College Preview

Midwest Region Preview

Analyzing the Big 12, Big 10 and other conferences





BIG 12 CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH

CONFERENCE OVERALL
TEAM W L W L
*Texas 17 9 50 16
Texas A&M 14 13 37 24
Kansas 15 12 39 24
Oklahoma 17 10 43 20
Oklahoma State 9 16 34 24
Texas Tech 12 15 25 32
Baylor 10 16 30 26
Missouri 16 11 35 27
Nebraska 8 19 25 28
Kansas State 8 19 25 28
PROJECTED NCAA TEAMS (5): Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: 27 games, begins March 19
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Eight teams, May 26-30 at Oklahoma City.
ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Cameron Rupp, Jr., Texas (.292/.387/.505, 11 HR). 1B—Kevin Keyes, Jr., Texas (.305/.405/.521). 2B—Tom Belza, Jr., Okla. State (.346/.407/.522, 52 RBI). 3B—Tony Thompson, Jr., Kansas (.389/.442/.753, 21 HR, 82 RBI). SS—Brandon Loy, So., Texas (.288/.369/.330). OF—Adam Bailey, Sr., Nebraska (.325/.379/.598, 12 HR); Brodie Greene, Sr., Texas A&M (.344/.398/.566, 11 HR, 11 SB); Nick Martini, So., Kansas State (.336/.421/.478, 50 RBI, 19 SB). DH—Aaron Senne, Sr., Missouri (.305/.419/.465). UT—Randy McCurry, So., Okla. State (.355/.375/.677; 4-1, 2.16, 10 SV, 42 IP/54 SO).
SP—Chad Bettis, Jr., Texas Tech (6-1, 3.59, 73 IP/58 SO); Taylor Jungmann, So., Texas (11-3, 2.00, 95 IP/101 SO); Brandon Workman, Jr., Texas (3-5, 3.48, 75 IP/82 SO). RP—Ryan Duke, Jr., Oklahoma (3-1, 3.22, 16 SV, 36 IP/43 SO).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tony Thompson, 3b, Kansas.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Taylor Jungmann, rhp, Texas.
TOP NEWCOMERS
1. John Stilson, rhp, Texas A&M (Tr.—Texarkana, Texas, CC)
2. Chad Kettleer, ss, Oklahoma (HS—Coppell, Texas)
3. Cohl Walla, of, Texas (HS—Austin)
4. Hoby Milner, lhp, Texas (HS—Fort Worth)
5. Tom Lemke, lhp, Nebraska (HS—Phoenix)
6. Tanner Poppe, rhp, Kansas (HS—Girard, Kan.)
7. Andrew Heaney, lhp, Oklahoma State (HS—Oklahoma City)
8. Blake Brown, of, Missouri (HS—Normal, Ill.)
9. Zach Neal, rhp, Oklahoma (Tr.—Howard, Texas, JC)
10. Bobby Doran, rhp, Texas Tech (Tr.—Seward County, Kan., CC)
TOP PROSPECTS, 2010 DRAFT
1. Brandon Workman, rhp, Texas
2. Chad Bettis, rhp, Texas Tech
3. Tony Thompson, 3b, Kansas
4. Cameron Rupp, c, Texas
5. Nick Tepesch, rhp, Missouri
6. Barret Loux, rhp, Texas A&M
7. Tyler Lyons, lhp, Oklahoma State
8. Cole Green, rhp, Texas
9. Brooks Pinckard, rhp, Baylor
10. Mike Nesseth, rhp, Nebraska
TOP PROSPECTS, 2011 DRAFT
1. Taylor Jungmann, rhp, Texas
2. Logan Verrett, rhp, Baylor
3. Randy McCurry, rhp/ss, Oklahoma State
4. Austin Dicharry, rhp, Texas
5. John Stilson, rhp, Texas A&M
6. Adam Smith, ss, Texas A&M
7. Ross Hales, lhp, Texas A&M
8. Brandon Loy, ss, Texas
9. Mark Ginther, 3b, Oklahoma State
10. Lee Ridenhour, rhp, Kansas
BEST TOOLS
BEST PURE HITTER—Tom Belza, Oklahoma State. BEST POWER HITTER—Tony Thompson, Kansas. BEST STRIKE-ZONE DISCIPLINE—Aaron Senne, Missouri. BEST ATHLETE—Brandon Loy, Texas. FASTEST RUNNER—Carter Jurica, Kansas State. BEST BASERUNNER—Jurica.
BEST DEFENSIVE C—Gregg Glime, Baylor. Catcher/Best Arm—Cameron Rupp, Texas. BEST DEFENSIVE 1B—Cam Seitzer, Okla. BEST DEFENSIVE 2B—Robby Price, Kansas. BEST DEFENSIVE 3B—Garrett Buechele, Okla. BEST DEFENSIVE SS—Loy. Infielder/Best Arm—Adam Smith, Texas A&M. BEST DEFENSIVEOF—D.J. Belfone, Nebraska. OUTFIELDER/BEST ARM—Brooks Pinckard, Baylor.
BEST FASTBALL—Chad Bettis, Texas Tech. BEST BREAKING BALL—Cole Green, Texas. BEST CHANGEUP—Austin Dicharry, Texas. BEST CONTROL—Chance Ruffin, Texas.

QUICK HITS

• A year after the Big 12 placed four teams in the nation's top 10 in the preseason rankings—and five teams in the top 16—the conference landed one team in the Top 25 this year: No. 1 Texas. That's a reflection of how wide open the league is after the pitching-rich Longhorns. Oklahoma, Baylor, Missouri and Kansas State suffered major losses from their 2009 regional teams, making a repeat of last year's Big 12-record eight regional bids unlikely.

