2017 NCAA Tournament Fayetteville Regional Preview

Chad Spanberger hit three home runs Thursday

SEE ALSO: NCAA Regional Preview Podcast

1. Arkansas (42-17, 18-11 in SEC)

28th appearance (last in 2015), at large, second in SEC West

Top 200 Prospects: RHP Blaine Knight (88)

Season in a sentence: After finishing last in the Southeastern Conference in 2016, the Razorbacks bounced back thanks to their powerful lineup that led the conference with 80 home runs and a pitching staff that stepped up despite several injuries to host a regional for the first time since 2010.

Player to Watch: Chad Spanberger, 1b. If a strong regular season wasn’t enough to land the junior this title, an explosive SEC Tournament was. Spanberger was named tournament MVP after going 8-for-19 at the plate with eight extra base hits (five of which were home runs), 10 RBIs, eight runs and four walks. Spanberger blasted three home runs in Arkansas’ 12-0 win against Auburn and hit his other two in a 16-0 win against Florida. He goes into the tournament hitting .305/.385/.627 with 19 home runs. If he can carry his momentum from the conference tournament into the regional, the Razorbacks won’t need to look far to find someone to lean on offensively.

Best Weekend: at Texas A&M, May 12-14. Coming into their final series of the regular season, the Razorbacks were just 4-4 in their previous eight games and were looking to build some momentum heading into the SEC Tournament. Arkansas won a pair of games at College Station against then-No. 23 Texas A&M. Arkansas opened the series with a 6-4 win keyed by a home run in the 10th inning from Spanberger. The Razorbacks closed the series with an 8-0 shutout behind six scoreless innings from Blaine Knight.

Outlook: When Arkansas last hosted a regional in 2010, it came out on top and advanced to the super regional. Coming off of a strong showing in the SEC Tournament and a 42-win season, the Razorbacks will be expected to do so once again.

2. Missouri State (40-17, 18-1 in MVC)

10th appearance (last in 2015), at large, first in MVC

Top 200 prospects: 3B Jake Burger (19)

Season in a Sentence: The Bears dominated in Missouri Valley Conference play behind the bats of four regular starters hitting .311 or better and went 16-2 to close out the regular season.

Player to Watch: Jeremy Eirman, ss. Jake Burger will draw plenty of attention, but the man who he shares the left side of the infield with, Jeremy Eirman, deserves some as well. The sophomore was second on the team in home runs (19) and RBI (61) and batted .311/.429/.653 with a team-high 13 stolen bases. With a chance to send the Bears back to the super regionals for the second time in three years, Eirman will be looked upon to provide the same steady bat he brought to the table in the regular season.

Best Weekend: vs. Dallas Baptist University, April 7-9. The Patriots, who won the MVC Tournament, were the Bears’ toughest competition in the conference this season. Missouri State dispatched DBU with a three-game sweep to continue its undefeated start in conference play. Missouri State crossed the plate 23 times over the weekend behind 10 home runs. Eirman left the yard twice in the series, and Jeremy Knudson pitched eight innings of one-run, two-hit ball to open the weekend in a 5-1 win.

Outlook: Missouri State and Arkansas faced off in super regionals in 2015, with the Razorbacks winning the series in three games to reach Omaha. The Bears will hope for a better result in Baum Stadium this time around and has the offense to compete. Missouri State faced each of its competitors in the regular season and lost three of the four matchups, including a 7-3 loss March 7 to Oklahoma State, its first opponent. The Bears are top-30 in the country in both runs scored per game and home runs. Missouri State will look to its big bats for support as it opens regional play against the Cowboys.

3. Oklahoma State (30-25, 8-13 in Big 12)

43rd appearance (fifth straight), automatic qualifier, eighth in Big 12

Top 200 Prospects: None

Season in a sentence: Coming off a College World Series appearance, Oklahoma State struggled in the regular season, but shined when it mattered most to become the first eighth-seed to ever win the Big 12 Conference Tournament after sweeping through the event.

