2017 NCAA Tournament Houston Regional Preview

Connor Wong (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

SEE ALSO: NCAA Regional Preview Podcast

1. Houston (40-19, 15-9 in American Athletic Conference)

21st appearance (first since 2015), automatic, tied for first place in AAC, AAC Tournament champion

Top 300 Prospects: C Connor Wong (75)

Season In A Sentence: Despite losing their best player—Preseason All-American lefthander Seth Romero—twice, including his ultimately being kicked off the team in May, the Cougars won 40 games, finished tied for first in the American Athletic Conference in the regular season and capped it with an AAC Tournament title.

Player To Watch: Trey Cumbie, lhp. With Romero in and mostly out of the rotation, Cumbie stepped up. The sophomore moved from midweek starter to the weekend rotation in early April when Romero was first suspended and went 10-1, 1.88 with 80 strikeouts in 96 innings. Cumbie’s incredible season was capped by the AAC coaches voting him conference pitcher of the year.

Best Weekend: AAC Tournament, May 23-28. Houston went to the AAC Tournament with a chance to bolster its resume to host a regional. It did just that, sweeping through Clearwater, Fla., including two wins against Connecticut, a tournament bubble team. Houston finished off the tournament with a 6-0 victory against East Carolina in the championship game, its 40th win of the season.

Outlook: Houston finds itself in a difficult regional, facing a team in Baylor that beat it two of three in Waco, a solid Aggies team, and an Iowa team with the Division I leader in homers. The Cougars are difficult to beat in Schroeder Park, where they are 21-7, and they have the pitching to take care of business this weekend.

2. Baylor (34-21, 12-12 in Big 12 Conference)

19th appearance (first since 2012), at-large, fourth place in Big 12

Top 200 Prospects: None.

Season In A Sentence: In coach Steve Rodriguez’s second season in Waco, the Bears got off to one of the best starts in program history and rode that momentum—and lofty RPI—to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.

Player To Watch: Aaron Dodson, 1b. The senior first baseman hit .335/.394/.566 and tied with Shea Langeliers for the club lead with 10 homers and 38 RBIs. The Baylor offense doesn’t rely on power or speed, but has some tough outs.

Best Weekend: Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, March 3-5. Baylor had a few impressive weekends in Big 12 play, but it proved itself by going 2-1 in the Shriners College Classic with wins against Mississippi and Texas A&M and a close loss to Louisiana State in Minute Maid Park. Tucker Cascadden capped the Bears’ landmark weekend with a walk-off home run against then-Aggies’ closer Corbin Martin, ending the tournament with a flourish.

Outlook: Baylor has already played both Houston and Texas A&M this season, and the Bears beat the Cougars in Waco. The Bears have a battle-tested coach in Steve Rodriguez, solid arms in Troy Montemayor and and Montana Parsons and a pesky-enough lineup to emerge from this close-to-home regional.

3. Texas A&M (36-21, 16-12 in Southeastern Conference)

19th appearance (11th straight), at-large, tied for fourth place in SEC West

Top 200 Prospects: RHP Corbin Martin (62).

Season In A Sentence: After winning 19 of 23 games at one point during the season, the Aggies were one of the final four teams into the field after dropping eight of their final 10 games.

Player To Watch: Braden Shewmake, 2b. Shewmake was named the SEC freshman of the year after hitting .343/.388/.554 with 10 homers, 64 RBIs and 11 steals. Shewmake has a solid approach, especially given his age, and is a solid defender who could end up at shortstop next season.

Best Weekend: at Louisiana State, March 30-April 1. After losing its first two SEC series, A&M stopped its skid with a series win at Alex Box Stadium. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Aggies stunned the Tigers with four runs in the ninth, including a two-out, three-run home run from Walker Pennington. It was the first of five straight SEC series wins for the Aggies.

Outlook: A&M is hungry, having not gotten to a College World Series since 2011, and could be dangerous in this regional, especially with junior righthanders Brigham Hill and Corbin Martin at the front of its rotation. But the Aggies will have to break out of the 2-8 funk they finished the regular season in.

4. Iowa (38-20, 15-9 in Big Ten Conference)

Fifth appearance (first since 2015), automatic, fourth place in Big Ten, Big Ten Tournament champion

Top 200 Prospects: None

Season In A Sentence: The Hawkeyes shook off a 7-6 start by winning the first Big Ten Tournament championship in program history, winning three close games before routing Northwestern for the title.

Player To Watch: Jake Adams, 1b. Adams, a North Dakota commit before the school shuttered the program, was a very late addition to Iowa’s recruiting class from Des Moines Area CC and the Hawkeyes glad to have him. The big first baseman is tied for the Division I lead with 27 homers and shows a feel to hit as well.

Best Weekend: at Nebraska, April 14-16. Iowa went to Lincoln following a series loss at Northwestern, but was able to turn its season around at Nebraska, the eventual Big Ten regular season champion. The Hawkeyes won the first two games to clinch a series win that kept them in the thick of the conference race.

Outlook: Of the regionals without a national seed, Houston might be the deepest and that’s bad news for the Hawkeyes. Righthander Nick Gallagher (8-1, 3.39) is set to start the opener, but Iowa doesn’t have the depth of lineup or pitching the other three clubs do. But one hot stretch from Adams could be enough to change its fortunes.

STAT PACK (National rank in parentheses)
Team Avg. Runs P/G HR SB ERA K/9 WHIP Field %
1. Houston  .290 (62) 6.3 (64) 55 (57) 80 (29)  3.37 (13)  7.3 (165) 1.25 (18) .971 (116)
2. Baylor .296 (39) 6.1 (87) 49 (82) 22 (284)  4.28 (88) 7.9 (105) 1.53 (160) .973 (86)
3. Texas A&M .275 (130) 6.1 (82) 45 (106) 56 (108) 3.44 (16) 8.7 (36) 1.26 (21) .975 (44)
4. Iowa  .283 (93) 6.3 (70) 69 (25) 62 (79) 4.40 (103) 7.9 (111) 1.52 (154)  .979 (22)

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