• Texas A&M failed to live up to its preseason No. 1 billing last year, and the five biggest names from that team—Brooks Raley, Alex Wilson, Luke Anders, Kyle Colligan and Kyle Thebeau—are gone. But the Aggies still have a core of talented veterans with something to prove, especially on the mound. Jr. RHP Nick Fleece (4-1, 3.54), a converted infielder, is the likely Friday starter thanks to his 88-92 mph power sinker and competitiveness. Jr. RHP Barret Loux (3-3, 4.12, 48 IP/62 SO) was hampered by arm ailments in 2009 and had minor elbow surgery in the offseason, but he is expected to be 100 percent by Opening Day, and he is capable of dominating with a fastball that reaches 98. Talented So. LHP Ross Hales (2-1, 3.88) is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and if he's not ready to start the season, Sr. RHP Clayton Ehlert (5-2, 7.09) or athletic So. RHP Ross Stripling (1-0, 2.51) are capable of sliding into the rotation. In junior college transfer So. RHP John Stilson, the Aggies have a potential shutdown closer who can reach 97 mph. Texas A&M's lineup won't be as powerful, but it has good athletes and sound defenders up the middle in gritty Sr. CF Brodie Greene, So. SS Adam Smith, and Jr. C Kevin Gonzalez.

• Kansas appears poised to make its third regional in five years under coach Ritch Price. The Jayhawks have excellent power on the infield corners in Jr. 3B Tony Thompson (the Big 12 triple crown winner in 2009 and the overwhelming choice for preseason conference player of the year) and So. 1B Zac Elgie (.305/.364/.448). So. CF Jason Brunansky (.280/.386/.387), the son of ex-big leaguer Tom, anchors an athletic outfield, and the rotation features a strong one-two punch in Jr. RHP T.J. Walz (8-3, 4.70, 82 IP/88 SO) and So. RHP Lee Ridenhour (6-3, 4.65). So. RHP Colton Murray (2-3, 3.23, 39 IP/39 SO) appears ready to anchor the bullpen thanks to a fastball that reaches 95 and a developing cutter. The biggest question facing Kansas is whether newcomers C James Stanfield and SS Brandon Macias can replace stalwarts Buck Afenir and David Narodowski.

• Oklahoma lost six key everyday players and five pitchers who combined to make 47 of the team's 63 starts in 2009, but the Sooners maintain they could be just as good as last year's regional-hosting team. That's because the coaches are very optimistic that their 19-member recruiting class (ranked No. 16 in the nation) can plug most of the holes. Switch-hitting Fr. SS Chad Kettler will start immediately and should be an impact player for three years. Junior college transfers Zach Neal and Bobby Shore will join with last year's top juco transfer, LHP J.R. Robinson, to form a strike-throwing, competitive rotation. Jr. RHP Ryan Duke (3.62 ERA, 16 SV) is back to anchor the bullpen. And a pair of sons of major leaguers on the infield corners—Cam Seitzer, son of Kevin, and Garrett Buechele, son of Steve—are primed for breakout sophomore years.

• Oklahoma State has the conference's most offensive infield in physical Jr. 1B Dean Green (coming off a strong summer in the Cape Cod League), Jr. 2B Tom Belza (.346/.407/.522), So. SS Randy McCurry (.355/.375/.677) and So. 3B Mark Ginther (.303/.344/.516). But the Cowboys have plenty of questions to answer in the outfield and in the weekend rotation after ace Sr. LHP Tyler Lyons (7-6, 4.07). McCurry also pitches—he tied a school record for saves as a freshman (10) and has the power stuff and movement to be even better.

• Texas Tech has its eye on a regional bid in Dan Spencer's second year as head coach, but the Red Raiders will have to overcome the losses of Fr. RHP/1B Duke Vonschaman, So. OF Nick Hanslik, and Jr. LHPs Robbie Kilcrease and Zach Fowler—all of whom had Tommy John surgery. Hard-throwing Jr. LHP Jay Johnson, a junior-college transfer from Canada, is expected to seize the closer job, allowing Texas Tech to move Jr. RHP Chad Bettis (a possible first-round pick thanks to a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a biting slider) into the Friday starter role. The weekend rotation could be special if Jr. RHP Bobby Doran (another JC transfer) and power-armed but erratic So. RHP Louis Head (1-4, 6.29) can produce as hoped.

• After losing five of the top seven hitters and two-thirds of the weekend rotation from last year's team, Missouri's streak of seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances could be in jeopardy. But another Mizzou tradition—producing first-round pitchers in three of the last four years—could continue if Jr. RHP Nick Tepesch (6-5, 6.27, 85 IP/84 SO) can become more consistent. With a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a hard slider that can be above-average at times, Tepesch has stuff that compares with Missouri predecessors Kyle Gibson, Aaron Crow and Max Scherzer.

• After making regionals for the first time ever last year, Kansas State figures to take a step backward after losing its entire weekend rotation—including first-team All-American ace A.J. Morris—and its top three power threats in Justin Bloxom, Jordan Cruz and Drew Biery. The group that remains will have to rely on its athleticism and speed, led by the conference's best basestealer in Jr. SS Carter Jurica (.353/.433/.492, 23 SB) and multi-talented So. CF Nick Martini (.336/.421/.478, 19 SB).

