College Baseball Roundup

The #1 ranked Cardinal are in the midst of their 15-day break for final exams, but there was still plenty of baseball played throughout the country last weekend. Included in this Roundup is all the latest from around the Pac-10 plus an updated "Super Sixteen." And with the conference season rapidly approaching, check out detailed notes on all the Pac-10 teams and their conference title/postseason chances.

Pac-10 Standings (overall records through games of Mon. Mar. 15)

Arizona State        17-3
Stanford             15-3
Oregon State         12-5
Washington State     12-5
Washington           10-4-1
Arizona              11-7-1
UCLA                 12-8
California           11-14
USC                   7-10

Two Pac-10 teams notched very important series victories last weekend.  Arizona State won their third series of the year against a ranked opponent when they took 2-of-3 from #11 Tulane in Tempe.  Meanwhile, USC picked up a huge road series win as they took 2-of-3 from #24 Mississippi State in Starkville.  The Trojans are much, much better than their 7-10 record would indicate.  While they aren't the dominant team of a few years ago, the Trojans should get their wins this year and I anticipate will get back to the NCAA Tournament.

In other action, Arizona had a nice 2-1 weekend at a tournament in Round Rock, Texas.  The loss was to #12 Notre Dame.  Washington has had an impressive non-conference season as they swept Loyola Marymount, one of the WCC favorites, in Seattle over the weekend.  California badly needed a big series win, but couldn't get it done when they dropped 2-of-3 in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.  Finally, UCLA had a 1-2 weekend at a tournament in San Diego.  They defeated #25 Nebraska, but lost to #10 Long Beach State and Houston.

This weekend, the first Pac-10 series of the year takes place.  Arizona State welcomes California for three games down in Tempe.  Washington also plays at Washington State (first home series of the year for the Cougars), but that will be a non-conference series.  Arizona has a huge weekend ahead as the Wildcats take on the 10th ranked 49ers of Long Beach State in Long Beach.  Arizona, ranked #17 in the country this week, could really use a big-time series win if they have any hopes of hosting a regional this season.  USC continues their brutal southern road trip with a pair of midweek games against nationally ranked Tulane and then three games over the weekend at South Alabama.


The Pac-10 Conference

No Stanford games to analyze this week, so lets take a look at the Pac-10 as conference play approaches.  It's been an excellent non-conference season for the Pac-10 with currently three teams ranked in the top 20, two of which are in the top 10 (Stanford at #1, ASU #8).  In fact, in this week's RPI rankings over at boydsworld.com, the Pac-10 is rated the #1 conference in the country (just slightly ahead of the SEC).  The Pac-10 and the SEC clearly look like the top two conferences in college baseball this season.

As for the teams, five Pac-10 schools are looking good right now for qualifying for the postseason.  Of course, how each fares during the 24-game Pac-10 season will be a huge determining factor, but based on current records and RPI rankings, five do stand out.  Stanford and ASU are both ranked in the top 10 in the polls as well as in the RPI (ASU is #1 in the RPI, Stanford #1 in the polls).  Both the Cardinal and the Sun Devils look to have excellent shots at hosting a regional this year, at the very least.

While Stanford and ASU will probably battle for the Pac-10 crown this year, three other schools are primed to make a run at the postseason.  Washington has compiled an impressive 10-4-1 non-conference record thus far and they sport the #24 RPI ranking.  Washington has a young pitching staff, but they're coming together nicely to match an impressive hitting group.  Like Washington, Arizona reached the postseason last year and appears headed for the NCAA's again in 2004.  The Wildcats are a top 25 team while their RPI is at 37.  Arizona has a series victory over Cal State Fullerton this year and a series win over Long Beach State this weekend could help their cause as they try to make a run at hosting a regional.  Finally, USC, despite a 7-10 record, has an impressive #27 RPI.  Playing probably the toughest schedule in the country, the Trojans have thus far survived (although five big road games await this week).  Even if USC finishes slightly under .500 in non-conference play, if they finish in the upper half of the Pac-10, I would expect to see the Trojans in the NCAA's.  The NCAA has taken teams with 29-27 and 30-26 overall records in the past if their RPI is strong (a la USC this year).

So with Pac-10 play starting this weekend (Cal at ASU), those are the five teams I expect to finish in the top of the conference which should lead to NCAA berths (for reference, the Pac-10 received four bids last year). 

As for the other four teams, UCLA has the best shot, in my opinion, to finish in the top half of the conference and claim an NCAA berth.  The Bruins, at 12-8 right now, have an RPI ranking of 57.  Like Stanford, they are off this weekend for finals, but then come back to play USC in a three-game, non-conference series.  That will be a huge weekend for the Bruins entering conference play.  UCLA has plenty of talent on their team, but are still looking for that breakthrough series win in 2004.

