College Top 25 Chat: March 5

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Moderator: Aaron Fitt will answer your college questions beginning at 2 p.m. ET.

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody — I'll have to keep this chat a little short today so I can catch a flight back to SoCal. Let's get going.

    Lance C. (Fredericksburg, VA.): Given what we have seen so far this season, if Tulane's pitchers can stay healthy can we expect a return to the post-season?

Aaron Fitt: I think if Tulane's pitchers had stayed healthy last season, that team would have returned to the postseason, and certainly I think the same is true this year. I do like the depth of that pitching staff — they've had a number of guys step forward early on, which is very encouraging. Tulane has put itself back in the Top 25 discussion.

    Russell (Biloxi, MS): #4 Arkansas looks to be tops in the SEC West with a solid all-around club, but how do you think the rest of the division stacks up? #13 LSU, #14 Ole Miss, and #23 Mississippi State have all done well so far this season; could any of them possibly take the top spot from the Hogs?

Aaron Fitt: We actually just talked about this on today's podcast: I think Arkansas is a clear cut above everybody else in the West, but I do like all three of those next teams and could see them finishing in any order. Alabama and Auburn, I think, will lag behind that group, so there won't be quite as much parity in the West as last year. LSU and MSU are definitely pitching-first teams, but the Tigers have started to gain confidence offensively (albeit against softer competition), and Ole Miss is the most offensive team of the trio, but it got very encouraging work this weekend from Hively and Mayers, who are two huge keys to the season for that team. Should be an interesting race to follow, with a nice contrast in styles between those clubs.

    Russell (Austin, Texas): What did you think of Texas this week? I still think they have a long way to go in regards to offense, but it did show some light this week. What do you think of their chances in the Big 12 this year? And also do you think they will even make a regional this year?

Aaron Fitt: You threw in that last question just to try to get me wound up, didn't you? Yes, of course they will be in a regional, as everyone knows. My early impression, however, is that this isn't an Omaha team, and not just because of its record through three weeks. I just don't think this pitching staff is dominant enough to carry an average offense the way last year's pitching staff was. Thornhill and Milner are nice, but they're not Jungmann and Green and Stafford, and all the freshmen are still learning on the job. I think the offense will be fine — not explosive, of course, but fine — but I came away from the weekend underwhelmed by the arms.

    Mitch (Milwaukee, WI): What are your thoughts on the Hatters of Stetson University with all their returning talent from 2011?

Aaron Fitt: We had Stetson just outside our preseason Top 25 (along with MSU, Baylor, UC Irvine), and we still have them right in that 25-30 range. Other teams have just made more noise against better competition, which is why we haven't ranked the Hatters, but I do like that team a lot — balanced, veteran club with regional experience and a real good ace capable of beating anyone in Kurt Schluter.

    Lance (Greenville, S.C.): With the weekend South Carolina and Florida had beating 2 of the top ACC schools in their rival series how much focus does this put on the weekend series between these two schools in 3 weeks? Who do you think will win the series and would you call this the most important series of the season?

Aaron Fitt: The anticipation for that one is going to reach a fever pitch — unquestionably the most compelling series of the year in college baseball this year. I don't know about most important, though. I expect both of those teams to earn national seeds regardless of what happens that weekend. The most important series of the year probably involve some bubble teams.

    Wave Dat (Navarre, FL): How much more does C-USA need to win before they get more respect. Lots of C-USA vs $EC matchups the past week. USM over Bama & Auburn, Houston over Ark and TN, Rice over Tenn and Tulane over Bama (2 of 3). Is now the excuse, that the $EC is having a down year instead of giving credit where credit is due? 7-1 for the week CUSA over the SEC. We'll see if the trend continues tomorrow night.

Aaron Fitt: Ah, "no respect," that old chestnut. Southern Miss also lost a game to Purdue this weekend, which lost to Maryland last weekend, who is 9-1 and won a series at UCLA — better than anything on USM's or Tulane's resume. Another C-USA team, ECU, also lost to Maryland, at home — clearly the Terps are more deserving of a ranking than any of those C-USA teams. Alabama is down so far this y ear; they also got swept at home by Florida Atlantic, a good team but a team that just split four games with Princeton. Tulane doesn't have a series win yet against a regional team, but it has put itself on the radar, because I was already intrigued by that team coming into the year. We have Rice ranked fifth and UCF inside the top 20, but nobody else in that league has earned a ranking yet.