Player to watch: Garrett McCain, of. McCain leads the Big 12 in batting with a line of .394/.494/.560. He also has a team-high 14 doubles and 19 stolen bases. He had six hits in the final two days of the Big 12 Tournament to help Oklahoma State to wins over West Virginia and Texas. The hotter his bat stays, the better Oklahoma State’s chances of making it out of the region is.

Best weekend: Big 12 Tournament, May 24-28. The term “Cinderella Team” might not be best applicable to the school with the sixth-most NCAA tournament wins in Division I history, but the eighth-seeded Cowboys were far from the favorites to win the Big 12 Tournament. Oklahoma State opened the event by knocking off No. 3 Texas Tech, 3-0. It then ran off two straight wins against NCAA tournament-bound West Virginia before a 6-5 win over Texas in the conference championship game.

Outlook: The Cowboys are riding high after winning their second ever conference championship, and are set to face a Missouri State squad that they have already beaten this season. On top of that, Oklahoma State is 8-1 on neutral playing fields this season, which will play into its favor in Fayetteville. The Cowboys have plenty of postseason experience after last season’s Omaha run, which they can draw on. Oklahoma State seems to be heating up at the right time again this year, which makes the Cowboys a threat to win a road regional for the second straight year.

Oral Roberts (42-14, 25-4 Summit League)

27th appearance (third straight), automatic qualifier, first in Summit League

Top 200 Prospects: C Matt Whately (110)

Season in a sentence: Oral Roberts continued its domination of the Summit League, winning its 18th straight conference tournament title, and come into the regional hot having won their last nine games.

Player to Watch: Miguel Ausua, LHP: Oral Roberts racked up 42 wins this season, thanks in large part to its elite pitching staff led by junior Miguel Ausua. A Penuelas, Puerto Rico, native, Ausua pitched for Panola JC (Texas) for two seasons before joining Oral Roberts, and left a good impression in his first season in Tulsa. The southpaw went 11-2, 1.67 ERA in 14 starts. He struck out 79 in 86.1 innings, and tossed a five-hit shutout against North Dakota State in the Summit League Tournament championship game. If Ausua can pitch as he did in his first 14 starts, Oral Roberts will have its best chance to pick up a win in the regional.

Best Weekend: Summit League Championship, May 24-27: As the regular season rolled along, there wasn’t a question as to who the top dog in the Summit League was. The Golden Eagles reinforced that when they hosted and swept their way to a conference championship. Oral Roberts allowed just five total runs over the course of its three tournament championship wins, and – after beating Western Illinois and South Dakota State – defeated North Dakota State in the championship, 7-0. Ausua went the distance on the mound, while Cal Hernandez and Brent Williams brought the lumber and each went 2-for-4 with two runs driven in.

Outlook: Oral Roberts hasn’t beaten Arkansas since 2008, as the Razorbacks have won the last five matchups between the two schools. The Golden Eagles will face a potent Arkansas offense on Friday, and if they want to compete, they’ll look to rely on their pitching staff. Oral Roberts has five regular starters batting over .300, and will lean on junior Matt Whately, Dylan Snypes, Noah Cummings and Nick Roark at the plate.

STAT PACK (National rank in parentheses)
Team Avg. Runs P/G HR SB ERA K/9 WHIP Field %
1. Arkansas  .287 (74) 6.7 (42) 80 (11) 26 (273) 3.60 (28) 9.6 (6) 1.23 (16) .977 (36)
2. Missouri State  .280 (110) 7.1 (28) 72 (18) 50 (139) 3.58 (25) 9.1 (21)  1.23 (15) .973 (82)
3. Oklahoma State  .265 (195) 5.8 (126)  48 (87) 52 (125) 4.37 (101) 9.0 (25) 1.32 (93) .971 (111)
4. Oral Roberts .294 (46) 6.9 (36) 67 (29) 58 (95) 3.00 (7) 8.9 (29) 1.34 (53) .978 (25)

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