Oregon State (12-5) and Washington State (12-5) have both posted impressive records, however against pretty poor competition.  OSU's RPI stands at 92 while the Cougars are at 104.  These teams look improved from last year, but still have a little ways to go before they can talk NCAA's.  That said, their definitely won't be an easy out in the conference this season like in years past.

The major disappointment in the Pac-10 thus far has to be the Cal Bears.  The Bears are just 11-14 this season with a dreadful RPI of 118.  They've played a pretty tough schedule, but have gone just 2-7 against the likes of Stanford, Long Beach State, and North Carolina (and six of those nine games were at home).  It's probably going to take a top three finish in the Pac-10 for Cal to get a look at the postseason and nothing about their results so far tells me that that's going to happen.


Stanford's Pac-10 Schedule

The Cardinal still has six games before the start of Pac-10 play on April 2nd, however lets take a quick look at how the schedule breaks down for Stanford this season.

It would seem that the first 12 games will be easier than the last 12 games for Stanford this year in Pac-10 play.  The Cardinal will take on the four teams I think are on the outside-looking-in right now concerning postseason play to open the conference slate.  Series' at UCLA and Oregon State get things started followed by home series' versus Cal and Washington State.  It will be very important for the Cardinal to rack up some wins throughout the month of April as it's going to get a lot tougher in May.  Also, ASU will play six conference games (all at home) before Stanford even takes the field for their first Pac-10 contest.  With ASU's dominance on their home field, it's entirely possible that the Sun Devils could start 5-1 or even 6-0 with the way the schedule works out.  Because of this, Stanford will need to win early to keep pace.

May looks a lot tougher for Stanford.  They open with back-to-back road series' at Washington and Arizona.  The Cardinal historically doesn't play very well in Seattle and the Huskies look to have another NCAA-caliber team this year.  Then it's off to Tucson for three games where Arizona is a bona fide top 25 team as of this moment.  Stanford closes out conference play with back-to-back home series' versus USC and Arizona State.  The Trojans are a young club, but they look to be coming together.  Meanwhile, we all know about the Sun Devils.  ASU at Stanford, May 28-30.  That one could very well be for the Pac-10 title.


"Super Sixteen"

1. Stanford             15-3    1

2. LSU                  15-2    2
   
* Tigers swept SE Louisiana in a two-game, rain-shortened series.

3. Texas                23-2    3
   
* Longhorns continue to roll as they take another midweek game from Rice (now 3-0 against the Owls) and then sweep visiting Eastern Michigan.

4. Auburn               16-2    6
   
* Tigers get an impressive 2-of-3 series win at Clemson.

5. Rice                 14-4    4
   
* Owls fall back a spot after losing another game to Texas ... Did come back to sweep San Jose State in their WAC opener over the weekend.

6. Miami                15-3    5
   
* Hurricanes with a 4-0 week including home sweep of Rutgers.

7. Arizona State        17-3    8
   
* Sun Devils post another series win over a ranked team, this time taking 2-of-3 from Tulane.

8. South Carolina       17-0   10
   
* Gamecocks still perfect, but still not playing anyone (swept Delaware State over the weekend).

9. Long Beach State     13-5    7
   
* 49ers have been good this non-conference season, but hardly dominant.  Last weekend, went 2-1 at a tourney in San Diego with the lone loss coming to the University of San Diego.

10. Mississippi         14-1    9
   
* Rebels dropped a midweek game to Arkansas State, but rebounded to sweep Nicholls State.

11. Texas A&M           18-2   12
   
* Aggies looking like the second best team in the Big 12 ... Swept visiting Santa Clara last weekend.

12. Notre Dame          12-1   NR
   
* Irish with a perfect 5-0 week at a pair of tournaments ... one of those wins was over Arizona.

13. Arizona             11-7-1 11
   
* Wildcats finish 2-1 at a tourney in Round Rock.

14. Nebraska             8-4   13
   
* Huskers with a 2-1 record at tournament in San Diego ... Won games over San Diego and SDSU, lost to UCLA.

15. Tulane              12-5   16
   
* Green Wave break even at 2-2 last week, but drop series at Arizona State.

16. Florida State       16-5   NR
   
* Seminoles back in the "Super Sixteen" after 5-0 week capped by weekend sweep of Michigan State.

Dropped Out : UC Irvine (14-5-1, 2-2 last week), Mississippi State (10-2, 3-2 last week)


Rankings Update

Stanford has been ranked #1 in the country by Baseball America for the fourth consecutive week.  Other Pac-10 teams ranked include #8 Arizona State and #17 Arizona.  Texas held at #2 in the country followed by South Carolina, LSU, and Rice.


On Deck

Stanford gets another weekend off as the players recover from exams week.  They'll be back on the field on Tuesday, March 23rd for a single game at Saint Mary's.  First pitch is at 2:00pm.  That will be followed by a single game at Santa Clara on Wednesday the 24th (6:00pm) and then three games at Sunken Diamond against upstart Cal Poly on the 26th through the 28th.


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