Record: (44-15, 14-9 AAC); RPI: No. 10
How they got here: Won the American Athletic Conference tournament
Players to watch: RHP Zach Lemoine (6-6, 2.35 ERA), 1B Casey Grayson (.335, 48 RBI), RF Kyle Survance (.315, 29 RBI)
Overview: The Cougars return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, and their win total this season was the program's highest since 2002. Houston was in contention to host a regional of its own entering the final weekend, but conference rival Louisville received that bid instead after sweeping the regular season series. Houston had the last laugh though, dropping the Cardinals in the AAC championship game.
Offense: Houston ranked third in the AAC with a team batting average of .281 but they've shown glimpses of an offense more productive than that number indicates. The Cougars do have four players in the projected starting lineup batting over .300. They're also disciplined at the plate, leading their conference in walks (269) with the second lowest strikeout total (327). They bring aggression on the base paths as well, attempting 107 steals and converting 81 of them.
Pitching: The Cougars rely heavily on their pitching and rank fourth in the nation with a 2.20 team ERA and held opponents to a .225 batting average. Houston hadn't announced a Game 1 starter as of Thursday afternoon, but the Cougars do have two solid options. Aaron Garza has an 8-4 record and 2.65 ERA with a fastball that sits in the upper 80s and a sharp slider he relies on. Zach Lemoine is their ace and figures to be a top draft prospect in 2015. He has a 2.35 ERA and 82 strikeouts with a fastball that can touch 95 mph. Houston also has two quality relievers in Tyler Ford and Chase Wellbrock, who've combined for 16 saves this season.
They said it: Houston coach Todd Whitting: "I've told a lot of folks that if we didn't host, this is where I wanted to come because it's such a great college baseball environment — the history here, the tradition here. We're trying to be what LSU is."
Record: (42-14, 22-5 NEC); RPI: No. 43
How they got here: Won the Northeastern Conference tournament
Players to watch: RHP Craig Schlitter (10-1, 1.95 ERA), DH Buck McCarthy (.353, 29 RBI), CF Carl Anderson (.316, 40 RBI)
Overview: Bryant earned the NEC's automatic bid by winning the conference tournament for the second straight season, and also became the firs team in its conference's history to win 40 games in consecutive seasons. The Bulldogs boast the nation's highest win total in road games (26) and have the longest road win streak with 16. Bryant doesn't necessarily boast the strongest schedule though, ranking No. 216 in strength of schedule. They're no stranger to SEC teams in the postseason though. Bryant defeated Arkansas in the first game of last year's NCAA Regional in Manhattan, Kan.
Offense: Bryant ranks 13th nationally with a team batting average .304, and their 39 home runs led the NEC. Their 1.96 doubles per game (110 total) rank them 23rd nationally, and six players in the regular lineup have at least 10. Their .440 slugging percentage ranks them ninth in the country as does their .395 on-base percentage. They too are aggressive on the base paths, swiping the eight most bases in the country with 97 total.
Pitching: Bryant brings a stable rotation to the Baton Rouge regional, with three weekend starters posting sub-3.00 ERAs. Should LSU meet Bryant in Game 2, they'll face Craig Schlitter, who leads the team with a 1.95 ERA and ranks second with 69 strikeouts. He's turned in two consecutive 10-win seasons. Kevin McAvoy will get the Bulldogs started against Houston, and he boasts a team-best 88 strikeouts. Bryant also relies heavily on relievers Jonathan Cohen and Trevor Lacosse, each with ERAs below 3.00.
They said it: CF Carl Anderson: "We hear it sometimes that we're this year's Stony Brook, but we don't think about that. We just love playing baseball, traveling and getting out there on the field."
SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA LIONS
Record: (37-23, 18-12 Southland); RPI: No. 73
How they got here: Won the Southland Conference tournament
Players to watch: RHP Andro Cutura (10-2, 1.72 ERA), C Jameson Fisher (.394, 37 RBI), RF Andrew Godbold (.348, 57 RBI)
Overview: Friday's meeting between LSU and Southeastern will be the second between these teams this season. The Tigers went to Hammond on Feb. 19 and defeated the Lions 7-3. Southeastern finished third in the Southland standings after the regular season but went out to win the conference tournament to clinch the automatic bid. This is their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994.
Offense: Southeastern tied for the second best team batting average in the Southland with a .291 clip. They also led the conference with a .387 on-base percentage, and stole the most bases (77 on 123 attempts). A big reason for that is because they've been hit 100 times and walked 233 times. They're led by Jameson Fisher, whose .394 batting average ranks him 11th in the country. Andrew Godbold has a team-best .511 slugging percentage and has driven in the most runs (57).
Pitching: LSU will see Southeastern's ace Friday as Andro Cutura will take the mound for the Lions. Since April 1, he has a 0.84 ERA and a 6-1 record with 43 striekouts in 53 1/3 innings pitched. He's a definite MLB Draft prospect with a fastball that can touch 94 mph, a sharp cutter and above-average changeup. The Lions also have a trio of quality relievers in Matt Pittari, Mason Klotz and Dylan Hills. All three have ERAs below 2.00 and have combined to throw 77 strikeouts this season.
They said it: Southeastern coach Matt Riser: "We have a unique crew, and nothing gets to them. The name across the chest and the venue don't intimidate them. It might fuel their fire. We are going to have a great crowd here this weekend."