BIG TEN CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH

CONFERENCE OVERALL
TEAM W L W L
Ohio State 18 6 42 19
Minnesota 17 6 40 19
Michigan 9 15 30 25
Illinois 16 8 34 20
Michigan State 13 11 23 31
*Indiana 16 7 32 27
Purdue 11 12 25 26
Iowa 4 19 16 35
Penn State 8 16 25 26
Northwestern 5 17 14 35
PROJECTED NCAA TEAMS (3): Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: 24 games, begins April 2.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Six teams, May 26-29 at Columbus, Ohio.
ALL-CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
C—Dan Burkhart, Jr., Ohio State (.354/.429/.589, 10 HR, 62 RBI). 1B—Ryan Dew, Sr., Ohio State (.388/.429/.562). 2B—Pete Cappetta, Jr., Illinois (.384/.475/.543). 3B—Jordan Steranka, So., Penn State (.365/.391/.536). SS—A.J. Pettersen, So., Minnesota (.353/.445/.438). OF—Willie Argo, So., Illinois (.355/.421/.651, 12 HR, 10 SB); Michael Kvasnicka, Jr., OF (.341/.381/.550, 10 HR, 65 RBI); Ryan LaMarre, Jr., Michigan (.344/.453/.599, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 13 SB). DH—Alex Dickerson, So., Indiana (.370/.426/.618, 14 HR, 57 RBI). UT—Mike Dufek, Sr., Michigan (.304/.374/.627, 17 HR, 59 RBI; 1-1, 2.70, 17 IP/21 SO).
SP—Eric Katzman, Sr., Michigan (7-4, 3.53, 74 IP/64 SO; Seth Rosin, Jr., Minnesota (7-1, 4.21, 77 IP/65 SO); Alex Wimmers (9-2, 3.27, 105 IP/136 SO). RP—Scott Matyas, Jr., Minnesota (0-1, 2.22, 15 SV, 28 IP/45 SO).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ryan LaMarre, of, Michigan.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Alex Wimmers, rhp, Ohio State.
TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Derek Dennis, ss, Michigan (HS—Grand Rapids, Mich.)
2. Dan Sheppard, c, Iowa (HS—Downers Grove, Ill.)
3. Patrick Biondi, of, Michigan (HS—Dearborn, Mich.)
4. T.J. Oakes, rhp, Minnesota (HS—Jordan, Minn.)
5. Jonny Hoffman, rhp, Indiana (HS—Oceanside, Calif.)
6. Ryan Abrahamson, 3b/of, Minnesota (HS—Oakdale, Minn.)
7. Matt Dermody, lhp, Iowa (HS—Norwalk, Iowa)
8. Kyle Clark, rhp, Michigan (HS—Portage, Mich.)
9. Tony Wieber, rhp/of, Michigan State (HS—Grand Ledge, Mich.)
10. Brad Schreiber, rhp/dh, Purdue (HS—Kimberly, Wis.)
TOP PROSPECTS, 2010 DRAFT
1. Alex Wimmers, rhp, Ohio State
2. Ryan LaMarre, of, Michigan
3. Michael Kvasnicka, of/c, Minnesota
4. Seth Rosin, rhp, Minnesota
5. Matt Miller, rhp, Michigan
6. Dan Burkhart, c, Ohio State
7. Tyler Burgoon, rhp, Michigan
8. Blake Monar, lhp, Indiana
9. Scott Matyas, rhp, Minnesota
10. Cullen Sexton, rhp, Minnesota
TOP PROSPECTS, 2011 DRAFT
1. Derek Dennis, ss, Michigan
2. Alex Dickerson, of, Indiana
3. Willie Argo, of, Illinois
4. Jordan Steranka, 3b, Penn State
5. Nick Brown, rhp, Iowa
BEST TOOLS
BEST PURE HITTER—Alex Dickerson, Indiana. BEST POWER HITTER—Dickerson. BEST STRIKE-ZONE DISCIPLINE—Ryan LaMarre, Michigan. BEST ATHLETE—Willie Argo, Illinois. FASTEST RUNNER—Kurtis Muller, Iowa. BEST BASERUNNER—Zach Hurley, Ohio State.
BEST DEFENSIVE C—Dan Burkhart, Ohio State. CATCHER/BEST ARM—Kyle Knudson, Minnesota. BEST DEFENSIVE 1B—Jerrud Sabourin, Indiana. BEST DEFENSIVE 2B—Eric Charles, Purdue. BEST DEFENSIVE 3B—Kyle Geason, Minnesota. BEST DEFENSIVE SS—Pettersen. Infielder/Best Arm—Jordan Steranka, Penn State. BEST DEFENSIVE OF—Michael Stephens, Ohio State. OUTFIELDER/BEST ARM—Justin Gominsky, Minnesota.
BEST FASTBALL—Seth Rosin, Minnesota. BEST BREAKING BALL—Alex Wimmers, Ohio State. BEST CHANGEUP—Wimmers. BEST CONTROL—Tony Buccifero, Michigan State.

QUICK HITS

• The Big Ten stands a good chance to send three teams to regionals for the third time in the last four years, as Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan all have legitimate shots at the conference title. The returning regular season champion Buckeyes welcome back eight everyday starters from a lineup that led the conference in batting (.328), scoring (7.9 runs per game), slugging (.495) and home runs (62), among other categories. Ohio State has five seniors who hit .340 or better last year in 1B Ryan Dew, 2B Cory Kovanda, 3B Cory Rupert, LF Zach Hurley and CF Michael Stephens, plus the Big Ten's top catcher in Jr. Dan Burkhart. Burkhart's high school teammate, Jr. RHP Alex Wimmers, was the runaway choice for preseason Big Ten pitcher of the year, and the pitching staff behind him is experienced if not particularly deep. Jr. RHP Drew Rucinski (12-2, 5.54, 2 SV, 75 IP/62 SO) is the biggest key for the Buckeyes; he must replace dominating closer Jake Hale (1.31 ERA, 18 SV, 55 IP/67 SO).

