucky, No. 3 Troy, No. 6 South Alabama, No. 7 Louisiana-Monroe.

Who’s Hot: Middle Tennessee
State won five of its last six games, including a two-game sweep of
Western Kentucky to claim a share of the regular-season title. The Blue
Raiders earned the top seed by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Who’s Not: WKU lost its final
four games after winning each of its previous nine. Louisiana-Monroe
dropped nine of its last 12, but did win its final two regular-season
games against Houston Baptist.

Bubble Watch: Middle Tennessee
State (36th in the RPI) and Western Kentucky (46th) should both be safe
for at-large bids, though the Hilltoppers could find themselves on the
bubble with an 0-2 week. Troy (60th) and Florida International (68th)
are vying for a third bid out of the Sun Belt, and the team that fares
better this week figures to have the inside track.

The Favorite: Take your pick
between MTSU and WKU, the two best offensive teams in the league and
two of the top three pitching clubs. Forced to choose one, we’ll take
the Blue Raiders, who blasted 23 more home runs than the ‘Toppers and
have an edge against all Sun Belt teams in close games thanks to close
Coty Wood (1.73 ERA, 13 saves). MTSU also has one of the very best
players in the nation in SBC player of the year Bryce Brentz
(.485/.550/1.005 with 27 homers and 67 RBIs; 5-3, 4.90 off the mound).
The worst news for the rest of the Sun Belt: Brentz is just a sophomore.

The Darkhorse: Florida
International can mash with the Raiders and ‘Toppers. The Panthers
ranked second in the league in home runs (82) and runs (472), led by
junior outfielder Tyler Townsend (.433/.512/.865 with 24 homers and 76
RBIs). FIU also stood toe-to-toe with several of the league’s top
contenders, winning series against Troy and Western Kentucky, plus sets
against fellow Sunshine State regional contenders Jacksonville and
South Florida.

WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

Site: Honolulu.

Dates: May 21-24.

Format: Six teams, double-elimination.

The Field: No. 1 San Jose State, No. 2 Louisiana Tech, No. 3 Fresno State, No. 4 New Mexico State, No. 5 Hawaii, No. 6 Nevada.

Who’s Hot: San Jose State and
Fresno State each carry four-game winning streaks into the conference
tournament. The Spartans have won seven of their last nine games, while
Fresno and Louisiana Tech have each won eight of their last 10.

Who’s Not: Hawaii has stumbled
since getting off to a 26-15 start (9-5 in the WAC), losing, losing
nine of its last 14 games and splitting a four-game home series against
Utah Valley in the final weekend.

Bubble Watch: Hawaii was in
good shape for an at-large bid before its rough finish, which dropped
its RPI to 52nd. It’s hard to imagine the Rainbows garnering an
at-large berth after finishing fifth in the WAC, even with a stout
nonconference schedule highlighted by three wins against Coastal
Carolina. San Jose State went 39-18 overall, 15-7 in conference play to
win the WAC by three games. The Spartans deserve an at-large bid if
they don’t win the automatic bid, but they rank just 74th in the RPI,
and no team with an RPI worse than 59th has earned an at-large bid in
the last five years. If the committee recognizes that the RPI is far
from a perfect measure, the Spartans have a chance.

The Favorite: San Jose State
swept a four-The Favorite:game series against Nevada last weekend even
without two of its top starting pitchers, as senior lefty David Berner
(7-1, 3.00) was dealing with arm fatigue, and senior righty Ryan
Shopshire (5-1, 4.12) was serving a four-game suspension for getting
ejected in a midweek game against Stanford. The Spartans will need that
duo to help carry the pitching load if they are to win the conference
tournament. San Jose State is not a star-studded team, but the Spartans
are a very solid fundamental team that ranks ninth in the nation in
fielding percentage (.977), fifth in hit-by-pitches (100), 14th in
sacrifice flies (33) and 20th in sac bunts (50).

The Darkhorse: New Mexico State
leads the nation in scoring (11.3 runs per game) and ranks second in
homers (116). Those numbers are somewhat inflated by the
hitter-friendly environment of Las Cruces and New Mexico State’s soft
nonconference schedule, but the Aggies can swing the bats anywhere they
go, as senior infielder Bryan Marquez (.421/.539/.831 with 22 homers
and 81 RBIs) headlines a group of five NMSU regulars who batted better
than .380. Hawaii’s Les Murakami Stadium suppresses power numbers, but
the Aggies can still win there if they stay patient; they lead the
nation with 390 walks.

College | #2009 #On Campus

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