    MJ (NYC): I was at all 3 games of the Florida/Miami series. I was impressed by FL but in reality, Miami should have won 2 of 3(at worst the Sunday game) but the defense and the bullpen blew the games on Friday and Sunday and on Sat the shoddy defense opened the flood gates for the 5 run FL 5th inning. The starting pitchers had zero help from the defense and its pretty tough to beat the #1 team, let alone any good team, when you continuously give them 4 and 5 outs an inning and cannot pick the baseball up. My assessment is if they do not get the defense and bullpen squared away, at best, this is a regional only team. How do you see Miami going forward?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, Miami should have won Sunday, and was in position to win Saturday for a while, but that's the thing: this kind of stuff keeps happening in these Miami-Florida games lately. The Gators have not beat themselves, and Miami has — that is as much a credit to Florida as it is a knock against Miami. I think the defense will all start to gel once the 'Canes move Stephen Perez back to shortstop, and I always have confidence that Jim Morris will figure out his bullpen. I think this could be a super regional team and maybe even an Omaha team, but it is not a favorite to do either (we ranked them 18 in the preseason — that would make them a quality regional team that falls short of a super). You are right that Miami needs to figure some things out. Fortunately it's only Week Three.

    Josh (Mobile): Although he had 6 strikeouts, Matt Price struggled a bit on Saturday. And yesterday Koumas struggled acting as the closer. I truly believe if Price was the closer yesterday we would've held the lead and swept Clemson. Do you think it was an aberration, or should we go back to last year's starting rotation and put Price back at closer where he can impact multiple games during the week? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: I'm not worried about Price or Koumas, despite their lackluster weekends. I think the Gamecocks should stick with their current alignment for the time being, unless it keeps happening and they are forced to make a change.

    John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: With all due respect to Kevin Brady and his stellar numbers (which have been lights out), Clemson still has yet to win a Friday night game. Winning Friday night builds momentum for the rest of the weekend - something that the Tigers have been lacking. Is this something to worry about before the start of ACC play next week against UNC? Tks.

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, three straight one-run losses on Fridays, but Brady has pitched well in all three and the bullpen has actually pitched well in two of the three, so I don't think there is cause for alarm. It'll even itself out if you keep getting those kinds of quality starts from Brady.

    Marc (Austin): Was Texas losing to Tennessee the reason they dropped out? I don't think anyone expected a weekend sweep against that kind of competition in Houston, but it seems like a win against a team they should have beat (Tennessee) plus an upset of either Rice or Arkansas (which they got Friday night) would have been enough to keep them in at least one more week.

Aaron Fitt: It was because Texas has now posted two straight losing weekends, and is 4-7 overall. Those two factors together make it hard to keep them in the rankings. A 2-1 weekend in Houston would have kept the 'Horns in the rankings even with a losing record. So I guess you can say it tipped on the Tennessee loss, yes.

    Matt (Washington, DC): I am a diehard South Carolina fan but a team that has really impressed me so far this year is Pepperdine. I know they lost the series this weekend vs. a ranked Louisville squad, but Pepperdine has already won a series against Oklahoma and Fresno State (the same Fresno St. team that gave Stanford a run for their money this weekend) What are the chances that Pepperdine sneaks into the top 25 during the next few weeks? They also have a very big road game at Cal St. Fullerton in a few weeks that should be a great test.

Aaron Fitt: You're right, Pepperdine has been one of the great early-season stories, and if the Waves had won that series at Louisville, I can assure you they would have been ranked. I liked what I saw from that team in the first weekend against Oklahoma (go back to my Week One Three Strikes for my detailed impressions of them), and winning that series against Fresno was big too. Pepperdine is dramatically improved and certainly could find its way into the Top 25 before too long.

    Marc (Tallahassee): Has Florida State's young pitching staff turned the corner? After allowing 33 runs in the first 5 games of the season, FSU's staff has only allowed 4 in their last 5 (leaving out the game against the Phillies). Do you see these pitchers being able to do just enough to ride the offense all the way to Omaha?

Aaron Fitt: Great to see Liebrandt and Compton pitch well, though I'm eager to see how they'll hold up against ACC competition. I think FSU's offense is really good, but I'll reserve judgment on whether or not that's an Omaha team until we have a larger sample size upon which to judge those freshmen on the mound.

    John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: Duke has Stroman striking out 17 for Duke. Wake has Holmes tossing a no-no and Maryland is in the Top 25. Is the apocalypse upon us in the ACC?