• Minnesota exceeded expectations with a young team in 2009, winning 40 games and earning the No. 21 spot in the end-of-season rankings. Despite losing its top two weekend starters plus athletic OFs Matt Nohelty and Eric Decker (a standout football player who suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his foot in the fall), the Gophers are loaded with pro talent and savvy college players. They have a pair of potential top-three-rounds picks in switch-hitting Jr. OF/C Michael Kvasnicka (the No. 3 prospect in the Northwoods League last summer thanks to his plus power, plus arm and athleticism) and Jr. RHP Seth Rosin (a 6-foot-7, 245-pound behemoth with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s). The bullpen features two more power arms in closer Scott Matyas and setup man Cullen Sexton (4-0, 5.16). And defensively, the Gophers have a chance to improve upon their conference-leading .971 fielding percentage from a year ago. So. 1B Nick O'Shea, redshirt Fr. 2B Troy Larson, So. SS A.J. Pettersen and So. 3B Kyle Geason make up one of the nation's top defensive infields, and Sr. C Kyle Knudson and So. CF Justin Gominsky are also standouts up the middle.

• Michigan has the Big Ten's most demanding nonconference schedule, with two games at Texas Tech, three at North Carolina and two at Coastal Carolina. Earning a few road wins against those opponents would give the Wolverines a boost in the Ratings Percentage Index and help their chances at an at-large bid should they fail to win the conference tournament. The Wolverines have the best all-around player in the Big Ten in Jr. CF Ryan LaMarre, and they added a second premium up-the-middle talent in Fr. SS Derek Dennis, who managed to exceed already sky-high expectations in the fall. The Wolverines should be strong defensively thanks to excellent speed at all three outfield spots, a smooth double-play tandem (Dennis and Sr. 2B Anthony Toth) and a steady senior behind the plate (Chris Berset). On the mound, Michigan has power arms with uncertain track records in Jr. RHPs Tyler Burgoon (4-2, 4.86) and Matt Miller (1-2, 3.70). Sr. RHP Alan Oaks (1-3, 5.28), most well known for handing College Player of the Year David Price his only loss in 2007 with a walk-off home run in the Nashville Regional, will take his 90-94 mph fastball into the weekend rotation.

•  Illinois made headlines last March when it won a three-game series at eventual national champion Louisiana State, and the Fighting Illini look dangerous again—and they'll have a chance to make waves again with three early games at East Carolina and Coastal Carolina. Illinois faces questions on the mound but should be strong up the middle thanks to multi-tooled So. CF Willie Argo (.355/.421/.651), athletic middle infielders Josh Parr (.337/.400/.413) and Pete Cappetta (.384/.475/.543) and physical Sr. C Aaron Johnson (.333/.413/.528, 10 HR).

• The Big Ten has other teams capable of making noise as well. Michigan State returns seven everyday regulars—led by Sr. RF Eli Boike (.310/.420/.480, 8 HR) and Jr. SS Jonathan Roof, the brother of former MSU catcher Eric Roof and two weekend starters. Defending conference tournament champion Indiana lost a trio of first-round picks in catcher Josh Phegley and twin aces Eric Arnett and Matt Bashore, but the Hoosiers welcome back the Big Ten's most talented slugger in So. OF Alex Dickerson (.370/.426/.618, 14 HR), plus a potential ace in So. LHP Blake Monar (5-3, 4.64). Purdue returns its entire weekend rotation in Sr. RHP Matt Bischoff (4-5, 5.54), Sr. LHP Matt Jansen (4-6, 6.62) and Jr. RHP Matt Morgan (6-5, 4.75), and the Boilermakers' fortunes will likely depend upon whether that trio can get better results as veterans. Iowa was derailed by injuries in 2009, but that created opportunities for freshmen to get some experience under their belts, and the Hawkeyes will be relying upon five sophomore regulars and three sophomores in the weekend rotation this year. They also added a potential star catcher in Fr. Dan Sheppard, though he'll have to battle incumbent Tyson Blaser (.281/.410/.344) for playing time.

HORIZON LEAGUE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH

CONFERENCE OVERALL
TEAM W L W L
*Wright State 14 12 33 30
Illinois-Chicago 17 6 29 23
Wisconsin-Milwaukee 14 9 28 27
Valparaiso 12 11 28 24
Youngstown State 10 14 16 35
Cleveland State 12 13 21 31
Butler 6 20 13 41
PROJECTED NCAA TEAMS (1): Wright State.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: 26 games, begins March 26.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Six teams, May 26-29 at Gary, Ind. (Valparaiso).
ALL-CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
C—Nathan Orf, So., Illinois-Chicago (.429/.492/.563). 1B—Tyler Wynn, So., Cleveland State (.303/.359/.548, 11 HR). 2B—Aaron Fields, Sr., Wright State (.314/.351/.394). 3B—Quentin Cate, Sr., Wright State (.352/.422/.572, 12 HR, 57 RBI). SS—R.J. Gundolff, Sr., Wright State (.347/.396/.450). OF—Doug Dekoning, Jr., Wisconsin-Milwaukee (.338/.382/.490); Casey McGrew, Sr., Wright State (.340/.418/.557, 52 RBI); Tim Patzman, Sr., Wisconsin-Milwaukee (.389/.456/.674, 11 HR). DH—Jacke Healey, Sr., Youngstown State (.293/.376/.521, 8 HR). UT—Eric Marzec, Sr., Youngstown State (.289/.313/.547; 1-4, 4.29, 17IP/20 SO).
SP—Alex Kaminsky, Sr., Wright State (6-2, 2.66, 85 IP/54 SO); Chris Kovacevich, Sr., Illinois-Chicago (7-4, 3.69, 90 IP/53 SO); Bryce Shafer, Jr., Valparaiso (7-3, 3.59, 85 IP/79 SO). RP—Michael Schum, So., Wright State (5-7, 1.95, 13 SV, 74 IP/57 SO).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Quentin Cate, 3b, Wright State.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Bryce Shafer, rhp, Valparaiso.
TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Max Friedman, rhp, Wright State (Tr.—Parkland, Ill., CC)
2. Justin Kopale, ss, Wright State (Tr.—Oak Forest, Ill.)
3. Chad Pierce, rhp/c, Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Tr.—Arkansas)
TOP PROSPECTS, 2010 DRAFT
1. Eric Marzec, rhp/of, Youngstown State
2. Casey McGrew, of, Wright State
3. Max Friedman, rhp, Wright State
4. Bryce Shafer, rhp, Valparaiso
5. Quentin Cate, 3b, Wright State

