On Campus: What A Difference A Year Makes

Mark Kingston’s Bulls are pushing for a regional berth

SEE ALSO: Weekend Preview

SEE ALSO: Top 25 Coverage

A year ago, Auburn and Arkansas were laboring to a finish in the cellar of the Southeastern Conference. The West Division rivals finished 13th and 14th in the league, leaving them as the lone two teams to miss the SEC Tournament.

This weekend, the Tigers and the Razorbacks will show how far they have come in the last year. No. 10 Auburn will host No. 16 Arkansas in a critical series in both the West Division race, where Arkansas holds a one-game advantage, and in the race to host regionals.

Auburn (28-11) and Arkansas (31-8) are two of the most high-profile turnarounds this season, as are No. 1 Oregon State (30-2) and No. 3 North Carolina (29-8). The Beavers and Tar Heels have gone from being the first two teams left out of the NCAA tournament to potentially the top two national seeds.

But the teams with the top turnarounds this season by winning percentage (against Division I opponents) can largely be found outside the Top 25. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but so far, South Florida (30-7) leads the nation with a an increase of nearly .400 points, going from .421 last season to .811 this year. The Bulls are strongly in the mix to make their second NCAA tournament appearance in three years under coach Mark Kingston after last season's disappointment. Butler (21-13), under new coach Dave Schrage follows right behind USF, having gone from .231 to .618 this season.

Schrage is one of just two coaches to have delivered a top-10 turnaround in their first year at a school. The other is Purdue's Mark Wasikowski, who has helped the Boilermakers (19-18) improve from .185 last season to .514.

Arkansas ranks seventh with an increase of .322 and Auburn ranks ninth at .307. Oregon State falls just outside the top 10 at No. 11 (.289), while North Carolina ranks 40th with an increase of .166.

Name 2017 2016 Delta
South Florida .811 .421 .390
Butler .618 .231 .387
San Diego State .711 .356 .355
Purdue .514 .185 .328
Saint John’s .844 .518 .326
Arkansas .795 .473 .322
North Carolina A&T .556 .241 .315
Auburn .718 .411 .307
Illinois-Chicago .750 .444 .306
Oregon State .938 .648 .289
Southern Illinois-Edwardsville .472 .184 .289
Central Florida .711 .441 .270
San Diego .750 .482 .268
Cal State Bakersfield .594 .339 .255
New Mexico .554 .308 .246
Iona .444 .220 .224
Missouri .684 .464 .220
Nicholls State .513 .306 .207
Tennessee Tech .769 .564 .206
Hawaii .636 .431 .205
Saint Louis .636 .436 .200
Mercer .821 .623 .198
Cornell .586 .389 .197
Yale .588 .394 .195

News and Notes

Ako Thomas has sparked Michigan’s offense (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

Atlantic Coast Conference:
Following North Carolina's move to repeal the controversial House Bill 2, the NCAA and ACC both announced this week plans to return the Division II College World Series and the ACC Tournament, respectively, to the state after moving this year's events. The NCAA awarded the Division II CWS to Cary, N.C., through 2023. The tournament has been held at USA Baseball's National Training Complex since 2009. The ACC announced plans to bring the next two ACC Tournaments to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which has hosted the tournament five times since 2009. It was originally scheduled to host through 2018, the new deal adds a year to make up for this year's tournament moving to Louisville.

Big 12 Conference: Kansas State coach Brad Hill tied the program record for wins this week when the Wildcats swept a doubleheader Tuesday against New Mexico. Hill is in his 14th season at the program's helm and has won 435 games, matching former Kansas State coach Mike Clark. Hill will try to become the winningest coach in program history this weekend when Kansas State (19-18, 2-10) hosts No. 21 West Virginia (22-13, 8-4).

Big Ten Conference: No. 18 Michigan has the Big Ten's best offense, thanks in large part to sophomore Ako Thomas, who has established himself as its leadoff hitter. He is batting hitting .366/.480/.401 with 20 stolen bases, the seventh most in the country. Coach Erik Bakich said Thomas has a good understanding of what kind of player he is. "He knows he's a table setter, he knows he's a catalyst," Bakich said. "He's a line-drive hitter who hits hard ground balls. He can go line-to-line and hit to all fields. Once he's on base, he's one of the best baserunners I've been around in 16 years (of coaching)."

Pac-12 Conference: No. 1 Oregon State leads the nation with a 1.74 team ERA and, going into the weekend, freshman lefthander Jake Mulholland leads the nation with a 0.55 ERA. He is 4-0 with 30 strikeouts and six walks in 33 innings, and has provided a critical bridge from the Beavers starters to closer Max Engelbrekt (2-0, 0.82, 5 SV). Coach Pat Casey said Oregon State was lacking in that role last year and has been thrilled to have Mulholland and fellow freshman lefthander Brandon Eisert (3-0, 2.95) available out of the bullpen for multiple innings. "He's been tremendous for us," Casey said' "There's no way we are where we are without Jake Mulholland. He's pitched with poise. His development has been fantastic. A lot of the credit there goes to (pitching coach Nate) Yeskie."

Southeastern Conference: South Carolina righthander Clarke Schmidt left Thursday's game at No. 15 Florida in the sixth inning due to soreness in his right forearm. Florida went on to win the game, 1-0, behind an outstanding effort from righthander Alex Faedo (8.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 9 K). After the game, Schmidt told reporters he didn't feel anything on a specific pitch. "My forearm was getting a little tight throughout the game," the junior said. "No sharpness, no sharp pain, no tingling, that's the positive thing I'm taking out of this. I've been working on my changeup grip and that might have a little something to do with it. They seem to think it's flexor right now so that's a good thing. Hopefully it's nothing structural." . . . Auburn will likely be without sophomore righthander Casey Mize (6-1, 1.23) this weekend against Arkansas. Tigers coach Butch Thompson told reporters that Mize does not have a specific injury, but is dealing with general fatigue and soreness. Mize accepted last week an invitation to pitch for USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team this summer and has 82 strikeouts in 58.2 innings this season. Righthanders Keegan Thompson (4-1, 1.29) and Davis Daniel (3-2, 4.00) are slated to start the first two games of the series with Sunday's starter listed as TBA for Auburn.

Other conferences: Keston Hiura on Tuesday became the 15th player in UC Irvine program history to reach 200 career hits. The Preseason All-American is on a 13-game hitting streak and is batting .423/.535/.748 with seven home runs this season. He leads the Big West Conference in nine statistical categories, including his whole slash line. . . East Carolina this week dismissed junior closer Joe Ingle from the team. The righthander had struggled this season, going 3-3, 6.86 with two saves in 15 appearances. He pitched much better a year ago, going 6-3, 3.59 with 12 saves and helping the Pirates reach super regionals. "We appreciate all of Joe's hard work and wish him the best in the future," coach Cliff Godwin said in a statement. ECU also got some better news this week, as outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton, a Freshman All-American last season, returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the last nine games.