2018 NCAA Tournament: Fayetteville Regional Preview
1. Arkansas (39-18, 18-12 Southeastern Conference)
29th appearance (second straight); at-large bid; tied for first in the SEC West
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Blaine Knight (36), RHP Isaiah Campbell (73), C Grant Koch (128), SS Jax Biggers (355), LHP Kacey Murphy (419), OF Eric Cole (433)
Season In A Sentence: With a strong cast of returning players from last year's team, Arkansas entered the year as the favorite in the SEC West and lived up to that expectation with a solid 39-win season.
Player To Watch: Blaine Knight, RHP: Knight posted an incredible 10-0 record in 15 starts throughout the 2018 season. The junior righthander posted a 2.78 ERA and struck out 86 batters 87.1 innings and earned All-American honors. He has also been a giant-killer, beating an incredible array of Preseason All-American pitchers in head-to-head matchups, including both Auburn’s Casey Mize and Florida’s Brady Singer.
Best Weekend: vs. Auburn, April 6-8. Arkansas had numerous series wins over teams that would end up in the NCAA Tournament. However, none were bigger than the Razorbacks’ series sweep against Auburn. Arkansas held the Tigers to a total of just seven runs in three games and rebounded nicely from back-to-back SEC series losses the two previous weeks.
Outlook: Arkansas has been beyond dominant when playing in Fayetteville this season, winning 30 of 34 games at home. Playing in front of their home fans at Baum Stadium, the Razorbacks should be heavy favorites to advance to next weekend's super regionals.
2. Southern Mississippi (43-16, 23-6 Conference USA)
15th appearance (second straight); automatic bid; first in Conference USA; CUSA Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Nick Sandlin (150), 3B Luke Reynolds (404)
Season In A Sentence: Southern Miss started the year with a splashy sweep of in-state rival Mississippi State and then rolled through CUSA to claim its second straight conference title.
Player To Watch: Luke Reynolds, 3B: Reynolds has been a major part of Southern Miss’ success in 2018, hitting an eye-popping .400 on the year. The junior third basemen has hit 15 home runs and 60 RBIs while recording a .562 OBP. Reynolds' efforts earned him the CUSA player of the year award and All-American honors.
Best Weekend: at Marshall, May 17-19. While Marshall was far from Southern Miss’ toughest opponent, the Golden Eagles entered their final series of the regular season having lost 3 of their last 4 games. Southern Miss responded by sweeping Marshall and securing its second consecutive CUSA regular season title.
Outlook: It was a down year for CUSA, meaning Southern Miss hasn’t faced much high-end competition on the weekend in the last couple of months. Still, this is a mature, experienced Golden Eagles team that should be ready to play this weekend. Southern Miss has an explosive lineup and a true ace in righthander Nick Sandlin, giving them a chance to contend for a spot in super regionals.
3. Dallas Baptist (40-19, 16-5 Missouri Valley Conference)
Eighth appearance (fifth straight); at-large bid; second in the Missouri Valley Conference
BA 500 Prospects: OF Jameson Hannah (48), OF Devlin Granberg (245)
Season In A Sentence: With solid power hitters throughout the lineup, Dallas Baptist marched to an impressive 40-win season, but the Patriots went 1-3 at home against Missouri State over the final two weekends, spoiling their chance to win either the conference's regular season or tournament title.
Player To Watch: Devlin Granberg, OF: Dallas Baptist has an abundance of strong hitters in its lineup this season, hitting a total of 77 home runs with a .296 team batting average. Granberg was the leader of this group. The senior hit .426/.531/.651 with 11 home runs and 65 RBIs, earning MVC player of the year and All-American honors.
Best Weekend: at Bradley University, May 11-13. Dallas Baptist was contending with Missouri State throughout the season for first place in the MVC. The Patriots used a sweep over Bradley, the third-place team in the MVC, to keep their hopes of winning the MVC alive. Dallas Baptist obliterated Bradley's pitching, scoring a combined 31 runs in three games. Dallas Baptist ended up losing its next series to Missouri State and finishing second in the MVC regular season standings, but the sweep of Bradley was a solid resume builder for the Patriots.
Outlook: Dallas Baptist earned its fifth straight regional appearance thanks to its strong hitting and there is little reason to believe the Patriots can’t continue to hit well this weekend in Fayetteville. The question is whether or not the pitching staff can compete, having posted a 4.38 team ERA during the regular season.
Under The Radar: Arkansas State Starts Red Hot In Sun Belt Play
Arkansas State has swept two straight series and looks like a contender in the Sun Belt West Division as it aims for its first regionals appearance since 1994.
4. Oral Roberts (38-18, 24-6 Summit League)
28th appearance (fourth straight); automatic bid; first in the Summit League; Summit League Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Oral Roberts once again dominated Summit League competition and won the league by six games, claiming its 18th straight championship while a member of the league.
Player To Watch: Kyler Stout, RHP: Stout had a strong season coming out of the Oral Roberts bullpen. The righthanded reliever recorded 14 saves, 42 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 innings. Stout was the top reliever for the Golden Eagles and in the Summit League, earning first team all-Summit League honors. If Oral Roberts can get the ball to Stout with a lead, it should feel good about its chances.
Best Weekend: Summit League Tournament, May 23-26. Oral Roberts entered the tournament as the heavy favorite, especially considering it just won the Summit League by such a wide margin. The Golden Eagles didn’t disappoint, winning three straight games by a total of 15 runs. The successful weekend guaranteed Oral Roberts a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year.
Outlook: Oral Roberts is fighting an uphill battle in the Fayetteville Regional, as coach Ryan Folmar's club went just 3-6 against NCAA Tournament teams during the regular season. However, the Golden Eagles feature a good mixture of solid hitting and reliable pitching that should keep them close, plus they have a good amount of postseason experience.