QUICK HITS

• Wright State has made regionals two of the last four years under sixth-year head coach Rob Cooper, who served as an assistant with Team USA last summer. The Raiders opened 2009 with consecutive four-game series at Texas A&M and Tulane and got off to a 1-7 start, but that experience toughened them for the stretch run, and they caught fire in the Horizon League tournament. The schedule is similarly challenging this year, with eight total preconference games at Clemson, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt. Wright State's veteran lineup is anchored by the league's two best all-around players in Sr. 3B Quentin Cate and Sr. OF Casey McGrew, the latter of whom showed off his smooth line-drive stroke by hitting .341 in 44 at-bats with Team USA last summer. The pitching staff is bookended by a pair of savvy strike-throwers in ace RHP Alex Kaminsky and sidewinding closer Michael Schum. The most talented arm on the staff belongs to newcomer Max Friedman, who went 11-0 for Parkland's NJCAA Division II national championship team last spring. Friedman throws a power sinker in the 89-91 range that touches 93, and he complements it with a quality slider and good changeup.

• Perennial Horizon League power Illinois-Chicago seeks its fifth regional berth in the last eight years, but the Flames must replace four of the top six pitchers from last year's staff. The rotation will be anchored by Sr. LHP Chris Kovacevich, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder with a lively 86-88 mph fastball and an excellent fading changeup. UIC needs a big year from Jr. 1B/RHP Rafael Garcia (.172/.273/.207), who has played exclusively in the infield so far in his college career but who showed a 92 mph fastball in the fall. The Flames hope he can hold down a spot in the weekend rotation and bounce back offensively with a full season of good health.

• Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Valparaiso both have the talent and experience to make a run at the conference title and end regional droughts of seven and 41 years, respectively. Milwaukee's strength is its veteran lineup, highlighted by a pair of athletic, gap-to-gap hitters in Sr. LF Tim Patzman and Jr. CF Doug Dekoning. The Panthers also hope for a significant two-way contribution from Jr. RHP/C Chad Pierce, who sat out last year after transferring from Arkansas. Pierce, who can run his fastball up to 92 mph, is a Wisconsin native who ranked as the state's No. 5 draft prospect out of high school in 2006.

• Valpo, meanwhile, features two of the league's most talented players in preseason pitcher of the year Bryce Shafer and So. OF Kyle Gaedele (.278/.392/.414). Shafer commanded a low-90s fastball and ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Central Illinois Collegiate League two years ago, then went 4-3, 2.64 in 72 innings last year in the Northwoods League. Gaedele has a physical 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame, above-average speed and good power potential, and he looks primed for a breakout year. And keep an eye on Sr. RHP Austen Siwiec (0-2, 13.94), who struggled out of the bullpen last year but took to a starting role over the summer in the Northwoods League and flashed 92-94 mph heat on scout day in the fall.

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH

CONFERENCE OVERALL
EAST W L W L
Bowling Green State 18 8 28 22
*Kent State 17 9 43 17
Ohio 18 9 29 24
Miami (Ohio) 15 12 30 25
Akron 12 15 19 33
Buffalo 6 20 20 35
WEST W L W L
Ball State 14 10 26 25
Toledo 14 12 24 30
Central Michigan 12 15 28 30
Eastern Michigan 13 14 25 35
Northern Illinois 10 16 19 34
Western Michigan 9 18 14 35
PROJECTED NCAA TEAMS (1): Bowling Green State.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: 27 games, begins March 26.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Eight teams, May 26-29 at Chillicothe, Ohio.
ALL-CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
C—Matt Skirving, Jr., Eastern Michigan (.348/.426/.647, 16 HR, 64 RBI). 1B—Nate Theunissen, So., Central Michigan (.307/.347/.529, 9 HR). 2B—Jared Humphreys, Sr., Kent State (.339/.429/.513, 61 RBI, 23 SB). 3B—Derek Spencer, Sr., Bowling Green State (.385/.440/.688, 15 HR, 59 RBI). SS—Jared Hoying, Jr., Toledo (.293/.341/.533, 11 HR, 50 RBI). OF—Adam Eaton, Jr., Miami (.350/.468/.617, 11 HR, 28 SB); Gauntlett Eldemire, Jr., Ohio (.313/.443/.682, 21 HR, 56 RBI, 11 SB); Jordin Hood, Sr., Northern Illinois (.382/.474/.628, 10 HR, 14 SB). DH— Robert Maddox, Jr., Ohio (.320/.363/.529, 13 HR, 55 RBI). UT—Kolbrin Vitek, Jr., Ball State (.389/.465/.736, 13 HR, 67 RBI, 17 SB; 4-3, 5.65, 57 IP/56 SO).
SP—Bryce Butt, Sr., Ohio (6-6, 4.80, 60 IP/52 SO); Kyle Hallock, Jr., Kent State (4-3, 4.57, 65 IP/42 SO); Brennan Smith, Jr., Bowling Green State (8-4, 4.41, 82 IP/80 SO). RP—Brett Weibley, Jr., Kent State (1-0, 7.56, 25 IP/28 SO).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kolbrin Vitek, 2b/rhp, Ball State.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Brennan Smith, rhp, Bowling Green State.
TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Jordan Dean, ss, Central Michigan (HS—Midland, Mich.)
2. Seth Streich, 3b/rhp, Ohio (HS—Johnsonburg, Pa.)
3. Bryce Redeker, of, Miami (Tr.—Kankakee, Ill., CC)
TOP PROSPECTS, 2010 DRAFT
1. Kolbrin Vitek, 2b/rhp, Ball State
2. Gauntlett Eldemire, of, Ohio
3. Brett Weibley, rhp, Kent State
4. Brennan Smith, rhp, Bowling Green State
5. Jared Hoying, ss, Toledo

