2021 NCAA Tournament Fayetteville Regional Preview

Image credit: Arkansas' Christian Franklin and Brady Slavens (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty)

To view the full bracket, click here

Friday schedule

No. 1 Arkansas vs. No. 4 New Jersey Tech (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 2 Nebraska vs. No. 3 Northeastern (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 1 Arkansas (46-10)

All-Conference Honorees: OF Christian Franklin (second), DH Matt Goodheart (first), RP Kevin Kopps (first), 2B Robert Moore (first), SP Patrick Wicklander (second)

Season in a sentence: Arkansas enters the NCAA Tournament after a sensational regular season that saw it rank as the No. 1 team in the country for 14 straight weeks, win its first SEC regular-season title since 2004 and its first SEC Tournament title ever.

Best pitcher: Kevin Kopps, RHP—Kopps’ rise has been remarkable to watch. A fifth-year senior, Kopps has become a true relief ace and perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the country. He is 10-0, 0.81 with 10 saves in 28 appearances. In 66.1 innings, he has struck out 105 batters and walked 15. Despite not starting a game this season, he has thrown enough to qualify for the ERA title and leads the nation in the category. Kopps relies on his cutter and has ridden it to the top of the sport.

Best hitter: Christian Franklin, OF—The Razorbacks have perhaps the best offense in the country but are impressive more for their depth than any individual standout. Still, Franklin is a dynamic player having an impressive season. He is hitting .286/.428/.566 with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases, all while playing an excellent center field.

Outlook: Arkansas is the best team in the country and enters the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak. To upset the Razorbacks would take a series of special performances, especially in Baum-Walker Stadium. They are 26-5 at home and have lost consecutive games just once this season—three months ago. Arkansas’ offense runs 1-through-9 with powerful, athletic hitters and scores runs in bunches. The Razorbacks don’t have a dominant rotation, but lefthander Patrick Wicklander gives them a strong No. 1 and Kopps has been lights out at the business end of games. After not losing a series all season long, to see Arkansas do so this weekend would be shocking.

No. 2 Nebraska (31-12)

All-Conference Honorees: 3B Max Anderson (second), OF Jaxon Hallmark (first), SP Cade Povich (first), C Luke Roskam (first), RP/SS Spencer Schwellenbach (first)

Season in a sentence: Nebraska wasn’t voted in the top six in the preseason Big Ten coaches’ poll but outperformed its modest expectations to comfortably win the Big Ten title, its second in four seasons.

Best pitcher: Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP—Schwellenbach, the Big Ten player of the year, could get the nod for both best pitcher and best hitter for the Huskers, as he is one of the best two-way players in the country. He’s a weapon finishing games on the mound. He is 2-1, 0.71 with nine saves in 16 appearances. He has 29 strikeouts and six walks in 25.1 innings. Schwellenbach is sure to play a big role this weekend and make a huge impact for Nebraska—but you can never be sure if his best performance will come on the mound, at the plate or in the field.

Best hitter: Jaxon Hallmark, OF—Hallmark is the Huskers’ leading hitter, batting .341/.412/.523 with eight home runs, 16 stolen bases and a team-high 43 runs. He has the ability to impact the game in numerous ways thanks to his speed, power and hitting ability.

Outlook: Nebraska and the rest of the Big Ten played a conference-only schedule, so this weekend will be the first chance it has to test itself against outside competition. And what a measuring stick the Huskers will get, as they end up in the same region as the No. 1 team in the country. Nebraska coach Will Bolt played for Dave Van Horn in Lincoln and will now for the first time as a head coach get to face off against his former coach. Nebraska has exceeded expectations all season long, but beating Arkansas is a big ask, especially in Fayetteville. If the Huskers are to be the team to do it, they will need to play nearly mistake free and get some big games on the mound.


No. 3 Northeastern (36-20)

All-Conference Honorees: OF Jeff Costello (second), 3B Danny Crossen (second), OF Jared Dupere (first), DH Scott Holzwasser (first), SP Kyle Murphy (first), SP Cam Schlittler (first), DH Max Viera (first), RP Eric Yost (second)

Season in a sentence: Northeastern won 20 straight games from early April to mid May, ran away with the Colonial Athletic Association’s North Division and then fought off a strong UNC Wilmington team in the championship game of the conference tournament to make its second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons.

Best pitcher: Cam Schlittler, RHP—Northeastern’s strength is on the mound, and it has an impressive four-man starting rotation. Schlittler has statistically been the best, going 8-0, 1.72 with 83 strikeouts and 19 walks in 73.1 innings. He attacks hitters with a fastball-curveball combination that has proved to be adept at creating swings and misses.

Best hitter: Jared Dupere, OF—Dupere, the CAA player of the year, is hitting .351/.462/.807 with 21 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He ranks third in the nation in slugging percentage and home runs, and both are program records. Dupere is the player opposing pitching staffs will be keyed in on stopping this weekend.

Outlook: Northeastern has some real talent on its roster. Dupere will be a handful for opposing pitchers this weekend and the Huskies rotation is an impressive group that combines the experience of Kyle Murphy with the high-octane stuff of Sebastian Keane and the outstanding performance of Schlittler. Northeastern hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973, but that drought should come to an end this weekend and if the Huskies ended up in the regional final, it wouldn’t come as a surprise.

No. 4 New Jersey Tech (26-22)

All-Conference Honorees: OF Albert Choi (first), SP Ryan Fischer (second), SS David Marcano (second), UTL Julio Marcano (first), RP Jake Rappaport (first)

Season in a sentence: In its first season in the America East, NJIT had its best season in program history, culminating in its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Best pitcher: Jake Rappaport, LHP—Perhaps it’s only fitting that opposite Arkansas, which has gotten such a boost from ace reliever Kevin Kopps, New Jersey Tech has its own bullpen ace. Rappaport has made 25 appearances this season and is 8-2, 2.23 with 10 saves, 34 strikeouts and 11 walks in 48.1 innings. He’s likely to be called on for multiple innings at the end of the game—just five of his appearances have been one inning or less—and when he comes in the game, the Highlanders usually win.

Best hitter: Julio Marcano, UTL—Marcano has moved around the diamond this year, but no matter where he’s playing defensively, he’s also providing plenty of offense. He’s the Highlanders’ leading hitter, batting .333/.435/.595 with 10 home runs and seven stolen bases. He’s walked nearly as often as he’s struck out (26 walks, 28 strikeouts) and has been NJIT’s best run producer.

Outlook: NJIT will play its first ever NCAA Tournament game against the best team in the nation. To say the least, it’s a tough draw for the Highlanders, who have never even played an SEC opponent before. But NJIT is on a nine-game winning streak and will be eager to make the most out of its opportunity on the big stage.

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone