2018 NCAA Tournament: Austin Regional Preview
1. Texas (37-20, 17-7 Big 12 Conference)
58th appearance (second straight); at-large bid; first in the Big 12 Conference
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Nolan Kingham (100), 2B Kody Clemens (208), RHP Blair Henley (285), RHP Chase Shugart (294)
Season In A Sentence: Texas was just .500 at the start of Big 12 play but turned its season around after a tough first month and the Longhorns went on to win their first conference title since 2011, which was also the last time they hosted a regional.
Player To Watch: Kody Clemens, 2B: Clemens had a breakout junior season to win Big 12 player of the year and earn All-America honors. He has been the driving force in the Longhorns’ lineup and is hitting .341/.431/.687 with 19 home runs—all team bests. Texas needs Clemens to be at his best during the postseason.
Best Weekend: vs. Texas Christian, May 17-19. Texas went into the final weekend of the regular season trailing Oklahoma State by two games in the Big 12 standings but came all the way back to claim the title. Texas swept TCU while Texas Tech swept Oklahoma State to send the Longhorns into first place. Clemens hit a walk-off home run in the second game of the weekend and then homered again in his first at-bat of the finale and the Longhorns never looked back.
Outlook: Texas’ second-half turnaround has been impressive and the way it played down the stretch has the Longhorns in a good spot heading into the postseason. Their defense has been a strength of the team all year and they have plenty of pitching, two facets that usually play up in the postseason. Texas’ offense has at times been reliant on Clemens, but the top half of its lineup has played well over the last month. If they can give their pitching enough support, Texas will be tough to beat.
2. Indiana (38-17, 14-9 Big Ten Conference)
Eighth appearance (second straight); at-large bid; fifth in the Big Ten Conference
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Jonathan Stiever (125), 3B Luke Miller (312)
Season In A Sentence: Indiana came into the year as the Big Ten favorite and looked the part in the first half before a couple tough conference series losses knocked them back in the standings.
Player To Watch: Matt Lloyd, INF/RHP: The senior is a crucial piece for the Hoosiers as he supplies a powerful bat in the lineup and also serves as their closer. At the plate, he is hitting .275/.359/.450 with eight home runs and on the mound he is 4-2, 1.23 with six saves in 14 appearances. Indiana this weekend will need Lloyd to step up in both of his roles.
Best Weekend: vs. Purdue, April 6-8. Indiana beat Purdue, its archrival and eventual Big Ten runner-up, in a spirited weekend series in Bloomington. The Boilermakers won the first game of the series before the Hoosiers bounced back for a 14-1 rout in the second game. Indiana claimed the series and bragging rights with a 7-5, extra-innings victory in the rubber game thanks to Logan Kaletha’s two-run, walk-off home run that completed a comeback for the Hoosiers.
Outlook: Indiana is battle tested after playing a difficult schedule and the Hoosiers have plenty of postseason experience as they make their third trip to regionals in four years. Indiana is well suited to playing at pitcher friendly Disch-Falk Field, where the Hoosiers’ strike-throwing pitching staff should be able to thrive. If some of Indiana’s powerful hitters like Lloyd, Miller and senior outfielder Logan Sowers are able to provide the thump, the Hoosiers have the firepower to produce a breakthrough weekend.
3. Texas A&M (39-20, 13-17 Southeastern Conference)
33rd appearance (12th straight); at-large bid; sixth in the SEC West
Season In A Sentence: Texas A&M came into the year as a top-10 team following a run to last year's College World Series, but the Aggies won just three SEC series this season and needed a late push in the SEC Tournament to secure a regionals berth.
Player To Watch: Braden Shewmake, SS: A Freshman All-American last year, Shewmake put together a strong sophomore campaign while moving from second base to shortstop. He’s hitting .329/.401/.459 with five home runs and 12 stolen bases. Shewmake stands out for his feel for the barrel and ability to make hard contact. The Aggies will need him to have a productive weekend at the plate.
Best Weekend: SEC Tournament, May 22-26. After going just 13-17 in SEC play during the regular season, the Aggies were on the NCAA Tournament bubble going into the conference tournament. They removed those doubts with three straight wins to open the event and reach the semifinals, knocking off regional teams Vanderbilt, Georgia and Auburn along the way.
Outlook: Texas A&M is perhaps the most talented team in Austin this weekend. But the Aggies are also one of the most inconsistent. Their pitching staff has impressive depth and their rotation of John Doxakis, Mitchell Kilkenny and Stephen Kolek and closer Nolan Hoffman make them dangerous. But Texas A&M produced just one winning weekend on the road (at Mississippi State) and it hasn’t had back-to-back winning weeks since early April. If the Aggies can find a way to reverse those trends, they’ve got as good a chance as anyone in the regional to move on to super regionals.
Vanderbilt Clinches SEC Title, Stanford Starts Strong
Vanderbilt clinched the SEC title and Stanford opened a pivotal series against Oregon State with a win.
4. Texas Southern (27-26, 17-6 in Southwestern Athletic Conference)
Fifth appearance (second straight); automatic bid; first in the SWAC West; SWAC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Texas Southern repeated as champions of the SWAC Tournament and rolled in the second half of the season, going 16-6 down the stretch.
Player To Watch: Kamren Dukes, OF: The SWAC player of the year is the Tigers’ offensive leader. He is hitting .396/.463/.548 with three home runs and 30 stolen bases. Dukes saw his 34-game hitting streak come to an end during the SWAC Tournament opener but bounced back to go 7-for-13 over the final three games of the event.
Best Weekend: SWAC Tournament, May 16-20. For the second year in a row the Tigers swept through the SWAC Tournament to advance to regionals. Texas Southern broke out its bats in New Orleans, scoring 46 runs over four games to mash their way to another title.
Outlook: Texas Southern lost, 10-2, to Texas in April at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. Reversing that result would be a big upset, but the Tigers do come into Austin with postseason experience. This is their third trip to regionals in four years.