QUICK HITS

• The MAC was characteristically competitive in 2009. The top three teams in the Eastern Division were separated by just a game in the final standings, and the top two teams in the West were separated by a game. All five of those teams—Bowling Green State, Ohio, Kent State, Ball State and Toledo—should be factors again this year, as should usual contenders Miami (Ohio) and Central Michigan. Kent State won the league's automatic bid last spring for the fifth time in the last nine years, and the Flashes will be strong again despite losing their two highest-profile prospects in underachieving righties Brad Stillings and Kyle Smith. The most talented pitcher on the staff, 2009 MAC freshman of the year Andrew Chafin (4-1, 1.26, 8 SV, 36 IP/55 SO), had Tommy John surgery in June and will be sidelined until late April, at least. That leaves converted infielder Brett Weibley, who ran his fastball up to 95 while posting a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings in the Cape Cod League last summer, to hold down the closer job. The Flashes have one of the top pitching coaches in the Midwest in Mike Birkbeck, and he has quality arms atop the rotation in Jr. LHP Kyle Hallock and Jr. RHP Robert Sabo (3-1, 6.84). But Kent State's strength should be its experienced, balanced lineup, sparked by fifth-year Sr. Jared Humphreys and energetic, undersized So. SS Jimmy Rider (.353/.438/.491). Sr. LF Anthony Gallas (.324/.420/.512), Jr. CF Jared Bartholomew (.318/.374/.595 in 2008) and Jr. RF Ben Klafczynski (.318/.391/.507) return to form a physical, athletic outfield.

• Bowling Green State, winner of the MAC's regular season title each of the last two years, returns seven everyday starters from a team that ranked eighth in the nation in batting (.345) a year ago. Powerful Sr. 3B Derek Spencer anchors a tremendous infield, which also includes one of the league's top prospects for the 2011 draft in athletic So. SS Jon Berti (.368/.467/.596); a line-drive machine and strong defender at second in Sr. Logan Meisler (.361/.406/.474); and a smooth-swinging lefthanded bat at first in Sr. Dennis Vaughn (.336/.420/.478). Two more seniors—C Tyler Elkins (.406/.454/.533) and CF T.J. Blanton (.341/.394/.585)—make the Falcons rock-solid up the middle. And BGSU welcomes back the reigning MAC pitcher of the year in Jr. RHP Brennan Smith, who can run his lively fastball up to 94 and flashes an above-average split-finger. The key for Bowling Green will be how two more physical power pitchers return from injuries that sidelined them for all of 2009: Jr. RHPs Frank Berry (bone spurs in his elbow) and Kevin Leady (Tommy John surgery). That duo will be counted on to hold down rotation spots after Smith. BGSU will be tested early, opening the season with back-to-back series at Louisville and Kentucky.

• Ball State has made only one regional since 1969—in 2006—but enters this spring as the strong favorite in the Western Division. The Cardinals are led by the league's best player and prospect, 2B/RHP Kolbrin Vitek, who ranked as the top prospect in the Great Lakes League last summer. Vitek is the whole package—long and lean at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he is an above-average runner with power, a smooth stroke, good range and hands in the infield, and command of a four-pitch repertoire including a low-90s fastball off the mound. Vitek's strong supporting cast is highlighted by physical, intelligent Sr. C Zach Dygert (.350/.426/.584, 9 HR, 58 RBI) and So. 1B Ian Nielsen (.352/.395/.565, 9 HR, 53 RBI). The pitching staff is fairly deep but lacks a proven ace; Ball State hopes Sr. RHP Brad Piatt (5-2, 5.34) grows into that role. The pick to click in the bullpen is So. RHP Perci Garner (1-0, 4.95, 20 IP/24 SO), a former BSU backup quarterback who showed 93-96 mph heat in the Great Lakes League, where he ranked as the No. 2 prospect.

