2017 NCAA Tournament Louisville Regional Preview

Brendan McKay (Photo by Brian Westerholt)

SEE ALSO: NCAA Regional Preview Podcast

1. Louisville (47-10, 23-6 in Atlantic Coast Conference)

11th appearance (sixth straight), at-large, first in ACC Atlantic Division

Top 200 Prospects: LHP/1B Brendan McKay (3), 3B/1B Drew Ellis (61), SS Devin Hairston (113), RHP Riley Thompson (144), RHP Lincoln Henzman (151)

Season in a sentence: Louisville reloaded after losing seven players to last year’s draft, opened the season 19-0 to ascend to No. 1 in the Top 25 for the first time in program history and went on to win its second ACC regular season title in three seasons since joining the league.

Player to watch: Brendan McKay, lhp/1b: All eyes, as usual, are on McKay. The Cardinals’ ace and middle-of-the-order slugger is in consideration to be drafted first overall in two weeks, and is trying to lead his team to the College World Series for the first time in his career. McKay, already a two-time first-team All-American, is having another exemplary season on the mound and at the plate. He is 9-3, 2.37 with 124 strikeouts in 91 innings and is hitting .363/.481/.705 with 17 home runs, 42 walks and 33 strikeouts.

Best weekend: at Clemson, May 12-14. Louisville swept eight of its 13 series this season, and its sweep at Clemson, a fellow regional host, was the biggest. The Cardinals clinched their third straight ACC Atlantic Division title during the series and matched the program record for regular-season victories. The sweep also extended Louisville’s winning streak to 15 games, its second such streak of the season.

Outlook: Louisville is extremely difficult to beat at Jim Patterson Stadium, where it is 29-4 this season. The Cardinals should be able to draw on their home-field advantage and wealth of talent to advance to super regionals for the fifth straight season.

2. Oklahoma (34-22, 12-11 in Big 12 Conference)

37th appearance (first since 2013), at-large, third in Big 12

Top 200 Prospects: None

Season in a sentence: Oklahoma has been streaky all season, but overcame a rash of midseason injuries to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under coach Pete Hughes.

Player to watch: J.B. Olson, rhp: One of six seniors on the team, Olson has been Oklahoma’s best and most often called upon reliever this season. He is 5-1, 1.67 with eight saves in 29 appearances this spring. Oklahoma has largely pieced together its pitching staff behind ace Jake Irvin this year, using a many pitchers in a variety of roles. But one thing is certain—if the game is on the line late, the Sooners want to get the ball in Olson’s hand.

Best weekend: vs. Texas Christian, May 12-14. Oklahoma has five series wins against teams that rank in the top 20 of the RPI, giving it several marquee weekends. But its most recent was its most important. The Sooners lost the series opener to the Horned Frogs, but bounced back to win the next two games on walk-offs and claim the series in a dramatic finish to their home schedule.

Outlook: Oklahoma has lost four straight games and will have to get back on track quickly with a tricky opening game against Xavier on tap. The Sooners have proven they can heat up in a hurry, however, and have the talent and veteran presence to make an extended stay in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Xavier (32-25, 10-6 in Big East Conference)

Fourth appearance (second straight), automatic, third in the Big East, Big East Tournament champion

Top 200 Prospects: LHP Zac Lowther (112)

Season in a sentence: Xavier swept through the Big East Tournament, beating host Creighton once and favorite St. John’s twice, to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

Player to watch: Rylan Bannon, 3b. Xavier enters regionals on a seven-game winning streak, during which it has scored 70 runs. Bannon has been at the heart of the Musketeers’ offense all season and comes into Louisville hitting .322/.438/.620 with 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Xavier will look to him again this weekend to keep its offense clicking.

Best weekend: Big East Tournament, May 25-28. Since joining the Big East in 2014, Xavier has excelled in the conference tournament. It has won the tournament all three times it has qualified for the event, and is 9-1 in Big East Tournament games. This year was the Musketeers’ second straight sweep through the tournament as their offense came alive for 27 runs in three games.

Outlook: Under coach Scott Googins, Xavier has developed into a dangerous postseason program. In addition to its conference tournament success, it is 3-4 in the NCAA Tournament in its last two appearances and made last year’s Nashville Regional final as a No. 4 seed. With Lowther at the front of the rotation, the Musketeers have a chance to repeat that performance this season.

4. Radford (27-30, 11-13 in Big South Conference)

Second appearance (last in 2015), automatic, tied fifth in the Big South, Big South Tournament champion

Top 200 Prospects: None

Season in a sentence: Radford started the year 3-11, but was able to turn its season around and then swept through the Big South Tournament to win the event for the second time in three years.

Player to watch: Kyle Zurak, rhp. Zurak has been a reliever throughout his career and saved nine games as Radford’s closer this spring. But in the Big South Tournament championship game against Presbyterian, Zurak was called on for his third career start. He threw a complete game, striking out nine batters and holding the Blue Hose to two runs on six hits and a walk. Zurak will likely be back in the bullpen this weekend, but he’ll assuredly again be called on to throw important innings.

Best weekend: Big South Tournament, May 25-28. Radford had been a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big South during the regular season, but it was anything but that in the tournament. The Highlanders rolled through the tournament, outscoring opponents 29-8 in four games.

Outlook: Radford was the No. 2 seed in the Nashville Regional in its previous NCAA Tournament appearance and reached the regional final before getting routed by Vanderbilt. The Highlanders will be hard-pressed to match that team’s success, but clearly found some momentum last week that they will try to carry over to Louisville.

STAT PACK (National rank in parentheses)
Team Avg. Runs P/G HR SB ERA K/9 WHIP Field %
1. Louisville .289 (68) 7.21 (26) 65 (34) 85 (23) 2.82 (3) 9.3 (16) 1.17 (4) .976 (41)
2. Oklahoma .274 (138) 6.32 (65) 51 (74) 36 (225) 4.32 (93) 9.4 (10) 1.46 (124) .977 (35)
3. Xavier .272 (150) 5.98 (102) 59 (47) 79 (34) 4.56 (127) 7.9 (107) 1.41 (88) .978 (26)
4. Radford .259 (227) 5.47 (167) 43 (116) 83 (25) 4.47 (116) 7.6 (140) 1.37 (66) .960 (249)

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