Aaron Fitt: And Boston College and Virginia Tech are off to great starts, too. It's going to be a very competitive year in the ACC, it seems.

    Jason (New Orleans): Is there a tougher stretch in college baseball than Rice over the next 9 days? Starting tomorrow they have 7 games in 9 days, 6 against ranked teams (Texas State, Stanford x3, Arizona x2)!

Aaron Fitt: That is some stretch! Fortunately I do think the Owls have the pitching depth to handle themselves well during this stretch. But Kubitza and Simms need to be much better next week against Stanford than they were this weekend. Reckling showed me a lot by winning without his best stuff against Texas Tech, but if he doesn't have his best stuff against the Cardinal, he could be in trouble, too.

    Jeramey (Atlanta): Georgia tech is now 10-2 and playing some really good ball. Are they really that good, or is due to the schedule? How well do you see them doing the rest of the year? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Tech hasn't played any big-name opponents yet, but they have played a decent schedule against a bunch of solid programs, and they have gotten hot. Thought Tech was a top 10-12 team heading into the year, and that still feels about right. But the upside is higher if some of the young arms mature, and so far the early returns are good.

    Marcus (Nashville): Kentucky has had a hot start (11-0), do you see them breaking into the top 25 any time soon?

Aaron Fitt: I hate to say it, because I rather like Kentucky's team this year and think it's a regionals club, but we've seen this before: The Wildcats padding their record a softer early-season schedule, then reality hitting hard when SEC play starts. The 2010 team started 13-2 but finished at 31-25; The 09 team started 11-2 but finished 28-26. Even the 08 team—a good club that made a regional—started 19-0 but then went 16-14 in the SEC. Those early starts can be deceiving when they don't come against upper-echelon competition. Illinois-Chicago is a quality program, but it's also a cold-weather program from the Horizon League in early March, and that is UK's best win so far. Next week Canisius comes to town; it is certainly conceivable that UK could be unbeaten when SEC play starts. Kentucky will need to earn its way into the Top 25 by beating better opponents—and they'll get the chance in the first weekend of conference play against South Carolina.

    Noah (Durham, NC): Is it silly to worry about Georgia? On one hand they are 10-2, on the other they haven't played anyone and they haven't exactly dominated the teams they have played. If UGA is only able to squeak by the Presbyterians and Western Illinois of the world, I am concerned how UGA will fare once SEC play gets under way.

Aaron Fitt: That's a valid question, but I wouldn't worry. I think the pitching staff is too good, and I think the bats will warm up in time. But I am surprised how few runs Georgia has scored against softer competition.

    Taylor (Houston): Very impressed with UH this week at MMP, are these guys much improved this year? Ray looked pretty good. Where do they fall in the rankings? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: They are improved — I also was impressed with the Cougars. It's a nice mix of veterans and promising young players who will have their ups and downs. Ray was lights-out Friday, I thought — held that 90-93 velocity, expanded the zone both up and down when it was appropriate, competed and commanded. I like Jordan Lewis too — real nice senior lefthander. The Cougars still don't have a Top 25 resume, and I don't really see them as a Top 25 team this year, but I wouldn't be shocked if they snuck into a regional, even in a pretty strong C-USA.

    Noah (Durham, NC): A question about my alma mater: What would it take to get App State in the top 25? Except for the LSU series, App's schedule has been pretty light and this week (series vs Davidson) will be more of the same. App does have midweeks against Duke and South Carolina coming up, plus series vs Citadel and at Elon but doesn't play Charleston or Ga Southern until April. When might we see App crack the rankings if they keep winning? Also, while Maryland has played well, don't they deserve to drop out of the rankings on the basis of those hideous camo + red uniforms?

Aaron Fitt: It's great to show appreciation for the troops, but those unis are awful — sorry coach Bakich! I think if App keeps rolling through March and can handle itself in those midweek games you mentioned and win the Citadel and Elon series, it has a chance to crack the rankings. Beating LSU is one thing; sustaining a high level of play against good teams is another. Combine the two, and trust me, we'll notice.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Should we expect the UCLA bats to keep producing at the clip they have been lately or is this more of them facing weaker competition?

Aaron Fitt: I wrote in the preseason and again last week that I believe this will be a legitimately good UCLA offense. Everybody will struggle sometimes against front-line pitching like Arizona and Arizona State can throw out there, but in general I don't think there's any reason to expect UCLA's offense to go in the tank.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, sorry to cut this short, but I've got to run. Thanks for the questions!