• For the second straight year, Ohio has an outfielder with a chance to be drafted in the first two rounds. Despite hitting .313/.443/.682 with 21 homers, 56 RBIs and 11 stolen bases as a sophomore last year, center fielder Gauntlett Eldemire was overshadowed by Marc Krauss, who led the nation in homers per game and was drafted in the second round. But the Bobcats say Eldemire has gotten even better this fall, showing well-above-average speed and excellent power potential. Ohio also has one of the MAC's best Friday starters in Sr. RHP Bryce Butt, who won Northwoods League pitcher of the year honors last summer, going 7-0 with a league-leading 1.07 ERA. Butt attacks hitters with an 85-88 mph fastball and two quality breaking balls.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH

CONFERENCE OVERALL
TEAM W L W L
*Wichita State 11 7 30 27
Creighton 14 9 31 25
Missouri State 17 5 34 20
Illinois State 11 11 25 23
Southern Illinois 11 9 24 28
Indiana State 15 7 33 21
Evansville 7 17 25 30
Bradley 4 17 17 31
PROJECTED NCAA TEAMS (1): Wichita State.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: 21 games, begins March 26.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Six teams, May 25-29 at Wichita State.
ALL-CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
C—Tyler Bullock, Sr., Southern Illinois (.292/.370/.590, 11 HR). 1B—Clint McKeever, Sr., Wichita State (.333/.410/.509). 2B—Aaron Medrano, So., Missouri State (.329/.387/.442). 3B—Cody Fick, Jr., Evansville (.307/.363/.526, 9 HR). SS—Elliot Soto, Jr., Creighton (.322/.460/.487, 13 SB). OF—Robbie Knight, Sr., Creighton (.344/.460/.487); Ryan Jones, Sr., Wichita State (.277/.365/.427, 14 SB); Ryan Strausborger, Sr., Indiana State (.340/.401/.471, 21 SB). DH—Ryan Court, Jr., Illinois State (.323/.429/.488). UT—Tom Heithoff, Sr., Evansville (.303/.376/.424; 4-3, 2.87, 8SV, 38 IP/32 SO).
SP—Jordan Cooper, So., Wichita State (8-6, 2.78, 97 IP/91 SO); Tim Kelley, Jr., Wichita State (5-4, 2.86, 94 IP/102 SO); Aaron Meade, Jr., Missouri State (9-2, 3.39, 90 IP/89 SO). RP—Bryant George, rhp, Southern Illinois (3-0, 3.21, 8 SV, 28 IP/21 SO).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ryan Strausborger, of, Indiana State.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Aaron Meade, lhp, Missouri State.
TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Patrick Cooper, rhp, Bradley (Tr.—Des Moines Area, Iowa, CC)
2. Tobin Mateychick, rhp, Wichita State (HS—Enid, Okla.)
3. Pierce Johnson, rhp, Missouri State (HS—Arvada, Colo.)
4. Nate Goro, 3b, Wichita State (HS—Wildwood, Mo.)
5. Beau Stoker, 3b, Missouri State (HS—Kansas City)
6. Brian Martin, of, Bradley (Tr.—JC of DuPage, Ill.)
7. Randy Hoelscher, lhp, Southern Illinois (Tr.—Springfield, Ill., CC)
8. Ty Wiesemeyer, of, Illinois State (Heartland, Ill., CC)
9. Jake Naumann, rhp, Evansville (HS—Naperville, Ill.)
10. Michael Mutcheson, 2b, Creighton (Tr.—New Mexico JC)
TOP PROSPECTS, 2010 DRAFT
1. Patrick Cooper, rhp, Bradley
2. Jordan Cooper, rhp, Wichita State
3. Aaron Meade, lhp, Missouri State
4. Ryan Jones, of, Wichita State
5. Elliot Soto, ss, Creighton
6. Jake Petrika, rhp, Indiana State
7. Cody Fick, 3b, Evansville
8. Ryan Strausborger, of, Indiana State
9. Bryant George, rhp, Southern Illinois
10. Ryan Court, 3b, Illinois State

QUICK HITS

• After 103 seasons, Northern Iowa eliminated its baseball program after last season, despite a vigorous fundraising effort from the program's supporters aimed at saving it. The university announced its decision in February and imposed an April 5 deadline to raise $1.2 million to save the program. Supporters secured $258,000 in pledges from more than 600 donors and proposed funding $250,000 of the program's $350,000 annual budget on its own going forward, but the university declined the overture. UNI's players scattered to Division I schools such as Southern California, Illinois, Texas-San Antonio, Wichita State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Western Illinois. And 10-year Panthers head coach Rick Heller landed on his feet, too, accepting a job as the head coach at Indiana State after Sycamores coach Lindsay Meggs left to take the head job at Washington. He inherits a team that finished a surprising second in the MVC a year ago but that lost a number of key veterans. The Sycamores should still be fairly offensive, however, led by athletic leadoff man Ryan Strausborger, the No. 5 prospect in the Great Lakes League last summer.

• Perennial Valley juggernaut Wichita State had a down year in 2009, finishing fourth in the regular season standings, but the Shockers got hot in the conference tournament to win the automatic bid and make regionals for the 27th time in the last 31 years. They enter 2010 as the MVC's clear favorite, as they return the top eight pitchers from a staff that ranked 19th nationally in ERA (4.26) and 15th in strikeouts per nine innings (9.1). The stellar four-man rotation features one of the league's top prospects for the 2010 draft in eligible So. RHP Jordan Cooper, plus two of the MVC's top prospects for the 2011 draft in So. LHP Charlie Lowell (6-2, 2.95, 64 IP/63 SO) and So. RHP Brian Flynn (2-5, 4.98, 56 IP/59 SO). As usual, the offense will rely on athleticism and speed (the Shockers led the Valley in stolen bases a year ago with 94), with Sr. 1B Clint McKeever and Sr. RF Ryan Jones as the anchors.

• The Valley is wide open after the Shockers. Missouri State figures to take a step back after sustaining major losses from its '09 MVC regular season title team, but the Bears still have the conference's top pitcher in Jr. LHP Aaron Meade, who throws strikes with a lively fastball up to 92 and a very good changeup. The Bears will count on sophomore middle infielders Kevin Medrano and Travis McComack (.276/.410/.388) to lead the depleted lineup.

• Creighton has a deep, experienced pitching staff and most of the key players back from a defense that led the nation with a .984 fielding percentage. The Bluejays have the conference's best defender in Jr. SS Elliot Soto and a gritty gamer in Sr. CF Robbie Knight, who enters the season No. 8 on the all-time Division I hit-by-pitch list. The major issue facing Creighton will be replacing stalwarts Darin Ruf and Vicente Cafaro on the right side of the infield; New Mexico JC transfer Michael Mutcheson, a member of the Canadian national team, will join Soto in the middle infield.

• Illinois State should be improved in Mark Kingston's first season as head coach, following the retirement of Jim Brownlee last summer. The Redbirds return their entire weekend rotation, headlined by So. RHP Ryan Camp (6-3, 4.73), who ranked as the top prospect in the Clark Griffith League last summer thanks to a heavy 87-93 mph fastball.

SUMMIT LEAGUE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH

CONFERENCE OVERALL

W L W L
*Oral Roberts 16 2 33 15
Centenary 16 10 33 19
South Dakota State 17 10 26 30
Southern Utah 15 7 27 24
North Dakota State 10 14 16 28
Oakland 10 18 22 34
Western Illinois 8 16 13 33
IPFW 6 21 13 38
PROJECTED NCAA TEAMS (1): Oral Roberts.
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: 28 games, begins April 9.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Four teams, May 27-29 at Tulsa (Oral Roberts).
ALL-CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
C—Justin Kline, So., North Dakota State (.432/.503/.576). 1B—Joel Blake, Jr., South Dakota State (.351/.404/.614, 13 HR). 2B—Colby Price, Sr., Oral Roberts (.340/.371/.553). 3B—Jesse Sawyer, Jr., South Dakota State (.346/.452/.701, 19 HR, 58 RBI). SS—Tyler Saladino, Jr., Oral Roberts (Tr.—Palomar, Calif., JC). OF—Nick Baligod, Jr., Oral Roberts (Tr.—Sacramento CC); P.J. Sequeira, Sr., Oral Roberts (.330/.431/.569, 9 HR); Billy Stitz, Jr., South Dakota State (.302/.328/.441, 13 SB). DH—Seth Furmanek, Sr., Oral Roberts (.333/.443/.710, 17 HR, 63 RBI). UT—Michael Tompkins, Sr., Centenary (.348/.463/.552, 8 HR; 2-1, 4.57, 43 IP/21 SO).
SP—Drew Bowen, So., Oral Roberts (2-2, 5.35, 37 IP/41 SO); Justin Kraft, Jr., Centenary (6-4, 4.08, 82 IP/77 SO); Boone Whiting, Jr., Centenary (6-2, 4.16, 80 IP/86 SO). RP—Stephen Tromblee, Jr., Centenary (5-3, 4.46, 4 SV, 69 IP/58 SO).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Seth Furmanek, c/dh, Oral Roberts.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Boone Whiting, rhp, Centenary.
TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Tyler Saladino, ss, Oral Roberts (Tr.—Palomar, Calif., CC)
2. Bennett Pickar, c, Oral Roberts (HS—Eaton, Colo.)
3. Nick Baligod, of, Oral Roberts (Tr.—Sacramento CC)
TOP PROSPECTS, 2010 DRAFT
1. Tyler Saladino, ss, Oral Roberts
2. Dakota Robinson, lhp, Centenary
3. Nick Baligod, of, Oral Roberts

QUICK HITS

• Western Illinois suffered a major loss when head coach Stan Hyman lost his battle with leukemia in September. The Leathernecks had made huge strides under Hyman, including a school-record 32 wins in 2006, before pitching woes—their 10.27 ERA ranked 286th in the nation—torpedoed their '09 season. WIU hired former Central Michigan recruiting coordinator Mike Villano to replace Hyman in November.

• Oral Roberts has won 12 consecutive Summit championships and is the strong favorite again in 2010 despite losing its entire dominating weekend rotation (Mark Serrano, Jerry Sullivan and Andre Lamontagne) and its closer (T.J. Kelly). ORU hopes So. RHP Drew Bowen, who can reach 91 mph and owns a good cutter, can take over the Friday starter role. Sr. RHP Jeff Burleson (3-0, 3.12) has a lively fastball that reaches 92 and should move into the No. 2 job. Jr. RHP R.J. Davis, a transfer from Sacramento CC, has the best arm on the staff and a fastball that reaches 94, making him a potential shutdown closer. Two other transfers—talented SS Tyler Saladino and athletic OF Nick Baligod, who transferred from Sacramento CC after the fall of 2008 and sat out last spring—will give slugger Seth Furmanek some help in the lineup.

• Budget woes caused Centenary's Board of Trustees to vote in July to reclassify the athletics program as a member of Division III after its commitment to the Summit League expires in two years. The Gentlemen have gradually become a factor in the league over the last 11 years under head coach Ed McCann, culminating in last year's 33-19 campaign, which included early-season wins against Texas A&M and Arkansas. Centenary's days in D-I may be numbered, but McCann's team looks like the primary challenger to Oral Roberts in 2010. The Gents have the league's most experienced, proven pitching staff, with their top three starters and closer all back for this spring. A fifth solid mound veteran, Sr. LHP Michael Tompkins, also doubles as the lineup's biggest power threat, and he has help from Sr. 1B Tell Ross (.350/.428/.552, 7 HR), whom McCann has dubbed "Big 'Un". But the Gents will miss departed middle infielders Ricky Imperiali and Tim Deering—or "Batman and Robin", as McCann called them.